The changing face of Bedales

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By Matthew Rice, Old Bedalian 1975-1980, Chairman of Governors

Old Bedalians arrive for Parents’ Day, memorials or reunions, to visit as prospective parents or grandparents, or just because we are nearby and would like to see school
again. This is a welcome part of every day in Steep and we are always welcome. There is huge comfort in the place: the Library and Lupton Hall, the Orchard and the sand quarry, Steep Church or Steephurst. That familiarity is a good antidote to a life of moving
house, one’s own, or our parents’, but what if it at first seems unrecognisable? In fact,  while the overall landscape may be reassuringly familiar, the buildings are far from unchanged.

In the last 15 years, the buildings at the school have seen a period of development unmatched since the early years; nowhere is this more apparent than on arrival. The old blue Bedales School sign may be the same that was put up in the seventies (even earlier?)
but modest wooden arrows direct you to reception. Those wondering how the S or N blocks will have fared since their erection in the heady days of 1960s expansion under Tim Slack will find the austere spare lines of those modular single storey classrooms, all
piloti and oriental horizontals, have been swept away. The pond, with goldfish and prankish addition of the marble Venus de Milo, no longer forms the centre of the teaching part of Bedales; gone also are the grove of whispering crack-barked pine trees that fringed the orchard (the latter lost in the 1987 storm). Instead you will be welcomed
in a large open hall lined with honey coloured vertical larch boarding. This is the Orchard Building (Walters and Cohen 2006) and it houses the Head, Bursar and Administrative staff, as well as all the new classrooms. Cleverly aligned to the Covered Way by a wide red brick path, this was built as a reaction to a long period of stasis in
terms of bricks and mortar and was the first part of a current series of new buildings that have made major changes to the built environment at Bedales.

The last time this happened was in the 1990s when New Boys’ flat opened next to the San and the award winning Olivier Theatre (no more plays in the Quad or Lupton Hall although the latter is seeing a renaissance as venue) appeared among some surviving pines between the Workshop and the Music School. This building (Feilden Clegg 1994) spreads the active part of Bedales westwards towards what was Mr Cobb’s farmhouse. A gloomy end to that period of development was the indoor swimming pool. Built on the site of the old outdoor pool, this is amongst the least inspired buildings at Bedales. Noisy and inexpensive red brick, a huge and charmless tiled roof and inept windows make this a sad and ugly neighbour to the Mem Pitch, relating only to the utilitarian sports hall behind it. It is hard to make these essentially massive buildings interesting and the best one could have hoped for was a quieter and less strident statement.

Beyond these two on the Dunhurst pitch is the Sam Banks Pavilion. This oak framed building comprising a single room with wrap around porch was built by Gabriel Langlands (1977-90) with the help of students and staff, the roof shingles being fixed by a
distinguished team including Keith Budge, the then Head. Designed (by me) as a focus for Dunhurst sport, it has quickly become a useful venue for general school use from reunions to fundraising events. Back at the centre of the school the old Studio and Workshop are, in contemporary parlance, undergoing repurposing and will re-emerge as The Studies, a replacement to the scattered study units of the last 50 years. Here, the architect is Richard Griffiths, responsible for the sensitive and thoughtful restoration of the Lupton Hall in 2017.

Cars have been another reason for change. Bigger vehicles and many more of them have meant giving in to more and more car parking. All efforts have been made to hide or
soften the effect of this but it is a blight in what is, so importantly, a school in the country. Two more big changes are to the northeast. Outdoor Work, in its current form the brain child of the late John Rogers (staff 1975-86), brought forward by Peter Coates (staff 1989-93) and now subject to the remarkable attention of Andrew Martin (staff 2014-present) has spread its oak framed wings over an ever increasing area. Those who left before 1980 and have never returned will find the astonishing Sotherington Barn, a gift
of Lord Selborne re-erected as part of a re-birth of good buildings at Bedales (oddly with minimal support from the Board at the time). Around it, lies the Bakery and a series of smaller barns and workshops frequenting the work of students. The observant might spot that the leaded windows that had perished in the main part of Steephurst have a
new life in a substantial rustic orangery and find much snuffling of pigs, collecting of eggs and growing of vegetables in the plots around the barn.

Lastly, the new studio and workshop in the Art & Design building are a dramatic change. Designed by the same practice as the Theatre but by a different partner, Tom Jarman, this great Barn, part Transylvanian, part Midwestern, covers the area once occupied by the estate yard and the infamous huts (printing works, stage hut and BUNCO hut). The new studio is lofty and has wonderful views to the north, while the workshops still house
the familiar benches, G clamps and vices. Perhaps this is the most dramatic of the recent changes but I hope one that is a powerful expression of what is characteristic about Bedales.

The estate is changed but unchanged. Trees blow down and trees are planted, the Orchard is much restored; long grass and wildflowers have replaced endless mowing and the A3 carriageway has sliced off a bit of the Petersfield end of the school. Dunhurst and Dunannie are also altered – the subject of a later article – but imagining the roar of the traffic as being the sea on the shingle, standing on the Mem Pitch is a remarkable opportunity to lose 20, 40 or 60 years. There is permanence in the view of Butser, the backdrop of Stoner and the Hangers, the sand quarry, the Dining Room and of course the Library and Lupton Hall.

And the greatest permanence of all is the students, lying in the Orchard, leaning over the Covered Way or walking from the station. They are the continuum and amongst the new buildings and the altered views, the most reassuringly utterly unchanged thing of all.