Memories of the Partnership College

Photo:Dial Close dining room, 1948

Dial Close dining room, 1948

John Lewis Partnership Archives - Ref. 233/a/5

Photo:Dial Close student accommodations, 1948

Dial Close student accommodations, 1948

John Lewis Partnership Archives - Ref. 233/a/7

By Joyce M. Smith

Retired Partner Joyce Smith remembers her time as one of the last students at the Partnership College at Winter Hill:

Here I must pay tribute to the founder Spedan Lewis. Although stern in appearance - most “Partners” as we were, were scared stiff of him, terrified of actually meeting him. It was rumoured that he was capable of instantly sacking anyone he just took a dislike to – I never found out that to be true though. In fact he was very kind to me when on one occasion we came face to face and he shook my hand – that is another story! - when I had the privilege of attending the last term of the Partnership College.

Although Spedan himself had never been to college he felt that a good education was important, and most of the working class people who applied for jobs in the drapery trade would benefit from the university experience that might have been denied them. So he had a college-type building at Dial Close in Cookham, and several tutors installed. Reggie James and his wife Charity, and Frank Hardy (I think I have remembered their names correctly, if not I’m sure you will have them on record) they were all three qualified to teach, but what surprised me was that it was nothing to do with Retail Distribution but subjects like History, Art – I don’t remember much else. The men were taught boxing, sailing, dinghies on the Thames, tennis, the girls tennis with a professional coach, fencing (I still have a photo of myself with an épée and face guard) – we were spoiled!

I remember learning to sail a dinghy on the Thames. I thought afterward that I was clever enough to sail a dinghy on the backwaters of Walton-on-the-Naze but realised my limitations when trying to sail back against the wind – it took me several attempts to get anywhere near the jetty and I had to rely on someone with a boat hook to catch me as I hurtled past! It wasn’t all fun and games! We had lectures every morning and afternoon in the winter term for 6 weeks then 6 weeks in the summer – and only had to pay £1 a week – dinner every evening, followed by a visit from someone famous to talk to us. I recall the English novelist Pamela Frankau and another time the poet Christopher Hassall, who wrote lyrics for Ivor Novello’s beautiful war time musicals like “We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again” – lovely nostalgic songs. And what a beautiful voice Christopher had read aloud his poetry – I was close to swooning! I still possess a letter that he wrote to me in reply to one of mine. I’m afraid all these personalities are dead now.

But the highlight of the course was the end when we students had to answer up to the Founder himself, Spedan, who came with his wife, Mrs Lewis, in the famous green Rolls Royce. We were all trembling in our shoes until Reggie James said to Spedan: “The students have requested that you tell them how you founded the Partnership.” Spedan actually smiled and commenced talking and didn’t stop for at least an hour. Mrs Lewis nodded off, we all clapped enthusiastically – what memories! And that was the one and only time I actually met the Founder and he was smiling as he shook my hand! And the hands of all 17 students. Of course, great things were expected of us afterwards. Did I achieve good results? I don’t know.


This page was added by Owen Munday on 02/06/2015.