On June 12th, 1935, the newly established Governing Body of Raynes Park County School for Boys - due to open in September of that year - appointed John Garrett, an Oxford graduate and an Assistant Master at Whitgift School to be the school's first Head Master.
John Garret's first contact with the boys was on September 19th, though by that time he had been busying himself organising his newly built but not quite finished school for some weeks. This was his first Head Mastership and it appears that he was as nervous as many of the boys on that first day. Turning to one of his new members of Staff and commenting, "I think I am going to be sick," he mounted the steps of the stage and addressed the boys:
"My first words from this platform can hardly be other than to welcome you all very sincerely as members of Raynes Park County School. This is a unique experience for all of us and one unlikely to be repeated. It is conceivable that we may find ourselves in other schools but never shall we have again quite the thrill of starting a new school from scratch. As I have watched this school get ready for you, and as I have been working here alone during this week, I have thought I was living through a period of prelude to adventure. And now the prelude is completed and the adventure begins, and in this adventure we all share."
"... from the very beginning I want you to regard your school as a place to which you like to come, and in whose kindly walls you like to linger. We shall have failed you and you will have failed your school if you regard it as a place to which you come at 9 o'clock under compulsion, and from which you race away at the earliest opportunity. What is more you will handicap my colleagues on the Staff in all that they want to do for you, and all of the avenues of interest to which they want to introduce you."
The School had been planned back as far as 1931 when it has been designed to accommodate 490 boys at a cost of £44,100. In August of that year the economic crisis hit and the building industry was one of those most affected. By 1933, Surrey County Council's Education Committee finally obtained permission from central government to build. By now there was an enormous local demand in the growing suburb and Rutlish School, which the new school was partly designed to relieve, was full to overflowing. For economy the accommodation was cut to allow enlargement to 490. In the light of this the building was redesigned by the original architects, Messrs Jarvis and Richard, to be built at a cost of only £28,000.
This cut in finance was made visible in such things as the omission of the central turret and the absence of any plaster on the walls. The land the school was built on also came at a low cost to the Council. It had been left over from the Council's purchase for the Kingston By-Pass and its Merton turn-off. Part of it has been the site of West Barnes Farm and the site was bordered on the west by the Pyl Brook. In the early days of the school, the farm pond (site of the gymnasium built in 1985), and the old cow sheds were still to be seen. To the first boys the school must have seemed bleak with not a tree to be seen.
The school had been due for completion during the second week of July, but work dragged on. Furniture had been ordered at a cost of £2,200. In June, the Governors had placed advertisements for the teaching staff who were to assist the Head Master. The requirements were for five assistants; one for mathematics, one for science (including biology), one for geography and two for general subjects. "In all cases the ability to help with scouting, games or the musical and dramatic activities is desirable." On 23rd July, the staff had been duly appointed: Mr. Cobb (aged 28), Mr. Courchee (aged 30), Mr. Gibb (aged 32), Mr. Halliwell (aged 30), and Mr. Oates (aged 25). At the same time, 2 part time members of staff were taken on for Art and P.E: Mr. Rogers and Mr. Sweeney. It was against this background that John Garrett took up the reins of his new school.
Traditions had to be rapidly established and, as he saw it, one of the needs was for a school song and motto. Both were supplied for him by W. H. Auden. Writing later in the school's magazine, The Spur, (Vol.1 No.1), he said:
"W. H. Auden, the poet who has written the school song, is one of the most significant figures in English letters today. His experience as a Schoolmaster, and his skill as a poet, have combined to produce a song of rare distinction. His words " To each his need: from each his power," provide the school with its motto."
Music had to be found and again Garrett called upon a friend, commenting in that same issue of The Spur:
"Doctor Thomas Wood who has composed the music, shipped aboard a tramp steamer when he was eight years old and sailed the world over. In 1914 he went to Oxford... Today he is known as a composer whose works are performed at the Queen's Hall, and he bids fair to achieve even greater recognition as a writer."
"To both his friends the Head Master is grateful for their collaboration in producing a school song of outstanding merit."
There was no doubt that Garrett was out to impress, and impress he did.
Mr. Halliwell, who taught science, designed the school badge. This was not to be heraldic, but modern. He incorporated three outstanding features of the district: the arterial road, (now A3), the bridge by which it passed over the railway, and the "Electric Railway" itself. This emblem appeared on the boys' blazers and caps, and on the latter in a form of a metal badge.
The school was "officially" opened by Alderman J Chuter Ede, DL, MP, Chairman of the County Council, on November 28th, 1935. It was the 34th Secondary school in Surrey. The event was presided over by the Chairman of the Board of Governors, Councillor B. T. King who was sadly to die the following year and in whose memory the "Cock House" Cup was to be presented. Ironically, John Garrett had gone down with chicken pox on November 14th, but he sent a telegram from his sick bed: "May the ship be well and truly launched. Greetings to the School and the assembled company." Speaking to the boys, Alderman Ede said, "What you are starting today is going to live for hundreds of years. The pace you set will largely determine the way in which the school will stand in the race of honour in which all healthy schools are engaged, and I hope, therefore you are going to realise your opportunity." A statement from Mr. Garrett was read, which began:
"Although, like Macbeth, we are as yet "young in deed", I have been asked on several occasions what traditions this school can boast, for all the world as if traditions were goods purchasable by the pound over the counter... My answer to such enquiries has been brief and invariable... Our opportunity lies in our freedom from tradition, for thus we are able to create our own... the motto of the school is no latin tag, but rather the words of the contemporary poet, W. H. Auden: "To each his need: from each his power."
The total cost of the opening is recorded in the Governors' minutes (17.12.35), as £9.6.3 including 15/- for flowers and refreshments at 7d per head. The Governors voted to contribute 11/6 each to cover these expenses.
The celebrations over, all returned to work in hand. There were immediate practical difficulties to deal with and Garrett's reports to the Governors contain many references to the inadequacies of the buildings and site. The grounds are continually flooded; there are not enough bicycle "stalls"; there are no satisfactory playing fields. The latter was to be a permanent problem until the school eventually obtained the exclusive use of the "Oberon" playing fields towards the end of the war.
In December, Garrett was told by the County Council that the allowance for the school for the year 1936/37 was to be £4,531 and early in 1936 he applied to the Governors for an additional Master for the coming September, along with the extension to the buildings to the originally proposed capacity for 490 boys. At the same time, the Governors agreed to approach London Transport requesting an improvement to their services to the school.
In March the school had been divided into three Houses. On traditional lines, they were named after their Masters, Mr. Cobb, Mr. Gibb and Mr. Halliwell. At the same time, the first Prefects were appointed.
Messrs Newsom, Milton, Sexty and Beecroft had all been appointed by May 1936. They continued the style of a young, energetic staff, the eldest of them being 29 (Mr. Sexty) and the youngest 22 (Mr. Newsom).
In 1936, the first of a long series of Shakespeare plays had been produced at the school. Julius Caesar played to packed houses in the School Hall, was reviewed in The Times, New Statesman and Nation as well as in the local press. It was produced by Mr. Beecroft who established the line of Shakespeare plays. He handed over to Mr. Peter Smith in 1945 for the school's production of The Tempest. Mr. Smith continued his association on and off until 1965. Suffice to say that drama flourished and expanded down the years making a considerable name for the school and attracting many eminent reviewers.
The annual school play was not the only drama event, however. In March 1936 there had been the first of the school's "House Drama Competitions." Halliwell's presented "Rococo"; Gibb's "The Bishop's Candlesticks"; and Cobb's "Mrs Hamblett Records her Vote." The School Choir under Mr. Oates, with Mr. Cobb on the piano, also took part in the evening and there was a performance by the "Act-One Opera Company" whom Garrett had persuaded to come and perform for no fee. The evening had in fact been held to raise money to buy a silver Challenge Cup for the school Sports Day. But, as soon as this need became known, six parents immediately subscribed enough money to purchase such a cup. It was duly named the "John Garrett Cup for Athletics." Thus the money raised by the evening was put towards the purchase of curtains and props for the school's production of Julius Caesar the following December.
The day after the House Plays saw the first School Sports Day. Since the school had no proper playing fields on site, they had been given the partial use of the Joseph Hood Memorial Ground in Motspur Park and it was here that sports were held. The new John Garrett Challenge Cup was received from Councillor B. T. King, the Chairman of Governors, by E Jepson as Captain of Cobb's House.
John Garrett certainly hoped that artistic and literary events would have a civilising influence on the boys in his charge. But, they were still very much schoolboys as the "Castigation" book kept by the Head Master shows. The 1936/37 entries suggest that not all boys were beneficially influenced:
(i) gardening instead of (detention)
(ii) idling in the lavatory without permission
(iv) appalling and degrading manners in class and out
(v) laziness over work.
Sloth, idleness, and anti-social stupidity.
At the opening of the Autumn term, 1936, there were 253 boys in the school. London University had announced that they would make a preliminary inspection of the school in December.
The School Magazine was started in October. It was to be issued free of charge to those boys whose parents paid regularly in to the General School Fund. To others it was available at the price of sixpence. It was named after the road that passed by the school's front door, the "Merton spur" (the turning to Merton off the Kingston By-Pass).
There was much activity around the school itself. From the beginning Mr. Cobb had taken charge of the school grounds and by the summer of 1937 they appeared well-established. Bulbs had been given by the Carter Seed Company next door, and many other plants had come from parents.
On Friday, 23rd October, 1936 Garrett held the first school Prize Giving. In later years these took place at Wimbledon Town Hall. On this occasion, it was held in the School Hall and started at 8 o'clock in the evening. The prizes were presented by the Rector of Garrett's old Oxford College, Dr. R. R. Marrett. Garrett made the event as impressive as possible.
The library had continued to grow and by this time had reached 1,015 volumes, and still only 288 of these were purchased. Garrett had hung a series of Low cartoons around the walls and, under Mr. Oates the Librarian, a team of boys were responsible for the library's good order and day-to-day running.
By May 1937 another three members of staff had been appointed, Messrs Raynham, James and Grubb.
The new academic year of 1937/38 opened with 302 boys in the school. Mr. Guerrier had resigned and Garrett had 55 applicants for the post. The school had to be divided in to 5 Houses, not just three as before. Mr. Milton and Mr. Newsom headed the new ones. Parents were able to choose which House they wanted their son to enter. Boys joined a House when they went in to the Third Year. Garrett spoke of the boys "retaining for the rest of their schooldays the same House Master as a guide, philosopher and friend." For the Juniors, three "Clubs" were formed: Trojans, Spartans and Athenians. Added to all this, permission was obtained for a store cupboard to be converted to provide tuck shop premises.
A projector was bought for the school with money raised by parents and boys. It was immediately put to use with short films being shown in the Physics laboratory on Monday lunchtimes as well as longer shows at a charge of 3d a head on Saturday mornings. A voluntary, after school, gym club proved very popular. So that Games could start earlier the whole school day was brought forward to start at 8.45 and finish at 3.05.
By July 1938, Garrett was reporting to the Governors that he had 80 candidates registered for the Entrance Examination for a total of 24 places. In the same month, he welcomed a further 28 "Special Placers" and the first Rutlish Charity Scholarship at the school. In September he was expecting 330 boys - filling the school to capacity. Only 16 boys were expected to leave in the summer. Thus the Governors passed a resolution: "That the County Committee be recommended due to pressure of entrants - to expand Raynes Park to a three-form entry at the earliest possible period."
As predicted, the school opened in September 1938 with a full complement of boys. An "Old Boys' Society" was formed and music took an "up" with the formation of the School Orchestra. Four tennis courts had been laid out, a biology garden established and space ear-marked for the development of the Scout Troop's activities.
And so the cycle of Prize Givings, Open Nights, Sports Days, Drama Productions and cultural events seemed set to continue. A healthy tradition had been established, but times were set to change, for in July 1938, a circular sent to the Governing Bodies of all Surrey Schools had been noted by the Head Master. It was headed "Air Raid Precautions."
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