The Abbey School in its early days in Beckenham
View of the Lodge from the tennis lawn 1940's. The same view today
On the north side fronting on to the Ashurst Wood road were the main gates and the Lodge, separated from the main house by a courtyard, which was used as a playground. This Lodge complex consisted of a large garage with space for at least ten cars, storerooms, wood shed, boiler house and the usual variety of rooms which would have been associated with horticultural and sporting activities on a large country estate, together with plenty of accommodation for the estate workers.
Additional to the main house was a wing containing changing rooms and a chapel. There was also a squash court, a gymnasium and extensive kitchen gardens and glasshouses, where many varieties of soft fruit and vegetables were grown.
The short gravelled drive, lined with flowerbeds and shrubberies, which ran up to the front of the house, was flanked by the tennis lawn with a network of gravel paths radiating throughout the gardens and up past a croquet lawn and a rose garden to the cricket field. Two huge yew trees with seats around them, which were on the side of the tennis lawn opposite the main entrance of the house, provided cool shade in summer and there were many other varieties of tree in the well stocked gardens. Weather permitting, summer prize-giving was usually held in one of the shaded corners of the grounds. As with most of that area of Sussex, azaleas and rhododendrons were a particular delight in early summer. To the south and east of the house was a park of around forty acres of sloping woodland and open meadowland, in which there was a swimming pool, complete with diving boards and changing rooms - there had even been at one time a small-bore rifle range. The swimming pool was filled every May from a natural spring and was in continuous use until emptied for the winter months. In its heyday the house and estate must have set standards for elegant living.
My association with the school began at Victoria Station in London around 20th September 1943. In those days many preparatory schools were situated in Kent and Sussex and it was normal for pupils to travel in reserved compartments on trains to and from these establishments at the beginning of each term. I remember a chalk blackboard situated in the main concourse, which listed the various schools, with details of platforms and train departure times.
The Headmaster, Robin Gladstone, was there to greet parents and boys. The journey to East Grinstead by steam train took about one and a quarter hours and we were picked up in the station yard by Southdown coaches, which transported us the four or so miles to the front entrance of the school.
Travel home was by the same means and I can recall the excitement of my first journey home for the Christmas holidays of 1943, waiting in the 'big schoolroom' for the coaches to arrive and then later on the train threading its way past the bomb damaged areas of south London.
The Abbey School
The Abbey School was originally founded in Brackley Road in Beckenham, Kent, United Kingdom by the Reverend Thomas Lloyd Phillips in 1866.
Front door of the Abbey 1940's The same view today
I left the Abbey six years later in July 1949 and during that period the complement of boys fluctuated between 80 and 100, the majority being boarders. We were organized into four 'Houses', named Phillips, Mason, Norwood and Gulliver but I don't know the origin of the names. There was a competitive system of earning or losing house points for conduct, academic effort/failure and sporting achievements. Points were displayed on the house notice board and totalled up towards the end of each term, with the members of the winning house normally being granted a half-holiday. Those who had individually accumulated a hundred points or more - 'centurions' - received a similar reward. The curriculum was geared to the Common Entrance for public schools and Latin was taught from the age of seven. There were six classes, the three most junior being housed in the main house, whilst the three senior classes occupied rooms in the Lodge complex.
The school had two joint Headmasters - Robin Gladstone who lived at Heatherlands, a substantial property adjoining the grounds some half a mile from the school and Cyril Crump, who lived in the house and took day to day charge of running the school. Cyril Crump was an imposing, somewhat intimidating character and a stern disciplinarian, with the capacity to transform a room instantly into complete silence by merely appearing in the doorway. By contrast Robin Gladstone was easygoing and more relaxed. Both were held in high respect by the boys and both taught regularly - Robin Gladstone classics to the senior classes, whilst Cyril Crump concentrated to great effect on mathematics. Discipline was maintained by occasional use of the cane but one of the most effective sanctions, particularly in a good summer, was to be placed 'off swimming' for several days. The teaching staff fluctuated from time to time to cover requirements but I remember particularly the following stalwarts:
George Storrs, who lived with his wife and son in the Lodge was in effect the Deputy Head. He bore a lot of the school's routine administrative burden, whilst teaching Latin and Maths to the lower forms and he always organised Sports Day. A keen philatelist, he also encouraged this hobby amongst the boys. He was my first teacher and I remember him with some affection as a cheerful, kindly man with a dry sense of humour - universally popular with staff and boys alike. A tap on the head from the bowl of his pipe was the reward for minor classroom infractions! His wife looked after the pocket money accounts and 'Tuck Shop', which she opened up in the Lodge once a week. During the war years the sweet ration varied between 2 and 4oz. per week!
Clayton Palmer was a big, bluff, larger than life character, who had been at Cambridge with Robin Gladstone. The story went that they had met up unexpectedly on a train and Gladstone had there and then offered him a teaching post at the school. He joined the staff early in 1944. He had played cricket for Middlesex on a number of occasions, after his Cambridge Blue and reputedly on one occasion in the field had caught Dr W G Grace, an action which occasioned a certain amount of displeasure on the part of the Doctor. He nominally taught geography and current affairs and was a stickler for accurate spelling. On Derby and Grand National days he used to organize class sweepstakes with a small pecuniary prize for the winner. He of course was particularly keen on cricket and Rugby, coaching the teams and being in the main responsible for school sporting competitions, as well as fixtures against other schools.
View of the Abbey from the tennis lawn c. 1948. The same view today
Taken using a very cheap miniature camera.
Then shortly after D-Day in June 1944 the V-1 Doodlebugs started to appear in the skies overhead and we found ourselves right in the heart of 'buzz bomb' alley. It was not unusual to see three in flight at any one time and we knew that as long as their engines continued to function, there was no danger for us. One morning we heard a V-1 pass close to the school and moments later the engine stopped. We all dropped to the floor under our desks and seconds later there was a massive explosion and some of the windows in the 'big schoolroom' blew in. Amazingly no injuries were sustained. The machine had come down close to Wall Hill, the road leading down to Forest Row.
On another occasion on a fine July evening, I was sauntering across the cricket field, when a V-1 passed at low altitude right overhead, pursued by two RAF fighters firing at it. It continued on its way! The Saturday School Sports Day around the 20th July 1944 was also interesting in that several V-1's appeared during the course of the afternoon, with one flying fairly low along the line of the valley - we kept running, whilst many of the parents were diving for cover!
To celebrate V. E. Day on the 8th May 1945, the whole school went on a walk and picnic in scorching weather to Hammerwood, a country house situated near Holtye, on the back road from East Grinstead to Tunbridge Wells, about three miles from the school. We swarmed over and explored the empty house, which had been occupied by the army earlier in the war and ate our picnic lunch on the terrace steps. The history displayed on the Hammerwood House website (http://www.mistral.co.uk/hammerwood/people.htm) indicates that after the army had moved out, it had been used by the RAF and SOE, with its own temporary airstrip for Lysander aircraft ferrying agents into occupied France. We had been totally unaware of these activities, even though some of the school walks had taken us fairly close by.
Six years went by quickly and having passed the Common Entrance exam it was time for me to move on and to take a step into the unknown. Nevertheless I was sad to leave and I did subsequently go back for the summer prize-giving in 1953, an occasion when 'old boys' were customarily welcomed. I know little of the previous history of the school - I believe that it had been established in Beckenham many years previously. Indeed the passage leading to the Chapel was lined with faded Honours boards and we often ate from plates bearing the school colours and crest with the motto 'Virtute et Fortuna'.
Towards the end of my time, there was a service in the Chapel to mark the unveiling of a commemorative tablet dedicated to Old Abbeians who had given their lives in the Second World War. I recall that one of the names inscribed on the memorial was Linton V.C. Records show that a Victoria Cross was posthumously awarded in 1943 to a famous submariner Commander John 'Tubby' Linton of HMS Turbulent, who was lost with all his crew in the Mediterranean in March of that year. I am making efforts, so far unsuccessful, to verify absolutely his status as an 'Old Abbeian' but it think that in all probability it must have been him.
Sadly the school did not survive the sixties. I once ran into Cyril Crump at Heathrow Airport, although I don't think that he really remembered me. Although I made good friends during my six years there, we all went our separate ways when we left. I did meet a couple of former pupils in Canterbury during my National Service but thereafter had no contact with the school. Very occasionally when I am overcome with nostalgia I take the road to Ashurst Wood for one more look at the school buildings. The House and Lodge have now been converted into flats - and how magnificent the south facing apartments must be. It was sad to see however on my last visit about five years ago that the tennis lawn was overgrown and that the cricket field had been turned into some kind of plantation. Nevertheless even now in early summer, whenever I pick up the scent of azaleas in my nostrils, I am momentarily transported back well over fifty years to the Abbey, its beautiful grounds and its memories.
Michael P. Miller
Abbey School pupil 1943 - 1949
Pictures courtesy of Mike Miller
Other former pupils have been able to offer some further insights into life at the Abbey School and some of there are set out below:
I was delighted to read Mike Miller's memoir, as I was also at the Abbey 1943-1949, being for my first term Bowen III, as my two elder brothers were there for that term. As a matter of interest, my eldest brother first joined the Abbey before the war when it was in Beckenham - we lived in Bromley at the time - whilst my other brother was at the school and went with them when it evacuated to Woolacombe. Like Mike, I recall most of what he says, particularly about the Doodle Bugs and the policeman's talk on butterfly bombs
In the sports day photograph, the young master in charge in the centre was Mr Dunkley who shortly after joined up in the RAF. Who knows if he survived? I have a photograph of that same day when he was supervising me and some other boys springboard diving. Another master from that time was a Mr Jellinek who took music and singing - a somewhat unpredictable character!
While Robin Gladstone and George Storrs frequently were dressed in suits with plus-fours, Cyril Crump was always very smartly suited. I recall he had three suits of same style - double-breasted in brown, navy and grey. He married the school nurse, Miss Silcox, a formidable person - particularly when administering one's daily spoonful of radio malt. Some years after I left, I learned that Robin Gladstone had died in April 1962.
I was taught by all the staff mentioned in Mike's memoir and I recall being praised by Miss de Ardi on one occasion for my reading of the lesson in Chapel. Miss Daphne Durand was a talented illustrator and somewhere I still have one of her efforts. Clayton Palmer was a popular man with the boys and I was one of the boys who went to Lords to see the South Africans in 1947. Bill Edrich took a wicket with the first ball of the day!
I spent my last year at Heatherlands with three other boys where we lunched and slept. Sunday duties included taking breakfast in bed to Mrs Gladstone. I was taught to swim by Robin Gladstone with him holding me up with his hand for length after length until the great day when I could swim unaided. Thereafter one was accompanied by the occasional frog.
I remember VE Day well. We all listened to Churchill's speech in the hall leading off the headmaster's study and I remember the school walk next day, which I think included Spam sandwiches!
Years afterwards, I returned to the Abbey and on entering the grounds, I was warned off by a local farmer grazing his sheep to the effect that the House had been taken over by hippie squatters and as a result was not safe. On another occasion, I was told that the house has become a monastery. Some years ago, I read an article in a local paper that the Abbey had been bought by a 'fashionable' commercial photographer for his less than salubrious portraiture!
The last time I visited the Abbey, it had been turned into flats and the kitchen gardens leading to Heatherlands had all been built over with new housing.
Abbey School Pupil 1943 -49
Pictures of the Abbey School 1940's-1960's
Click on this gallery of pictures to enlarge them
View from the cricket field looking down towards to Forest Row The same view today
and beyond to the escarpment of the Ashdown Forest 1940's.
The main rooms were adorned with hunting trophies and other artefacts from Africa. Wide staircases led up to the upper floors, where the twenty-four bedrooms for the owner, guests and staff were located. Kitchens, storerooms and domestic offices also occupied a lot of space on the ground floor and there were wine cellars and fuel stores below ground level.
In its transformation to a school, the library, drawing room (which was known as the 'big' schoolroom, since it could accommodate the whole school in rows of long desks) and a semi-subterranean office adjacent to the wine cellars had become classrooms, whilst the bedrooms on the upper two floors were dormitories, with some accommodation for the Headmaster and other staff members. The parts of the house used by the Headmasters and staff were very comfortably furnished - always a nice open fire in the lounge in winter!
Front entrance to the Abbey taken from the drive 1940's. The same view today
In complete contrast the summer of 1947 was one of the warmest and driest on record, so cricket and swimming were very popular sports. I cannot recall that we ever went hungry during the war years, despite rationing being in full swing and we always had three good meals a day, the produce grown in the kitchen gardens doubtless contributing. The kitchen staff did wonders with what was available. The abundant fruits harvested were preserved or made into jam, with some of the boys helping with crop picking and later with their preparation during the long light evenings of Double British Summertime.
While the war lasted, with car travel virtually non-existent, there was one Sunday in each term when parents could take their sons out for the day. I remember on one occasion going by train from Forest Row to Tunbridge Wells with my parents for tea in the Pantiles. The usual lunch venue was in East Grinstead, a town which had suffered serious bomb damage earlier in the war - in particular a cinema at the top of the High Street had been demolished with some loss of life. There was a restaurant called Letherby and Christopher in the lower part of the town and its cocktail bar was a favourite haunt of many of the RAF and Allied Air Forces patients, some badly disfigured, who were undergoing burns treatment locally under Sir Archibald McIndoe at the Queen Victoria Hospital. We had all joined the Guinea Pig Club at school to raise funds for the burns unit, and we proudly displayed our badges. I remember the RAF uniforms, being worn with white shirts and red ties to denote their patient status and although we probably didn't appreciate the full significance of what we saw, we did know that in some small way we were giving them support. After the war when car travel became a little more accessible, the visiting days changed to a short weekend away each term and eventually became a long half-term break at home from Friday until Sunday, known as an 'exeat', which was far preferable and always eagerly anticipated.
Many of the large houses in the area had been requisitioned for military use but the war did not initially impinge on us too much, except for the blackout. The local constable came to the school on one occasion to warn about the dropping of 'butterfly' bombs, which were anti-personnel devices, disguised as innocuous objects and from time to time we used to collect 'window' - aluminium foil strips, dropped from German aircraft to confuse radar installations.
Abbey School First World War Memorial
In its more recent history, Clare House Preparatory School was run by the Abbey and Clare House Company. This company was based in East Grinstead, Sussex, in the United Kingdom from where it also ran the Abbey School. At that time, the Abbey School was in Park Road, Beckenham, whence it moved to Ashurst Wood, near East Grinstead shortly after the start of the Second World War. The fate of the two schools was finally determined by the winding-up of the Abbey and Clare House Company in 1969.
The Abbey School was situated in a large country house in Ashurst Wood, Sussex on high ground overlooking the village of Forest Row, with distant south facing views over the valley to the escarpment of the Ashdown Forest. It would probably have been built in late Victorian or Edwardian times and had previously been the country seat of Sir Abe Bailey, a well known South African mining millionaire.
This imposing house was built on three floors - on the ground floor were the vestibule and entrance hall/lounge, a large dining hall, a library, a vast drawing room with French windows facing south out on to the valley and the owner's private suite of rooms. Some parts were extensively panelled in wood and other rooms had elegant plasterwork and ornate fireplaces.
Altar and window in the Chapel 1940's.
He lived in the Lodge and four nights a week took charge of the evening prep. He was great fun and on occasions, when returning with the cricket team from an away match, he would stop the coach at a convenient hostelry - sometimes in Godstone, and treat the team to lemonade. His bark was definitely worse than his bite.
The Rev. Edward Wallace Green was a very tall, pipe smoking clergyman with a rather tortuous sense of humour and a cleric's detailed passion for steam engines, particularly those of the Southern Railway. He was in charge of spiritual affairs - there were of course daily prayers in the Chapel and two services on Sundays, although evensong was dispensed with during the summer term.
He also taught Latin and Divinity, earning undying disapprobation, when he introduced the practice of staying in for an hour on Sunday afternoons to learn the weekly Collect by heart (for hearing later in the week). I recall that this imposition was quietly dropped after a few weeks!
Robert Thompson was the music master, chapel organist and also taught some maths, as I recall. He was a slight, grizzled character of indeterminate age but very laid back and an accomplished pianist. He was of course in charge of singing and his classes were immensely popular and a highlight of the weekly timetable. He had painstakingly copied numerous song word sheets and on Friday evenings in the 'big schoolroom' with perhaps three classes combined, he taught us and we sang everything from the Pomp and Circumstance Marches to the Mikado with great gusto. At the end of every singing lesson he would read a five minute extract from a story of one of the great operas. He was a quiet, amiable man, who did his best to instil an appreciation of music into his pupils and I will always be grateful to him for having introduced me to the delights of Gilbert and Sullivan. He also organized trips on two occasions to see the local East Grinstead Operatic Society's performances of the Mikado and the Yeomen of the Guard. We knew most of the songs already of course.
Miss Kitty Arbuthnot was a charming, elegant lady who taught English and predominantly history to all classes. I well remember in my first term at the age of seven, being huddled with the rest of the class around a small gas fire, whilst she read us Swallows and Amazons. Later being keen on history, I used to look forward very much to her lessons. She subsequently married Robin Gladstone, took up residence at Heatherlands but happily continued teaching on a regular basis.
I do recall three other lady teachers - Miss Warwick, a South African who always took charge of the youngest children, Miss Daphne Durand who taught English and later Miss Agnes de Cardi who taught French - the sessions on irregular verbs being particularly arduous, as I recall. There were other staff members who came and went - some who could barely have been eighteen, waiting to be called up for war service. I don't know how many of the staff would have been recognized as trained teachers, in the sense that we would understand it today but what they might have lacked in formal teaching qualifications, they made up for in experience, enthusiasm and personality - and so it would have been with other schools during that era. Impressive results in the annual Common Entrance Examination invariably proved the point.
The school routine was very much like any other prep school. Six periods of class work daily with a half-day on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We played sport on most afternoons or went for walks in the beautiful Sussex lanes and countryside and of course in the summer the extensive park was a magnet for games and adventures of all kinds. Under the strict supervision of Robin Gladstone, who kept meticulous records as to who was in the pool at any one given time, we all learnt to swim and we swam every day in the summer (twice on Sundays). Cricket and Rugby matches were arranged with neighbouring schools - Fonthill in East Grinstead, Ashdown House in Forest Row, Brambletye in Ashurst Wood and further afield with Hazelwood and Hillsbrow near Redhill, St Michael's in Limpsfield, with the longest trek being to St. Andrew's in Eastbourne. Latterly we played at Clare House. Members of the cricket and Rugby teams were taken on outings to Lords for Test matches and to Twickenham for the University Match and Internationals. Both Robin Gladstone and Clayton Palmer were members of the MCC so we got good seats and one of the highlights of my life was to see Don Bradman play in the Lords' Test of 1948, leading that most famous of all Australian Touring Teams.
Living conditions were reasonably comfortable even in wartime, although I cannot recall heating in any of the dormitories, except in the Sick Room. There was a primitive wheezy form of central heating in parts of the house, with gas fires in some classrooms but a number of coke burning cast iron radiant stoves, which threw out enormous heat, were later installed in others. Although snow invariably fell every year, the winter of 1947 was particularly harsh with the snow lying for many weeks in the South of England. At times it was two feet deep on the playing fields, which of course put a stop to all forms of sport and it must have been extremely difficult, in view of limited fuel supplies, to keep the school heated, the pipes defrosted and the kitchens running. In addition there were restrictions on the use of power during daylight hours and cuts were in force each day.
The winters always seemed to be longer and colder in those days and there were invariably outbreaks of infectious ailments - mumps, German measles and chickenpox in particular. It was not uncommon for twenty or thirty boys to be struck down by these epidemics at any one time and as a result some dormitories rapidly became extra sickrooms, with classes for the survivors being amalgamated . The matron and her nursing staff were always very competent in dealing with sickness and personal injury and I don't think that there were ever any fatalities!
CLARE HOUSE AND ABBEY PREPARATORY SCHOOLS