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Joy of Cranleigh – Buildings With a Story – November 2020

School photo 1971, taken in front of the hedge backing on to Bridge Road (courtesy of Old Boy Hugo Simms, then aged 6, the blond boy in the back row, 4th from the right, behind the girl with the Alice band)

Stephen Rowland, who laid out the Woodlands Estate between Ewhurst and Horsham Roads around 1900, aimed to attract a ‘high-class’ clientele to Cranleigh. He would have been pleased when Lieutenant-Colonel Hammond Astley Tapp bought a large site in Bridge Road and built the house called ‘Hesketh’ near the corner with New Park Road. The lieutenant-colonel had had a distinguished army career, serving in the Afghan Campaign (1879-80) and the Burma Campaign (1885-7). He moved into Hesketh, named after his wife’s family, by 1910.

Soon, his daughter Kathleen, then in her late twenties, started a school in a ‘detached brick and tiled schoolroom’ in the grounds. Little boys of four to eight were prepared for the newly-founded Cranleigh Preparatory School, and small girls for St Catherine’s School in Bramley.

Hesketh Close in 2020 (courtesy of Cath George), with original ‘Hesketh’ on right

Hesketh School must have established a good reputation fairly quickly, as the artist and cartoonist William Heath Robinson sent two of his sons there when he and his family moved to Cranleigh in 1918. At the ‘Peace Day’ celebrations of July 1919 in the grounds of Knowle, children of Hesketh School performed a play called ‘Pandora’s Box’.

Kathleen Tapp ran the school as principal for 25 years. She was succeeded about 1937 by Mr and Mrs F.M. Stanley. Amazingly, they placed an advert for Hesketh School in The Straits Times of Singapore, aimed at expatriates!

Bridge Road in the early 20th century (courtesy of Michael Miller). Whinthorpe is the grand house on the right, with Hesketh in the background (house with two side gables.)

The next principal was Mr Peter Grant. His father was Sir Alfred Hamilton Grant, a diplomat and politician; his sister Guinevere was Margaret Thatcher’s wardrobe mistress, credited with altering the prime minister’s image! At this time the school had upwards of 50 children attending. The overwhelming majority were boys, with only a handful of girls. By now, if not long before, the school had taken over the ground floor rooms of Hesketh for classrooms, as an Old Boy who visited in 2018 discovered, to his great delight. He described his happy memories of playing cricket and British Bulldog on the school playing-field. There was plenty of sport, and the school even had a running track. The boys wore uniform of burgundy-coloured blazers and caps, with the obligatory satchels on their backs. He recalls taking part in a school play based on the Chinese Willow Pattern story. He was a scene-shifter and had to say in a loud voice, ‘We are invisible!’

The familiar Willow Pattern design, which was the subject of one of the last school plays at Hesketh School

Sadly, the school came to a sudden and tragic end in 1972, due to financial difficulties, and the schoolchildren had to be found alternative school places, less than a month before the autumn term was due to start. Cranleigh Prep School took in several boys aged only 7.

The house and grounds were turned into retirement housing during the years 1974-6, and there are now 29 flats and bungalows run by the Retirement Lease Housing Association. Perhaps today’s residents may like to consider how they measure up to the standards set for the small boys who were once here in Hesketh, as given in a school report:

‘very sound reading skills developing’
‘joins in actively in our music appreciation sessions’
‘retains facts very well’
‘must take a more active part in discussion work’
‘always considerate and helpful’

Cranleigh Prep School just before its opening in 1913 (M. Williamson, Cranleigh: the first 150 years)

The Cranleigh History Society plans to resume its monthly meetings as soon as the Covid regulations permit.

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