Gayhurst House: a small collision of personal life with “real” history

Gayhurst House, Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, England.

Gayhurst House, Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, England.

First of all, thank you to PacificParatrooper. Your comments on a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago made me realise that living at Gayhurst House when Tom was a baby represents one of those times when private and public histories collide. For that reason, I think it’s worth writing about – a twig on my family’s tree.

September 1997

I’m four months pregnant and the baby-daddy has a new job in Milton Keynes – about an hour away from where we’re living in the countryside near Bishop’s Stortford. Industrial strength commuting isn’t new for the big T, who knows the M25 way better than the back of his hand. But hey, we’re starting to think ahead and an hour is a long time if I go into labour while he’s at work, etc.

I work from home anyway, and we don’t love the cottage we’re living in (especially in winter), so it makes sense to move closer to T’s work. Note that I said closer to … anyone who knows Milton Keynes will understand that we’re not too keen to actually live there.

We check out a few places and are beginning to get pretty depressed about our prospects of finding somewhere cool to raise the first-born. Then T. comes home one day with a letting agent’s leaflet for a flat in some old manor house called Gayhurst. It sounds crazy, but we go and look anyway …

… and promptly fall in love.

The place rocks.
The flat itself has an enormous (and not just by UK standards) living room with a really high ceiling. It has a big bedroom with a weirdly open-plan but thankfully unplumbed ensuite, a proper bathroom with a decent sized bath and a shower, an ok kitchen and a little room I can use as an office – at least until the baby arrives.

The flat is a kind of annex to this huge, beautiful – in fact totally amazing – old house of the kind built to accommodate ancient aristocratic families. I can’t help feeling, even as we pull up on the gravel drive, that somewhere upstairs, Sebastian Flyte is probably getting drunk and chastising  Alysious with a hairbrush. On the other side of “our” flat is a row of the kind of mews cottages you only expect to see on postcards and in episodes of Midsomer Murders. It’s all totally gorgeous.

Ramping the wow factor up a whole notch, the house is about a half mile up a private road with a rather dilapidated, though originally quite grand, gate lodge (which has in its life also been a pub), fields of grazing cows, a lake (private of course), woodlands (also private) tennis courts (yeah, they’re just for residents too), amazing gardens including a parterre, or knot garden (tended by our own private gardeners), a manicured lawn the size of a football field outside our living room window – and a church in the front yard.

Did I mention the church in the front yard?

The church of St. Peter Gayhurst. Cos everyone needs a church in the front yard, right?

The church of St. Peter Gayhurst. Cos everyone needs a church in the front yard, right?

The church of St Peter is a working parish church; used for worship on a monthly roster with other small local parish churches. It’s also rather beautiful; built in the 1720s, possibly to a design by Sir Christopher Wren, though not actually by him.

Oh – and the gate house; at one time it was used as a pub, called the Francis Drake. That’s because Sir Francis Drake (think Queen Elizabeth I, Spanish Armada, the Americas, tobacco) was once – briefly – the owner of Gayhurst.

With all that, we can hardly wait to sign the lease.

November 1997

su at gayhurst001Our first few months at Gayhurst are totally idyllic. The flat’s owner is an elderly widower who has moved to a retirement village and the letting agent is a lovely woman who gets that I’m nesting. She’s recognised that a few things around the place are a bit faded, and has organised for a general spruce-up ahead of baby’s arrival. Within a couple of weeks we are really comfortable in our new home and  enjoying everything that Gayhurst and the “green and pleasant land” surrounding it, has to offer.

We quickly find out a bit more of the history of the place and are really excited to learn about the house’s connection with the Gunpowder Plot.

It seems that in 1601 Gayhurst House came into the hands of Everard Digby, by virtue of his wife inheriting it from her father. Everard Digby was executed – hung, drawn and quartered – in 1606, for his part in the infamous plot to assassinate King James I by blowing up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament on November 5, 1605. The aim was apparently to replace the Protestant King James with his eleven year old daughter, thereby (somehow) re-establishing a Catholic monarchy. The plot failed when the explosives planted by one of the conspirators, Guy Fawkes, were discovered.

This date, November 5th, is still “celebrated” – certainly in the UK and here in New Zealand. In the UK it’s often called bonfire night, with fireworks and effigies of Guy Fawkes – the “guy” – burned on a bonfire. In New Zealand we don’t do the effigies, although we do refer to it as “Guy Fawkes” night. But it’s also the only time of year fireworks are on sale here, and so we tend to buy up large and let em rip.

Sadly I don’t think all that many people (certainly in NZ) actually know what Guy Fawkes is about, and (fast-forward a few years of the boy-child’s life) I think my son’s attempt to explain to people that he once lived in the same house as one of the Guy Fawkes characters tends to be met with either disbelief, or more often, total indifference. Pass the sparklers!

Anyway, back to Gayhurst.

Christmas 1997

The Christmas T. and I spend there is probably one of our best. That’s partly because it coincides with us both being gainfully and quite lucratively employed, and so able to indulge our festive nesting instincts with multiple trips to John Lewis. But I think it’s also because spending Christmas in such beautiful surroundings kind of rubbed some seasonal spirit off on us.

It also helps that the Gayhurst Residents’ Association organise a Carol Service in the Great Hall (of course we have a Great Hall – complete with a fireplace big enough to stand up in). Despite not being able to enjoy any of the mulled wine (no in-utero alcohol for my baby) and the fact that the bell-ringers are cringe-makingly awful – it’s a lovely event. It’s  also a great way to meet our neighbours – some of whom it seems, are nearly as excited by my pregnancy as me; apparently there haven’t been any babies at Gayhurst for quite a while.

St Peter's, Gayhurst. View from "our" expansive front lawn.

St Peter’s, Gayhurst. View from “our” expansive front lawn.

In the last months before Tom’s birth, we entertain a lot. That includes playing host to quite a few of T.’s American colleagues, who are naturally impressed by our living arrangements. It’s nice to be able to walk our guests across the lawn for a tour of the church (signing the Guest Book of course) before a stroll around the Knot Garden, then a quick wander around the main house, and perhaps a pootle down to the lake. No grand tour is complete without checking out the circular building at the back of the main house – apparently built in the 1840s by a past tenant, Lord Carrington. Somewhat eccentric, Carrington was apparently obsessed with plumbing. This led to the installation of an unexpectedly large (for the time) number of toilets around the house including a highly unusual one for his male servants. A History of Gayhurst describes it thus:

… the male servants were provided with a remarkable five-seater lavatory in a circular building which still stands behind the house, surmounted by a carved figure of Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades.
Staff toilet block, built in the 1840s by the then Lord Carrington.

A “remarkable five-seater lavatory” built for the servants in the 1840s by the then Lord Carrington. Now it’s our neighbour’s living room.

This building is now fully attached to the main house and serves – I think – as the living room of one of the apartments – the one we looked out on from our bedroom window as it happens.

Like most English stately homes – including, I suspect, those are have been converted to schools, management training facilities, flats and over-priced health farms – Gayhurst is reputed to have a ghost. I’m not particularly a believer in such things, but I have to say that walking though Gayhurst’s Great Hall at night is a fairly creepy experience – and the Big T is adamant he feels her presence on more than one occasion.

During World War II, Gayhurst and its grounds were used as accommodation for two hundred WRNS (Women’s Royal Naval Service) personnel who worked at Bletchley Park; the British government’s code-breaking centre. One day, when Tom is a baby, a busload of these wonderful women – now in their seventies  – arrives at Gayhurst to be filmed for a documentary about their wartime experiences.

February 1998

So much history, but I have neglected to emphasise that Gayhurst House is also our son’s first home; the place we bring him to when – after three awful nights in the maternity ward at Milton Keynes Hospital – we are finally liberated. Tom’s birth at the end of February is the beginning of the end for us at Gayhurst. The grand, isolated country house that was so romantic for a couple is hopelessly impractical once the boy-child arrives, and we began house-hunting almost immediately.

The boy-child and his tiger; Gayhurst, May 1998

The boy-child and his tiger; Gayhurst, May 1998

July 1998

We buy and move into a house in nearby Olney;  a highly practical three bedroom Edwardian semi in one of the town’s lovely old streets. I am glad to abandon Gayhurst with all its foibles for this infinitely less glamorous abode. While I no longer have a knot garden to walk around –  I can at least get the baby buggy further than the front path without it catching in the gravel or cattle stops, so instead I walk around the town that was once home to William Cowper (who, coincidentally was born in Berkhamsted – another lovely English town we have lived in). I join the National Childbirth Trust, become the local branch’s publicity officer, write columns for the local magazine and make friends with other mothers.

It was the right thing for us as a family to leave Gayhurst, but with the perspective of time, I have come to appreciate our time there – not only for its “cool” factor – but because it brought us so much closer to a tiny part of the history of the country we chose to live in for so long.

92 thoughts on “Gayhurst House: a small collision of personal life with “real” history

  1. Oh… what a beautiful story and how could you possibly bear to leave a country surrounded with such history, wonderful old buildings etc.?… is what I’m thinking.
    Lucky you over there in “The Land of the Long White Cloud”, still able/ allowed to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. How I loved it… especially the year we made a Guy out of dad’s old clothes, had him reclining on an old cane lounge, perched him on top of a huge mound of wood etc. and had the BEST bonfire ever known to mankind… Whooo Hooo!!!
    Great great fun. Sadly only my eldest child got to celebrate the attempt to blow up Britain’s Parliament House because it was banned, in Australia, around 1970. Too many injuries to children’s eyes with exploding crackers, threat of bushfires etc… we were told. I actually believe it’s because the “fuddy daddy’s” got sick of having their letter boxes blown up with “penny bombs” planted there by cheeky children 😉 …
    Great post, Su Leslie. Many thanks for sharing…

    • Thanks for your comments; I knew fireworks sales had been banned in Australia, but I didn’t know it was so long ago! Every year our government threatens to do the same – citing accidents and injuries – but it hasn’t happened yet. There are a lot more restrictions now on what can be sold and there is only a three or four day period when they’re on sale at all, but so far, so good.

    • Thank you. I think that for a long time afterwards I sort of forgot how cool it was because it came to be associated with my son’s first few months and the post-natal depression that I suffered. I’m glad that time has allowed me a new perspective on the place.

  2. Pingback: Amazing what you see on the neighbour’s roof | Zimmerbitch: age is just a (biggish) number

  3. Pingback: A thousand thank you’s | Shaking the tree

  4. So interested to read your account of living at Gayhurst. My mother was one of the architects who worked on the designs for converting the old house into flats.

    • Wow! Thank you for getting in touch; it’s lovely to be reminded that the houses we live in and love are the work of someone’s professional vision. Gayhurst is a wonderful place. Have you been there? I revisited briefly last year when I was in the UK and talked to one of the residents. It was great “catching up” and hearing what was happening in the community. We loved our time there; and will always cherish the memories.

      • No, unfortunately I have never been to Gayhurst. But I know my mother thought it was one of the most interesting and challenging jobs she ever worked on. She particularly enjoyed doing the designs for the ‘dovecote’ conversion. Apparently when she first went on site she had to go right up onto the roof of the House with the builders. They didn’t realise it at the time, but the roof timbers were all rotten and the only thing holding the weight of the people walking about up there was the lead on the roof.
        I wish she had told me more about it while she was still alive.

  5. Hi Penny, I can imagine that Gayhurst would have been a very challenging job. The house itself, stables and the cottages had been put to so many purposes by the time of the flats-conversion that I imagine there would have been many strange things to accomodate. From the bedroom in our flat we could see the circular toilet block which became someone’s living room, and a very Victorian Gothic staircase that must have belonged to perhaps one of the Mews Cottages. 🙂

  6. I spent 4 very miserable years of my life there. It was an institution ruled by a reverent martin and his wife. Beatings and bullying were part of every day survival .. Now at the age of 63 I can think of no good memories. To even try and tell what it was like … People wouldn’t believe me. I still have the scars today.

    • Chris, that’s terrible. I knew it had been a school at some point, but I had not thought too closely about the experiences of the children who were sent there.

    • This is Farid. I remember you and fully agree with you. I actually read Kevin Patch’s comment and was surprised by them.

      • Hello, Farid. I sympathize and look back to Rodbourne with mixed feelings. I found myself in Rev Martin’s study one day after I confessed to damaging an electric heater in the “Floral Room” It was one of those long pipe affairs at floor level supported by cheap flimsy brackets. I was reading the newspaper standing up and rested my foot on one of the brackets, when it snapped. After confessing and apologizing profusely, I stood before him, perspiring heavily. After receiving a stern lecture about carelessly damaging school property I stood there mumbling “sorry sir, it was an accident, it won’t happen again sir…” He glared at me for a long time, turned and marched over to a closet at the far side of the room, turned the door handle, hesitated for a moment, shut the closet door and spun around. I don’t remember what happened next, except for a huge feeling of relief after the massive heavy door shut behind me. That was the day I narrowly escaped caning by Rev Martin. I was furious to read later in the Term Report that my father was billed for the cost of replacing the broken bracket! Farid,you have no doubt heard it said that English Boarding Schools build “character”.
        Well, I thought I had the “character” to confess to breaking a piece of school property worth 2 shillings and six pence, which almost led to a beating. If anyone tells me that this is what “builds character”, I tell them that I have enough character already and don’t want any more! After moving to Toronto in 1969 I corresponded with Rev Martin for many years until he passed away. He never did write in his letters whether or not he intended to cane me, or if he was just bluffing. I never had the chance to ask him. No, matter, he was doing what was accepted at the time. I like to think that he may have regretted the way we were treated when he placed the wafer in our outstretched hands and put the cup to our lips during Communion. And, Farid, if you are the one I knew in 1965-68, I apologize for the detentions I gave you when I was a prefect! You had enough “character” already!

        • George, Happy New Year.
          My memories of the time in Rodbourne are pretty fuzzy, but I do remember getting my fair share of detentions. I really was pretty handicapped at Rodbourne; understood very little of the rules as I started there with almost no English.

          You may have been one of those who dished out some punishments, but really no big deal! After all, I consider you to be just another victim like myself. I guess that by the standard of the time, these methods were considered character builders, preparing us for becoming soldiers or prisoners of war in the next big one. Fortunately, the next one hasn’t happened, even though the school has caused PTSD, at least in my case.

          You can email me if you wish at
          I would like to know anything and everything about our friends, then and now.

  7. I was a boarding school pupil at Gayhurst House(Rodbourne College) I left in Summer 1964. have fond memories of the building including exploring all the secret tunnels including the tunnel under the lawn entranced from a well in the Cellar. I was in a dormitory which used to be the main ballroom (twenty one beds). My school friends and I explored all there was to explore there at the time. I remember Chris Berry. I also suffered beatings from the Rev Martin. Mostly for no valid reason. Even talking after lights out got you six of the best across your backside with a heavily wielded cane.

    Ian Tofts.

    • Hi Ian. Lovely to hear from you. I’m so happy this post has rippled outward and reached so many people with memories of Gayhurst — even though some of yours, and Chris’s are pretty ghastly. I didn’t know there were tunnels! Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Regards, Su.

    • Ha ha yes I remember those days the smoking in the round house
      Ghost walks looking for secret passages
      Talking after light’s out
      Getting the cane
      It wasnt all bullying
      But it was a different period
      And the Rev GWl Martin
      Was a tyrant so was his wife

    • I remember Berry and probably was in the same right opposite the top of the forbidden stairs. Lets face it, it was an evil, for profit, child exploiting enterprise owned by Swiss Bank!

  8. Thanks Sue. You may have already done so but, if not have a look at the history of Gayhurst House at: this refers to secret rooms etc. I believe that these were “Priest Holes” . One room had a revolving fireplace with a priest hole behind. There are some interesting pictures including the oak staircase (first room at the top on the left was the ballroom which was my dormitory). There was also an oak panelled room (first room on the left as you walked through the main entrance). This was the rev Martins office. One oak panel opened and stone stairs led to a room in the cellar. I don’t think he knew it was there. Also there is a picture of the stone staircase and the main hall and the interior of the church I was in the school choir and used to sing in there regularly.

    • Hi Ian. Thanks for this. When I told my husband about the tunnels, he was so envious that he never knew about them. That sort of exploration is just his thing. And of course, it makes sense that the house would have priest holes! It does all sound very Hogwarts and I’m afraid I’m picturing the younger you as very much one of the Weasley twins. Cheers, Su.

  9. Gayhurst, or Gothurst, in Buckinghamshire, the seat of Sir Everard Digby, also remains intact, one of the finest late Tudor buildings in the country; unfortunately, however, only recently a remarkable “priest’s hole” that was here has been destroyed in consequence of modern improvements. It was a double hiding-place, one situated beneath the other; the lower one being so arranged as to receive light and air from the bottom portion of a large mullioned window—a most ingenious device. A secret passage in the hall had communication with it, and entrance was obtained through part of the flooring of an apartment, the movable part of the boards revolving upon pivots and sufficiently solid to vanquish any suspicion as to a hollow space beneath.
    Thanks Sue, I think your right about the days of my youth.As to Hogwarts I never got to fly a broomstick. The only person who had one of those shall remain nameless but I suspect you can guess. I attach above an extract from a site which may interest your husband. I shall now leave you alone but if you should in the future require any further info don’t hesitate to let me know. Have fun. Regards. Ian

    • Thanks so much Ian. I remember when we first moved to Gayhurst one of our neighbours told us about Sir Everard Digby, and my hubby has been forever pleased to have lived somewhere associated with the Gunpowder Plot! I will give him this link. Thanks again; it has been such a pleasure to learn more about the place we called home when our son was a baby. All the best. Su.

  10. The ghost is real and six of us saw the thing at the same time about half way down the drive one winters night. I was a student there for a short while and remember that it breathed history, had a ‘soul’ almost.
    Yes the headmaster was a little too quick with the bamboo stick, but ‘what doesn’t kill you…’
    Then there was his somewhat over-sexed daughter. Fun times and good friends. A wonderful place. I’ll go back and visit this year I think.
    A. R.

    • Wow. My husband was convinced he’d experienced — felt rather than seen- a ghost while he was walking through the main hall. I’ve been back a couple of times in the last few years. You can only really access the chapel — the grounds and house are private property. But I had a chat to one of the residents while in the church and it was lovely to be back. Thanks for stopping by and commenting 🙂

    • Yes, Angela Martin (she was “The Old Boots” daughter) and Ian the car demon (he was Mrs. Martin’s son). Angela was in charge of selling us candy goods (1/2 hour after lunch and open for only 20 minutes), she missed the days when the school was in Bath, a larger more cosmopolitan town, Gayhurst was barely 200 people and Newport Pagnell was industrial and ‘gritty’. I was there September 1963 to June 1966, kept in touch with Christopher Leak from Herefordshire until he moved and we lost touch. I remember Andrew Dalison, Gavin Marshall, Procter (who played the piano), Hedges (who burned down my hut while smoking), and Goodbar (whose uncle was a M.P.). Time is slowly erasing all memory!

  11. I was a pupil at Rodbourne College from September 1963 to the summer of 1966; aside from obtaining an enviable education the Reverend Martin encouraged me to obtain “O” level certificates in Spanish and Art. At that time Rodbourne College was considered a very progressive Public School (by my father’s friends at the University of Cambridge), where ‘fagging’ (i.e. the custom of junior students serving senior students) was outlawed, education was modern (Latin and Greek were optional), and the school setting i.e. the grounds, was outstanding. There were rumors that a tunnel existed from the House down to the gate house (at that time “The Francis Drake Tavern”) and, indeed, the publican verified that sometime in 1944 an Army lorry fell into a sink-hole on the way to the house uncovering what seemed to be a brick constructed underground corridor some 5′ high. The basement was segmented into what the local historian (a reverend Lovejoy from Newport Pagnell) said were beer and wine cellars, vegetable cellars, and a detention cellar for unruly servants. Indeed one of these cellars had iron chains and manacles attached to the wall and we were allowed down there only with a master (this unit seemed to have had several wells and there was a fear one of us might fall in in the darkness). The other two cellars had electric light installed in the 1920s so we stored there our sports uniforms. One of the most fascinating features at that time, and only seen from the roof, was a fully enclosed windowless courtyard that had an incredibly large nest of swallows (in 1965 the British Ornithological Society came to photograph this nest). Like most Elizabethan Manors there were several ‘priests holes’ but of these Reverend Lovejoy considered only one to be a true ‘priest hiding place’ as it was hard to detect (double trap doors) and a cleverly hidden window (measuring 6″ x 6″) that had a clear view of the path from the gate house (the pub). The other three ‘priest holes’ were deemed to be architectural errors when newer additions were added to the original house and the levels of the various floors could not be made just right. At the top of the grand staircase (which we were not allowed to use, but had to use the stone staircase behind the hand operated lift) was a large ball room (in my time the dormitory for 24 students) and inside the inner wall there were clearly ladder steps that allowed one to reach the top of the ball room ceiling and look down through the eyes of the ceramic cherubs (or putti). It is my understanding that before reverend Martin (the headmaster) sold the property for “week-end flats” he obtained permission from the National Trust to sell a lot of the architectural features of Gayhurst House in order to allow the refurbishment of other Elizabethan and Georgian houses. For some reason (and I was present at this unfortunate event) members of the National Trust came to Gayhurst House (winter of 1965 after the Swallows’ Nest was published by the B.O.S.) inspected the house and lamented that because it was such a ‘mish-mash’ of styles and it had been ‘greatly altered’ by the Army in the two wars it was not really suitable to be placed on the National Trust List of Protected Houses.

    • Thank you so much for this Dragoslav. Reading your memories of Gayhurst, I wish I’d lived there longer and had more time to explore. It certainly is a “mish-mash” of styles. Even from our bedroom window we could see Carrington’s toilet block with its grotesques, a lovely enclosed garden, and a small circular tower that looked like it might contain a spiral staircase. A walk around the rest of the property was an absolute riot of the senses!

      • The ‘official’ guide to Gayhurst House [] does not mention any renovations that would be Regency and yet when the headmistress of a girls school from Tyringham Hall (across the Ouse river from Gayhurst) came to visit she noticed that some of our rooms were identical to the grand rooms in her school and her school was a Regency building (around 1812 and somehow related to the Napoleonic Wars). I am curious to find out when you lived there what was present. When one entered from the main door and went to the right and again to the right there was a large sitting room with tall windows that looked to a “maze garden”, this room had the walls covered in painted wooden panels that depicted the fauna and flora of England and were painted in the 17th C. This was our schools ‘library’ where no two easy chairs matched and a large table held the six or seven daily newspapers. This room had four or five cup-boards above an adult’s head, cleverly invisible and hidden by the paintings, so that valuables could be kept inside but the enclosures were not immediately visible. This was the only room in the house that elicited some interest from the visit by the National Trust (1965) and a declaration was made that it was a valuable example of “Rustic Steward Painting” (but no one mentioned any monetary value). When you exited this room to your right would have been a large double door that led to a lawn-garden with a sun dial, directly ahead would have been a sitting room with a large fire place (this was the Vth Form room), and to your left would have been the entrance hall (our assembly room).
        From the main entrance, if you crossed the entry hall and went through the double doors to your left would be a stone staircase, ensconced in it an iron hand-pull lift (elevator), and a little further a very large and elegant wooden staircase. If you had the staircase to your left, ahead were the lavatories/showers/baths (apparently built during WW I for gassed soldiers), and to your right would have been a large room (allegedly a Victorian era dining room) which then connected via two doors to the aforementioned Vth Form room. These two doors were deep; meaning that when you opened one door there was a 4′ corridor before you opened the second door to get to the next room. Servants would stand there during dinners at the ready to serve or clear. The reason we claimed that it was a Victorian era dining room is because behind the grand staircase (and most of the house) there was a long corridor to the kitchen with a 24″ wide set of tracks so that food carts could be trundled to and from. By the time the school got the house someone had leveled the tracks with concrete but the tracks were clearly visible. It would be impossible for me to describe the complete house without taking several pages; the outlying buildings behind the house were clearly of 20th C construction (including a very ugly Quonset hut that housed one of the class rooms (behind it was a clay tennis court), and what we used for a gymnasium were WW II sheds that housed electrical generators (by 1963 removed from inside the buildings and chucked into the woods to be covered in brambles). Regarding “secret passages and the like” one must remember that aside from the major renovations there was clear evidence that almost every owner had some alterations or additions done to the buildings; most were for convenience and some were done to suit the fashion of the day. The Elizabethan dining hall (directly in front of the kitchens) had a second floor balcony for musicians to play during meals, it was not very obvious how to get there so we propped a ladder, climbed into this choir-stall, and found our way out through stairs and halls that lead far away to what in 1963 were the garages (school bus, headmaster’s Wolseley motor-car, and mowing tractors), but in an earlier age were the stables. As was the custom in Elizabethan architecture (as mush symmetry as possible) many of the windows one can see from the outside were, in fact, false windows with solid walls behind them. Many places in this house were off-limits due to safety reasons and going to the roof required the presence of a master (mainly because the parapet was very old and flimsy and access to the roof was through one of the teacher’s rooms) but the view was breath-taking; one could see for over five miles gently rolling fields in all directions.
        Please feel free to ask me questions and I will try to remember.

        • Great description.

          As you entered through the main entrance, if you took the left corridor, Rev. Martin’s study was on the left. Countless ‘sixes of the best´ were administered therein. Opposite the office door was the grandfather clock. Next room down the corridor was the staff room. This corridor eventually led to the dinning room.

          Opposite the great stairway was the large room with one black and white tv. for the whole school. Also occasionally some movies were shown there. Remember seeing Dambusters there.

    • I clearly remember the beautifully painted library with many editions of ‘Bible Story’ on the tables. At the time we preferred Captain Hurricane war comics!

  12. I was at Rodbourne College when it was at Warleigh Manor from Jan 1962, and then when it was at Gayhurst from 1963 until Easter 1964.
    I am trying to write a history of the school, and despite the Gayhurst prospectus stating that the school started in Bridgwater in 1860, I can only go back as far as about 1874 in Bridgwater. If anyone has any further detail of the history of the school I would be very interested, together with any biographical detail of Rev Martin, Jeremy Walsh, Michael Brown and Mr Ince (woodwork & Mah Jong!) I would be very grateful.

  13. Anthony Morgan; I do not want to ‘highjack’ this nice lady’s blog. My e-mail is send me your e-mail and I will send you 8 pages from the 1963 Rodbourne College catalog that I photographed last week.

  14. Well, this is an interesting find. Ian Tofts, drummer in the school’s group with the Thurston brothers. Delightful guy with a fantastic Mum and Dad. (Just don’t mention the bubble car 😊 ) Other names, Dallison et al. Fascinating. And then there’s Hedger, our ‘smoker’. He also had to have a room of his own he was so noisy when he was sleeping.
    What they say, Su, is quite correct. Martin was an unpleasant s.o.b. and his wife a vindictive monster. She had her favourites and if you weren’t one of them she could be very mean, (I’m being polite here, obviously.) Angela, very sweet and for a while the ‘friend’ as such of a chum of mine who came from the Falklands, Louis, or Lewie. I hated it there and couldn’t wait to leave, (with my three ‘O’ levels.) Trevor Stringer was the Head Boy when I was there. A straight arrow, I liked him.
    For others of my time there, I left and joined the Merchant Navy for a couple of years, then the British Army, Northern Ireland when it was interesting. I was also taught to fly helicopters. Bought myself out and flew helicopters on the North Sea for ten years ending up as a Captain in British Airways Helicopters. Worked offshore as an MWD engineer; then academic at Aberdeen University, and most recently was the global senior manager for a Houston based consultancy developing and training drilling crews. Now living in Edinburgh and writing under the pen name J J Mitchell, and enjoying my guitars. An interesting life so far, and it ain’t over yet…
    Rodbourne College was a cold place in many respects, both emotionally as well as physically. It meant that the hardships of living in Service accommodation was not that much different from what all of us experienced whilst there. However, one can only wonder how emotionally stunted many of us were when we left. Martin, his wife and many of the teaching staff must take responsibility for that.
    As for ghosts etc., didn’t happen to me. However, I did find many of the priest holes and secret passages which was great fun.
    This was a good page to find. Thank you, Su.

    • Hi Kevin. Surprised to hear that you hated Rodbourne! To me, you definitely seemed a member of the aristocracy there. I remember you always sitting at the top of the table at meal times and did your fair share of bullying! Telling Dalison “stop staring at the food you fat pig.”

      Overall though, I thought you were ok. There were however some nasty creatures there!

      100 plus strokes of cane from the old boot are probably my most vivid memories of that ….

      Farid Moussavi

  15. I arrive at this site a little late in the day… I attended Little Abbey Boys Prep School at Gayhurst in 1947 at the age of 5. It moved to Burghclere by Newbury in 1949. I cannot find reference to the school anywhere. I also remember the secret passages. There was a rumour that one passage went all the way down to the river. I sang in the choir at the church. Too far back to remember whether it was fun… or otherwise! Any other ex Little Abbey types out there?

    • In researching the history Rodbourne College, including its life at Gayhurst, I too found very little about the Little Abbey School. However, I have managed to find out a bit. It would appear that Little Abbey School was formed in 1940 at Great Missenden, Bucks when two schools were evacuated, one school was from Hurst Green in East Sussex and the other was Shortenills Prep School (started in 1929) from Chalfont St Giles, Bucks. The Headmaster was N H Granville Sharp with a deputy head, Mr Barnes. Little Abbey School was at Gayhurst House 1946-49. It took boys 5 to 14. Headmasters were Major M G Hogg (unable to identify dates of birth or death as too numerous on initials only) and N H Granville Sharp. At that time fees were 50 guineas (over £1800 in 2017) a term. It moved to Adbury Park, Burghclere near Newbury in 1949. Little Abbey School became an integrated deaf and hearing boarding school when it was at Newbury. When Southey Hall Boys Prep School (started in Southey Road, Worthing in 1885, moved to Eastwick Hall, Bookham, Surrey in 1924) failed in 1954, some of the pupils moved to Little Abbey School, together with their assistant headmaster, Mr W G Locke. By 1964 Colin James Grant Cameron was Headmaster at Little Abbey School at Burghclere, the assistant headmasters being N H Granville Sharp and W G Locke. The school took boys 7 to 14. In 1965 the school moved from Burghclere to Langley Court (between Liss and Liphook in Hampshire), and Mr Cameron continued as headmaster until the school closed in Nov 1974. Reasons quoted for closure include ‘a problem with the lease’ and ‘financial difficulties’. In the London Gazette of 16.12.74 it was agreed that the company (Little Abbey School Ltd) be wound up voluntarily as the Company could not, by reason of its liabilities, continue business.

    • Hi, I attended Little Abbey at Burchlere from 52 to 55 ad a very happy time it was. I understand it had just moved from Gayhurst but reading the letters here it seems there was still a school there into thec60,s. I returned twice and then years later saw it was a ruin with playing fields overgrown, Probably a housing estate now. School moved to Rake and I visited to play cricket for the old boys and for Mr Sharpes retirement, when I joined it was Major Hogg.

  16. I was a pupil at Rodbourne from 1964 to 1969, and don’t recall it being as bad as has been suggested. Perhaps that’s because soon after leaving the school, I joined a regiment in the Brigade of Guards, (The Blues). Rodbourne seemed like a holiday camp, by comparison, to the very tough basic training course for three months at the Guards Depot, Pirbright. Or facing the hardships we had to on tours of duty in Derry and South Armagh, etc! The standards instilled in me at Rodbourne, helped tremendously, in dealing with the extreme high standards of discipline, expected and maintained, in The Guards.
    Yes, bullying and the cane happened, but no more so, than any other public or private school, at that time. The old boot (Rev Martin) gave me the cane, a number of times, for various misdemeanours, such as breaking Windows, talking after lights out, etc! But hey! The rules were clear. Break them, you got punished. Frankly, it’s a great shame, those disciplines don’t exist today.
    I never found Mrs Martin, vindictive. She expected the boys to maintain the standards, instilled, but she was generally, alright. In fact, sometimes, she could be quite a laugh. Angela, the daughter could be a bit of a bitch, at times. She used a screwdriver to dig into your back, if you were not sitting straight backed at the dining table. Ha, expect she’d be prosecuted for that, nowadays. But even she had her good points. Short skirts and fantastic legs, always in high heels.
    Most of the teachers were great. Mr Walsh,(english/history), Mr Ince,(woodwork), Mr Brown, (art), Mr Picton, (sport,history), Mr Richardson,(english/maths), Mr Hopkins,(geography). Rev Martin took religious studies, and even he was ok, in the classroom. I found Mr Dobson,(maths/algebra/geometry), the worst teacher. He used to smash a large book on your head, if you didn’t do things ‘his way’. In fact, we nicknamed him, ‘do it my way Dobson’. In midwinter, he’d fly into the classroom, and throw open all the windows, even though it was already freezing, in the room. But, apart from him, all the masters were great. At weekends, we’d often go out on trips with them. I remember going to watch motocross racing, speedway and visiting various museums with them. Mr Hopkins even took some of us up in his Cessna aeroplane. Does really sound like the harsh regime, suggested by some.
    No, I generally, I look back on my time at Rodbourne, with great fondness. Gayhurst House, itself was beautiful. The grounds were lovely, we had free roaming throughout all the vast area, and we had a lot of fun, doing so.
    I can’t ever regret, going to Rodbourne. I think it was more than partly responsible for turning me into the man, I became. After, The Guards, I had a very successful career, in sales/marketing, ending up as Managing Director of a large consultancy company. As a result of which, I recently took early retirement, and look forward, hopefully, to a very enjoyable future.
    Thanks, Rodbourne.

    • I was at Rodbourne from 63 to 67. In the sports teams for hockey, cricket, rugby and the army cadets. I was also Head Boy in my last year. Be good to hear from any one out there from that era. We are mtg at the old school on 23 june for a church service and picnic in the grounds.

      • Hello Dave. This is Farid Moussavi and you were the boy who introduced me to Rodbourne in 1963. Be nice to hear from you and any others from that time.

        • For any old Rodbourne boys, Gayhurst or Warleigh,
          there is a group on facebook. Old Rodbournians, where any old boys can communicate with each other and see the latest news and findings.

        • I remember a Moussavi, but the name Farid does not ring a bell. Did you have a brother there as well, as yourself. I was there from 1964 to 69. I cannot recall his first name, but I’m pretty sure he was in the same class as me!

        • Ian, are you Mrs. Martin’s son with the fantastic Cooper S? I remember sitting in that car once with Ian driving! Fast and Furious!

    • We must have been there at the same time. I remember receiving at least 100 strokes from the old boot! Some good friends were Richard Harrison, Nigel Greenslade, Anthony Cooper and Wilson. Favorite teachers were Mr.Clark,Ince and Walsh. Very much enjoyed the rugby, cadets and the rare outings to New Port Pagnell. Angela sticking screw drivers was just something else!
      I also remember Wesley and his model planes and Wood with fishing pikes at the pond.

      Hicks receiving 12 of the best was another memorable event!

      I hated the fact that we had to wash with cold water and the bath tubs were disgusting. And no heating in the dormitories. Boiled tomatoes and fried bread breakfasts.

      Some repulsive thugs such as Benington and Rossitor seemed above all rules.

    • We must have been there at the same time. I remember receiving at least 100 strokes from the old boot! Some good friends were Richard Harrison, Nigel Greenslade, Anthony Cooper and Wilson. Favorite teachers were Mr.Clark,Ince and Walsh. Very much enjoyed the rugby, cadets and the rare outings to New Port Pagnell. Angela sticking screw drivers was just something else!
      I also remember Wesley and his model planes and Wood with fishing pikes at the pond.

      Hicks receiving 12 of the best was another memorable event!

      I hated the fact that we had to wash with cold water and the bath tubs were disgusting. And no heating in the dormitories. Boiled tomatoes and fried bread breakfasts.

      Some repulsive thugs such as Benington and Rossitor seemed above all rules.

  17. I had a slightly odd experience in connection to Gayhurst House. I’m interested that various people here were at the school in the early 1960s, as I didn’t know when it became a school. I visited in the summer of 1959 when I was 9 years old, and I was on holiday from Ethiopia with my parents. My mother’s cousin’s husband was a “housekeeper” at Gayhurst House. I was taken back there many years later, and was astonished by how much of it I remembered. All I remember from the visit was arriving on a dark evening, and walking along dark corridors to a room which was brightly lit. However, when I returned (probably around 1980) I recognised the landscape, the house and particularly the position and shape of the church, and things I hadn’t consciously remembered.
    For years after that I was a bit puzzled that my mother’s cousin and her husband were “housekeeping”, as he had been a banker, and it just seemed a little strange that he should end up doing that kind of job, although he must have been retired or very close to retirement. Eventually I discovered that the house was used as an archive by the Swiss Banking Corporation during the 1950s, and that was where he had worked along with his brother-in-law, who was Swiss. I can understand that a bank archive might need a banker to control its archive. Nowadays I imagine it would all be done very differently. By researching Gayhurst House on the internet, just on a whim, one day, I solved a very small puzzle in my family history!

    • Hi Margaret, how wonderful to read this. I didn’t know the house had been an archive. It does seem to have had a very colourful past! Thank you for sharing your experiences of Gayhurst.

  18. I was a master at Little Abbey school in 1927 before i was conscripted into the army. Major Hogg and Mr Barrington-Sharp were the headmasters. MDB Stephens

    • Do you really mean 1927? Surely later than this! I have him as N H Granville Sharp. can you give me the full details. When were you conscripted?

      • Sorry. yes, it was 1947 I spent two terms there waiting for conscription in September 1948. Also there was Terry Leland (alias Terence Leland Bowles who died in 1949 from malignant melanoma, whilst in Kenya where he was teaching; his twin brother is still alive. Also Miss Matheison, a tower of strength. The school occupied half the house and the other half was occupied by the owner, Sir Walter Carlyle. Please let me know if you want more details Myles Stephens.

        • Thanks for getting back to me. I would be interested to know when the Little Abbey School came to Gayhurst from Great Missenden and the first names of Major M G Hogg would be very useful. I understand that the school moved to Burghclere in 1949 but no date.

        • MYLES STEPHENS, again, Ididn’t know Major Hogg’s Christian name nor when it the school moved to Gayhurst. I was 17 years old at the time.

        • Myles
          I have since found out that the heads of Little Abbey School when it was at Gayhurst 1946-49 were Norman Herbert Granville Sharp b1904 in India d1985 in Kent and Major Michael George Hogg b1898, commissioned in the Royal Artillery in 1916, awarded Military Cross in 1919 and d1954 in Holland. It would appear that Mr Sharp never married, whereas Major Hogg had married in 1923, his wife dying in 1964, there being no children.
          Little Abbey School had formed in 1940 at Great Missenden, and after Gayhurst moved to Adbury Park, Burghclere new Newbury, where it remained until 1965 when it moved to Langley Court, Liss in Hampshire. The school closed in 1974. Langley Court was used in 1950 in the film ‘The happiest days of your life’ by Frank Launder – a sort of pre-St Trinians!
          I hope this fills a few blanks.

        • I went to Little Abbey in 1951 to 1955 , Eagle House, Major Hogg and and Mr Sharp, later Mr Cameron, Happy years there but sadly when I called in the 70,s house was deserted and everything overgrown, later visited school at Rake when Mr Sharp retired, There was a school tie with an eagle and a short lived old boys club.
          Labor Omnia Vincet

  19. Starting in 1963, I spent 3 years living as a boarder in Rodbourne College which occupied these buildings. It was a pretty tough three years in a truly rotting old building. Still have nightmares about it.

  20. Aston Martin Works is the historic home of Aston Martin with a heritage stretching back almost 60 years, whilst Newport Pagnell has an even longer association with bespoke and luxury vehicle making, being the home to Salmons Coachworks since 1830: a coach and, later, carriage maker.

  21. It cost each boy’s family about 8000 pounds in today’s money for each term in that school. For that money we had 2 showers for 200 boys, disgusting food, no baths, at least two perv… teachers, Angela the child rapi.., unlimited canings, 21 person dorm, no heating in winter and ridiculously low education standard. They must have made at least 1million pounds of profit every term.
    The place is a crime scene and I still have nightmares about it.

    • I must say, I find these comments about Rodbourne more than a little exaggerated. Firstly, I boarded there from 64 to 69, leaving the term before it closed down. At no time, during my time there, did the school boast more than 120 boarders. Never 200. There was one day boy. A lad called Yates, who was in my class. At no time, was there ever more than twelve boys in my class.
      Yes, the washrooms were not great, but there were baths. There was hot water, but you had to get in early, if you wanted it. It ran out quite quickly. It was pretty cold in there, because the washrooms were housed in a corrugated shed, at the rear of the college. There was heating during winter, but only in certain parts of the building, where the large radiators were housed. In such a large house, with very large rooms, the heat didn’t reach very far!

      Agree, the food was disgusting! the only day lunch, which was always the main meal of the day, was acceptable was Friday, when fish and chips was served up!

      As far as ‘perv teachers’ are concerned, I’m mistified. There were a couple of teachers who acted a little effeminately, but never heard of any inappropriate conduct. So, maybe I missed something there.

      Unlimited canings! Well, yes there were canings, for what were deemed severe breach’s of the rules. I received two ‘six of the best’ over five years. Hardly, unlimited. Yeah, plenty of boys got the cane, but the most usual punishment, was three smacks on the bum, with the slipper, for what were seen as minor misdemeanors. Such as talking after lights out, etc! The head master (the old boot) always administered these punishments. And you always had to drop you pants for these beatings! Maybe, he was the pervert! Haha! He was a reverend, after all!

      As for Angela, Reverend Martins, 20 something year old daughter. Well, she could be a bitch. She was usually charged with the job, of ensuring we all sat straight at the dining table. She did this by walking around the huge dining room, and digging a screw driver into your back, if she deemed you were slouching. Nice! However, I think most of the boys had the hots for her. She always wore short skirts and high heels, and she did have sensational legs. You say, ‘child rapi’. If you are saying, what I think you are saying there, that’s quite an accusation. Again, I can recall absolutely no evidence of any such act. I do hope I’ve misunderstood, what you are implying.There always were rumours of her having a relationship with Mr Picton, the sports master. But again, no proof of this, during my time there.

      Where I do agree with you, is that the standard of education was poor, considering what our parents were paying for it! There’s no doubt in my mind, that the education level, was probably not even as good as in some state schools. However, without knowing how all the boys in the school fared in their careers after Rodbourne, it’s difficult to judge, just how poor it really was! It certainly didn’t affect me, too badly, as I forged a very successful career!

      All in all, I do think you’ve been a little harsh, on the old school. You’ve mentioned a lot of negatives, but none of the plus points. Of which there were plenty! Too many to mention them here, but there were many brilliant things I experienced there, that I would not have, had I been at the majority of other schools.

      Anyway, it’s great to make contact with some Old Rodbournians, and very much look forward to hearing from many more. I would especially be delighted to hear from Lionel Zetter, Lindsay Fraser, David O’Dell and Richard Catlin. All form mate’s of mine during most of my time there!

      And come on Farid! Hardly a crime scene!

  22. Hi Ian.
    Thanks for your reply. If you are in contact with anyone else, lets try to make this in to a gathering for all Rodbournians. Do we really need facebbok?

  23. Hi Richard Youdale.

    Yes, younger brother is called Kaveh. I left Rodbourne in 66.

    Nice of you to reply. Lets try to make this a huge Rodbourne group.

  24. Some names: Fenimore, Pocock, Rudge, Thurston, Wood, Harrison, Wilson, Goff, Cooper, Matheson, Pook. I’ll post more as I recall.

  25. Sue, I am so sorry that the Old Rodbournians are invading your blog! I hope that all is well with you and family. Have a great 2020!. Best wishes.

  26. All old boys from Rodbourne are invited to join the group set up on facebook “Old Rodbournians” there is a wealth of information there plus photographs and contacts with old friends. If anyone would like any further info on our research please e-mail me:

  27. Richard.
    Nice to read your comments. I am happy that your experience of Rodbourne was better than mine.

    You were blessed not have noticed, for example; Mr. Brown’s perverted behavior and Angela Martin’s carryings-on with some of the bigger boys.

    You are probably right about the 120 number. Also there were some baths, but in reality, may just as well not have existed.

    In reality, I barely touched the subject of the negatives and do intend to further elaborate in the near future. By today’s standards, Rodbourne is indeed a crime scene.

    You mention that there were too many positives to detail. I would like you to kindly list some of them so that we can all recover some of the lost ‘good memories’ of that place.

  28. Anthony Morgan: Thank you for the details concerning the headmasters of little Abbey School in 1948. The classrooms were the prefab building behind the school, presumably the billets for the WRNS during the war. Myles Stephens.

  29. Myles
    Thank you for replying.
    Interesting to know where you are! Your post 23.5.20 times 10:53 pm but it is 5:06 pm here!

  30. Sad to hear about the passing away of Dragoslav Marcovich.

    In these uncertain times, let us stay strong by uniting as much as possible

  31. So interesting to come across all this information from ex Rodbourne students, some a little exaggerated but not far off. I enjoyed my years there, I have no regrets, all part of learning how to be independent. I do remember accidentally gouging the lovely oak floor in one of the dorms, pulling an occupied bed across the room to remove the occupant, unfortunately the wooden plugs were missing from the tubular bed frame and a furrow was ploughed, it remained undiscovered for a few weeks (darkened with some boot polish). One morning Mrs M spotted it and everyone looked at me. I got nine for that and I still regret damaging those lovely oak boards.

  32. Hi Phillip,

    Yes, those were some unforgettable days of our lives. Who do you remember from those days and are you in contact with anyone? I remember you, but wonder if you remember me!

    Do you remember Harrison, Cooper and Greenslade?

  33. My father attended Rodbourne, his name was Trevor Smith. Sadly he passed away at a very young age and I never got to ask him about his experiences of the school. My mum seems to think that he had a tough time, but would love to hear any memories you may have of him.

    • Tristan. What year was your father Trevor at Rodbourne.? I and a few others have some history. You can email me at: internetlawman’

    • Your mum is absolutely right. I spent 3 years in that child prison! Just about the only good memory I have from that place is playing rugby. Almost no friends and always cold physically and emotionally. Not an ounce of humanity in that place.

      Pure evil!

      • Hi. Just read your comment. I have heard of Gayhurst as I believe the boys from Gayhurst came to Little Abbey at Adbury Park where I was from 51 to 55.
        But I do not know of Rodbourne.
        Can you let me know of the connection.
        Peter Harris

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s