At Woolverstone Hall
Now Ipswich High School for Girls
Neil Clayton spoke affectionately about his time working in the building. In the very room where we sat (on 14 July) he talked about lobbing chalk at inattentive boys, one of whom, Hesketh, was awarded 5/- for a graze on the head caused by chalk. He filled in distant historical information about families and manors which skirted this quiet estuary - quiet after an invasion in the 12th century by some Flemings. He also alluded to a notoriety in the area for smuggling and for religious extremism which caused one clergyman to be kicked out! His tale of the history of the manor revealed families who loved and lost the place, and who called upon the Court of Chancery to sort out ownership, which fell to the Ward family after fifty years of deliberation.
Eventually the extremely rich Berners family of Bond Street, London acquired the property. In 1776 they brought in Johnson of Essex to build the house using Woolpit brick and paid a sum of £14,000 to complete the Hall. The Berners were an unprepossessing family, High Sheriffs, who loved hunting but found the space too limiting up on the Orwell and moved to Berkshire to spread their wings. But they had left a beautifully proportioned and elegant footprint on the park. By 1937 when the place was in peril, being eyed by developers, Lord Nuffield, William Morris, bought the estate through the Nuffield Trust and gave it to Oxford University. But by 1939 it was in the hands of the Government who wanted to train marines on the site. In the war years it was inhabited by a range of military personnel but came out relatively unscathed to be taken over by London County Council in 1949.
The history of the place from then on displayed much in the way of wavering fortune. Irene Chapman, the charming and powerful organiser, devised the system by which it became a boarding grammar school for boys from Inner London, with other places filled by the Government. It was an interesting mix. Some called it a reformatory: others dubbed it the Working Man's Eton. The success of the school was connected with the influence of heads such as John Smitherman and the mix of boys from forces' families and from Foreign Office families and 'boys from the buildings'. After a time when the authority of London became too pressing and the desire for comprehensive education was required, the end was in sight and the clever boys left.
Neil expressed nostalgia for the times before 1989 when the expense of running the school was not so great and the systems therein allowed for a teaching style which was rigorous without being constrained. His talk was a delightful stroll though numerous memorable by-ways delivered in a warm and generous tone, at once schoolmaster and jolly favourite uncle. We thank him for the fun of the talk. Pat Grimwade also thanked the Head of Ipswich High School for Girls for the use of her fine establishment.