Weeke local History - West Down School


West Down School

The site on the Romsey Road is actually in St Faiths but is in the area that seems to have been cut out of Weeke parish. This also includes the Hillier Nursery site, the Winchester prison and the Hampshire Police Headquarters. The site originally was used for a school called the Winchester Modern School, which was established in 1877. This was a fee paying school for “the lower middle classes and respectable working classes” of Winchester. It was founded out of the philanthropy of Lord Northbrook, a local landlord who had been viceroy of India. He funded the entire cost of building the school and established a board of Governors, of which he was Chairman and included the Mayor and the Dean of Winchester. The school was not successful and after seven years had to be closed (Hitchens, 1992 p6 – 7).

The building was then used for a Preparatory School known as Westfields but this also failed and had closed by 1896.

It was not a very auspicious start for the next school to be started in the buildings. In 1897 Lionel Herbert started West Downs school. This was to be successful and became a well established Preparatory School. Initially a partnership was established with R.G.L. Austen, but this was dissolved in 1898 and Lionel Herbert was the schools first headmaster. A number of his friends helped to fund the venture and his sister Lady Goodrich was involved in the school. It opened in 1897 with four pupils and this had risen to thirty in 1900 and over eighty in 1909 (Hitchens, 1992 p13).

The growing numbers lead to a series of building developments. A swimming pool was built in 1903 followed by a Tennis Court . In 1909 an extra dormitory was built and in 1913 a large recreation room as well as a chapel. The growth of the school also led to additional staff being recruited to teach the boys.

Herbert was an inspirational and unconventional leader but he succeeded in producing a successful environment that lead to parents sending their boys to his school. In 1914 he introduced the ideas of scouting established by Lord Baden-Powell. Instead of prefects he introduced patrol leaders and seconds and this had a far reaching effect on the character of the school.

Lionel Herbert overworked and slowly his health deteriorated and he had a breakdown in 1916 and again in 1919. His second breakdown lead to his death in late 1919. He left the school to his sister Lady Goodrich. She arranged short term cover and searched for a replacement headmaster. This was to be Kenneth Tyndall who was a house master at Sherborne school. He took over in 1920 (Hitchens, 1992 p44 – 45).

Tyndall slowly changed some of the more extreme aspects of Herbert’s regime, but generally followed a similar line to running the school. The area that Tyndall had additional skills was in drama. Plays became an important part of school life.

The school under Tyndall scored highly for organisation and care. Initially the academic record was very good with a number of scholarships to various schools including Winchester and Eton. But where the top level performance was not maintained across the years the overall performance for the majority of pupils were very good. Common entrance failures were almost unknown at West Down.

Kenneth Tyndall and his wife Theodora took the school through the years of World War II. They arranged to move the school to Glenapp Castle in Ayrshire, Scotand for one year. When the castle was requisitioned in 1941 the school had to move again, this time to Blair Atholl a real castle. It was at this castle for four and half years (Hitchens, 1992).

Back in Winchester West Downs had been requisitioned and was finally taken back to a school in February 1946. The effects of the army use of the buildings and post war controls on building materials lead to a period of sorting out the school to return it to its pre war state.

By 1950 Kenneth Tyndall was sixty six and had been at the helm for thirty years. He felt it was time for a younger man to run the school. It was sold in 1954 to Jerry Cornes who became only the third headmaster in the life of the school. The academic standards were maintained. Between 1954 and 1964 sixty three boys went to Eton and fifty seven to Winchester. Fees were kept in control from £95 in 1954 to £120 in 1964. Whereas before the War the school could survive with only fifty or sixty pupils but in the 1960s over 100 were necessary and over 150 in the 1970s and so more building was necessary to house the extra pupils.

The school soldiered on with a school model that was becoming less attractive. Parents did not want to send their children to boarding schools. In 1988 the school was closed. Several attempts at financial support lead to no solution and so the school closed (Hitchens, 1992).

The school buildings were to remain empty until 1994 when they were acquired by the University of Winchester for renovation. Being a Grade II listed building, refurbishment has been in keeping with the traditional Victorian architecture, therefore the building has retained much of its original style and character. The building is now the West Downs Performing Arts and Conference Centre and it offers conference and banqueting facilities as well as providing resources for the university including accommodation for students. The new use was opened by Lord Puttnam in 2001.

Release 1.0 last update 02/09/08

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