Family pays tribute to former Stalham headteacher John Wellings

PUBLISHED: 15:08 12 October 2020 | UPDATED: 15:27 12 October 2020

John Wellings, centre, with his sons Simon and Paul. Picture: Supplied by the family


Tribute has been paid to a former north Norfolk headteacher who believed passionately in giving every child a chance to shine.

John and Esther Wellings on their wedding day in 1958. Picture: Supplied by the family

John Wellings, who was headteacher of Stalham Middle School from 1977 to 1989, has died aged 88.

He is survived by his sons, Simon and Paul, who described their father as a “gentle, kind and caring man” and a good role model who they would always have fond memories of. In a shared statement, they said: “He will be missed by all who knew him especially for his cheeky laugh and positive attitude. “We must have visited every county in England on caravan holidays in the summer as we couldn’t afford to go abroad.

“After a hard day teaching PE at school he would always take us over the park for a game of football at night. “He took us to the cinema, football matches and zoos regularly. We never had much money but we always had lots of love.”

They said Mr Wellings was born to “fairly humble beginnings” in Luton. His mother Hilda was a hat factory worker, and father Ralph was a police officer. When he was a child they lived briefly in Windsor, and as a state school pupil he excelled at sports, and held a record in high hurdles.

During his National Service Mr Wellings learned how to box and how to drive a three-tonne truck, and he later worked as a postman before training to become a sports teacher. Mr Wellings married Esther, a bank cashier who was the daughter of a miner – in 1958. She died in 2017 aged 86, after almost 60 years of marriage.

Mr Wellings was a PE teacher at Kingsbury Technical Grammar School in Dunstable from 1957 to 1964, and then became the headteacher at Little Munden school, Hertfordshire (1966-1970), Corner Hall School in Hemel Hempstead (1970-74) and Tudor Primary in the London Newtowns (1974-77). Simon and Paul said: “It was around this time that our dad became a model railway enthusiast – in later life he was to build award-winning miniature train displays. “We can remember climbing into the loft in our childhood house in Hemel Hempstead and seeing trains whizzing around in a circuit.

“At the time, we didn’t realise that our dad’s great grandad – also John Wellings – was a railway signalman. Trains are obviously in the blood.” Upon becoming headteacher at Stalham, Mr Wellings introduced progressive measures such as phasing out corporal punishment and bringing in modern organisational structures.

Simon and Paul said: “He was treated with initial suspicion by some of the locals but soon won over anyone who was worth winning over when he demonstrated skills at integration, inclusion and opportunity for all. “He always believed passionately in comprehensive education and always worked in the state sector, saying ‘no child should have a better education just because their parents are rich’.” Mr Wellings also founded the Stalham Brass Band and was a keen folk dancer.

He enjoyed chess, playing and watching different sports, and his favourite musicians were Bob Dylan, Steeleye Span, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Bob Marley. Mr Wellings’ favourite film was Brassed Off, his favourite book was Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and he enjoyed Tommy Cooper’s comedy. He was a union member and ‘moderate’ Labour supporter.

Mr Wellings moved to Malaga in Spain about two years ago, which is where he died in hospital following an intestinal operation.

As well as his sons, he is survived by grandchildren Eve, Nathan, Ebony, Gabriel and Grace.

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