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.

New and improved Petersfield Museum

This article was originally published in the Old Bedalian Newsletter 2021.

By Alice Shaw (née Sedgwick, 1992 – 1999)

Alice and Lead Trustee Bill Gosney (far left) and the construction directors, July 2019

After spending most of my time in the Bedales Art Block, I left in 1999 to study Art History at the University of York followed by a Masters in Museum Studies at the University of Essex. I always knew I wanted to be around art but was realistic about my own abilities not to rely on making a living from it!

After graduating I worked at the British Museum and V&A in temporary exhibitions, then at the Science Museum on permanent galleries and capital projects. In 2015, my family and I left London and moved back to Steep in search of space and fresh air for our two young boys. At this point it felt inevitable that my career in museums would be put on hold while our family grew up.

Soon after, however, I heard that the local Petersfield Museum, which opened the year I left Bedales, had recently purchased the adjoining Police Station. It also received a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to renovate its existing building in the Old Courthouse, and design and build new galleries, collections facilities, exhibition and learning spaces and a courtyard café. I felt strongly that this project and I shared a destiny, and was delighted to be appointed as Project Manager in December 2016.

My job was to engage and lead a design team to deliver the museum’s vision of being at the heart of local life and also offer a compelling attraction for visitors from further afield. The historic Victorian buildings combined with striking architecture will create welcoming social areas and stimulating learning spaces. It will be a family friendly space that will inspire visitors of all ages to investigate the region’s many historic and cultural assets and to explore the surrounding countryside.

During the design development process, it was proposed that a map of the South Downs National Park be inlaid into the surface of the courtyard. This is made of granite slabs showing Petersfield and surrounding villages represented by brass and stainless steel icons. Some will be easily recognisable to those who know the area but some are more obscure so accompanying interpretation will be used as a guide to explore this striking artwork and the local area. This was all designed pre-COVID, but now offers a safe way to access the museum in an outdoor setting. Visitors can enter the cosy courtyard for a coffee and enjoy the wide-ranging, engaging collections and diverse educational and events programmes.

The team celebrate the end of construction, November 2020

The new and improved Petersfield Museum will tell the story of this ancient market town and surrounding villages through objects, art, literature and dress produced or collected by its residents. The collection includes the work of local artist Flora Twort and archaeology from prehistoric barrows on Petersfield Heath. Forming a significant part of the collection is The Bedales Collection of Historic Dress donated to the museum in 2007. This includes over 1,000 items from the 18th century to modern day and was built up over a 50-year period by the school, and particularly by music and drama teacher Rachel Cary Field (staff, 1941 – 1975).

The collection mirrors 250 years of social and cultural change and includes rare and nationally significant pieces, including an item recently loaned to the Design Museum for the ‘Women Fashion Power’ exhibition. A number of garments have strong local provenance and the great majority of the collection formed part of the Bedales Wardrobe.

Of the dresses, an aesthetic, Liberty style, cream silk dress from the mid-1890s is particularly rare, as are comparable Arts and Crafts garments from the early 1900s. Such ‘countercultural garments’ survive in small numbers, with the V&A, Museum of London and Platt Hall, Manchester holding most of the few surviving examples.

The museum also holds a nationally important collection of some 2,000 books by and about the renowned poet, writer and Steep resident, Edward Thomas (1878-1917). Like so many others, and this is still so true today, the Thomas family were attracted to this area by three things: its direct rail link to London, its countryside and, of course, Bedales, which Edward’s wife Helen knew of before it relocated from Haywards Heath in the early 20th century.

The Poet’s Stone

The collection is held within a new Edward Thomas Study Centre which is open, by appointment, to students, readers, researchers and visitors, who can explore his work and then the wonderful landscape around us that inspired him, and many others, so much – and continues to do so. Edward Thomas is amongst the War Poets commemorated in Westminster Abbey. The Poet Laureate Ted Hughes considered Thomas to be “the Father of us all”, and his life and work is included in the National Curriculum. Thomas’ time living in Steep coincides with a critical phase in his life when he made the transition from literary critic to poet.

Thomas’ connections to Petersfield are important to understanding his life and work, which features and interprets the countryside of Hampshire, the South Downs and the south of England. Amongst items on display, or available to view, in the Edward Thomas Study Centre is a copy of one of his daughter’s Bedales exercise books, in which he has drafted three poems.

The Petersfield Museum’s courtyard, looking across to the café and Edward Thomas Study Centre

In the museum’s final gallery, visitors can see a film of original footage shot on location in Petersfield and the surrounding area, capturing the local diversity of architecture, history, landscape, wildlife and culture. This includes shots of both the Harrow Inn and views from the Poet’s Stone, which many of you will be familiar with. The stone is a memorial to Edward Thomas, which is still the subject of regular walks from both the main school and Dunhurst and Dunannie.

What makes this film so special, emotive and rooted in the area, is that it is overlaid with a recording of Daniel Day-Lewis (1970 – 1975) reading Thomas’ poetry, the use of which was permitted by the Poetry Archive.

Like so many things, the pandemic has delayed the opening of the museum, but we very much hope that doors will open to the public later this year. Working at the London national museums was infinitely inspiring, exciting and challenging, but having the chance to be part of the team to create a museum in my hometown, is a dream come true.

The new and improved Petersfield Museum opened to the public in June 2021. Tickets can be booked in advance online at the Petersfield Museum website, or at the Welcome Desk as you arrive at the museum. The museum is open Wednesday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm, and Sundays and August Bank Holiday, 11am – 4pm.