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Danes Hill House
The history of Danes Hill is an interesting one, reflecting as it does many of the social and economic changes in British life during its time as a private house, and important educational changes as a school.
The major impetus for the construction of the house was the opening of the railway line through Oxshott in 1884. The line came to Oxshott because Queen Victoria did not want it to pass too near to the royal residence at Claremont – which also accounts for Esher station being so far from the centre of Esher, and Cobham station being more than a mile from Cobham.
The exact date of Danes Hill’s building is the subject of some debate, but the first documented evidence of its existence comes in the 1891 census, where seven servants and their children were recorded as living here. In 1892, Arthur Edgell Eastwood, proprietor of a cement company, listed Danes Hill as his residence in the Electoral Register.
In 1901 it was bought by R J Lambert, a member of the tobacco family of Drury Lane. Under his ownership, Danes Hill enjoyed the typical Upper Class lifestyle of the high Edwardian era; servants, butlers, local cricket and football matches with the village and neighbouring estates (the largest of which was Bevendean), and land bequeathed for the building of the local church, sporting facilities and Working Men’s Club. The estate stretched for 67 acres, and included a model farm, several cottages, arable land, pasture, an orchard and a kitchen garden.
So it continued, passing through several owners and decreasing gradually in size, until in 1938 47 acres were bought by the Crown Estate Commissioners on behalf of the Crown. During the war years, 1939-45, the house was taken over by Borax Consolidated Ltd, presumably as a base for evacuated employees, and, according to local tradition, Canadian troops were also based here in the build-up to the D-Day landings.
The changed economic climate of post-war Britain, the need for servants to maintain it and, no doubt, the hammering it took during the war, meant that after 1945, Danes Hill’s days as a private residence were numbered.
Danes Hill School
As with the building of Danes Hill, its transition from private house to school is poorly documented, but we know that it opened its doors for business as a school in 1947 with 16 pupils, and in 1948 it was being advertised as a boarding and day preparatory school with J Hendy-Morton and T J Powell-Shehan as principals. In 1951, F R H ‘Billy’ Bevan had joined Hendy-Morton as principal and in 1952 the first scholarships to public schools had been won, with the school roll expanded to 61 boys. By 1954, Bevan had been joined by J F ‘Jack’ Beckett as joint principal; fees in that year being 58 guineas a term for boarders and £28.17.6d for day boys. Messrs Bevan and Beckett continued their successful partnership until 1967, during which time Danes Hill’s local reputation was established.
In 1969, Danes Hill was bought by the triumvirate of Graham Hill, Michael Bolan and J E Todd, and it was during this time that Danes Hill’s expansion and educational changes really came on apace. A major step was taken in 1975 when boarding was abandoned, and in the following year the school acquired the lease for Wren’s Hill and the Ridgeway on which much needed new playing fields were constructed. From 1980 onwards, the school took boys from the age of 4, and the Lower School was able to flourish with the construction of its own purpose-built and self-contained classroom block.
A major change in the history of the school came in 1982 with the purchase of the former Bevendean School in Steel’s Lane which became the new Junior School. With this came the decision to become fully co-educational, at first to 11 and then right through to 13. This bold step led to even greater expansion, and in 1984 Danes Hill was acquired by the Davies Educational Trust, subsequently the Vernon Educational Trust. Robert Hadman was appointed headmaster at this time, and under his stewardship the quality of facilities improved greatly, most notably with the construction of the Year 2 ‘Rookery’ teaching block.
In 1989 Robin Parfitt was appointed headmaster and the school continued to expand and flourish. During his tenure there were many changes, including new classroom and dining facilities on both sites. The Ark was opened in 1994 and the Pitblado Centre, accommodating Science and ICT, was opened in 1998. The school celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1997 and the adventure playground at the Main School was presented by the FODH to mark this event. The Link Building was opened in 2002, and the astroturf was added in 2003. Robin Parfitt’s untimely death in August 2006 was a great shock for the school community: in the course of his 17 years as headmaster the school had doubled in size to over 850 pupils, and it was now firmly established as one of the leading preparatory schools in the country.
Willie Murdock was appointed Acting Headmaster in April 2006 and Headmaster in January 2007, and there has been no let-up in the school’s development programme. The opening in September 2007 of a wonderful new Reception and Year 1 classroom block has transformed the facilities at Bevendean and the original Bevendean building has been redeveloped. "Robins", the new Art and Design building on the Main School site, named after Robin Parfitt, was opened in May 2009. This provides two additional Art rooms, two Design Technology rooms and eight general classrooms. In November 2009, the Stable performing arts block was completed, adding new music practice rooms and a state-of-the-art theatre with dance facilities.
Recently, the footprint of the school was extended to 55 acres, with the purchase of land at the rear, providing some of the best facilities to be found in any preparatory school in the country.
With thanks to Francis Hansom