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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.


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