THE former head of Winchester College has died, aged 98.

John Thorn led the school from 1968 until 1985 and has been listed as one of its most influential heads.

Mr Thorn was born in Chiswick in April 1925 and went to Colet Court before winning a scholarship to St Paul’s. In 1943, he won a deferred scholarship to read history at Corpus Christi, Cambridge, and joined the Royal Navy, rising to the rank of sub-lieutenant.

He started teaching at Clifton School in Bristol in 1949, soon taking over its history department. He became a housemaster in 1957.

READ MORE HERE: Death of former Dean of Winchester Trevor Beeson

Hampshire Chronicle: John Thorn

In 1961, aged 36, he became headmaster of Repton and moved to take over Winchester in 1968.

He had a clear vision of the changes he wanted to make, including making more scholarships available to boys from state schools.

To finance this, he approved the controversial sale to the British Library of a manuscript of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, believed to be the copy from which Caxton set his first edition. Mr Thorn justified his decision by claiming that the revenue from the sale brought “remarkable” boys to the school.

He also helped the college embrace other disciplines, realising the importance of a science syllabus as rigorous as that of Latin or Greek, and introducing the teaching of English as a proper subject.

Hampshire Chronicle: Winchester CollegeWinchester College (Image: Newsquest)

Mr Thorn transformed the school gymnasium into a theatre, the sanatorium into an art school and gave music an injection of funds for scholarships. The school’s orchestra took on increasingly ambitious works, with Mr Thorn himself playing the triangle in the Meistersinger overture.

He also had a hand in banning the evangelical barrister John Smyth from the school once it emerged that he had been physically abusing pupils.

SEE ALSO: Winchester College fees and Rishi Sunak

In the 1970s Mr Thorn became well-known for his actions in defending the River Itchen water meadows against the proposed M3 extension, which would have run between the college’s Meads and St Catherine’s Hill. The battle was won and the motorway went through Twyford Down in the 1990s.

To advance his causes, he relied on a mixture of charm and panache, finding other means of coaxing his colleagues when those failed. He possessed both a quick temper and a substantial collection of claret, which he often shared.

Following his retirement in 1985, he taught liberal humanist subjects at King Edward’s Southampton and then Portsmouth Grammar School.

He also served on the Winchester Cathedral Trust, and the Hampshire Preservation Trust. His autobiography, entitled The Road to Winchester, was published in 1989.

He died on October 20, and is survived by a son and daughter.