Professor Jules Pretty (1969 – 1976)

Alumnus, Professor Jules Pretty

Jules Pretty has been Professor of the Environment and Society at the University of Essex since 2000. He is also an author.

“I first came to the Denes High School in the autumn of 1969, a month before my 11th birthday, and left in the long hot summer of 1976 to go to the University of York. I am now an author and Professor of Environment and Society at the University of Essex at Colchester, where I am also Deputy Vice-Chancellor. I have many fond memories of my seven years at high school. Like most children and students, you do not realise at the time how much will form themes that last a lifetime.

“I learned to roll a canoe in the pool, and was a canoe-lifeguard on the North Beach. I developed a love for basketball, a group of us practising every lunch time. Two years running we won the Suffolk League; I also recall the students beating the PE staff in a hard fought basketball match (I checked my diary: June 29th 1976; we won 48-26). I studied the separate A-levels of Botany and Zoology, along with Chemistry, and learned directly from our superb teacher a passion for plants both wild and domesticated. My books and scientific papers all centre on our human relations with nature. This was a gift from my teacher. Zoology in those days was all dissections – of fish and rats and frogs. I recall the rather harsher memories of cross-country running in the cold and wet down on the Denes, back up the stiff slope of the Sparrow’s Nest. By definition, such running was a default when the playing fields were too wet, and most of us found it a miserable way to be active. I also still have a stone in my left knee that marked a half-mile sponsored swim in the pool, when I contracted cramp in both legs and had to be hauled off the bottom.

“I also remember a time when a group of us as 15 year olds volunteered after O-levels to refurbish and decorate an Oxfam shop in town. At that time, most of us worked over the summers, both while at school and then later at University, in the pea factories of Birds Eye and Salvesons. For many years, I also worked my Saturdays at Curry’s on the high street. A benchmark: one day’s salary would be just enough to buy a long-player album.

“I have always felt curiously proud of having attended Britain’s most easterly school. It may have felt remote, far from the bright lights, out on the edge. But this makes our county of Suffolk special. I remember American Bicentennial Day in 1976, when all of us from the Sixth Form, as it was called then, built a fire on the North Beach (you probably can’t do this today), and held an all-night party. We sat and watched the sun leap from the sea, another advantage of being on the east coast.

“In my last book, This Luminous Coast, I wrote about walking 400 miles around the coasts of Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. Growing up in Southwold and then Lowestoft, and I have always felt closely entangled with the sea. In the book, I take readers on a journey over land and water, over sea walls of dried grass, beside stretched fields of golden cereal, alongside white sails gliding across the intricate lacework of invisible creeks and estuaries, under vast skies that are home to curlews and redshanks and the outpourings of skylarks. The school appears in the book too.

“A message, then, to current students: make the most of school, both the learning and the living. Aspire to achieve more than you think is possible. Do think about college and university – that too will change your life. Write, experiment, play sports, join societies. Be active, eat well. Read books that could change you (two of mine were Tressel’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, and Camus’ The Outsider). Some of the things you do now will remain with you for life.”

See also


February 2014

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