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News > Memories > Dai Lewis: Fiery Welsh dragon or pussycat? (Part 2)

Dai Lewis: Fiery Welsh dragon or pussycat? (Part 2)

David Lewis could never be accused of being a shrinking violet.
26 Aug 2021
Dai Lewis making the best of a bad job on Speech Day
Dai Lewis making the best of a bad job on Speech Day


1950's OOs

But on one occasion he did confide in me that he disliked Speech Days and other social events at which he was expected to go glad-handing amongst parents, many of whom he barely knew. He much preferred operating in the background, out of the limelight, unlike J F Tilley who was totally in his element on social occasions, flitting from parent to parent like a butterfly in a garden of wildflowers.

For some reason Stoker had a low opinion of parents in general and on the one and only time he met our parents they found him rather distant and reserved. From the outset my brother and I had regaled mum and dad with lurid tales of the strict disciplinarian who had threatened to beat Bernard with a cricket stump, and when they finally met I suspect that they did not find him very convivial. Perhaps we had unwittingly coloured their judgment of him?

Ultimately I came to the conclusion that Mr. Lewis was basically quite a shy and private person who masked this with a brusque and sometimes intimidating alter ego.

Headmaster Williamson was aware of negative comments his trusty lieutenant had made more than once about parents, and on Speech Day in particular, Dai Lewis was usually assigned to duties on the quadrangle supervising the boys.

On occasion, when the mood took him, he could be a very sociable animal and in the final months of my time at school, he was very sympathetic when he discovered I had been hauled over the coals by Headmaster Frankland for something I had not done. 

Diary entry 21 March 1960: The Headmaster is enraged by damage to School property

During the spring and summer months of 1960 the atmosphere at Oswestry School, whose pupil numbers by then would have been upwards of 150, began to deteriorate and discipline was breaking down. Damage to school property was increasing and Headmaster Frankland suspected I was behind some of this activity. Several car tyres had been slashed and Mr Schofield, Head of Holbache House, threatened to bring in the police when all four of his tyres had been let down. I knew which boys were responsible and I was not personally involved, moreover, I was in no mood to reveal the names of the culprits to a Headmaster who seemed hell-bent on making enemies of us all, and School House in particular.

Diary entry 17 March 1960: Car damage

Taking me on one side, Stoker told me not to worry as he opined that the deteriorating situation at School could not go on for much longer. How right those prophetic words turned out to be as within twelve months the Franklands had moved on! Several weeks later Duncan Felton confided in me about his concerns that the progress made at School under Ralph Williamson was now being undone, and he asked me to use whatever influence I had to try and ease the tension in the air, as he understood that most of the unrest emanated from School House. Living as he did in the centre of town he felt that the reputation of Oswestry School was in danger of becoming tarnished as rumours of unruly behaviour and the breakdown of authority were spreading rapidly amongst the townspeople.

Diary entry 10 May 1960: Confidential chat with Mr Felton about Headmaster Frankland

Like J F Tilley, who rarely drove a car, Mr Lewis went everywhere on his rickety old bicycle and he often acted as my pacemaker during Triangle practice, shouting out encouraging readings from his stopwatch as he rode alongside, urging me to run even faster, full tilt down Upper Brook Street back towards the school gates. As I peeled off onto the quadrangle he would wave his hand in goodbye and proceed to The Welsh Harp which was just yards further down the road, for a quick pint before tea! I am not sure whether he knew how to drive as he did not own a car and I never saw him at the wheel of any vehicle.

Looking down Upper Brook Street towards The Welsh Harp on the left

As I recall, during term time, the somewhat stern Welshman rarely let the mask slip, but one event both he and J F Tilley genuinely seemed to enjoy was the concert held in the School dining room after tea on the last night of every term. It was always a convivial, alcohol-free affair (I think!), and every boy was expected to contribute to the fun; even the two Masters joined in with their own party pieces.

In my last year as a boarder I spent a good deal of time in the company of David Lewis and was often in conflict with him over the amount of time I was expected to spend on extra-curricular activities when I needed to be concentrating on my forthcoming A level exams.

Digging out the foundations for the pool in 1896

The energetic Welshman always threw himself wholeheartedly into all aspects of school life, from mundane activities such as mowing and marking out the tennis courts, football, and cricket pitches, to the annual task of cleaning out and preparing the swimming pool for use during the summer months. Myself and others would be enlisted to help in all these endeavours and I remember the many hours we spent painting the walls of the pool with white Snowcem whilst chatting to girls in the Dingle. They always declined our invitation to join us for a swim, saying it was too cold. 

Picture of the pool taken from the Dingle

On the sporting front, Stoker enjoyed acting as umpire and referee during 1st XI matches and liked to be involved far too much in team selection, in my opinion, and we were sometimes at loggerheads about this. However, despite all his bluster I always found him to be fair and even-handed, and in 1960 he was quite complimentary about my role as Captain of Athletics at School House, a year in which we ran away with most of the trophies.

Comments lifted from my VI Form report of Lent 1960

In an earlier report from 1957, in his capacity as my English teacher, Stoker remarked, and I quote, "David is rather flowery in his expressions, but his work is generally of a very good standard".

I can picture the wry smile on his face (if he is looking on now after all these years), accompanied by the quip,"No change there then; still just as flowery!"

From his arrival at Oswestry in 1946 David, like Mssrs Williamson, Felton, and Tilley, would live out his life as a Master at the School and over this period of time he would occupy the post of Housemaster, Second Master, and even one year as acting Headmaster. This iconic figure would undoubtedly be remembered with a mixture of fondness and dread by all who knew him.

In my final year, I had a love/hate relationship with Dai Lewis and it was only after leaving School that we entered calm waters and I became rather fond of this passionate Welshman. I came to realise that much of his former bluster was a means of exercising control and maintaining discipline over a group of potentially disruptive boys. Overnight he had seemingly changed from a fiery bogeyman into a placid, friendly personality with a mischievous sense of humour.

He had been Housemaster of School House during the whole of my stay as a boarder from 1952-1960, and from being wary and more than a little afraid of him as a Junior, I ended up standing my corner and respecting this dedicated schoolmaster. The last photograph in my possession of this School legend is the one below, taken in 1959, in which he is seated alongside his colleagues D G W Felton and J F Tilley - the backbone of Oswestry School for many years! 

David Lewis will long be remembered by those who knew him as a strict disciplinarian with a soft centre, whose life was totally entwined with Oswestry School.

A section of the School photograph, May 1959
Staff members from L to R: 'Ma' Walton (Headmistress of the Prep Dept), 'Mitch' Mitchel, Mr Schofield, J F Tilley, D G W Felton,  Headmaster Frankland, Dai Lewis, Hayden Morris, Jardine Brown (Assistant Matron), and Matron. My friend Jack 'Grevo' Greves and myself are sat to the right of Matron.

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