Building the theatre – a brief history

By Ian Newton, former Head of Bedales (1992-94)

Before I arrived in September 1992, I attended a number of early appeal meetings. The governors’ intention was to build a new theatre as a centenary building and to finance it half by appeal and half from school funds. There was a good deal of enthusiasm for the project, though I remember some disagreement between professional actors in the Bedales diaspora, who favoured a less intimidating proscenium arch design, and those more familiar with school drama who largely favoured a more thrust approach, placing less reliance on the power of young voices.

The ambition was for a theatre of ‘wigwam’ design by Ian Templeton, of award-winning Hampshire County Architects. It was to cost £2m, and this required the appeal to raise around £1m. This was set against the construction of New Boys’ Flat, which started in September 1992, and cost £1.8m from the school’s own resources. It was designed by (Sir) Colin Stansfield Smith who led the Hampshire team.

As the appeal progressed, it became clear that it was unlikely to raise the necessary sums, and that the school would be in difficulty if it proceeded with the theatre without that income. Coincidentally, Alison Willcocks (staff, from 1983; head, 1994-2001) and I were working with Matthew Rice (1975-80) on a new prospectus and, in one of our visits to his studio in Fulham, he sketched a much simpler and cheaper approach, involving a courtyard set against the existing drama studio completed on the fourth side with a Hampshire barn, to be moved from an existing site. Unlikely as it was that this would gain planning approval (moving barns being less acceptable than when the original barns were moved), it set us thinking and Matthew suggested we talk to Charley Brentnall at Carpenter Oak who had been responsible for moving the original barns. Charley Brentnall put us in touch with Roderick James (timber frame specialist architect) and Peter Clegg (specialist architect in ventilation), who started developing designs. The theatre was to be timber framed and draw, not on artificial ventilation, but on natural ventilation through the tall ‘chimney’ in the centre. This fitted with the school’s environment ambitions.

The change in plan caused difficulty with some who had already contributed to the appeal. It led to a difficult opening meeting addressed by Sir Hugh Beach (Chair of Governors, 1990-96) which was expertly chaired by Kiffer Weisselberg (1954-61).

In due course, construction started with framing done on site and pegs made in part by Dunannie pupils. It was opened in 1996 and named after Lord Olivier. I gathered later from Sir Hugh that in fact it cost about £2m of which the governors contributed £1m from school funds – so no different from the original! This was apparently due in part to the insistence of building control, unfamiliar with this type of construction, on what they were thought by the architects to be unnecessary additional features.

A key contribution to the success of the project was the appointment of Mike Morrison (staff, 1993-2000), who came from Monmouth School in 1993, to be the first head of drama. While the theatre debate raged, in the term before he took up his post, he brought a small play from Monmouth, performed in the Reading Room, which led at least this observer to question why we needed a new theatre at all if he could create such magic in the simplest of rooms!

Buildings of Bedales

By Alastair Langlands, former staff (1973-2001)

I plan to produce an illustrated book of the school’s history by examining what buildings have been bought, modified, extended, erected, demolished or projected over the 125 years of its existence. The book will be illustrated with photographs dating from 1893 and will include building ventures which have outlived their usefulness and have been pulled down, as well as those that have curiously vanished. An example of this latter is Wavy Lodge; it was the brain child of Peter Eckersley (1902-11) who, with friends, built and equipped the Lodge.

Wavy Lodge and its establishing committee

From here these pupils received radio signals and communicated with the world beyond Steep from about 1904. Eckersley was a pioneer of British broadcasting, the first Chief Engineer of the British Broadcasting Company Limited from 1922-1927 and Chief Engineer of the British Broadcasting Corporation until 1929.

Photographs of the shed are numerous, but even after close study, Ian Douglas (Bedales Librarian) and I cannot agree on Wavy Lodge’s exact position on the estate. Robert Best (1902-10) whom I met in 1974 could have told me but by the time I had learned that no one else alive knew of its location, Robert could not speak. This disintegrated Lodge will be included because it is a significant moment in the history of the school and the characteristic enterprise of its pupils.

To appreciate the value of these buildings it is worth having as a background even some little acquaintance with architectural history. To this end, 30 years ago, Ruth Whiting (staff, 1963-2000) was *given money to spend on books for the Memorial Library and among others she purchased Nikolaus Pevsner’s The Buildings of England: London in six volumes.

You can find them in the last but one bay on the right. We agreed that these would satisfy the historians as well as those interested in furthering their enthusiasm for architecture. The title of this introductory article is intended to echo that extraordinary and unique study of all English architecture, published by Allen Lane of Penguin Books beginning with Cornwall in 1951.**

The Apple House

Another remembered building is the Apple House, built from wattle and daub by pupils in 1935 for the storage of the fruit of the orchards about the estate; it was severely damaged in the Great Storm of 1987, used for a short time, at the request of pupils, as a space for contemplation, then declared unsafe, and scattered.

The book will give an account of why buildings are proposed, how and by whom they are designed and when it becomes possible to complete them. There are the Memorial Library and the Memorial Pitch: both are the result of a desire to remember the sacrifice of pupils and staff who fell in the two World Wars which it has been the fate of Bedales to witness and the memorials are gifts from a wide collection of donors which are one major source of enrichment of the school’s surroundings.

Diving facility before the later covered pool

There is an effect of buildings which enclose a vulnerable and impressionable pupil, the appearance and spirit of the architecture.

Sheena Meier, the wife of the Head (1935-46) who succeeded Mr Badley, writes, “I am always reminded of the opening of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities when I think of 1940. For us it was the worst of years and it was the best of years. It was a time of fear and a time of exaltation. We lost at Bedales a third of the pupils and the school recovered the spirit of community of the early years”.

Throughout the long six years of war, the Meiers always supposed that after victory in 1945 numbers would rise again (as indeed they did) and a necessary programme of renovation and modernisation would begin. But although applications for entry to Bedales increased and there was increased money from income, restrictions on construction and requirement of licence made any expansion or development difficult to achieve.

It is not until, like the alignment of the planets which occurs only in special predictable circumstances***, three principles are simultaneously satisfied that these enterprises can easily be achieved:

  1. The need for expansion because of the increase in the number of pupils or change of arrangements, like the introduction of the 6.2 boarding house
  2. The increase in income from fees to finance the construction which may lead to the bank loan which enables the £7.5 million to build the Orchard Block
  3. The determination to modernise domestic, sporting and teaching amenities according to expectations of pupils and (especially) parents.

Large scale architectural enlargement had to wait for 50 years. During the 1930s and 1950s the architect Vyv Trubshawe (1905-12) was given the task of making the school a more comfortable and therefore more efficient institution.

Hector Jacks (Head, 1946-62) writes, “There was the plan for large scale reconstruction that had been drawn up during the war years, which some hoped would be put into operation as soon as conditions were favourable, once the war was over. But all thoughts of that were soon abandoned; quite apart from the fact that building licences, the need for which was to be with us for several years to come, would never have been obtained for most of the work that would have been involved, the money was not available and was not likely to be raised by even the most successful of appeals…

“Vyv Trubshawe was a good architect and a devoted OB whose lot it was to serve a Board of Governors who, for obvious reasons, had no alternative but to tell him to watch every penny that he proposed to spend … so we had some austerity of design, flat roofs and no frills.

“Payment for the eventual Music School was completed on the morning of the day it was opened in the summer of 1960; (the gift of) a cheque was received from Nelson Haden, father of four Bedalians and Chairman of Governors 1947-49.”

This Music School was unrealised

Later, in the same restrictive atmosphere, Greville Rhodes (1926-33) designed the “N” (north) block and Jon Barnsley (1941-47) the “S” (south) block.

Entrance to Reception, 1970

Jack Walesby (first Bursar, 1948-72) sees the evolution as “the autocratic years of the founder and the inhibited years of his successor which gave way to the post-war years of participation: every problem, every new idea, every proposed alteration was debated … all the staff felt they needed to contribute to the discussions”.

There are two important building phases: Edwardian confidence (1893-1922) and 21st century enthusiasm for devotion to making proper use of neglected Lupton Hall and a further purpose of the 18th century Steephurst Barn as well as launching into new facilities for Art and Design.

Covered Quad with fives courts in 1904

Since the appearance of the Memorial Library, redbrick and timber have been the prevailing building materials.

And, for the future, the adventure of a new assembly hall based in the gymnasium in order to redeem the loss of the Quad (Sheena Meier’s “Nerve Centre of the School”).

*By Cecilia Brayfield (parent) for Ruth and me to share.

**Over the decades Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been included. No other country in the world has this amazing expert study of its architecture, making every journey a potentially fascinating pleasure. Pevsner’s aim, in which he, to a large extent, succeeded, was to visit and record every architectural feature throughout the land. His notes will be quoted, and credited, in my book.

***May AD 2492.

Alastair Langlands would be grateful for any good photographs of buildings at Bedales from the years before 1940 (to add to those from the school archive) and an answer to these questions:

  • Where were the stables and riding school?
  • Where was Wavy Lodge?
  • When was the term ‘Block’ first used for our buildings and class years, and why?

Alastair’s book, Buildings of Bedales, will be published in 2022. Cost is £10 with all profits going to the John Badley Foundation. If you would like to reserve a copy, please email alumni@bedales.org.uk.

Garrett Day celebrations

On Wednesday, staff and students came together for the inaugural Garrett Day. As Badley Day and Powell Day do, Garrett Day gave us a valuable opportunity to work together in a ‘whole school effort’, practising the school motto – ‘Work of Each for Weal of All’ – while working on a range of projects to improve the outdoor environment at Bedales and beyond.
 
This year’s projects saw Outdoor Work BAC students dismantle an old chicken hut in preparation for replacing it with a new timber framed building as part of their BAC and timber framing enrichment next year, while others dug foundations for a field shelter on the field by the Roman Road. As well as litter-picking, baking, wool sorting and weeding ten wheelbarrows worth of thistles in the meadow between ODW and Art & Design, students volunteered at Steep Primary, where they moved an existing chicken coop, re-fixed four existing fence posts and installed six new ones, installed approximately 20 metres of chicken wire, and built and provided a gate.

Block 5 student Raph, who volunteered at Steep Primary, said: “We spent our time digging and placing posts, followed by lining the perimeterwith chicken wire and creating some doors as a way in and out. It was an enjoyable and rewading day, and worth the effort we put in.”

Global Awareness sessions sparked enlightening discussions on diversity (read more about the sessions below), while the Parents’ Day Exhibition began to take shape in the Art & Design Building, rehearsals for the Summer Production and Parents’ Day Concert were in full swing in the Theatre and Lupton Hall, enthusiastic games of Flag Football were played out on the Steephurst pitches, and students practised their calligraphy skills in the Memorial Library and visited Dunannie to read to our youngest pupils.

Block 5 student Ava said: “On Monday I took part in Garrett Day, starting in a ‘whole school effort’, litter-picking around the campus. The weather wasn’t great so I was kitted out with wellies and waterproofs. Later, I dug the foundations for the field shelter with Clive and Al. It was a good hands-on project, and I enjoyed getting messy in the mud. After lunch, we watched the Head Student Team’s Assembly, where we voted for next year’s Head Student Team. I then went to play Flag Football on Steephurst pitches – this was great fun and enabled me to play sport with other year groups and get to know them better. Finally, I went to paint the Pavilion and did some pond clearing on Boys’ Flat. Garrett Day was a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the campus and work together outside timetabled lessons.”

Outdoor Work Summer update

By Andrew Martin, Head of Outdoor Work

It’s only been two months since my last update on the farm, yet it seems a small lifetime ago as so much has happened. We finished our first wave of lambing just in time for the Easter holidays, which produced a healthy flock of 22 new lambs. As the majority of these lambs are Jacob ewes crossed with a Southdown ram, they should reach a finished weight this autumn and will be ready for sale then.

We are currently mid-way through our second wave of lambing with our Jacob sheep, which has also produced 22 lambs (and counting). These are currently in Butts field, on the right as you drive into school. Our pure Jacob flock differs greatly from the earlier flock as they are much slower growers. They have a unique fleece and are a beautiful breed to work with.

Each year during lambing we hope to find the next star ewe lamb who has all the desired traits that make up the strict characteristics of a pure Jacob. All those who don’t quite make the cut and all the males are kept for about 14-18 months before they reach their desired size and weight. Teaching our students about where meat comes from and how long it takes to produce it is integral to discussions about food, the choices we make, and the impact those choices have on our environment.

Our beautiful Dexter herd arrived in March and has been a great hit with the students. One of the primary reasons for getting them was to build on the therapeutic side of animal husbandry. The cows have gone from being a little wary at the start, to being friendly and interested in us. They are all happy on a halter (most days!) and walk really well with their student handlers. We have the cows grazing alongside our ewes and lambs which makes a beautiful sight.

On 11 April, Favour, our pregnant Dexter cow had to have an emergency caesarean. Her calf was presenting in such a way that she could not deliver it herself. It is at least 25 years since I’ve seen the procedure carried out and it was as dramatic and impressive to witness as I first remember. Unfortunately, despite the amazing skills of the vet, the calf was stillborn. Favour was heroic throughout and is making a speedy recovery.

For years now we have been slowly developing the large field opposite the Dunhurst entrance (part of which was a football pitch). Over the Easter break we made the biggest change yet and thanks to a local contractor we split the field into four smaller fields averaging 3.2 acres each. Between each field we have left a corridor for hedging and trees to be planted.

There is enough space for around 1700 hedge plants and 30 trees, six of which we have already planted. This area alone will create much needed habitat for dwindling wildlife. One of the new fields is naturally wet and has the potential to be developed into a habitat that will support many more plant and animal species. (I can see a whole school effort on the cards!!)

Elsewhere on the farm, we have now sold 15 of the 18 piglets born earlier in spring. The pigs go to local families and village pig syndicates who rear them over a six-eight month period. We have also over seeded a small field with a herbal ley for the first time, this is to create a more diverse environment within our field and to provide more mineral and trace elements to the pasture as well as medicinal qualities for our livestock. As the soil warms up and the trees and hedgerows fill out we are looking forward to the beauty that the land provides on our very own farm.

April has proved to be a very challenging month. There has been a record number of frosty mornings and no rain to kick start the grass growth we so desperately depend on at this time of year. It’s not often you hear farmers praying for rain, but if you listen really carefully this year you just might!

We are still on the look out for a pony or donkey. If you hear of any safe, reliable animals (preferably one that can pull a cart, although not essential), please do let us know. 

For the latest updates from Outdoor Work, make sure you’re following us on Instagram and Twitter.

Biodiversity update – Moths

By Mary Shotter, Biology Technician

Moths are declining in the UK. Studies have found the overall number of moths has decreased by 28 percent since 1968. The situation is particularly bad in southern Britain, where moth numbers are down by 40 percent. Many individual species have declined dramatically in recent decades and over 60 became extinct in the 20th century.

These alarming decreases in moth populations are not just bad news for the moths themselves, but also have worrying implications for the rest of our wildlife. Moths and their caterpillars are important food items for many other species, including amphibians, small mammals, bats and many bird species.

The reasons for the loss of moths are likely to be many and complex, including changes in the way we manage our gardens, pesticides, herbicides and light pollution. Climate change appears to also be affecting moths.

However at Bedales moths appear to be doing very well. Over the last few months, I have been putting out a ‘light trap’ once a week to attract moths and have so far found just over 100 species, including 4 types of hawkmoth – elephant, pine, poplar and the giant privet hawkmoth which has a 12cm wingspan.

Many of the moth species we have at Bedales are masters of camouflage – such as the Buff tip, which disguises itself as a birch twig and the Flame which has evolved to resemble a broken stick.

My favourite to date has to be the wonderfully named Merveille du Jour which translates roughly as ‘the best thing I’ve seen all day’ –  pictured above (bottom right) merging into lichen on a fence behind the science department.

Many moth caterpillars feed on grasses and it appears that the policy of keeping  areas around the school uncut is reaping rewards for both moths and the many other species that depend on them.

Innovation at Bedales

By Alistair McConville, Director of Learning and Innovation

Outdoor work at Bedales

Another way is possible. At Bedales we have long eschewed a narrow focus on preparing students for terminal exams. A nourishing educational experience must do much more than fill heads with knowledge for the sake of supervised regurgitation. We live out our Ruskin-inspired motto: “Head, Hand and Heart”. Every day at school should strike a balance between intellectual stimulation, creative work, and service to the community. We have recently re-structured our school day around this principle. There is choice about when to get up, since we know that autonomy is motivating, and that not all adolescents are designed for early mornings. Lots of students will opt to start the day with a co-curricular activity: meditation, feeding sheep, baking bread, a country walk; they might get into the kitchens to help serve and clear breakfast; others will choose a little more slumber before academic lessons and plan their activities for later. We know that an under-slept student is an inefficient one. Lessons start at 9.45. A full hour later than they used to be. We know that it’s refreshing for students to take breaks and to switch activity, so we have built a further blast of non-academic activity into the middle of the day. Music ensembles, drama rehearsals, service activities with local community partners, tending the vegetable garden, or a tennis lesson, for example. More lessons in the afternoon, followed by a final raft of optional activities in the evening. But, crucially, lots of choice about when to be active and when to rest. So, everyone chooses co-curricular activities, but by no means in every slot. It’s really important for young people to be able to opt for unstructured leisure, too, and they can choose when to get their homework done as long as they hit the deadline. No compulsory ‘prep’ times here.  

Alistair McConville and Bedales students

We have baked our “Head, Hand, Heart” principles into curriculum and assessment. For a dozen years Bedales has been issuing the now famous ‘Centre Assessed Grades’ for its own GCSE-equivalent courses, the Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs). We have trusted teachers to report reliably and constructively on the broad range of work that students do, and so have universities. And we have been able to assess in a much broader way than GCSEs permit. As part of our Outdoor Work BAC, for example, a student’s ability to work in a team whilst renovating a tractor is as much a part of their assessment as writing about the process. Their ability to explain and defend their project to an audience counts towards their grade. This is ‘work that matters’ to paraphrase Ron Berger. We’re rolling out a Level 3 equivalent course in Living With the Land this September to teach students how to live in a radically sustainable way. Watch out for a proliferation of cob houses and hemp-clad foragers in the Hampshire hills!

We’re adopting a rigorous project-based learning approach in year 9, inspired by the Expeditionary Learning Movement and our friends at the XP School in Doncaster. Students will work on real-life enquiry questions and study across disciplines in order to respond practically to real-world issues. For example, we will look at the contemporary refugee crisis through the lenses of history, geography, religious studies and literature at the same time as planning practical responses to support our partners at the Rural Refugee Network.

It’s an enviable experience for our students and they know it, but we don’t want to keep it all to ourselves. We are eager to share this kind of rounded, enriching approach to education with others, knowing that far too many languish in an unfulfilling exam-obsessed rut. We’re working with a small number of independent schools to build a partnership with our innovative colleagues and friends in the maintained sector at Bohunt School, Gosport’s Key Education Centre, School 21 and the XP School to make the case for significant national assessment reform. Watch this space, but the time has never felt more ripe for a thorough re-thinking of the drudgerous, purgatorial treadmill of an education system obsessed with terminal exam results…  

Second phase of new student studies underway

New-studies

By Richard Lushington, Bursar

The first phase of the refurbishment of the old Art and Design buildings to create new student studies is complete, and 80 study spaces (pictured above) were opened just after the start of this term.

Designed by Richard Griffiths Architects, with the interior completed in consultation with Old Bedalian and current Governor Anna Keay, the second phase started immediately after the first. The old Art buildings were stripped of anything that could be recycled ahead of their demolition at half term, when we also took the opportunity to remove the first two of the Academic Village buildings. A new building – a timber-framed structure clad in oak – will be built on the footprint of the old Art building; once complete it will offer our students excellent facilities in which to learn and spend time.

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