Dr John Blatchly

A tribute to Dr John Blatchly who passed away on 3 September 2015

Dr John Blatchly was Headmaster at Ipswich School from 1972 - 1993.  He led a rich life in which idleness played no part. He was a gifted teacher and a headmaster who inspired loyalty and hard work in those privileged to work closely with him, and not a little awe in those whose professional dedication and appetite for work did not match his own. To this list could be added his skills as an oboist of professional standard, choral and orchestral conductor, singer, actor and, above all, prolific author. Polymath is a word hardly strong and rich enough in meaning to describe John's range of interests and his profound understanding and knowledge of many of life's finer things.

The School's biggest debt of gratitude to this great man is for his 21 year tenure as headmaster.  This period was characterised by a significant rise in the school's status, academic focus, cultural breadth and richness of opportunity for generations of pupils. 

Headmasters are often remembered by their building works, but in John's case, his contribution to the building stock of Ipswich School, while significant, forms only a small part of his legacy.

His sketch provided the inspiration for the School's octagonal library, built on stilts to provide a useful sheltered space beneath. The library was enhanced, at John's insistence, by stained glass windows commissioned from John Piper. A sports hall and a laboratory block, later named the Blatchly Laboratories, were to follow, together with a major refurbishment of the Great School and the building of the new Little School.

The School took its first step towards co-education with the admission of girls to the sixth form in 1974, and the far-sighted purchase by the School governors of part of the site of the former Anglesea Road Hospital made possible the move to full co-education under his successor, Ian Galbraith, and the construction of modern buildings to house the Nursery, Pre-preparatory and Preparatory Schools.

Through astute management and a clear focus on the importance of high quality teaching, John turned the school into a highly successful academic institution. He believed that ‘work must come first and all else will thrive’. To John a school's function was to foster excellence – both individually among each and every pupil and collectively as an institution. Always proud of the academic successes of pupils, he would delight in the numbers of students gaining places at Oxford and Cambridge as well as at medical school.

At the centre of the School was the Headmaster's Study, lined with the ancient volumes of The Old Town Library.  John had found these books languishing in a strong room beneath the Borough Library in the 1980s. This collection of rare books, around a thousand in number dating from 1460 to 1760, was lovingly catalogued by John in one of his many publications, and made fully accessible to scholars from around the world.

This interest in history was evident early on during his time as Headmaster. In 1973, at the end of his first year in charge, he noted that the Archive Room 'was a fascinating room to browse in'. He added that he greatly enjoyed looking at the 'vintage momentoes' sent in by former pupils. This interest in the past was to remain with him and turn into a passion in later life. He wrote a detailed history of the school during his retirement – “A Famous Antient Seed-Plot of Learning” – following the story of the school from its earliest days over 600 years ago. 

In retirement, John continued to contribute to the educational scene through his work as a governor at many schools, but also our Archivist. He was President of Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, Chaired the Suffolk Records Society and the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust, which he also chaired. He was a Research Associate of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and contributed many articles to the latest edition of that publication. 

John was appointed MBE for services to local history and his work with the Heritage Lottery Fund in the East of England. His enthusiasm and abilities as a fund-raiser played a considerable part in the commissioning of a statue of Cardinal Wolsey, Ipswich’s and Ipswich School’s most famous son, now situated close to site of the great man’s birthplace. He worked closely with the distinguished sculptor David Annand to bring this project to fruition in 2011. 

He was delighted to be elected as Honorary Wolsey Professor and Visiting Professor of History and to welcome distinguished scholars and musicians, some of whom were his former pupils or protégés, to deliver the annual Wolsey Lecture. The School's Wolsey Consort, only last June, accompanied Mr Richard Edgar Wilson’s talk which was introduced by John Blatchly. 

John enjoyed the finer things in life: opera, chamber music and the theatre; cultivating the great and good to the benefit of Ipswich School; good food and fine wines (motto: ABC - Anything But Chardonnay); the company of family and friends.

Central to John's life was his religion. A devout Anglican who found solace in the dignity of the traditional liturgy, for many years he attended Ipswich's civic church, St Mary-le-Tower.  So it was most fitting that in a recent full school assembly dedicated to John.  The School stood in silent tribute which was brought to a close when the School Choir sang a piece by John Tallis.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his widow Pam and the rest of her family.

Dr Blatchly's family held a memorial service on Saturday 21 November at 12noon in St Mary Le Tower Church, Ipswich.

The School paid tribute to Dr Blatchly at an assembly, when the choir sang 'If Ye Love Me' by Thomas Tallis.  This choral piece accompanies some photographs of Dr Blatchly's time as Headmaster. Produced and edited by current pupils, this can be viewed here