Former RMS pupils from the 1960s are sometimes described as ‘the lost generation’: on leaving, they put as much distance between themselves and their alma mater as possible – and never looked back. However, this is probably no truer for sixties’ girls than it was for the 50s or the 70s. Or indeed any era. The Sixties has been singled out possibly because it was a time of great change throughout the world and a contrast to the perceived ultra-conservative mind set of the School.
‘If the Fifties were in black and white, then the Sixties were in Technicolor.’
Kimberley Watson on https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/The-1960s-The-Decade-that-Shook-Britain/
But if you believe that Sixties RMS was stuck in a time warp, you might be astonished to discover just what a period of change and development it was. If, when you think RMS, you think Indiana Jones 1930 buildings, you’re forgetting about the library and the science block – both built in the 1960s; you’re forgetting all the internal changes to accommodate developing curricula – 1960s; misremembering all the alterations made to existing buildings to better utilise the space – 1960s and on to the 1970s.
Minutes of meetings are not the best bedtime reading but ploughing through a decade of them is certainly interesting. As a time travel method, they can be recommended.
If you are familiar with the School site, try and imagine the non-existence of said library and science block. And also Bertha Dean, Florence Mason & Strathearn Houses. (If none of these names mean anything to you, your imagination will have to work overtime to invent blank spaces.) In case you’re wondering, there was a library and science labs before the 60s but they were in different places.
In 1964, consideration was being given for an improved library and extended science facilities. For the record, provision of a Sixth form house and the removal of Junior School from Weybridge to Rickmansworth were also under consideration: the former had to wait until 1981, the latter a mere eight years. As early as 1964, the idea of repositioning the Junior School in the redundant former San was being talked about, but that had to wait a further 47 years!
Other changes that were discussed related to accommodation for staff, the replacement of boilers (£20,000 estimate even then so a major expenditure, the equivalent today of a cool 1.9 million.) and also ‘a covered-in space of sufficient size to accommodate 75 cars in marked bays, provided with sliding doors that could be locked and easily opened.’ The car may not have quite been king in 1964 but it was certainly a prince-in-waiting if that proposed provision is to judge by.
The initial idea was for a new library in one of the quadrangles whilst science labs would either be on a new second floor above the existing labs or in the Garth. In March 1965, there was discussion about whether the foundations could be strengthened to allow for a second floor but – confusingly – the alternative of a building in the Garth with a 2nd storey [sic] connection to the main building was discussed.
Clearly by this stage the writing was on the wall for Weybridge to leave Surrey – well, the Junior School Weybridge anyway – although it was 1973 before it happened. The ‘plateau’ which had once housed the tennis court for Park House, and which was used as the VIP enclosure on Sports Days (then on the Lowers) was considered suitable for building a new Junior School. This would mean the planning for the 75 parking spaces which were to be behind some existing garages (since demolished) and the Junior School would require extensive use of terracing on the eastern flank overlooking the Chess valley.
1 Accommodation for Headmistress
2 & 3 Staff accommodation
4 Parking for 75 cars [didn’t happen]
5 Suggested Junior School, then Science block
6 Library (inside rose garden, not in quad)
7 Old Sanatorium, later Sixth Form house, later Cadogan House (Prep & Pre-Prep)
By January 1966, the siting of a new science block on the plateau and the library in the Garth had been decided on. The latter, at this stage, was intended as a single storey building with a possible further floor in the future. Prior to settling on the plateau for Science, there had been consideration given to one building housing both Science and library, the latter on the ground floor. Presumably this ties in with the ‘bridge’ linking Science labs on 2nd floor level and the realisation that said bridge would end in mid-air as there wasn’t a 2nd floor in the main building to which to connect it …
The bridge idea resurfaced in July 1968 to connect the new Science building to the School as there was a road between the two. Would there be a bridge over the access road, or a tunnel under it or [the option selected] should the road be diverted around the science block? So if you’ve ever wondered why the access road suddenly swings east, goes round a loop and then emerges at the top of South Drive, now you know.
Once the idea of a new Science block was decided upon, it was realised that its design ‘could be functional rather than traditional since, as the site was beyond the general outline of the existing buildings, there was not the same need to harmonise with them’. The jury is out about whether the style of architecture used was functional, experimental or zeitgeist run mad.
Whatever it was, the roof has given problems from the beginning.
In comparison, the library ‘would need to harmonize with the existing buildings’. Both of these buildings (and indeed the other new buildings at this time) were all designed by the same architectural firm as the rest of the school: J L Denman & Son. It seems most likely that John Bluet Denman was the architect of the science block and library and John Leopold Denman the staff accommodation: son and father in that order.
As part of the design of the library – once described by a pupil as the globular building in the Garth – it was felt some decoration was needed on an exterior wall, along the lines of Epstein’s St Michael at Coventry cathedral. Hmm – perhaps an overly ambitious description of the relief of the School badge that was put there.
The library was constructed by James Langley & Co of East Park, Crawley at a cost of £107,989. The minutes contain some of the extraordinary detail discussed at these meetings: the borrowing system, which despite the installation of a ‘lending bureau’ was designed to take place in the central area ground floor; the style of bookshelves; the list of books to be purchased; and even exactly where the furniture was to be placed. The Librarian didn’t get a look in on these matters! Included in the design was a gold and silver chandelier, costing £988, intended to ‘enhance the beauty of an already imposing building’ and there appears to have been lengthy discussion about whether a winding mechanism for maintenance would be part of it. At an additional cost of £350, this was finally added as was concealed lighting for the dome.
The gold-coloured carpet was estimated at £300 but actually cost £518. Even then, a fault was found and it had to be rewoven. The tables – designed by Denman – cost £76 each with sixty chairs @ a fiver a throw. The finished building was ready by 30 December 1969 although the opening ceremony was not until 1st December 1970, as recorded on the plaque above the door. The wording of this was discussed minutely but the work was done free of charge by L M Samuel who, as well as being a Freemason, was also a stonemason.
The same amount of detailed discussion went into the Science block including many pages itemising all the furniture and lab equipment. Subsequently there was also considerable discussion about how to cut back all the expenditure as it was an horrendous overspend. After very careful consideration, £52,000 was shaved off the overrun cost. (It all went by the board with the roof problem but that’s a story for another day.)
Neither the Science block nor the Library has ever been given a name although part of the Science block is called the Ashley Edwards Laboratories to acknowledge an extremely generous gift by that person. The accommodation buildings, however, were named. In Sept 1968 the suggested name for one was ‘Stradbroke House’, the name recorded without explanation for the choice. It seems likely that it was for George Edward John Mowbray Rous, 3rd Earl of Stradbroke (1862 –1947), who was Provincial Grand Master of Suffolk for forty-five years, and also Provincial Grand Master of Mark Masons of East Anglia. The accommodation block previously called Senior Staff block was going to be called Cornwallis House. Again the minutes simply note this but presumably the discussion had more detail. This is probably for Colonel Fiennes Stanley Wykeham Cornwallis, 1st Baron Cornwallis (1864 –1935), a British Conservative politician who was also an eminent Freemason (Provincial Grand master of Kent and a Past Grand Warden in the United Grand Lodge of England).
Stradbroke and Cornwallis images both Creative Commons Wikipedia
By January 1969, however, the buildings were given the names they are known by today: Florence Mason and Bertha Dean Houses. These two ladies were Headmistress and Matron at the time the School moved from Clapham and were instrumental in ensuring that everything ran smoothly – what was described at the time as ‘we had moved house, that was all: the meals were on time, the bathwater was hot’, a comment that glossed over the huge amount of planning that enabled this state to be reached.
Abbiss & Hale Ltd of Rickmansworth constructed both blocks (£119,998), including road access curved to go round the Engineer’s garden (!)
Strathearn House, the accommodation for the Headteacher, was a detached residence – a forward thinking move for the time, allowing that, in future, said person might be married and have a family. Until this time, all the Headmistresses were single, dedicated professionals. Married women did not have paid professional roles except through necessity. Times they were a-changing.
By the end of a decade of construction, the various committees and sub-committees might have been forgiven for voting themselves out of existence but, no. The beginning of the 70s brought discussions about what to do with the old library, the old science labs, the old San; how to accommodate the Sixth form and the junior pupils and how to make provision for music and drama. Which last brings us very nicely up to date as a Performing Arts Centre is currently under construction and due to open in 2019.
The 1970s are sometimes viewed as
‘… the tired, miserable hangover after the long party of the Swinging Sixties [but] it makes much more sense to see them as the beginning of a new chapter in the story of modern Britain’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17703483
The 1970s for RMS was yet more building, innovation and change to keep abreast of modern life – decidedly a new chapter.