It’s easy to become inured to the beauty of this place. “I’d forgotten it was so beautiful,” were the first words I heard from a returning head boy as he stood outside the old Reception several years after he had left, soaking it all up as he gazed at the place whose beauty he had grown up in and taken for granted.
Steep wasn’t John Badley’s initial choice of place. He took a 21 years’ lease on the 30 acres of the Old Bedales at Lindfield near Hayward’s Heath where the school first started in January 1893. He had hoped to extend the building, but the development of that site proved difficult. So he looked for a larger space where he could build afresh and bought the 100 acres of Church (or Steephurst) Farm here at Steep, to which the seven girls and 70 boys moved in September 1900.
Steephurst, an unprepossessing brick building then, was the farm house; there were some barns – the one beside Steephurst that is now the drama studio and the Black Barn – but otherwise Badley had to build. So, the move to Steep gave the opportunity for the school’s early folklore to develop. The E.F. Warren Main School building with the Quad at its centre was unfinished when that valiant band of 77 students moved here in 1900. The Quad, open to the elements, was bare earth and snow drifted into the rooms that surrounded it in the first harsh winter.
Badley’s belief in the influence of the environment and the importance of his students having space to roam went hand in hand with the virtues of manual work. Read ‘School Talks in Peace and War’ and you will see that for example in July 1914 in his Jaw ‘What the School Stands For’ he is explicit on this matter: “health, freedom, comradeship”. At this same period he talks about the importance of manual work, which is important for four reasons: it is healthy, real, necessary and unselfish.
Later in 1911, in a Jaw called ‘The Building of Thelema’, it is clear that the building of the school in his promised land of Steep is the physical act and emblem of the creation of his educational vision: “Year by year the building is going on and you are helping to build it. I do not mean these actual buildings of brick and timber, or even the [Lupton] Hall that is beginning to rise as your gift to your school… For the spirit in which we work and live is the stuff with which we build the city of our dreams.”
For us, the sense that the place has been moulded by the work of generations of students and staff is integral to its influence on how we feel and think about it. The awareness that this process of continuous change is healthy and invigorating is at the heart of that influence.
By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools