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.

Celebrating 25 years of the Olivier Theatre

By Esther Biddle, Old Bedalian

I can remember such anticipation at the opening of the Olivier Theatre at Bedales, not least because we had all seen it rise up slowly over the months and years, but also because we could see how the building would change the scope of dramatic performances and drama lessons in school life.

I joined Bedales in Block 3 in 1994 and performing – both as a musician and an actress – was part of the everyday fabric of my time at the school. I was in Block 5 when I was cast in a production of My Mother Said I Never Should, which was directed by two sixth formers and was the first public performance in the newly finished Theatre.

Prior to this, all Drama lessons had been in the Drama Studio, Lupton Hall and the Quad – long before the big glass doors were installed – so the change for all of us was absolutely ginormous! I can remember the thrill of starting rehearsals inside the Theatre and going onto the stage. The auditorium felt so big, and we certainly felt very special and important. Suddenly the work we were producing felt like proper theatre. The beautiful carpentry and framework makes it such a gorgeous building to be in as an audience member, and as young performers we were so excited to have our own proper backstage area with mirrors, lights and a shower!

Everything about that first production was suddenly on such a large scale. Not only the lights and backstage, but the addition of Joanne Greenwood and her amazing sets and costumes took this production – and all those afterwards – to a professional level. In fact, I don’t think anyone can talk about the Theatre without mentioning Joanne. She revolutionised the standard of all the productions at Bedales, which matched the standard of the amazing Theatre itself. I remember high painted pink banners at the back of the stage going all the way up to the top of the doors and being so impressed with the scope of the stage and the theatre space. It gave us as performers a huge playground, and so many entrances and exits through all of the blue doors.

I don’t recall any of us being particularly nervous – most of us were so used to performing at school. Looking back now though, we probably should have been, as it was so well attended because it was the first show in the Theatre and many parents, especially those who had bought seats, wanted to see the new addition to the school.

The play itself looked at four different generations of strong women across the 20th century. As an adult and a mother now, I understand the themes and beats of this play so much more. I hope that we managed to capture some of them in our production. 

It was a privilege to appear in this first show at the Olivier Theatre, where I performed many more times throughout my remaining years at Bedales and beyond. Having your Drama lessons in a 350-seat Theatre is an amazing educational environment, and hands down shaped my career as an actress and musician. I feel so lucky to have been at Bedales when it opened.

Francis Bacon at Bedales

By Ian Douglas, Librarian and Archivist

This week, I was delighted to receive the major new biography of Francis Bacon, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning team of Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan. It was so kind of them to arrange a complimentary copy for the Memorial Library. The book, hailed as “a captivating triumph” and “the definitive biography”, will be of particular interest to Bedalians because it re-evaluates the time the artist spent living in the Lodge at Bedales during the Second World War.

Bacon had served as a volunteer in the London ARP during the early part of the Blitz, but his severe asthma made it impossible to withstand the suffocating clouds of dust that followed a bombing raid. He was forced to take refuge in the country.

Bacon’s patron and lover Eric Hall, husband of Barbara Hall (Bedales 1908-13) and their friend Ken Keast (Bedales Staff 1939-49) arranged for him to rent the Lodge from 1940 to 1943.

Bedales Lodge, much as it would have appeared during Bacon’s tenancy

Previous biographers have tended not to make much of this interlude. Many have got no further than the comic image of a confirmed urbanite struggling to adjust to the countryside – “waking up with all those things singing outside the window”.

This is due partly to Bacon’s famous reticence about his artistic development prior to 1945, when his reputation was established with the first exhibition of his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. This event is widely seen as a watershed in the history of painting — “there was painting in England before the Three Studies, and painting after them, and no one … can confuse the two” — and Bacon himself colluded in attempts to forget all that had led up to it. He destroyed much of his earlier work, and as far as possible he suppressed what he could not destroy.

Stevens and Swann are therefore breaking new ground in exploring the period leading up to this watershed. The years spent at Bedales are re-evaluated as a “critical moment” in the artist’s life; a time of “internal reckoning”. They describe the genesis of the few incomplete works surviving from this time (Man in a CapSeated ManMan Standing and Landscape with Colonnade) which were inspired by news photographs from Picture Post which Bacon used to buy weekly in Petersfield. This work shows “Bacon’s turn towards a more gestural form of figurative painting” as well as prefiguring some of the imagery of the Three Studies.

I’m grateful for this fresh appreciation of Bacon’s Hampshire interlude, and I continue to wonder about his motives in choosing Bedales as his bolt-hole. Was it merely a place where his friends knew of a vacant cottage, or was there a more particular attraction? Bacon had already collaborated in joint exhibitions with OB artists Julian Trevelyan and Ivon Hitchens. He may also have known that John Rothenstein — director of the Tate, who later bought Bacon’s work for the gallery — was a Bedalian. I wonder if he was seeking a sort of urbs in rure, to sustain him in his forced exile among the inconsiderate birds.

The new book draws on material from the Bedales Archive, which receives many such enquiries about the history of the school and its former staff and students. The work of the Archive would be impossible without the generous support of many Old Bedalians. Financial donations, and donations of material relating the life of the school – recent as well as more distant history – are always welcome.

Francis Bacon: Revelations, by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan is published in the UK by William Collins. It is available from the publisher, and from all good booksellers.

Remembering Bedales co-founder Oswald Powell

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By Matilda McMorrow, Librarian

“It is never good for the governed or for the government that injustice should be tolerated without protest,” began Oswald Powell in his letter to the Hants & Sussex News in 1913. At the time he was fighting alongside Winifred Powell in solidarity with all women, in a society that took women’s work, money and lives whilst refusing them the right to be seen as people. The Powells would protest this injustice for five more years before any UK women had voting rights. They confronted the tax authorities, took local action in Petersfield and international action at a Budapest conference, and of course, tried to model social change in their work at Bedales. This collaborative, action-driven spirit seems to have been at the heart of the man who co-founded Bedales, and certainly put life into the ideas of John Badley, whose name we might be more familiar with.

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