the place to be
Monday December 4th 2023

The Hawthorns School

The Hawthorns School celebrated 50 years at Pendell Court in September 2011 having moved from Gatton Point, Redhill, (now East Surrey College) in 1961. The house at Gatton Point has recently been demolished to make way for a purpose-built college building. When The Hawthorns started there in 1926 (boys only), there was no house within half a mile to the north and the “filling-in” process along London Road had not begun.

When Christopher and Dudley Bull, the School’s Founders, were approached in 1960 by a developer with a substantial offer to buy the site they felt it would be foolish to turn it down if suitable alternative premises could be found.

The opportunity presented itself to move the spirit and traditions of the School, lock, stock and barrel, to a larger, more gracious building set in 25 acres of grounds, at Pendell Court, Bletchingley.  Built in 1624 as a family home, it had latterly been occupied by an order of nuns – the Wantage Sisters.


A delayed start to the Autumn Term that year was required since “unidentifiable tea chests everywhere met the eye … heating engineers were juggling with pipes and wires … and furniture was piled into the hall and dining room …”!  Within a short period of time the kitchen and buildings around the courtyard were entirely remodelled and a playground was planned to the north, where an orchard lay. A gym was built at the back and derelict greenhouses were excavated for an outdoor swimming pool.  The lawns and paddock at the front of the house were levelled to make a cricket pitch. Other playing fields were created beside the lake and within the walled garden on the eastern side.

In 1969 it was decided to end proprietorial control and establish instead a charitable Educational Trust. A group of former parents and old boys were invited to become Governors, responsible for ensuring the long-term maintenance and continuity of the school, whilst the day-to-day running remained in Christopher Bull’s hands (Dudley having retired in 1965). The Trust would eventually purchase the School from the Bull family. Gillian Penny (nee Bull) worked tirelessly at the School for 26 years through periods of immense change and is still a regular visitor.

Building development has continued throughout the School’s time at Pendell Court and in 1997 a new Science and I.C.T. block, the Bull Centre (named after the Founders) and a creatively designed Ark Nursery, were opened by Helen Sharman OBE and Richard Stilgoe OBE, respectively. In 2000 a new Sports Centre, housing a 20 metre pool, large sports hall and activity, social and changing areas, was opened by Roger Black MBE. The Holman building, an Art and Languages centre, was added in 2004 and a state of the art Pre-Prep building was opened in 2011.

In April 1979 Hawthorn House (the Pre-Prep department) had been opened with a Miss Hawthorn in charge. The girls and boys were taught in the sitting room of Little Thorns (a house in the grounds), the dining room became the assembly room and library and the utility room their cloakroom. In September 1980, Elaine Forsyth (nee Pratt) took over with 9 children on role aged between 4 and 7 years and remains Head of the Pre-Prep to this day.  Her 3 sons attended the School. As numbers increased, an old caravan was purchased which was not suitable as a classroom so became the Pet Club area. There is now an established small holding which the children enjoy. A portacabin and second caravan arrived as numbers increased. In December 1995 a new complex consisting of 4 classrooms, hall, toilets, staffroom/office was craned onto the site of the old kitchen garden – sheer luxury!  Further classrooms were added. In 2011 these buildings were replaced with a fabulous, high quality, innovative, 9 classroom building with centralised Year  group areas and a roof garden. The new building has been designed with a focus on sustainability utilising under floor heating powered by renewable energy sources, natural ventilation, high levels of insulation, rainwater harvesting and constructed in sustainable materials. Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey, Mrs Sarah Goad JP, opened the building.

In terms of leadership, Geoffrey Learner was appointed in 1971 as the first salaried Headmaster, himself an Old Hawthornian and already on the staff, with his wife Shirley. He announced the establishment of an annual Founders’ Day as he intended that the “torch of The Hawthorns should burn brightly”. He took on the mantle of upholding the School’s traditions but economic uncertainty gripped the country with the miners’ strike and a ‘winter of discontent’.  An unexpected turn of events, with Reigate Grammar School becoming independent, meant that The Hawthorns progressively lost pupils at 10 or 11 years of age, who  would previously have stayed until 13. At the same time, there was a whispering campaign of dissatisfaction and local landowner, Mr Anthony Stephens, whose wife’s family (Webbe) had connections with The Hawthorns, was called upon to help.  He had a proven track record of saving schools and we are very grateful to him for his expertise, foresight and drive in re-energising the School.

Our current Head, Tim Johns, who was also an Old Hawthornian and member of staff, took up the reins in 1992 with his wife, Evelyne, and young family. With a deep knowledge of the School, a passion to see it succeed and a diverse and talented staff, the School’s past strengths were fused with a practical and ambitious vision for the future, through carefully managed change. The School moved forward with renewed vision, unity and vigour.

After years of discussion, the aspirations for co-education finally took root in the Prep School in 1992 when girls were admitted. The first group were christened ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and ‘set the pace’. They were followed by ‘The Famous Five’ and Textiles joined the curriculum. The family ethos of the School made the transition very natural.  It is true that there is security in numbers and the School remains indebted to the first decade of girls’ parents who gave their support and commitment to make co-education work. The School now has a total of 530 pupils of which just under half are girls. In 1994 boarding finished due to a gradual change in parental demand.

The new Millennium began with fresh horizons and immense challenges. In historic terms it was used as a springboard to launch Glennie, Weston, Fiennes and Sharman as four new House figureheads, keeping the old colours, but names more relevant to the 21st Century pupils and reflecting co-education.  They were chosen from over 50 nominations (each needed to be alive, British, charismatic, courageous, inspiring, showing integrity and reflecting interest to the children, (i.e. Culture, Service, Exploration and the Sciences). The previous House names of Mallory, Scott, Livingstone and Baden-Powell were left to the 20th century, but were by no means forgotten.

The Hawthorns School continues to thrive with an outstanding academic record, fantastic range of day and residential trips to complement the rich learning environment and an extensive extra-curricular programme. Opportunities in Sport and the Arts abound. Strong pastoral care ensures that pupils, aged 2 to 13 years, are nurtured within the spirit of the School’s motto “Love God, love thy neighbour”.

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