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

Cotswold Life - - NEWS - beaudesert.gloucs.sch.uk

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.

What next?

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.

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