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#57 - 2014

In January 2012 Shiplake College learned the sad news that former Headmaster Nick Bevan had died. A major part of our history and a true advocate of our founding principles, the news rocked the College community. Read his obituary here from the OVS magazine.

"'Nick is a man who has done more for Shiplake College than any other person in its history. He raised academic standards and put up a succession of impressive new buildings.' Alexander Everett.

Alexander Everett, the founder of Shiplake College, was delighted with the progress of his educational project when he returned to the College early in the 21st century, and was not slow to attribute much of that success to Nick Bevan. Education was the strong thread that wove itself through Nick Bevan's life. As a pupil at Shrewsbury School, where his father was a Housemaster, he left through his garden gate, waved his parents goodbye, and strode off confidently towards his own boarding house for the term. After reading Geography at Oxford, with a Rowing Blue achieved, Nick spent five years in the Army. He served in Belize, Malaya (qualifying as a Malay speaker) and Mauritius. He won the pairs at the tri service regatta in Singapore and was an uncompromising blind side back row forward for the regiment. Returning to the UK, he opted for another year at university, this time at Cambridge, taking a Certificate of Education as he planned a return to the family business. Incidentally there was never any doubt where Nick's loyalties lay in the varsity clashes; dark blue triumphed and he even hosted a reunion for his Oxford crew at Shiplake. Returning to teach at Shrewsbury, it was on the river that Nick laid down his marker, which in turn led to following in his father's footsteps and becoming a Housemaster. After 8 years he felt it was time for a change, before he became the Mr Chips of his era. Eric Anderson, Headmaster of Eton, had spotted that a small school on the River Thames that rowed, needed a Head and might suit Nick very well. Nick applied and felt the interviews had gone well. However, Annabel, his wife, convinced him that Pangbourne College was not the school for the Bevan family and gave many reasons for Nick to wait until the right school came along. Fortunately for Shiplake, Nick heeded her advice and as the Headmaster advertisement had just come out, they had a quick look around Shiplake College before driving back up to Shrewsbury. For sixteen years Nick was a passionate advocate of boarding at Shiplake. He worked tirelessly through early morning administration, chapel, appointments with prospective parents, watching sport, coaching rowing and finally onto evening meetings with prefects, teachers and coaches. Sundays were rarely any quieter. In the early 1990s it was common for over 200 boarders to cram into the Great Hall for a Sunday service. Of course he also had to support his and Annabel's children, Oliver and Emily, at their plays, concerts and matches. Enjoying the astounding view from Court Mead, these were happy times for the Bevan family. As a Headmaster there were many balls to juggle; requiring immense stamina. Throughout the holidays Nick was often at his desk, tidying up loose ends from the previous term and eagerly discussing future plans. One of Nick's priceless skills was his ability to lift his head from the day's pressing challenges; to stop, think and create a new vision. Scarcely had the dust settled on the Goodwin Building, the new Pavilion and Orchard House before discussions commenced for the next dream. Fora small school, investing £12m in new buildings during a period of recession in the early 1990s was a remarkable achievement that paid enormous testimony to Nick's managerial skills. Nick's year as Chairman of the Society of Headmasters of Independent Schools certainly raised Shiplake's profile. Yet Nick had his eye on membership of the Headmaster's Conference (HMC); the premiership of independent schools. With teaching standards on the up and much improved facilities, the application was approved. Just over four decades after its foundation Shiplake had joined the great names of English independent schools. League tables arrived during Nick's era, but he resisted the temptation to chase statistical success. Shiplake was always near the top of added value tables but Nick believed in finding time for character-building activities; DofE expeditions, artists' long weekends, leadership exercises and finishing term a day early so that sports tourers could get a better deal on their flights! Every day, a Headmaster has to stand up and speak. With Nick, there was always a degree of self-deprecation and a mischievous touch of humour. Once, after a mother's mobile phone rang during his address to prospective Sixth Form parents, Nick quipped: 'Do you know what the penalty for that is at Shiplake?' Silence. 'Confiscation and dropping it into the river.' The prospective parents roared with laughter, checked their phones were off and in that moment many decided that Shiplake was exactly the school they were looking for. Nick presided over an era of immense change. Wooden shacks were replaced by state-of-the art buildings, e-mails replaced memos and girls joined the school in the Sixth Form. Business Studies, Media Studies, Sports Studies and Theatre Studies all arrived on the curriculum. Computers were on every desk. Shiplake College not only survived but thrived and gained a national reputation as one of the best small schools in the country. Nick headed into retirement at the end of the 2003-2004 academic year with an ambition to continue his work as a magistrate, walk his Labrador and improve his golf. When asked what he would miss in an assembly just before his retirement, Nick explained: 'Firstly, the place. We are very fortunate to be living in this lovely environment. I will miss the view from my house, my 50 second commute through the church yard, the roses on the corner of the Burr garden and their fantastic aroma in late summer. I will miss Housemasters' meetings; generally a warm and friendly moment in a frenetic week. I shall miss watching sports, plays and concerts, when unlikely people do really well, and miss watching us beating Pangbourne on the river and the rugby field. I shall miss a really good night in the JCR, candlelit communion services and church bells. I fear that people will look back on my 16 years as the time when all these lovely buildings went up, but that's not significant at all. There have been a certain number of whole-school occasions that have given me great satisfaction. I am told that in my time here around 1,300 pupils have passed through the school. If I meet the vast majority of them, they say that their time has been rewarding and I feel very proud of them.' Inevitably Nick was soon lured back into education. Advising parents, he served as an educational consultant but could not keep away from the river. Living in North Oxfordshire, he joined St Edward's School as a Rowing Coach. However, his retirement was marred by health problems. He suffered a heart attack at Marlow Regatta, and awoke in good medical care, but was dismayed to discover that his crew had not qualified for the final. In September 2013, Nick suffered a major stroke. After a spell in the John Radcliffe Hospital he was transferred to Witney to receive further treatment. Even the physiotherapy brought out his competitive spirit. He suggested that he and some other patients should use their time on the exercise bikes to notch up the miles between Oxford and Cambridge. Inevitably Nick received hundreds of messages of good will. He was eager to answer them all but he became frustrated by the slow progress of his one-fingered typing. In November it was discovered that the stroke had been triggered by renal cancer. A painful chest infection rapidly developed into pneumonia. Nick was transferred back to the John Radcliffe Hospital and died on Sunday 12th January."

Nick Bevan 1942 - 2014

The Telegraph printed the following obituary for Nick:

Also in 2014: 

- The College opened the new £4.3million art block named after former pupil, and Governor, John Turner. The building houses the art, music and learning development departments, a 140-seat lecture theatre and a modern study centre known as the Thinking Space.

- Staff and pupils raised over £400 for male health charities by growing moustaches as part of the 'Movember' challenge.

- There was a memorable pie throwing performance of Bugsy Malone in the Tithe Barn Theatre.

- Pupils and Staff in Burr House completed a one million metre row on five ergometers. The sponsored challenge was in aid of supporting a Kenyan boy to receive a full education.

- Former Olympic Skier Graham Bell was the guest speaker at the end of term Prize Giving ceremony.