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The Beechholme Book and Some Memories

Heritage - GUARDIAN - January 28 1999

Happy days at radical school.

More memories of Beechholme.

Last month's Heritage column took a look at a revolutionary residential school, deep within Banstead's Breezy Downs, that once was a model of progressive education. Beechholme - The School on Banstead's Breezy Downs is the subject of a new book by Geoff Marshall that takes an in-depth look at the life and philosophy behind this unique establishment.

The picture of the old school which was closed in 1974 and disappeared without trace after it was demolished - along with the school song that was published in the Guardian, sparked some readers' vivid memories. Below we print extracts from two such letters, remembering life away from "the reek of towns".

Rose Ann Day, of The Wells, Epsom, wrote in her letter:

"What memories came flooding back. When I was a child it was known as Banstead Residential School. I spent quite a few years there, from when I was about seven years old until I left at sixteen. We had a very good education.

When I saw the school song in the paper it all came rushing back. We used to sing it on special occasions.

The main thing we were taught was play up and play the game. Winning was not so important - the main thing was to play the game.

I remember I went scrumping one evening (the children stayed in separate dormitory cottages, at the back of which were fruit trees) and ate so many pears I was ill in the hospital infirmary. All I got for my troubles was a glass of thick white peppermint mixture. Needless to say, I haven't touched peppermint since.

I well remember one night looking out of our dormitory window and seeing the Crystal Palace fire. We had to dive back into bed when we heard the house-master coming up the stairs."

Kathleen Purr, of Blakehall Road, Carshalton, wrote:

"I was interested to read of the old Kensington and Chelsea Schools as my grandfather, Walter Bassett, was the first headmaster there.

My mother, who was born there, told me a lot about the school. I understand it was the first residential school in the country where the children were divided into families with 20 houses, each with 20 pupils, under a foster father and foster mother.

The foster father had to have a trade so that the boys could be trained for a job when they left school at the age of 14. The girls were trained in housework, cookery and needlework, so that they could go into domestic service.

My mother often spoke of the happy days she spent at the schools and she was a good cook and needlewoman, having had her schooling alongside the residents.

While at the school, my grandmother had some lessons in painting from a local artist. I still have oil paintings of Fir Tree Road and Epsom Downs."

Send your memories to us at: Sutton Guardian, Heritage, Guardian House, Sandiford Road, Sutton, Surrey SM3 9RN