Temple Grove School

Temple Grove School

by Lisa De Silva

Even though Temple Grove School has closed its doors, it continues to be tied to education for the present and future generations. Lisa de Silva explores its fascinating history.

For nearly two hundred years, Temple Grove School educated both the great and the good, becoming one of the oldest prep schools in England. Old boys include wartime airman Douglas Bader, cricket commentator Brian Johnston, intrepid explorer Pen Hadow and zoo-keeper John Aspinall.

Here we take a look at the school’s rich history, it’s relocation from London to Heron’s Ghyll and how the work of the Temple Grove Schools Trust continues to benefit local primary education today.

Founded in 1810 by Dr William Pearson, Temple Grove School was initially housed in a Jacobean mansion in East Sheen, when it was still relatively rural. The school was named after a previous owner, the 17th century politician Sir William Temple, whose secretary was the author Johnathan Swift. Dr Pearson himself had been a schoolfellow of William Wordsworth and was a founder of the London Astronomical Society.

Initially Temple Grove attracted the sons of the aristocracy, including those of the Duke of Wellington, but numbers rose steadily as the school intake expanded to include the sons of the merchant classes. By 1860, the roll call stood at around 120 boys, with the school reaching the peak of its success in the late 19th century, when Temple Grove was classed as one of the ‘Famous Five’ top English prep schools.

Traditionally the upper classes sent their boys away to be made into men and life at the boarding school was harsh. Beatings were part and parcel of school life and throughout the winter months it was reported that, ‘in the dormitories, snow piled frequently upon the blankets and ice formed on the water jugs’.

In 1907, as the suburbs began to encroach upon East Sheen, the decision was taken to move the school to Eastbourne. Yet the location eventually proved too costly and in 1935, Temple Grove moved to its final home in the hamlet of Heron’s Ghyll – a country house with around 40 acres, near Uckfield. The stable block was converted to provide a chapel and gymnasium, a swimming pool was built and over the years a programme of modernisation developed which included science laboratories, increased classroom and dormitory space, along with a theatre.

However, by the early 1990s, the trend for full-time boarding was in decline and despite now admitting girls, it was clear that a new approach was necessary. So in 1991, the school’s trustees approached Jenny Lee, Headmistress of St Nicholas prep school based in Harrock House, Buxted.

“We had a day school which was predominantly girls,” explains Jenny. “Temple Grove had amazing grounds and facilities and we thought it was a great opportunity to improve the education we could offer our pupils. It also allowed both schools to try to build something for the future in terms of meeting the trend for co-ed schooling and a more relaxed boarding experience.”

Jenny ran the school which became known as Temple Grove with St Nicholas from 1992 to 2001, during which time the school developed a more flexible approach to boarding. “We had a small group of core boarders, but we also started offering boarding on a weekly and nightly basis. It was actually really popular and some children even chose boarding for a night or two as a birthday present. The staff were brilliant and made the whole thing a great adventure. With such extensive facilities and grounds both day and boarding pupils were never short of something interesting to do.”

Several years after Jenny left, with numbers falling, the trustees decided it was time to ring the bell one last time and in 2005, Temple Grove was closed. “I think many people were disappointed and upset when the school closed. All of the children were very happy there, it was an idyllic rural setting and a lovely environment.”

The money raised from selling the house and grounds was put into the Temple Grove Schools Trust, which continues to be actively involved in primary education in disadvantaged areas of London and the South East. Today the Trust provides schools with both governors and funding for enrichment activities, providing a lasting legacy that Dr Pearson would be proud of.