Reunion and Immortality

In 2001, James Alcock contacted Peter Barclay-Jones through his web site and talk of forming an association of former Clare House Preparatory School pupils began. Soon after, James contacted the new Primary School and another former pupil, Robert Hudd, had left his name at the school, so James contacted him. There were now three former pupils back in touch after more than thirty years. After a search through telephone directories and personal contacts, this number had swollen to over twenty-five former pupils by 2002.

On 12th October 2002, a new association was formed. The Clare House Preparatory School Former Pupils and Staff Association, or Clare House Association for short, was formally organised and chartered with Peter Barclay-Jones as the first Chairman and James Alcock as the first Vice-Chairman. This was done at the school's first reunion held on that date. After more than three decades, former pupils of the old Preparatory School now had an association with reunions scheduled every two to three years.

On 12th October 2002, the Clare House Association became a real Association, with Members meeting to remember the School and the part it played in their lives.

There were around twenty former Clare House pupils, and several wives and partners at the Reunion. Clare House Primary School made their facilities available. The Beckenham Historical Society, the Beckenham Photographic Society and the Spring Park Cine and Video Society were also involved to record this momentous event.

A Constitution for the Association was also formally adopted by the Membership and the amount of the annual subscription was agreed.

The Association invited the Head of Clare House Primary School to unveil a plaque, donated by James Alcock, commemorating the Preparatory School. This plaque hangs in the foyer of the Primary School for all to see. After this, the first group photograph since 1970 of former Clare House Preparatory School pupils was taken.

Members then enjoyed a roast beef dinner with wine. Toasts were proposed to The Queen and to the Clare House Schools, both old and new. After dinner, a group of Year 6 children performed a play specially written for this occasion by James Alcock, entitled "The Clare House Time Machine". The play featured the Preparatory School and the Primary School, symbolising the link between the two.

The formal part of the evening was concluded by short speeches by the Chair, the Vice-Chair and the Head of Clare House Primary School, followed by a short slide show presented by Peter Walker (Form II, 1970).

Pupils at the new Primary School are now taught the history of the former Preparaton School in Local History lessons and people are reminded of the old school's existence by the commemorative plaque hanging in the new school's foyer for all to see.

Clare House Preparatory School, which suffered an untimely death in 1970, has now come back to life in reunions and in theatre and has finally been given its deserving prominent place in Beckenham's history rather than being allowed to fade away and die due to lack of interest, a fate it was worth a lot more than.

The newest Clare House Primary School, built on the former playing fields in 2015

Click on this gallery of pictures to enlarge them

​Having closed the Beckenham premises, Mr Hodges joined the Army as an Adjutant in the Churchill IXth Heavy Tank Battalion. The Churchill tanks were manufactured by Vauxhall and were not particularly reliable at that time. The Battalion managed to get about six out of the first hundred tanks into working order.

Eventually, as part of a fighting tank unit, John Hodges was one of the first A" troops to enter Germany.

In the meantime, the buildings of Clare House School in Beckenham, had requisitioned for War work by the Army and later the Ministry of Works. When Major Hodges returned, there were over two hundred Irish workmen billeted in tilt buildings while the work of re-building Beckenham was going on. It was clear that unless some action was taken to have the workmen moved elsewhere, Clare House School would not re-open.

By all accounts, Robin Gladstone by now was not in good health, spending much time in nursing care, and so was unable to do much in a practical way to assist the Headmaster in getting the School functioning again. So Martin and Carnaby, Estate Agents of Dulwich, in south-east London were employed to negotiate with the Ministry for the return and restoration of the buildings. The negotiations seemed to have been forced into rounds of bargaining, rather than being true negotiations.


Building on Success

In 1947, Major Hodges re-opened Clare House School in Beckenham, with just two classes running. Times were hard and it took many more years to get the compensation through from the Ministry. This was paid directly to the School's management, the Abbey and Clare House Company Limited, which was based at the Abbey School in East Grinstead, in Sussex.

Clare House School Badge


Demolition of Clare House School buildings began in the Spring of 1971 with the main, buildings on Oakwood Avenue. By August 1971, the main buildings, the classroom block and part of 'the Big' were taken down and the ground was levelled. By the Autumn of that year, the remainder of the school was taken down and levelled.

In 1972, foundations were laid for a new school which was to be a modern state-of-the-art primary school that would rise on the site. It was completed and opened in 1976. 

Demolition of Clare House School 1970-1971
Pictures courtesy of Andrew Barr and Peter Walker
Click on this gallery of pictures to enlarge them

Much of the School's memorabilia was sold by auction in the gymnasium to who was interested. Items such as School cups, furniture and fittings all went under the auctioneer's hammer. The site was sold and the buildings were demolished. Except for few small items, none of the School's records or papers was preserved.

​Auction Day 5 August 1970
Pictures courtesy of Andrew Barr
Click on this gallery of pictures to enlarge them

The Dining Hall (later, the Senior Dining Hall)
Picture by courtesy of John Hodges

The goodwill of Clare House School was then purchased by Mr Robin Gladstone (of the family of politicians), who was at that time Headmaster of the Abbey School in Beckenham. A new Headmaster for Clare House, Mr Cyril Crump, was appointed by Mr Gladstone to run the establishment. The fact that Mr Gladstone had purchased the goodwill of the School did not become public knowledge until 1939. In the meantime, Cyril Crump and his staff worked hard to breathe new life into Clare House School.

In 1936, a Mr A W E (John) Hodges was appointed Assistant Master at the School and effectively it was he who was then running the School.

At that time, the facilities were still rather basic: there was a large Nissen hut between the main buildings of the School and the gymnasium building. In the front part of this hut, Sixth Form lessons were taught, while at the back, carpentry classes were conducted. It is evident from this that by the late 1930's, the School was flourishing again, thanks to many years of hard work put in by Cyril Crump and his team.

Indeed, in 1938 a block of seven new classrooms was built and the Nissen hut was removed from what was, in more recent times, the school playground. These classrooms were furnished with new desks, chairs and equipment, all purchased out of the School's income. I believe that the black and white pictures in this book originate from around this time.

The School was now so popular that it was full. Indeed, it needed to employ two cooks - these ladies were sisters from the Newcastle area.

History of Clare House Preparatory School 1895-1970
​By Peter Barclay-Jones

Much of what I (Peter Barclay-Jones) have written here is based on the memories of Clare House's long-serving former Headmaster, Mr John Hodges, who kindly agreed to talk to me one day in June 2001 about his experiences at the School. The business of the closure of the School obviously had many painful memories for him. John Hodges died on 20th December 2003.

Please bear in mind when reading this history that it is largely based on personal experiences and memories.

I am grateful to Mr John Hodges for allowing me to use the copies of the photographs of Clare House that I have used on this page.

Research For The Clare House Preparatory School History Project

8th August 2000

I spoke to Cliff Watkins, Membership Secretary of the Beckenham Photographic Society. Cliff was able to tell me that Clare House Preparatory School was established in 1892 (for boarding and day pupils), and finally closed due to financial difficulties in 1970. Apparently, in Clare House's early days, Beckenham was an area favoured by service personnel, especially those in the Royal Navy, for sending their sons to school.

This information is all in a book entitled "Beckenham" written by Dr Eric R. Inman and the late Nancy Tonkin, published by Phillimore & Co Ltd., 2002, hard cover, 146 pages; ISBN: 1-86077-206-4. In well written text and with many good quality pictures, this book recounts the growth of Beckenham from a small village in Kent into a burgeoning suburb of London. There is a picture of Clare House Preparatory School on page 71 of this book, taken from a postcard - with an interesting message on the reverse dated 1906, from a father to his son.

The outward appearance of the School had changed little from the 1906 picture to my short time there in 1962-65, although the roadside hedge was much higher in my time, and the trees in the Headmaster's garden (at the corner of Overbury Avenue) were rather larger. I have a few colour photographs taken by my mother in 1963 during the School's Sports Day, which include (me and) some views of the back of the school buildings and parts of the school field.

18th September 2000

I posted a public appeal for information on Clare House Preparatory School on the BromleyNet community Internet site.

29th September 2000

Having made enquiries of the London Borough of Bromley, in Kent, I received some information from Simon Finch of the Local Studies Department of the Central Library 1P Bromley.

He and his colleagues were able to furnish me with some local Press cuttings that trace the development of Oakwood Avenue in Beckenham; the announcement of the closure of Clare House Preparatory School (from the Beckenham Journal and from the Bromley and Kentish Times); and some information about the opening of the new Clare House Primary School in 1976.

​The Playing Field and the Cricket Pavilion in the background
​Picture courtesy of John Hodges

While all this was going on, Miss White, a long-serving member of the School staff, conducting lessons for a small number of pupils in a private house opposite the in Oakwood Avenue.

Major Hodges and his wife, Margaret, were living in the Clare House Annexe. This a house in Perth Road, Beckenham and its garden backed on to the Clare premises. From the Annexe, the playing field, covered in Nissen huts, concrete and rubbish, was visible.

Unfortunately, the senior partner of Martin and Carnaby died before negotiations with the Ministry of Works were complete, and although agreement had been reached for the Ministry to vacate the School buildings, the terms for full compensation had been agreed. Nevertheless, one day, four or five months later, Major and Mrs Hodges were informed by the post lady that the Ministry was moving out.

The Ministry did leave in 1946 and left a terrible mess behind. The playing field had to be cleared of temporary buildings, concrete and builders' materials. It was restored by a gang of twenty-five itinerant Polish workers, who were living at that time somewhere near Bromley Common and Major Hodges hired a horse and a reaping machine from a farm near Sevenoaks, in Kent, to get the football pitches cleared and cut.

Clare House School Buildings and Playing Fields circa 1930's

Picture courtesy of John Hodges

Clare House School in the early 1900's

There used to be a stone, the size of a brick, set near the top of the outside of gymnasium wall, which bore the date AD 1897.

The Junior Classroom (Later Form '1' Classroom)                                                The Large Classroom (always known as 'The Big')
Picture courtesy of John Hodges                                                                           Picture courtesy of John Hodges

Throughout the 1950's, gradual improvements through hard work were being made to the premises of Clare House, although management at the Abbey School seemed to be quite profligate with, at one time, the company supporting three Headmasters there, each in his own residence! In Beckenham, the Clare House School was becoming well established again, and reached its capacity of 140 pupils. At this time, there were no boarding pupils, so, at a pinch, an absolute maximum of 160 boys could be accommodated at Clare House. In 1958, fees were set at 33 Guineas (£34.65) per term.

Final Years

Despite its continuing success in Beckenham, the Abbey and Clare House Company was not being careful about how its money was being managed in East Grinstead. In 1969, a financial crisis hit the Abbey School, and it was closed. It was hoped at this time, that the successful Clare House School would be able to survive on its own, but the Abbey and Clare House Company had already suffered the financial damage. decision was taken early in 1970 that Clare House would be closed in July of that This must have been a bitter blow to the Headmaster and his staff who had the School so much over so many years, only to find that mismanagement elsewhere the company meant that there was no future for Clare House. A group of parents together to form a consortium which offered to buy the school to keep it However these negotiations failed because the school was already in receivership. The closure, which was announced in January 1970, went ahead as scheduled after 23 July.​​

​The School's last official day - Sports Day, 23 July 1970    
Pictures courtesy of Peter Walker 

Click on this gallery of pictures to enlarge them

A New Beginning

Today, there is a new Clare House School which is a modern state-funded, school occupying the same site as its predecessor, although all the original buildings had been demolished.

Clare House Primary School today continues to offer the highest standards of care and  education to its pupils, and has an excellent reputation.

It is pleasing to know that the name of Clare House still survives in Beckenham. Indeed, pupils of Clare House Primary School are now actively being encouraged to investigate their School's past.

Gymnasium Wall Date Stone
Picture courtesy of Andrew Barr

George Philbrick lived in the Headmaster's house. This was the part of the School buildings at the extreme left of the frontage, as viewed from the Oakwood Avenue. In the photograph above, the Headmaster's accommodation is on the extreme right. George had a large family, so he had an extra storey built onto the Headmaster's wing for them. This did not seem to have been very well planned, as the occupants of the upper rooms had little or no water pressure with which to fill their basins!

The School acquired a reputation as being a suitable place for officers of the Royal Navy to send their sons. Apparently, the standard of education required for a son to follow his father into the Navy at that time may not always have been particularly demanding academically, and the youngsters soon learnt all they needed to know about naval life from the education they later received from the Navy.

After George Philbrick died, the School was run by a consortium of former pupils and a group of businessmen in Beckenham. One of these was appointed as the Senior Master and a period of gradual decline for Clare House School began as the difficulties of running a school became apparent to the management team. It seems as if the school had a ready source of Navy personnel who were happy to pay to have their sons attend the "right" school, but so significant were the problems for those running the school that it nearly went into liquidation.

​​​​​​​​The Clare House Preparatory School badge: "Whatever you do, do it well."

They were also able to supply a copy of the letter from the Headmaster, Major A W E Hodges, sent to parents in January 1970 informing them of the impending closure o School in July of that year; a copy of part of the School prospectus; a copy of a list from 1901 to 1961 - with handwritten additions made by the Headmaster for 1962 - of who were elected to scholarships to various public schools; a copy of a list from 1948 to 1962 of pupils who had passed the Common Examination for Entrance to Public Schools (known as the "Common Entrance").

My thanks go to Simon Finch and his colleagues in the Local Studies Department of the Central Library, Bromley, in Kent for sending me as much information as there is available in the archives there about the Clare House schools in Beckenham, Kent, and 'or making further enquiries on my behalf.

Clare House Preparatory School was linked to the Abbey School which at one time stood in Southend Road in Beckenham. The Abbey School moved to East Grinstead, in Sussex, to escape the effects of the Second World War. The Clare House pupils joined the Abbey School pupils there. Unlike Clare House School, the Abbey School did not return to Beckenham after the War.

Both schools were run by the Abbey and Clare House Company Limited. This company was in financial difficulties in April 1969, and the Abbey School closed in July of that year. It was hoped at that time that Clare House Preparatory School could have survived but, as mentioned above, it was unable to do so.

1st October 2000

I wrote to the Secretary of the The Historical Association - Beckenham and Bromley Branch to ask if any of their members may have any information about Clare House Preparatory School. The Secretary very kindly agreed to pass my request to the Editor of the Society's monthly journal - "Beckenham Historian".

I am pleased to report that one reader has contacted me, and another has put a friend in contact with me. I am grateful to these people for taking the time and trouble to get in touch with me.

I also wrote to the Secretary of the Bromley Association of Retired Teachers along the same lines, in the hope that some of the Association's members may have known some of the members of staff at Clare House, and that they had maintained contact. The Secretary wrote to me to say that since the membership of the Bromley Association of Retired Teachers consists mainly of teachers who formerly taught in the State sector, this may be unlikely. Nevertheless, the Secretary kindly agreed to publish my request.

10th October 2000

I joined eGroups' "Beckenham - UK" discussion forum, posting an appeal for information on Clare House Preparatory School. The eGroups' Beckenham - UK list enables people living or working in Beckenham, or who have connections with the town, to communicate and discuss matters of local interest.

3rd January 2001

Mrs Pat Manning wrote to me in response to my request (kindly published in the "Beckenham Historian") with some information she had prepared for the North-West Kent Family Health Service. She mentions that Clare House Preparatory School was founded in 1896 by George Philbrick. In 1940, the pupils of Clare House School joined those of the Abbey School when the latter moved to East Grinstead, in Sussex. However, when the Abbey School did not return, once that school had closed in 1969. Clare House closed soon afterwards (1970).

19th January 2001

Mrs Manning has suggested that there may be some information available in the East Grinstead area, so I wrote to the Library Service there. She has also kindly offered to follow up a number of avenues of enquiry for me, for which I am most grateful.

5th February 2001

I received a telephone call from Mrs Pat Grant, whose three sons attended Clare House in the 1960's. Mrs Grant had learnt about me through a friend who had seen my appeal for information in the "Beckenham Historian".
Mrs Grant was a friend of Major A W E Hodges, the last Headmaster of Clare House School, and she was able to give me some contact information for him.
11th February 2000

At the suggestion of Mrs Joan Roberts, Area Librarian, East Grinstead Library, I have also made further enquiries of the County Archivist at the East Sussex Records Office Lewes and of Mr Stacey, Secretary of the Ashurst Wood Historians. I have also to the County Archivist at the West Sussex Records Office at Chichester.

23rd June 2001

I went to see Mr John Hodges and spoke to him at some length. Much of what I written here is based on his memories. There seems to be very little information about Clare House School in existence. This book is the first history of the school to be put together.

The Detailed History Of The School

Early Days

In the latter years of the nineteenth century there was a school called Merton House School at 22 Oakwood Avenue, at the junction of Oakwood Avenue with Overbury Avenue, in Beckenham, Kent, in the United Kingdom. The school was founded in 1 and was run by an Oxford don from Merton College.

In 1895, the buildings of a larger school were being constructed.

This was the school that was opened in 1896 by Mr George Philbrick, a Cambridge man from Clare College, who named his school Clare House School.

The Gymnasium outside                                                                                         The Gymnasium inside
Picture courtesy of Andrew Barr                                                                              Picture courtesy of John Hodges

The Second World War

In 1939 the Second World War started. Mr Gladstone, who had now become publicly known as the owner of the School, chartered a train to take all the Abbey and Clare House staff and pupils who wanted to go with him to Woolacombe, in Devon, to the German bombs. Robin Gladstone, Cyril Crump, along with some of the Abbey and ­Clare House boys, went to Devon. Those who did not go included Mr John Hodges, who was now left running Clare House School with some Abbey School staff and some Clare House staff. The pupils now consisted of some Abbey boys and some Clare Ho boys, all aged from about 9 or 10 to 13, and some girls aged up to 16 Christopher's School, which was in Oakhill Road, Beckenham.

The staff and pupils returned from Woolacombe after less than a year, but more permanent arrangements for evacuation were soon made, as Clare House School closed in 1940 and the staff and pupils of both the Abbey and Clare House Schools went to East Grinstead, in Sussex. They went to Ashurst Wood, the home of Sir Abe Bailey, the South African millionaire and cricketer, who had the cricket field constructed there, reputedly used by the first South African touring team to visit the UK.

The School only had a few pupils now, so these were financially difficult times, but it soon settled down in the comfortable surroundings of the estate there.

In the meantime, Clare House in Beckenham had closed at Christmas 1940. Mr Hodges and his staff cleared the school buildings of furniture and stored some of it in Munns and Ridgewell's furniture repository. This repository was bombed during the War, so after the War, Mr Hodges and his staff had to rescue as much of the furniture as could still be used from the remains of the basement by digging it out of the rubble.​

​The Geography Room (later Form 'A" Classroom)                                                 The Transitional Classroom (later Form '2' Classroom)
Picture courtesy of John Hodges                                                                            Picture courtesy of John Hodges

Clare House Primary School, opened in 1976 on the site of the former Clare House Preparatory School on Oakwood Avenue

In 2015, the new Clare House Primary School was rebuilt again, located further back in what had been the playing fields, facing Overbury Avenue. New playing fields would now be located where the schools had stood facing Oakwood Avenue. The new Primary School was demolished after the new buildings on Overbury Avenue opened, to be replaced with new playing fields.