Monday, 18 February 2013

RIP: Stephen Lucas

"Stephen, passed away peacefully at the Jersey General Hospital on Saturday 26th January 2013, brother of Anthony and Judith. Funeral Service to be held in Jersey. All enquiries to De Gruchy's Funeral Care" (The Times, Obituary Page)
I owe a great debt Stephen Lucas ("Spike"), who was my first history teacher at Victoria College, because he was one of the formative influences in nurturing my love of local history.
Local history had not been on the school agenda, but Charles Green ("Gloop"), the Head of Mathematics, used to do the odd outing on a Saturday morning for boys who were interesting in learning more about the history of the island. He was also at the time the head of the Archaeology Section of the Société Jersiaise.
After he left, it looked as if there would be no more opportunities, but Stephen Lucas (whose nickname was "Spike") decided that Friday afternoons would be a good opportunity to do something like that.
Friday afternoons after leaving the first few years behind (the "Junior School") were devoted to what were called "Activities", which were non-academic pursuits such as drama, or botany (with Frances Le Sueur), art, and of course the CCF, the Combined Cadet Force. It had been compulsory for all boys to do one year, but the new headmaster, Martyn Devenport dropped this requirement, so that it became optional. I was very glad; I was never very keen on anything that smacked of the military, and I have about as much ability to keep time as Corporal Jones in Dad's Army.
Most of my choices had fallen by the wayside, and my final choice of activity was the somewhat dismally named "Museum Studies", which carried overtones of boredom. There were older pupils there who had taken it as an easy option; one had a bottle of coca-cola, laced with rum, which he would swig from time to time on outings.
And outings there were - the structure of the activity was to look at three aspects of the Island. For the winter term, the geology of Jersey, aided by Dr John Renouf. The spring term would look at the archaeology, and the summer term at Jersey history, and historical sites, such as castles, railways, etc.  It was a carefully structured course; well thought out by Stephen Lucas.
Having enjoyed the first year, I decided to return to the same activity, and now the course had been renamed "Island Field Studies", which was far more in keeping with what it covered. I was typing up notes, with photographs I had taken, and Steven Lucas suggested that if I put it together as a project, it would be suitable for the Ralph Mollet prize for local history; one of a number of prizes that had been moribund for some years.
He also allowed me to borrow the school copy of Jacquetta Hawkes Archaeology of the Channel Islands, so that I could take notes and trace the maps of the dolmens; it was, he told me, the "archaeologist's bible for Jersey". Indeed while later excavations have revealed more about Jersey's archaeology, in particular Mark Patton on Hougue Bie, this is still one of the best books, with maps, engraved sketches, and details of finds, as well as contextual setting.
By this time, members at school of the thriving Junior Société, of which I was a member, had taken an interest, and his course had a massive surge in popularity. I did another activity for a couple of years, then returned, and by now I was preparing questions for students to answer on weekly hand out sheets; no doubt it meant less work for him, but it was also a measure of his judgement that he felt I could do a good job on that.
Once every term there was a day long activity, and invariably we would end up near a pub. I was 17 at this time, so he and the other master would kindly fetch out a half pint of shandy for me. Of course nowadays that would probably be a disciplinary offense, but I've often thought that perhaps we are too rigid today.

He had a wicked sense of humour, and I can still picture Philip Sinel, then a young boy, swinging from a branch of a tree near Le Couperon dolmen, with spindly arms, looking very like a monkey. "There's Sinel the Simian", he chortled.
After leaving school, I saw him on stage only once, in a JADC production of Carmen, where he played the Inn Keeper to great comic effect, and later, when he was researching his book "The Devenport Years". I was at the same time working on a chronology of events and people at Victoria College for the period Victoria College 1972-1990 (which I later published as a booklet), so there was an overlap in our period of study. We met at the Arts Centre for a much overdue chat, discussing how much change had taken place since those days. He very kindly gave my own slight work acknowledgement in his list of sources for his book.
"The Devenport Years" is a fine epitaph to his career as a history teacher. There had been an earlier book - Derek Cottrill's "Victoria College: 1852-1972", but it is a very dry book, whereas Stephen Lucas, while detailing the period 1967-1991, and the changes taking place, is also full of lively anecdotes which bring the history and the personalities to life. The other book is one to read and file away for reference, but Stephen Lucas is one to enjoy. And that I think is a fitting legacy to remember him by.

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