Express & Star

Former Lichfield school deputy head dies aged 86

Tributes have poured in to Alan Harper, a former Shropshire headteacher whose was deputy head at a Lichfield primary school in the 1960s.

Last updated
Alan Harper was the last head of "The Lancs."

Mr Harper was the last headteacher of Shrewsbury's Lancasterian School which closed for good in July of 1988.

The funeral of Mr Harper, who was 86 and lived in Copthorne, Shrewsbury, is at Emstrey Crematorium, Shrewsbury, on Friday, June 16, at 10.45am.

Alan Harper was the last head of "The Lancs."

More than 100 cards of condolence have been received by his family and there have been hundreds of messages in tribute from former pupils and others on the school's Facebook site.

"Mr Harper was the best headteacher any pupil could wish for," was the comment of one 1970s pupil.

Another wrote: "He epitomised the life of a dedicated teacher, a principled man, a gentleman."

Mr Harper, who became head of the school in September 1968, is survived by his wife Mikki, sons Paul, Ian, and Gary, and seven grandchildren.

"He would regularly bump into former pupils in Shrewsbury and make time for a chat, surprising them by how well he remembered them, their siblings and their parents. He knew the name of every current pupil and their parents, and continued to remember them long after they had left school," said Paul, who is over from his home in Sydney, Australia.

The former Lancasterian School.

With the Lancasterian County Primary School – commonly simply referred to as "The Lancs" – being not far from the River Severn, teaching every one of his pupils to swim for their personal safety was high on Mr Harper's list of priorities when he started at the school.

"In his usual firm but fair manner, he taught every kid in the school to swim, and also spent a lot of evenings teaching adults to swim in the local swimming baths. He became nationally recognised for his significant contribution over many years in teaching others how to teach both adults and kids to swim."

Mr Harper hailed from Poole in Dorset and was educated at Poole Grammar School, before going into teacher training.

Mikki, who is Dutch, spent the war in the Far East, and trained as a nurse in Holland before moving to England where she met Alan in England in 1957 and then married in August 1959.

"Dad started his teaching career in Poole, where their three boys were born, with the family moving to Lichfield in 1964, where he took up his first deputy head role at Cherry Orchard Primary School, before moving to Shrewsbury in 1968 as the new head of the Lancasterian School," said Paul.

Mr Harper went on to teach generations of Castlefields area schoolchildren, and The Lancs was the subject of many memories, such as of its distinctive clock.

"It was at the top of the staircase and was where the naughty children had to go and stand next to."

While Paul, Ian, and Gary did not attend The Lancs, going instead to St George's School at Frankwell, they remember spending many happy Saturday mornings playing table tennis, and so on, in the school while he caught up with his paperwork.

Before the closure of the school, Mr Harper served as a temporary head at a school in Telford for a year, and after The Lancs closed, he worked as an education officer at Shrewsbury prison before both he and Mikki retired in their late 50s.

Back left with staff in 1987, the year before the closure.

In his younger days, he was a talented cricketer and rugby player, and later he had a passion for camping – something reflected in school trips to Wales, and family holidays travelling around Europe – which evolved into a love for caravanning, with he and Mikki travelling widely in Scotland during their retirement.

"Outside of school, dad took up golf in his 40s, playing at Shrewsbury golf club at Condover for 30 years where he was a very popular member. He scored six hole-in-ones at Condover and always proudly wore his 'King Hole-In-One' tie for official photos. Dad also shared his passion with others by teaching golf."

Widow Mikki was a nurse at Shrewsbury's Nuffield hospital for many years.

Alan and Mikki on a visit to Sydney.

The Lancasterian School was founded in 1813 near the Dana Steps and its first name was The Dana School. It was rebuilt in Albert Street in 1851, taking its new name, the Lancasterian School, from Joseph Lancaster, the architect of a famous monitoring teacher system in the early part of the 19th century.