Joy of Cranleigh – The Vanished Buildings – January 2019

Now that the centenary of the Great War has passed, the ‘Joy of Cranleigh’ feature will aim to present several Vanished Buildings of Cranleigh…

The Vanished Elmbridge School

In May 1939, with war looming, Parliament passed the Camps Act. This planned for 50 hutted camps to be built at government expense as safe havens for city children. Eventually 36 camps were built, mostly in southern England, on sites away from railways and airfields, and to a uniform design. Made of Canadian cedar, they cost an average of £25,000.

Boys from Loxwood Secondary School, Ilford, arriving at Elmbridge School, February 25th 1940

One of these ‘camp schools’ was built in Cranleigh, where Elmbridge Village now is. Its distinctive lay-out can be seen on the Ordnance Survey map. The school lay well back from Elmbridge Road, next to the disused Wey and Arun Canal. It was on a 30-acre site, with 11½ acres of playing fields and a 4¼-acre farm field. It was designed to accommodate 200 pupils and staff.

Part of the Ordnance Survey map, 1961, showing Elmbridge School in the centre

A boys’ school in Ilford, Essex, called Loxwood School, was designated for evacuation to Elmbridge School. Boys arrived in Cranleigh in February 1940, with their teachers. The headmaster was one Mr Clark, but the deputy headmaster was later well known in Cranleigh. He was Mr John Wiskar, who settled in Cranleigh and became the first Headteacher of Glebelands School. Elmbridge School was organised in ‘houses’: the East Wing housed Roding and Forest, and the West Wing Fairlop and Abbey, all named after places in Essex.

The Elmbridge School badge combined the crane of Cranleigh with the three curved swords (‘seaxes’) of Essex

By all accounts, the boys enjoyed their time here, especially the open-air life. They grew much of their own food, and in their free time played around the Wey and Arun Canal. One excitement was helping the Local Defence Volunteers to construct road blocks (for use in the event of a German invasion) at Whitehall Bridge, the Knowle Lane cutting, Rowley Drive and Bookhurst Hill, and shelters for Observation Posts at Holdhurst and Rowley Farm. The L.D.V. reported that the boys worked ‘with great keenness’.

The Young Farmers’ Club building rat-proof food hoppers, about 1942

After the war, the evacuees of Loxford returned to Ilford, and the National Camps Corporation sold most of these camps to county councils or education authorities. The camp at Ewhurst became Sayers Croft Field Centre, run by Westminster City Council, while the one at Send became a prison. The camp at Horsleys Green, High Wycombe was used as the U.K. headquarters of Wycliffe Bible Translators, and others became caravan parks.

The dry bed of the Wey and Arun Canal near Elmbridge School, about 1942 (Photo by woodwork teacher Mr Tom Styles)

As for Elmbridge, the Essex County Council Education Committee bought it in 1947 and, after spending many thousands of pounds on improvements, maintained it for over 30 years as a secondary boarding school for boys. They looked for boys ‘of a good character, who had just failed to qualify for Grammar or Technical Schools, with preference given to Essex residents and sons of service people’. It was the first secondary boarding school in the country to be maintained by a local education authority. In 1964, there were 250 pupils. Fees were £201 per year, but grants were given according to income.

West Sussex County Times, 5 Dec. 1980

The boys played other Cranleigh schools at football, and could be seen on Sundays walking to St Andrew’s church on the Common.

In summer 1980 Elmbridge School closed and was transferred to Fyfield in Essex.

The dining hall in 1947

The boys have left memories at Elmbridge Retirement Village, where many of the roads are named after places in Essex or masters at the school.

With grateful thanks to Mr Don Hillsdon for rescuing many of these pictures.

Gym display, 1947

The Cranleigh History Society meets on the second Thursday of each month at 8.00pm in the Band Room. The next meeting will be on Thursday January 10th, when Carol Brown will speak on ‘Vignettes of Guildford People’, after a brief AGM at 7.30pm.


  1. This article took me back to my childhood as I remembered visiting my brother who attended the school in the early/mid 60s. I’ll always remember the rope swing over the very wet ‘dried up ‘canal’, as my brother fell off it in his uniform, and the open air un-heated swimming pool.

    Lovely article, many thanks

  2. I was at the school between 1960 and 1965, and enjoyed reading your article. I remember well the swing over the canal, marching to church in Cranleigh, also bonfire nights when we all walked in formation to light a bonfire with lit torches made from sticks wrapped with old blankets secured with chicken wire! I also remember catching the steam train at half-term, and going to the ‘Singing Kettle’ on visiting days.
    My elderly aunt lives in the retirement village (purely coincidental) and so I have been back several times. Nice to see the roads named after masters and the school houses.

    • The good old days Roy. It’s a pity the school closed. Do you have any contact with any of the old group.

    • Hello Roy
      I was also at Elmbridge 1960-64 (Abbey & Forest) and remember you.
      I also recall all of the events you mention.
      I attended the old boys reunion at The County Hotel on Chelmsford in 1989 (which happened to be the same day as my 50th birthday) I recall meeting up with some old classmates and spoke with some of the teachers and Matron, it was a great night.
      I have been invited to attend other reunions but as I have lived in California since 1981 it has been a little difficult to be in the UK due to work commitments.
      I recall there was a reunion organized for 2020 but the pandemic took care of that.
      If there is ever another organized reunion I would gladly attend as I am now retired.
      David Patience
      Camarillo, California, USA

      • Just remembered wearing your white Beatles wig for the show we put on in the fourth year, comedy skits, a band that Roy was in. The great tuck shop robbery skit.

      • Been a long time David. My brother goes to the reunions, but I live in Canada since 79 and although I get the invites, am unlikely to go.

    • Hi Roy

      I remember you from school. My twin brother (Roger Bradley) and I reside in South Australia – since 1965
      I still remember also the canal swing, marching to church etc.
      Hope you are safe & well during this testing time for us all
      Regards Paul Bradley

      Regards Paul Bradley

  3. I found this site almost by mistake. I was an Elmbridge boy from 1955 to 1960 and under the Headship of Austin Day. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and still have many fond memories of the school. Not only did it provide a safe and sound education for me but also the basic principles of life many of which I still use today. Elmbridge certainly was a good stepping stone to the future.

    • Hi David, like you I fell on this site quite by accident. I arrived at Elmbridge in the summer term of 1959. I remember you very well, one of the most approachable students of your year. There was a story of lead poisoning from a German bullet in WW11. Was it true or an urban myth. If I remember correctly you were seeking a career in the church. Did it materialise? You must be close to your 80’s buy now. Hope you are well.

    • Was thinking about my late brother Melvyn Kidder recently who sadly passed away couple years ago. He was 11 years older than me and as a child I spent a lot of my time in foster care as our mum suffered with her nerves. When he was alive I never questioned how come I never saw him and we never grew up together and I rarely saw him. All that was ever told was he was away at Elmbridge School and we never discussed when we grew older as he went straight into Army and again I never saw a lot of him over the years. Melvyn would have been at the school somewhere in the years 1951 to say 1956. I just googled and wondered if anyone did remember him and if he was happy lad. Thank you

      • Hello Megan – I was at Elmbridge in 1951 to 53. Family then moved to Scotland. I do not remember your brother. I was in “Scot” house and then “Forest”. Did he ever mention other friends?
        Bob Hardie

  4. Like you David I found the site recently by luck. I was at Elmbridge from 1950/1955.The headmaster was Mr.Day.Teachers that I can remember were, Mr.Jackson, Roberts, Smith, Dean, Flowers, Montgomery(Miss), Blowers. I was in Roding dorm, and Rhodes for activities. Every year I get an invitation to attend an OB reunion, this year 22nd March. Unfortunately as I live in Cyprus most of the time I cannot attend. However, should any OB remember me and would like to contact me then pleas email me. Regards, Bill Osborn.

  5. I found this site purely by chance. My dad attended Elmbridge back in 1942 until about 1948. He was in Fairlop dormitory. He always spoke of his time at Elmbridge with great fondness. The headmaster was I think a Mr Clark and his sports master was Mr Wiskar. Dad was in the first team for football and also for cricket. I have all his notes on the Young Farmers Club. In fact the very first picture in the article I can see my dad. I wished I could’ve taken him back before he passed away.

  6. Also with me, it was a serendipitous discovery of this article. I was at Elmbridge between 1949-1953, and thoroughly enjoyed it. We still have an active Old Boys Association, although of course the numbers are dwindling. I have been a past Chairman of the EOBA, and am very proud to have been the first Old Boy to be appointed as a Governor, which I was up to and beyond when the School closed and transferred to Fyfield. Some of you may remember me as Clive De’Ath, but reverted to my Grandparents male line of Vernon when I discovered that I was the result of a bit of hanky-panky of my mother during the pre-war years, and therefore the three elder brothers I had were now half brothers!! If anyone wishes to contact me, or would like further information relating to the EOBA, please email me at:

  7. brian smith

    I am not sure what years I was at Elmbridge. I remember Mr Day and Mr Blowers.

    About 5 years ago I landed a hot air balloon on the old plying fields. Lots of the residents came out to see it, and were amazed that I was an ‘old boy’. I think the security and was not impressed, but they told him to buzzoff as I had been here longer than him!

    • Hi Brian
      My father is Mr Bryan (Bert) Blowers. He was a woodwork teacher at the school in the 50’s and ran the Young Farmer’s Club. Our family lived on the school grounds. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2020. Regards, Caroline Leske (nee Blowers)

    • Hi Brian, Mr Blowers is my father. He was a teacher at the school and ran the Young Farmer’s Club. Our family actually lived on the school grounds. Unfortunately, Mr Blowers passed away at the age of 93 in 2020 in Australia. Regards, Carol Leske (nee Blowers)

  8. Spent 5 years at Elmbrige school ( 68/72 ) even though i would have preferred to have gone to a local school in clacton-on sea, i have a great memories of my time there. Wish i still had the school photo taken on the Green/Lawn out side the canteen. The then headmaster Mr H.E.A.Day i have very fond memories of. Always so well dressed and would take time to speak to you. I will always remember when he allowed me to ring the ” Bell ” when it was supper time even though it was somebodt elses job. Dean Simm …. Now resideing in Stockholm sweden since 1975.

  9. I was at this school from 76 – 80 I was in Forest and my friend Bernard & Ivan Taaffe I have never heard of again.

    • Can you remember by Dad…Anthony (Tony) Terry he left I’m 1979 I think…

    • Hi Simon, I worked in the kitchens in 1976-80
      as did my parents, their names were Andrea and Peggy, Dad was Italian and Mum was Irish.

      • Your Mum was so kind to me. Nicknamed me Grumpy!Before I left I went out for a drink with your Mum and Dad and the other couple. I remember Mrs Nestling as an old hag. After I left I remember that Steve Austin used to pop into Cranleigh for late night cocoa with one of the kitchen ladies!!

        I was there less than 2 years but I could write a book about it. There were certainly some characters

      • Hi Lena

        My two brothers and I were at Elmbridge
        David Chenery to 1974
        Paul Chenery to 1975
        And me
        Alan Chenery to 1978
        I remember cooking classes may have been baking to be fair but either way I was crap at them
        Remember Peggy she was lovely but scared the F out of me
        Good days and some whacky fun along the wayv

        • Hi Alan
          Stumbled on this site by chance, went to Elmbridge same years as you.
          Had a friend called Alan Chenery a spurs fan my name is John Twyford I was in Abbey dorm Mr Furniss was the Headmaster.

      • My dad used to catch rabbits for your dad the chef …his name was Antony Terry.

  10. Hi Simon, don’t know if you remember me, but I was there at the same time in Forest with Mr Austin. I knew Ivan as well. Hope you’re good.

  11. Reply
    Maureen Buckmaster 19th May 2021 at 10:02 pm

    My brother, Brian Thorpe, attended Elmbridge from 1950. We lived on Canvey Island, Essex and I remember the excitement of the monthly visits to him on a specially arranged coach. Several boys would be waiting at the entrance to the school and would rush ahead to warn pupils that the coach was coming. I remember the wooden dormitories and hollowed out camps in the canal bank as well as the rope that hung from a large tree over the canal. Boys would swing back and forth across hoping not to get wet. My father played in the annual fathers v pupils cricket match. It was very basic accommodation but an excellent education. They held an Eisteddford every year and my brother won in 1953 with a poem about the floods on Canvey. His best friend was Donald McGirr. My brother died of cancer in 1978 but always had very happy memories of his time at Elmbridge.

    • Hi Maureen,
      So nice to hear your comments about Brian, We always seem to be in the same dormitory or house, and spent a lot of time together playing football and cricket for the school. We also knocked 7 bells out of each other as I owned two sets of boxing gloves which we put to good use! He was a great lad, and was very sorry to hear of his passing when I tried to trace him in the seventies. I believe his sister worked in a travel agency in Southend or Leigh, but was not there when I called in, but did hear of the sad news.
      You can read about my life at Elmbridge on this site dated the 4th July 2020.
      Kindest Regards

      Clive Vernon

  12. Hello Lena, I vividly remember your parents Peggy and Andre, and you of course. There was also a man called Jimmy who did the washing up. I also remember Mrs Nestling (one finger missing) who had been the head cook before your father, although as cooks go, she was amongst the worst. You lived just down the road from the school I think, near the West Cranleigh Stores (which was out of bounds to us). I auppose Peggy and Andre must be dead now.

    • I remember Peggy clearly too.

      Her shout of there’s no seconds! (helpings) ringing across the dining room from the serving hatch was a regular feature of mealtimes for us perpetually hungry boys.

      Steve Sparrow. Fairlop 72-77

  13. Oh Sparrow, yes I remember you. Fairlop I think.

    Abbey Boy.

  14. I was a young teacher 72-74. I remember Peggy with fondness. She used to leave me food in the staff dining room for a late night snack if she knew I was going out for a pint and once invited me to the local “Club” for a drink one Saturday night before I left. I still have good memories of the place which was full of interesting characters both adults and pupils.

  15. Butch the caretaker, Miss Heath the accountant, Myra the Office Secretary, Joan Ross domestic bursar,Ted the technician, the Heads Woody and Paddy, deputy head Dave Le Shirley teachers Dick Newman,Terry Hales Gordon Smith,Vin Kay, Derek de Glanville, Glyn Jones,Jeff Hill, Brian Freer, Les Colbran,Courtney Stapleton,Roy Keene, Arthur Barrett, Steve Austin, John Lloyd, Richard Feely,Derek Hamblin,

    Some of the student names above ring a bell… Dean Simm was a good TT player, with John Newman. I remember most of Forest House . The prefects when I started were Herglotz, Blake, Norris and Keir Keeble.

    Happy days.

  16. My great uncle Leslie Roerig was at this school. I have a copy of his school report there from 1941.

  17. I seem to be a fair bit older than other writers as I was there from 1948 to 1952 and came there from Seven Kings along with my best mate Graham Rose. I was in Roding dorm and of course recall those familiar names eg. Day, Wiskar,Montgomery etc and my favourite Hedley Mathew’s who I corresponded with when he and family went to teach in Rhodesia. These were such wonderful years which set me up for life in regards to the ups and downs which life can bring !! I was in RAF and Merchant Navy then came to live in Melbourne Australia in 1964. I’m now 85 y.o and and happy to hear from “old mates” of our past. Good luck to all 👍🤓

  18. Does anyone remember Mr Edgar York who was at the school from 1952-1956? I am trying to put together his history and if anyone has any memories, they would be most appreciated.

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