Opened in 1886, Dean Close was named by its founders after the Very Reverend Francis Close, Dean of Carlisle, a former Rector of Cheltenham. The School remains on its original site, situated on the outskirts of Cheltenham on a beautiful 50 acre plot. It is one of the oldest established co-educational independent senior schools, welcoming its first girl, Pamela Rowles, in 1967. The School has had nine headmasters since its foundation.
Dean Close was named by its founders after the Very Reverend Francis Close, Dean of Carlisle, a former Rector of Cheltenham from 1826-1856 and an uncompromising champion of the Evangelical cause.
As Rector, Francis Close preached a sermon of great vigour against the annual Cheltenham horserace meeting, railed against drama by preventing the reconstruction of Cheltenham’s theatre after it was destroyed by fire in 1839; against the oratorios of the nearby Three Choirs’ Festival which represented a ‘perversion of God’s house’; and against the evils of tobacco. That said, Francis Close did have a deep interest in education, having been one of the founders of Cheltenham College and of St Paul’s Training College. For this reason, it was suggested that the new school be connected with his name. Francis Close became Dean of Carlisle, hence Dean Close School.
THE OPENING: DR WILLIAM FLECKER, HEADMASTER, 1886-1924
Opened in May 1886, Dean Close Memorial School (79th of the 103 Victorian public schools in order of foundation) appointed 26-year-old William Herman Flecker, father of poet James Elroy Flecker, as the School’s first Headmaster (the ‘Memorial’ part of its title ceased after the First World War). Dr Flecker and his wife, Sarah, threw themselves into the School with remarkable success, starting with just nine boarders and three day boys on the first day, rising to 70 boys after the first year, to 150 by the beginning of 1888 and to 200 in 1890.
In 1896, Flecker was admitted to the Headmasters’ Conference, thereby joining a club whose criteria for membership was autonomy and efficiency of management, academic attainment and sporting prowess. Dean Close School was on the map.
A NEW CENTURY
By the turn of the century, sports results had become a main concern for boys at Dean Close with the breakthrough of respectability coming in 1905-6 when two brothers Lidderdale, competing in the highly regarded athletic tournament at Aldershot, finished second one season and first the next. Shortly afterwards in 1907 hockey was introduced, which has proved a more lasting index of Dean Close’s sporting reputation.
THE FIRST WORLD WAR
In the 1914-18 War, Dean Close School bore horrific casualties. Of the 700 or so Old Decanians who took up arms, more than 120 died. The School’s permanent chapel, conceived as a war memorial to Old Boys who fell in the Great War, was financed by an appeal and completed in 1923.
MR PERCY BOLTON, HEADMASTER, 1924-1938
In 1924 Dr Flecker retired and a new Headmaster, Mr Percy Bolton, was appointed. He was a physicist who was recorded to be friendly and unpompous, ingenious and practical. His task was to bring the School into the twentieth century on a shoe-string.
In addition to reforming the social organisation by introducing the House system and teaching systems within Dean Close, he also concerned himself with diet. Up until the First World War, food in Public Schools was almost without exception ill balanced, poor in quality and deficient in quantity, often badly cooked and always monotonous. Cleanliness was another of his bugbears. On his arrival, facilities only allowed for one bath a week, and after games, boys could only wash their hands and knees in the basin of a crowded boot-room. Mr Bolton saw that a proper changing room block with baths, showers and lavatories was essential and, despite the poor financial state of the School, was able to persuade the Governors to build the new block in what was now an all boarding school.
He also introduced the first Speech Day play, Hamlet, in 1925. The producer then, and with only three exceptions until 1964, was Mr C A P Tuckwell, and the play was performed on a minuscule stage in the Schoolroom. In succeeding summers, plays were presented in the Headmaster’s garden, until in 1934 Mr Tuckwell devised the open-air theatre in what was then a wasteland. Years of hard digging, carting and levelling by volunteers, boys and Masters eventually produced what is now known as the Tuckwell Theatre which was opened in 1937.
The early 1930s also saw a rise in musical interests. Music Master, Mr Heller Nicholls did not regard music as the preserve of the talented few and was able to combine the classical with the popular to widen general interest. In 1931, the BBC invited the School to broadcast a concert which was such a success that the invitation was repeated on subsequent occasions. A natural outcome from this musical enthusiasm was the conception of the House Singing Competition. However, the musical experts of a later generation disapproved of this unprofessional event, and in 1958 the competition was stopped. It was revived by Brian Wilson, Second Master, in the 1990s.
Numbers in the late 1920s had started to decline, partly due to the lower birth rate during the War but also because of the industrial depression which was sweeping the country. There was also ever-increasing competition from the Secondary and Grammar Schools. The School was in deep financial hardship and yet the Headmaster and his teaching staff felt a strong obligation to ensure that no boy of ability should find his education jeopardised by financial difficulties at home. In 1931, a private fund was set up and Masters came forward willingly to make a voluntary contribution of 5 per cent of their salaries. Very few, except the parents of the recipients, knew of its existence.
MR HUGH ELDER, HEADMASTER, 1938-1946
In spite of such efforts, the School continued to struggle through the thirties, and with a threatening world situation, the School called for a younger Headmaster to resuscitate it. In 1938, 33-year-old Hugh Elder was appointed and Mr. Bolton went on to be Headmaster of Watford Grammar School.
With just 168 boys in the School (100 below the maximum), Mr Elder made some radical suggestions in his first meeting with the Governors, proposing that day boys of junior age be admitted, and that junior boys be reorganised to form a separate unit known as Dean Close Junior School. Classrooms were to be constructed in the shell of what had been stable buildings at the end of Fortfield garden and, as far as possible, he said that the Junior School should have its own staff but remain under the control of the Headmaster. He also made the suggestion that football should give way to rugby, a suggestion that was immediately taken up.
Changes were going well when, in January 1939, Mr Elder received a ‘bombshell’ letter, heavily sealed and marked ‘Secret’, from the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Works. The letter informed him that in the event of war the buildings of Dean Close School would be requisitioned for national purposes and that he should find other premises in which the School could be carried on. He was also warned not to disclose this information to any other person. Even when Ministry officials came to inspect the School, they acted as interested parents so that suspicions were not aroused.
It was arranged that the Senior School should migrate to Monkton Combe and the Junior to remain in Cheltenham, due to its number of day boys, where it could lodge with a failing preparatory School, Glyngarth. Four days after the declaration of war, Dean Close was formally requisitioned and the entire School and all necessary equipment was moved the forty miles to Monkton Combe, having to fit into emergency quarters within the School and the nearby village. The move also necessitated the dismissal of most of the domestic staff, many who had been at the School for many years.
In the event, the Government did not move into Dean Close and the buildings were released back in May 1940. Although returned to Cheltenham, School life was hardly as usual. ‘Fire Pickets’ went on the lookout every night for bombing raids, senior boys contributed to Home Guard duties, and lack of domestic help meant boys had to undertake various chores in the kitchen, stoking the boilers, and out on the playing fields. School holidays were spent working on local farms.
The School Committee decided that for the duration of the War there should be no formal Speech Day, but a weekend in June was fixed for Commemoration, when parents were invited to visit their sons and attend a special service in Chapel.
In the autumn of 1940, at a time of heavy air-raids in Britain, numbers in the School began to increase due to the movement of children away from city areas. A new feature of that term was the first appearance of a representative Rugby football team where matches were played against other schools, the first being against Monkton Combe at home, which Dean Close won. Sadly it is recorded that of the fifteen players who won that match, five were killed later on War service, another lost the sight of one eye and the captain was wounded and taken prisoner. That was what the War meant to those who were schoolboys in 1940.
In December of that year the School itself was bombed. There were five bombs in all, three falling harmlessly in open spaces, but one hitting the Junior School and wrecking the classrooms. Fortunately, the School had broken up that day so no one was hurt.
MR ANTHONY GILKES, HEADMASTER, 1946-1953
In 1946 the Headmaster resigned having been offered the Headmastership of Merchant Taylors’ School. It was felt that he had done wonders in actually keeping the School going through the War years. But numbers had inevitably fallen, standards of work and games had been difficult to maintain, and permanent young staff were almost an impossibility.
Mr Anthony Gilkes was appointed from the 84 applicants that applied. He was eminently successful in tackling the problems of dropping standards, helped immensely by the Housemasters he inherited, by appointing younger staff (mainly ex-service men) and by his own drive and enthusiasm.
In 1949, Mr Gilkes appointed Mr Eadward Langhorne as the first dedicated Headmaster of Dean Close Junior School, which is when the Junior School first came into being as a separate, properly constituted preparatory school within the membership of the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools.
His seven years at the School were said to be relatively quiet and peaceful compared with those of his predecessors. However, School accounts were in a poor state and it was up to Mr Gilkes to generate a quick recovery of numbers to help relieve the overdraft.
Matters were greatly aided by an anonymous gift of £1,000, made in his first year as Headmaster, and to be used at his discretion. Mr Gilkes worked hard to heighten the School’s reputation, establishing contacts of interest and value and preaching in many churches. He also joined forces with the Principal of Cheltenham Ladies’ College to form a joint musical society in the town.
In 1953, Mr Gilkes resigned to go St Paul’s School as High Master. In all too short a tenure, he had enhanced the School’s reputation, both academically and in general. He was able to hand his successor a School with a total number of 449 boys and a credit balance of over £6,000.
REVD DOUGLAS GRAHAM, HEADMASTER, 1954-1967
The Revd Douglas Graham’s date of appointment (1st January 1954) coincided with the abolition of wartime controls and rationing and was the start of a very vigorous decade of expansion and building in all schools. During his time at Dean Close, the School was carried along in a whirlwind of change, expansion and experiment.
The School’s facilities were considerably improved. An extra large gymnasium (to allow for a full-sized basketball court) and swimming pool were constructed, together with one of the first all-weather hockey pitches of its kind. A new music room was completed as well as eight small practice rooms. A gallery was added to the chapel so the whole school could worship together, as well as a vestry with a study for the Chaplain and classroom. Laboratories were up-dated and a fine large library added. An additional nine acres of land were purchased to expand the playing fields and Shelburne Hall was acquired. A new ‘Beaufort Block’, incorporating science rooms, common rooms and studies, was built next to the Chapel. Caynham House was bought as a residence for the Headmaster, which became known as Dean Close House.
Music also advanced in these years, heightening the reputation of the School Choir. The Vicar of Tewkesbury invited the Headmaster, Chaplain and Choir to take complete charge of Evensong in the Abbey on Whitsunday 1956. The impression made was such that this became an annual event, and the School was also asked by the Rector of Cheltenham to do the same in the Parish Church. The Chapel Choir has made a number of recordings in the Abbey; and it sings Evensong there on Remembrance Sunday each year.
MR CHRISTOPHER TURNER, HEADMASTER, 1967-1979
In 1967, Mr Graham announced he was leaving to take up a post in America. If Gilkes’ era had been a time of recovery and Graham’s a time of expansion, then for the next Headmaster, Christopher Turner, it was a time of change. For at that time, the whole outlook of society was surrounded by change, doubt and experiment.
Mr Turner was to see the completion of one of the biggest innovations since Dean Close was founded, co-education. Pamela Rowles was the first girl, entering the School in 1967 under Christopher Turner. She wanted some English A level coaching and was allowed to come to Dean Close. In 1969, the School had eight girls, all day or lodging with a member of staff, under the care of Mrs Valerie Wilson in the newly created House, Mead. By the end of 1971 there were 25 day girls, still confined only to the VIth form.
In 1972, there was a further step forward when girls were taken into the IVth form, entering at the same time as the new boys. A boarding house, Fawley Lodge, was opened for boarding girls and, by 1975 with rapidly increasing numbers, Shelburne Hall was also given over to a girls’ boarding house, under Mrs Sue Padfield. The girls had to have slightly different quarters in the School and in some ways the boys were jealous of the rather more ‘posh’ rooms in the girls’ house.
Girls’ places were limited and in the process of selection, higher academic qualifications were needed for entry and a measurement of entry was added. In Drama and Music the girls provided many talented actresses and musicians.
MR CHRISTOPHER BACON, HEADMASTER, 1979-1998
When Mr Turner left to become Headmaster of Stowe School, in 1979, there were 125 girls at Dean Close School and the total school number stood at 427. Christopher Bacon was appointed as the next Headmaster.
Under Mr Bacon, the School’s facilities were modernised to rank alongside the best in the land. The most notable are the Edwards Building (dining hall and language departments), The Bacon Theatre (named after Christopher Bacon on his retirement), the Music School, connected by an enclosed bridge to the theatre, and the Art School. The Flecker Library, a magnificent modern library in the original school room, was opened by His Grace The Archbishop of Canterbury in 1997.
Most internal areas of the School were refurbished in the 1990s. Academic and sporting results, cultural achievements and the School’s reputation all reached new heights during the Bacon years. The School celebrated its Centenary in 1986, HRH Princess Alexandra honouring the School with her presence. Mr Bacon retired to his farm in Monmouthshire in 1998.
REVD TIMOTHY HASTIE-SMITH, HEADMASTER, 1998-2008
The Revd Timothy Hastie-Smith became Headmaster in 1998. Under his management, a Sixth Form Centre was opened, a new boy’ boarding house built, Brook Court, which was opened by HRH the Earl of Wessex, a new girls’ boarding house and pre-prep department were constructed, and a fundraising campaign raised funds to build a £3m new sports hall. The School also appointed its first ever woman president, Baroness Cox.
In its first ever HMC Inspection which took place in 1999, the School was highly praised as “a shining example of co-education at its best.” Other comments included: “Relationships throughout the whole school community are positive and friendly. Pupils love their school.” and “Dean Close deserves its national reputation for the high quality of its sport for both boys and girls
During the Hastie-Smith years academic standards rose to new heights and the School looked outwards, establishing links with schools in Uganda and India, and benefited from an exceptional range of external speakers and visitors. In 2008, Rev’d Hastie-Smith left the School and Jonathan Lancashire was appointed as the ninth Headmaster of Dean Close School.
MR JONATHAN LANCASHIRE, HEADMASTER, 2008 -2015
A former Mathematics Teacher, Jonathan Lancashire was the Bursar at Dean Close for eight years before applying for the role of Headmaster in 2008. Coming into the role, he said that he remained as determined as ever to maintain the core values upon which the School was built, including its Christian ethos, the education of the whole person and valuing every individual.
Jonathan is a great believer in developing individuals’ self-reliance and ability to think, and new initiatives focusing on these began in his first full academic year.
MR BRADLEY SALISBURY, HEADMASTER, 2015 ONWARDS
Dean Close Pre-Preparatory School, fondly known as the ‘Squirrels’, is set in the beautiful grounds of Dean Close School, in a modern, purpose-built building. We have excellent facilities and resources and also benefit from being able to share in the outstanding Preparatory and Senior School facilities on site. We understand that a child’s first experience of school is a vital step in their learning journey, developing the knowledge, skills and self-confidence which lay the foundations for their lives.
Dean Close Preparatory School is a co-educational day and boarding school for children age 7 – 13. The school is set in 50 acres of private land near the centre of Cheltenham. With 310 pupils, the Preparatory School is small enough to allow everyone to know one another and get fully involved in the life of the School.
Set in 50 beautiful acres, Dean Close is a long-standing co-educational day and boarding school for 13-18 year olds, where visitors regularly comment on the atmosphere, saying how warm and friendly they find it.
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