Choral collaboration at Somerville College Oxford

By Doug McIlwraith, Director of Music

Last Saturday 23 singers from the chamber choir joined the choir of Somerville College Oxford to sing choral contemplation. Somerville College is a little different from other Oxbridge colleges as although they have a chapel, they are non-denominational, which means the services are not religious but are a bit like the Jaws we have at Bedales. In fact, there are many similarities between our two communities and we share many of the same values, which meant that we felt quite at home when we arrived.

The choirs sang a challenging programme of music depicting the passing of the hours throughout the day, from the darkness before the dawn to daybreak, noon and evening. Block 5 student Joel Edgeworth started the service with a piano solo based on the jazz standard Stella by Starlight, and then the combined choirs sang Sure on this Shining Night by the American composer Morten Lauridsen, O Radiant Dawn by the Scottish composer James MacMillan, Silent Noon (with a stunning solo by Florence Pohlschmidt) by Vaughan Williams, My Spirit Sang all Day by Old Bedalian parent Gerald Finzi, before finishing with Evening Hymn by the Victorian composer Henry Balfour-Gardiner.

The music was interspersed with poetry readings of works by Shakespeare, Gerard Manly Hopkins, Jenny Joseph, Eleanor Wilner and Emily Dickinson, and Joel and Block 4 student Siena Marcos Bancroft Cooke performed these with confidence. Will Goldsmith also gave a reading and sang with choirs alongside Natalie and Doug, and many thanks to Matilda McMorrow for accompanying us on the trip.

It was inspiring to sing with the Somerville undergraduates and we had a chance to talk to them over coffee and find out a bit more about college life. For all those thinking about choosing a university, it was good to reflect on how a community supports its students and the intimate confines of Somerville College reminded us of the supportive community we have here at Bedales.

Bedales Greenpower team competes at prestigious Goodwood Motor Circuit

By Alex McNaughton, Head of Design

For the last eight months a team of approximately 20 students from Block 3 to 6.1 have been building and electric race car in the Design workshop. We have been doing this with the aim of competing in the national Greenpower competition. It would not have been possible to even start this undertaking without the very generous granting of funds by the Bedales Parents’ Association (BPA) nearly a year ago.

The Greenpower Educational Trust organise this annual competition each year with the aim of engaging young people about science and engineering by challenging them to design, build and race an electric race car which the students drive themselves.

It was with great excitement, and trepidation, that 12 students from Block 3, Block 5 and 6.1 accompanied by three staff entered our first ever event last Sunday (8 May) at one of the spiritual homes of motorsport in the UK – the glorious Goodwood Motor Circuit. It was a fantastic day in which we experienced the full range of emotions associated with any form of motorsport.

The day started off well with a few practice laps to fine tune the car and clock up some all-important driver experience. Unfortunately however our hopes seemed dashed moments into the first actual race of the day. The car suffered a power failure resulting in only about half our power making to the wheels. Our drivers persevered for a few laps until we decided to pit the car and remedy the issue. After nearly two and half hours of trouble shooting, maintenance and stress we managed to get the car back up and running. We were very fortunate that a couple of Greenpower volunteers and one of our competition, in the spirit of our shared endeavour, provided us with some assistance. Many many thanks to those who helped us in our hours of need. Frustratingly no one could accurately diagnose the mystery gremlin so we prepared the car as best we could and entered the second round.

Thankfully the period of doubt and anxiety was swiftly replaced by heart racing joy, elation and exuberance as the car and drivers performed fantastically well in the second round. Our car was fixed, it leapt to life as it should and sped away clocking up an above average 28 miles of racing in the afternoon. The relief was wiped from every face – we had succeeded and were competitively racing! It was an awesome feeling to be able to share in this success and reap the rewards of our many hours of hard work in building our first race car.

It was a long but utterly worthwhile day spent in the wonderful sunshine at Goodwood culminating in an incredibly successful first outing for the car and team. I am so incredibly proud of all who helped build the car, those who raced it and to all those who accompanied and supported us on the day.

I would like to say an enormous and heartfelt thank you to the BPA on behalf of the entire team for the opportunity to get this far and for the many races ahead. We are already planning ways to improve and prepare the car for our next race in September at Dunsfold.

Happy motoring to you all…

Learning the ropes of mountaineering

By Julia Bevan, 6.2 Houseparent and Teacher of English

Before half term, British recreational mountaineer David Potter visited Bedales to demonstrate climbing gear for both rock and mountain climbing to my Block 4 English elective group, who have been studying Mountains of the Mind by Robert McFarlane, The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd and Touching the Void by Joe Simpson.

Meeting in the Sam Banks Pavilion, students gathered in a circle and listened as David – who first climbed in South America and whose love of the natural world has led him into work within climate change – spoke about the kit laid out in front of them. They were fascinated as they held crampons and ice axes and learnt when they might need to use a snow anchor, held karabiners and watched how to clip themselves correctly to a rope.

After David’s visit, students reflected on the experience.

Zeb Jay said: “David does mountaineering because he likes being outside, having an amazing experience with his mates. He eats tinned and packaged food, like on Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) expeditions. He first climbed a mountain after university and it is an amazing life skill, which his family also profits from. Mountaineering is all about risk – if you have a good sense of risk you are guaranteed to be a good mountaineer.”

Orson Farley said: “I learnt that the big reason for mountaineering is getting into the depths and corners of landscapes. You can look at a mountain and maybe even hike up a bit of it, but to really understand it is to mountaineer. I’ve learnt about food and sources of energy. You have to have a high calorie count in order to function.”

Seb Stewart commented: “I learnt that in life great things take time – you can’t just run head first into climbing K2 or Everest, you start small and work your way to greatness with the support of your friends and people you trust. You don’t need to read The Top of the World just to be a successful climber. The kit used by mountaineers is so small and detailed that one may wonder how such a small thing supports such a massive thing – that being your life, and the wellbeing of your family.”

Margot Gwyer: “I learnt that you have to have masses of trust between you and the person you are climbing with. You have to listen to each other and work as a team always.”

Jack Bowdery: “Safety is the main concern in climbing. I learnt how much kit you need to bring and use. Climbing is always a risk.”

Gordon Thistleton-Smith: “I learnt that walking, hiking, climbing and mountaineering are all different levels of the spectrum of being in the environment.” 

Volunteering as a Parish Councillor

By Andrew Martin, Head of Outdoor Work

I don’t really know a lot about politics and I have never expressed an interest in it, but last summer I was delighted to be elected onto Steep Parish Council. It’s not the start of a new career – or a midlife crisis – but a way of getting to know the community I have lived in for eight years, and trying to help it in some small way.

Most people have heard about the famous ‘Jackie Weaver’ moment during a lockdown council meeting (if you haven’t, YouTube it). We haven’t had anything quite so dramatic, but sometimes it’s not far off! What I have seen though has been really humbling. I’m in awe of the time and effort that my fellow councillors put into their roles. It is a voluntary role and we officially meet once a month, but it is all the work that goes on between meetings that I’m not sure many people are aware of. I’m limited in what I can do, and volunteer for only one area, which is encouraging the young people in the community to be seen, and to take an active role in it.

On Tuesday 8 March I spent the morning with five students from Bedales, pressure washing the play equipment on the common. They had a great time removing the dirt that had built up over the years and the equipment is now ready for a coat of wood preserver, which we hope to do in the Summer Term. Pressure washing the swing set is next on our to-do list.

On Thursday 24 March we were back on the common for the morning with four different groups of students. With the help of my colleagues Stu Barilli and Katie McBride, we planted 34 trees complete with tree guards and supporting stakes. This was funded with a grant from East Hampshire District Council, with the aim of replanting the area which has suffered from ash dieback.

Our students got a great deal from it; they connected with something outside Bedales, they contributed something to their community, and learnt a bit about tree planting along the way.

Engaging creative writing trip

By Emily Coleman, Block 4

During the Easter break, I was part of a group of students who – along with Head of English David Anson and Lucy McIlwraith – visited The Hurst, playwright John Osborne’s former home in Shropshire, for a creative writing residential course with Arvon.

The trip was an enjoyable experience for us all. We spent the mornings doing writing workshops with the tutors, writers Chris Wakling and Cecilia Knapp. In the workshops we would do free writes, learn about different styles of poetry and try them, as well as working on short stories with Chris. In Cecilia’s workshops, some of the kinds of poems we tried were poems with stanzas that were haikus and golden shovel poems as well as responding to different prompts that she gave us. For our short stories with Chris, we would write parts of it in workshops, such as introductions and dialogue, with Chris giving us advice along the way. Both the tutors were really encouraging and we all felt increasing confidence during the week to share our work.

We had lots of free time in the afternoons that we spent continuing our work from the mornings and having tutorials with each of the tutors, which was a great opportunity to get feedback on what we had been doing. We all took turns cooking the dinner for everyone and getting slightly competitive about our napkin origami between the groups. For our first evening, we played a variety of games together, such as the hat game and wink murder. The next two evenings were readings from the tutors and then a guest reader, Melody Razak, read from her book Moth. On our final evening we gave a reading of work we had produced on the trip, which we were all nervous about, but we ended up having fun.

The trip gave me a chance to develop my writing skills as well as my confidence when sharing my work. It was a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere to learn and grow as writers.  

New servery and salad bar

The new servery

By Matt Potts, Head of Catering

On Friday 25 March, as the Block 3 parents’ evening was underway in the Quad, the catering team were busy on the other side of the wall, stripping out the kitchen and servery ready for the workforce to arrive the following morning and the refurbishment to begin. The existing servery and salad bar had served its purpose for many years, but the time had come to renovate the facilities and ease the flow for hungry students during busy lunchtimes.
 
It was an interesting but nerve-racking three weeks watching the progress. In its bare state, the team uncovered some wonderful hidden features that are now proudly on display. Emotions ran high, worrying if it would be completed on time – but there was no need. On Good Friday, work was complete, ready for the start of the Summer Term. I’m sure you will all agree that it is a wonderful transformation, and I look forward to seeing you here very soon. A huge thank you to all involved in this project.

The servery prior to renovation
The new salad bar
The salad bar prior to renovation

John Badley Foundation

By Mark Hanson, Old Bedalian (1977-84) and John Badley Foundation Chair of Trustees

This year the John Badley Foundation (JBF) has funded full bursaries for seven students and is planning to welcome five new scholars to the school in September 2022. That is only possible because of the continued generosity of Bedales parents, OBs and friends of the school. As I reflect on the progress we’ve made over the last 12 months – including breaking through the £1 million mark for the first time – the overwhelming sense is one of gratitude to those who have recognised the importance of the work of JBF even amid the never-ending turmoil of the global pandemic and the personal challenges that have gone with that.

As Omicron rages like a forest fire across the UK, and we batten down the hatches yet again, we are ever more conscious of the elements of life that matter most; our health, family, community, freedom, fresh air and the outdoors. Most of us have had enough of ‘virtual’ life. As I wandered around Bedales in the autumn, taking in the beautiful buildings, open natural spaces and vibrant community, it reinforced my own sense of the extraordinary opportunity JBF gives to young people who may be in challenging circumstances and for whom a Bedales education may be genuinely life changing. A place at Dunhurst or Bedales represents so much more than an education; security, space, the encouragement and freedom to speak, the aspiration and support to succeed.

With community at the centre of our thinking, we’ve brought in four new trustees to bring JBF even closer to everyday life at school. Past and present parents Chris Campbell, Victoria Bonham Carter and Anna Land are already making a big difference and we also welcome Esme Allman (2013-15), an early JBF scholar who sets an inspiring example and is working with the admissions team to make the assessment and onboarding process for new scholars a brilliant one. We are also hoping to build stronger relationships with schools locally to identify great candidates closer to home.

Despite the restrictions, we’ve had some wonderful JBF events this year including a talk with Gyles Brandreth (1961-66) and there are more planned during 2022. One of those will be at the Special Forces Club and if he is feeling up to it, Old Bedalian and 22 SAS Original Mike Sadler (1933-37) will be in attendance. Mike speaks so fondly of his time at Bedales in the 1930s and it’s fair to say that his life path was never a conventional one! That’s one of the great things about Bedales; the encouragement to follow your passion with energy, whatever direction that might take you in.

Although we’ve made wonderful progress over the last decade, JBF is still in the foothills of the impact we can make. And we really need your support to make that happen. Please do consider setting up a regular gift to the JBF by clicking here. If just 50 of us donate £25 a month (+ gift aid), with match-funding from Bedales that will give one young person the opportunity to change their life circumstances. The need in our society has never been greater.

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.

Spring Term – a pastoral reflection

By Peter Thackrey, Deputy Head (Pastoral)

I am very proud of students and colleagues for having successfully navigated the Spring Term together. It is always the most intense term and this term had the added rollercoaster of ever changing goalposts around COVID restrictions both nationally and on a school level. Over this short second half of term, there has certainly been a sense of students re-finding their way with all restrictions lifted, enabling them to gather together as a community in assemblies and experience handshaking. This week, students have particularly enjoyed the beautiful environment in which we live and learn, thanks to the glorious spring weather.

I am very grateful to all colleagues, but especially the teachers, tutors, counsellors, the Sports and Outdoor work teams, the cleaners, catering team, Health Centre team, school GPs, House Assistants, Head of Wellbeing Kirsten McLintock and Houseparents for supporting each child pastorally through the past two terms. Much of the pandemic for everyone has been necessarily reactive, but this term it has felt good to get back to proactive pastoral care with talks for parents on how to support young people around self-harm, raising awareness and how to work with the school around drugs, and most recently, study and revision techniques.

Last week I was able to build rapports with our local police liaison officers who had not been able to visit for two years. We went round the school and the boarding houses saying hello to students as we walked, discussing some of the challenges young people faced at Bedales and how we approach these challenges as a school. It was reassuring to hear that the volume we faced was much lower that elsewhere and the way in which we approached our behaviour policy with dialogue and clear boundaries was effective.

School Council have continued to meet each week to discuss both day to day issues as well as having a voice in strategic planning. Students also have a key part to play in recruitment where they have been interviewing new teachers – often asking harder questions than the adults! Finally, the stand out day was the rural refugee walk on Powell Day when we were able to come together as a school to walk, have space and time to talk and reflect on the world beyond us. This was a turning point from being often necessarily inward looking during the pandemic to now looking beyond ourselves and our community once more as we move forward.

I hope everyone has a very restful, enjoyable and productive (especially for the exam years) Easter holiday.