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Winchester House School in Brackley 1918-2018

Winchester House School was founded in 1875 in St Leonard’s on Sea and moved shortly afterwards along the Kent coast to Deal. In 1911-12 WHS merged with Spondon House School, Derbyshire and a tradition of Joint Headmasters was inaugurated under Edward Leachman and Telford Hayman. Leachman retired in 1914, leaving Hayman in sole charge.

The explosive sinking of a British warship only yards from the seafront position of the School led Hayman to move from Deal to the safer inland position of Kenfield Hall, but even that was not safe, since marauding Zeppelins on missions to bomb London had a tendency to jettison their bombloads over Kent.

After some searching, Hayman alighted on the choice of Brackley Lodge as a refuge from naval or airborne danger and moved the School there in 1918. This could only be a temporary move, however, because the site was cramped and left little scope for expansion. In 1922, St Edith’s School for Girls closed and Winchester House moved into its former site, Brackley Manor, just a short walk away.

Hayman was a Headmaster of great energy and foresight: he took Sidney Osborne into brief partnership between 1922 and 1925, during which period Rugby replaced Association Football as the premier winter sport. Progress was swift, for in 1929 not a single point was conceded by the First XV. Much of the credit for this must go to Ronald Davis, who had joined the Staff in 1925, along with Stuart Meikle, an Old Boy from the days in Deal. Meikle and Davis impressed Hayman so much that he took them into partnership in 1930; they formed the core of a Staff which was to include Evan Hope-Gill and Michael Llewellyn, founders of the Mermaids Society, which was formed as a Play Reading Society and eventually became the core of the cultural life of the School.

Academic life was rigorous and successful for those willing to display a determined work ethic. The Honours Boards are testimony to the remarkable talent of Hayman and his Staff for inspiring gifted boys to achieve Scholarships at leading Public Schools. Another outstanding hero of WHS was Bernard Gadney, who captained the England Rugby team to Grand Slam success in 1934, as well as his own team, East Midlands, to the Championship in the same year, feats inconceivable in the present day.

Boys remembered the 1930s at WHS as rather austere and physical, but not without lighter moments, such as rough shooting with Ronald Davis or the building of camp kitchens on the “Mus” before the annual Scout Camps held for many years at Turweston Park.

In 1936, the retirement of Telford Hayman’s wife, Alys, was announced. She lived for a number of years in Gotherington, near Cheltenham, where she died early in the Second World War. Her imposing feminine influence was replaced by that of Marjorie Meikle, known to generations as “Hosky”. Both Ronald Davis and Stuart Meikle had married in 1932, Davis to Joan Thomas, ”the finest lady cricketer in England”, and Meikle to Marjorie Hoskings, who was at the time an Assistant Matron at the School.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes, famous for his exploits in the First World War, presented the prizes at Sports Day in 1937 and expressed his confidence that whatever challenges the future might hold, WHS boys would rise to them. These challenges arose in 1939 with air-raid precautions, evacuation drills, hammocks in the Stone Corridor and the arrival in Brackley of evacuees from London. The monastic appearance of the School body was relieved by the temporary enrolment of three girls: Jean Meikle, Pat Davis (daughters of Meikle and Davis) and Mary Amos (sister of a pupil whose parents had moved from London to Brackley for the duration). All three remembered their time with great fondness but some regret, since Rugby was not allowed to them!

The only damage to School property in the War was the destruction of the recently-built School Pavilion by fire. The blame for this was never established, but carelessness by units who had hired it for military training was the likely cause, rather than Fifth Column activity.

Not so light, sadly, were the casualties to Old Boys. In virtually every theatre of the War they served, above and on land, on and under the sea: if a school had Battle Honours, they would include the desperate destroyer battle at Narvik, the deadly naval campaigns in the Eastern Mediterranean, convoy operations in the Atlantic, air operations over Europe, the “hinge of fate” at Alamein and the North African campaign, D-Day and the ensuing liberation of Europe. In all these places, Old Boys were lost, as well as in training accidents, unexplained losses at sea and the horrors of Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. Their names are recorded on the triptych in the Chapel and they are remembered publicly on November 11th.

Having steered the School through two wars, Telford Hayman remained in charge. He had remarried, his new wife being a former teacher, Muriel Oswald, with whom he had two daughters. As family man and Headmaster, he never spared himself and it was after preaching at a local church that he contracted a chest infection and died in 1950. The Hayman Memorial Library (now the School Office) was opened in honour of Telford Hayman in 1951.

Meikle and Davis continued their joint roles until 1955, when they were joined as partners by Michael Llewellyn. These years held many challenges, not least the dreaded Eleven-plus examination introduced by the 1944 Education Act. Some boys took this examination; most were glad to wait two years until Common Entrance.

Times were changing for privately-owned schools, however, and in 1958 WHS became a Trust with a Board of Governors, the first Chairman of which was Bob Seligman. All the members were either Old Boys or very well acquainted with WHS and their first major task was to oversee the remodelling of the Upper School and the building of the Hall, after lengthy fund-raising appeals. A redesigned Hippodrome followed in 1968 with the addition of laboratories on the first floor.

By this time, Stuart Meikle had retired in 1962 and he was followed by Ronald Davis in 1972 and Michael Llewellyn in 1974. Richard Speight, an Old Boy who remembered seeing Telford Hayman’s funeral starting down the Main Drive, became Headmaster and ushered in a period of fundamental change.

In 1976, the Pre-Preparatory department was opened, implying the admittance of day pupils who would then grow through the School. By the official Centenary Year of 1976-7, plans to introduce girls were in preparation. The first of these arrived in 1978, followed by the purchase of Drayton House Cottage for girl boarders. This was so successful that the Cottage was replaced in 1990 by a purpose-built girls’ boarding house, Drayton House. All these changes, and the staff changes which accompanied them, went far towards fulfilling Richard Speight’s aim of making Winchester House a somewhat gentler environment.

Many will have been relieved by the opening of the new Swimming Pool in 1981, to replace the rather primitive affair hitherto endured by hardy souls. Sport, however, remained at the centre of much of Winchester House life, the stated ambition being that everyone should at some time have the opportunity to play in a School team. Outdoor pursuits also included canal expeditions, camping and sailing adventures and for many years scouting, later replaced by the Activities programmes.

1996-7 brought two retirements: Bob Seligman stood down as Chairman of Governors in 1996 to be succeeded by Keith Fowler, an Old Boy with particular skills in the world of business and Richard Speight was succeeded as Headmaster by Jeremy Griffith in 1997.

Building work continued apace: the Sports Hall (or Spo) opened in 1998 and the Art, Design and Technology Centre in 2000. Most of all, though, this was a period of change in which the pressure to conform to national standards was keenly felt. The success of a school was now to be reflected in the assessment of Inspectors and this meant that planning, recording and justifying had to be transparent. A huge amount of work was undertaken in this area by Margaret Marsh, Deputy Head (Academic) at this time, with successful results.

The death of Bob Seligman in 2001 was followed by a most generous bequest which enabled the construction of the Seligman Building for Years Three and Four, The Forum and The Music Centre in 2005. By this time, Mark Seymour had succeeded Jeremy Griffith as Headmaster, with the intention of building upon the work of his predecessors in the development of the pupils as individuals fulfilling their varied potentials in the modern world. Information Technology featured prominently in the ongoing reforms but the lessons taught by history were equally valued. Many will remember with fondness the 2012 Olympic Week which involved the entire School in celebrations of the Games. All this time, the Pre-prep and Nursery continued to provide its pupils with the best of starts, much helped by the opening of the Extension in 2013.

Emma Goldsmith succeeded Mark Seymour in 2013 since when there has been continuous activity: the Seymour Astroturf pitch; ongoing refurbishment of classrooms and reorganisation of laboratories and ICT facilities; reforms to the shape and length of the school day and the introduction of consideration of wellbeing for all.

And so we come to this Centenary celebration of the residence in Brackley of Winchester House School. As the founding generation might have put it: Floreat Domus!