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The Sheriff of Norwich fell in love with the city at second sight

The new Sheriff of Norwich, John Jennings. Picture: Denise Bradley

The new Sheriff of Norwich, John Jennings. Picture: Denise Bradley

Archant

The Sheriff of Norwich, John Jennings fell in love with our fine city, not at first sight, but very soon afterwards.

He drove into Norfolk for the first time in his life on a bleak, foggy February night in 1974.

He had come for an interview for the post of co-ordinator at the Norwich Teachers’ Centre.

His hotel bed was hard, the room was cold, the road was noisy, and he hardly slept.

Missing breakfast he went to City Hall to tell the director of education that he was not stopping.

He said: “It was not open so I wandered past the Guildhall, up London Street, through Tombland, Cathedral Close, Elm Hill, St Andrews and so on.

“I came back to City Hall with a new spring in my step and sunshine on my mind. I came up those stairs three at a time.

“‘Get this job John’, I told myself. “It could make your life beautiful.” It has; certainly more so than I ever dreamed. Certainly I never thought I would be standing here today.”

For the first year he lived in Norwich but, for family reasons, he moved to Chedgrave where he has lived ever since.

“I love this village. It’s a very comprehensive village and has a range of very good facilities and resources, and a rich, community life. It’s like a mini Norwich.”

His love affair with Norwich is now able to flourish, thanks to his role as the new sheriff.

But, three weeks into the job, he is beginning to realise that it’s a much bigger job than he thought.

He said: “The nomination as sheriff came right out of the blue and I was stunned for the first 24 hours.

“I accepted it with apprehension but Ralph Gayton, the new Lord Mayor, is a lovely man and has been a great support to me. I have already learned so much and been thrilled by meeting so many wonderful people.”

The official civic service reception welcoming him and Mr Gayton to the city will be held next Sunday at Norwich’s Anglican Cathedral from 11am, and dozens of members of his family and friends, many of whom from abroad, including his son from Canada, are coming to the event.

Born in Tooting, London, Mr Jennings was evacuated to North Bucks in the war, attended Magdalen College in Brackley, Northamptonshire, where he passed his school certificate, and then returned to London.

He enlisted in the Army in 1946, seeing service in Northern Ireland, West Germany, Berlin and Austria.

He said: “When I went to Berlin, I grew up 10 years in 10 minutes. It was just after the war and the first sites I saw were so traumatic. I realised the dreadful reality of war. In Berlin itself, there were vast acres that were totally devastated. You could walk for miles without seeing a human being.”

Commissioned in 1949, he was seconded to the Royal West African Frontier Force as an intelligence officer and a company commander.

From 1952 to 1974 he taught in primary and secondary schools in Hertfordshire and Gloucestershire.

He married Prue in 1953 and for 14 years they were house parents in charge of a small children’s home while he continued teaching.

He attributes his nomination as sheriff to his stint at Norwich Teachers’ Centre, and said it was recognition of all the great work the teachers had done over the years.

The centre was set up by the city council in 1968, and he was appointed co-ordinator in 1974.

It became internationally known and centres based on the Norwich model and bearing the Norwich logo, were established by royal decree throughout Spain in 1984.

He lectured widely on the centre’s principles and practice and designed and led courses in such places as Jerusalem, Timisoara in Romania, and Spain.

He retired in 1991 and worked as a lecturer and tutor in teacher education for the Open University and the UEA. He was awarded an honorary degree by the UEA School of Education in 1992 in recognition of his work at the teachers’ centre. Mr Jennings was chairman of the Norfolk and Norwich Novi Sad Association, which celebrates links with our twin city, from 2000 to 2008.

Looking back on his life, he said one of the most important events was meeting his partner Jane. He said: “We had known each other vaguely before, but we really met at a Ceroc jiving session in Norwich.

“She’s now very important in my life, as are all of her family.”

He and Jane are members of the Norfolk and Norwich Chamber Music Club, Cinema City and the National Trust. They actively support several charities including Cancer Research and Diabetes UK, and Mr Jennings is a member of Norfolk Link. He has tried salsa but failed at flamenco, he added.

Who do you think should be our next Evening News Original? Call David Bale on 01603 772427 or email david.bale2@archant.co.uk

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