A fascinating snapshot of 110 years at Beaudesert School
From an all-boy, all boarding prep school for just 30 pupils, to the quietly trailblazing yet still traditional school it is today – here is a snapshot of Beaudesert over its 110-year history
The first few years 1908 –1918
Named after a long-lost Norman castle nearby, Beaudesert was set up in Henley-in-arden in Warwickshire by husband and wife powerforce Harry and Marjorie Richardson. It was a boarding school for just 30 boys, charging fees of around 100 guineas per year (an amount that would have covered the cost of employing four domestic servants for a year).
WWI broke out in 1914, and by the end of it in 1918 Beaudesert had lost five of its old boys to the trenches.
1918 – Beaudesert relocates to Gloucestershire
With their sights set on expanding the school to meet demand, the Richardsons moved the whole concern, 30 pupils and all, to its current spacious spot alongside Minchinhampton Common. The Victorian mock-tudor mansion that we now know as the main school building was then known as ‘The Highlands’ – a property which enjoyed 30 acres of land and commanded views down to Nailsworth and beyond. Completed in 1873, it was designed by none other than Ewan Christian – best known as the architect of the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Putting down roots – the 1920s and 1930s
These decades saw Beaudesert establishing ever stronger roots in its new Gloucestershire home, with numbers of pupils (still all boys and all boarding) rising to reach 80 by 1930.
The buying of nearby cottages and various building projects big and small created hugely improved facilities and larger teaching spaces, including a 100 seat dining room, hard tennis court, gymnasium and considerably more dormitory space for the boys.
Beaudesert’s beautiful but rather hilly grounds weren’t best suited to sport, and so in 1921 the Richardsons struck a deal to buy 10 acres of altogether more suitable land nearby from the National Trust which still owns the rolling flats of neighbouring Minchinhampton Common. In 1927 a few more acres were added, and an outdoor swimming pool created, much to the boys’ delight! Both the fields and pool are well used to this day. What the hilly grounds were perfect for however was fun in the snow, and many an old boy has reminisced about tobogganing on suitcases down the hill to Nailsworth on the last day of the autumn term to catch the train into Stroud and on home to London for Christmas!
In 1924, inspired by the gift of a typewriter, one of the pupils revived the school newspaper tradition after a lapse of eight years. Another badgered family, friends and fellow pupils for more than 200 books with which he created the school’s first library, charging three pence for each book borrowed.
In 1934 Harry’s son Austin became a partner and joint Headmaster.
In 1935 electric lighting came to Beaudesert. Not entirely trusting of this new technology, for years the Richardsons kept the old gas brackets in place as a back-up!
More wartime years 1939–1945 – tough times
The Second World War heralded a time of relative hardship for pupils and staff at Beaudesert. For a comparatively high number of former pupils, the war proved fatal. No less than 34 old boys lost their lives on the battlefield.
With three of the school’s most senior teachers called to arms, Beaudesert survived with a skeleton staff and reduced means. Back at base, rationing meant suppers tended towards bread and dripping, and the boys had to help harvest potatoes on local farms to earn money which was then donated to the Red Cross prisoners-of-war fund.
Old boys told of making mad dashes through a trap door in the staff room to get to the cellar during air raids, and of Minchinhampton Common sporting great anti-tank concrete cubes designed to stop enemy aircraft using the open space to land.
Whenever possible, the pupils still made weekly trips to church in Amberley on Sunday mornings. They would walk in crocodile formation wearing straw boaters in the summer and bowler hats in the winter.
Post-war years and beyond – austerity and resourcefulness
Though it was neither evacuated nor damaged during the war, the austerity years proved tough for Beaudesert. Petrol rationing discouraged people from sending their children very far from home, and continued food rationing made meal planning a challenge.
The wretched winter of 1947 meant no coal lorries and no fires. Pupils and staff took to cutting up fallen and old trees to fuel wood fires, and gloves and overcoats were allowed in class. On a more positive note, almost every boy learnt how to skate that winter!
By 1948 Beaudesert had 100 pupils to its name, but in 1950 the sad
day came when Headmaster Harry Richardson (known as Big Sir) died aged 89, leaving his sons Austin and Barton to run the show alongside a grieving Marjorie. The brothers were later to be joined by their brother-inlaw Vincent Keyte, married to their sister Enid, so that the school had three Headmasters.
Records show that fees were just over 200 guineas per year in 1955, rising to 360 by 1965.
All change in the 1960s, 70s and 80s
In 1967 John Keyte – Vincent’s son, a grandson to Harry Richardson and a nephew to Austin and Barton Richardson – was appointed as a fourth Headmaster.
Then in 1968 Beaudesert ceased to be privately owned and became an educational trust. A board of governors was appointed, and the house and grounds bought by the trust from the family. Soon afterwards, in 1970, John Keyte’s father and his two uncles stepped down, and John was appointed by the governors as the one and only Headmaster.
Under John’s watchful eye, and with the governors behind him, much changed at Beaudesert. Day pupils were accepted and weekly boarding introduced, helping the school appeal to more local families as well as those based further away. The school was no longer the all boys, all boarding Beaudesert of the past.
Next came the girls in 1981 (not counting a small number of family members who had attended previously), and a pre-prep department for younger children in 1987.
By the end of the 1980s the school roll had reached 240, divided pretty much equally between prep school boarders, prep school day pupils and pre-prep children.
A new headmaster and a new pace of life
The school was flourishing and facilities and school buildings were almost constantly added and updated. Two of the most notable were a new 18-metre indoor swimming pool which was unveiled in 1991, and a two-storey extension to the pre-prep department which was opened with aplomb by celebrity comic poet Pam Ayres in 1995. After 100 terms in office, John Keyte, affectionately known as ‘Junket’, retired in 1995. John Beasley took over as headmaster for a year. When he left, deputy headmaster Michael Stevens stepped up to become acting headmaster, allowing the governors to appoint James Womersley in 1997.
A look at the last 20 years
Under James Womersley’s leadership, the school continued to focus on day pupils and on weekly instead of full boarding – eventually stopping full boarding altogether while being the first in the area to offer flexi-boarding.
More building work and some acquisition has continued apace, with new classrooms, sports grounds and facilities being added year by year. Some of the most notable have included the nursery in 2012; new art studio and design and technology workshop; three new science labs; two dedicated Forest School areas in the grounds; a multi-level, Wifienabled school library; The Qube teaching block; more prime land bought; and the new, standalone performing arts centre, opened in 2015.
With one important milestone comes another. After 21 years, James Womersley and his wife Fiona are retiring this year, and in September the school will welcome new headmaster, Chris Searson.