Newells Preparatory School

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The Fire

Posted by Chris Matthews on May 14, 2012 at 3:15 PM Comments comments (0)


I contacted the headmaster Graeme Owton last week inquiring about an Old boys (&girls) site and he kindly directed me to this site. Memories came flooding back, seeing familiar names ,as up to now the only person I have had contact with is Edward Trewhella.

I further contacted Graeme on a subject that has vexed me all these years, that is the death of Alexander Parker in that fateful fire.

I asked if it was possible for some form of memorial could be made to him because I cannot recall any mention of him again when we reassembled at Handcross Park. I know at the time we had to “put a brave face on it” and today all too frequently therapy is banded about, but in this case it was wrong not to!

I am delighted that Graeme is of the same mind and after again thinking of the incident over the weekend inquired whether it was possible for a scholarship to be started in his memory. Greame swiftly responded and said that was one of the avenues he was exploring!

It was a fateful incident which up to now I had not given too much thought, although at my wedding I noted Alexander’s death with sadness. I copy my recollection of that night which I passed to Greame, as he asked my about Nurse Mary :-


As you progressed up the school you were allocated smaller dormitories. When I returned for that fateful term I was overjoyed that I had been allocated a small 2 bedroom room at the top, in what was the old servants quarters.


 Both nurses had their rooms on this floor.


 I recall waking up in the middle of the night to thick smoke in our room. I remarked to my fellow dorm pupil, "Who would be having a bomb fire in the middle of the night!"

 Shortly after this we heard Nurse Mary Wyatt shout "Fire leave the building" The fire alarms never sounded, presumably they were engulfed in flames rapidly.


 On this we assembled to exit and I recall the great difficulty in breathing as we stood in line to exit via a window and scramble over the roof tops to get to the fire escape ladder.


 It was a credit to Captain Hope- Lang for his military insistence on fire drills as we went into "auto pilot" to evacuate.


 Without Mary Wyatt's leadership and quick thinking I believe many more would have perished, as when we exited I noticed (with misplaced glee) my classroom ablaze, which was two floors below!


The other nurse whose name I do not recall, (could have been Marion?)who had not been there long lost her small dog in the fire I believe.


 We all had blackened sooted faces and were housed in the theatre by the stable block for the night.


 I also recall Matron stuck in her window in her bedroom in the annex, but thankfully the fire brigade, (infact Edward corrects me that it was Charlie) when they arrived, got her out, as she supervised the theatre, trying to get us to sleep on wooden chairs, but to no avail!


 I also recall watching Captain Hope-Lang re entering the building, which was by now totally ablaze, before the fire brigade arrived, in a valiant attempt to find Alexander.

 Again superb organization that a roll call was quickly taken to ascertain if any boys were missing.

 Unlike the dorms on the lower floors, which had direct fire escapes attached to the windows, the top floor, where I was, did not. You had to walk along the corridor to exit via the window onto the roof, then make your way across to a fire escape.

 Looking back we were the most vulnerable and it is due to Mary's action that we were saved, as had it been any later, I don't think I would be here today.


The only boy that had foresight was Nigel Aveline (but it may well not have been him!) as he threw all his clothes out of the window!  It was a great shame he did not return after the fire.


I know that on arrival at Handcross Park I could not sleep for at least 2 weeks, as I was fearful of another fire. I suspect many felt that way, but of course we never discussed it, maintaining "A British stiff upper lip!"

I was told off by my mother for not retrieving my new dressing gown!


My future blogs will be more light hearted, but this is a subject that has vexed me for all of these years and I am so glad that Alexander will hopefully have a fitting tribute to his memory!



Trewhella, E, 62

Posted by Edward Trewhella on May 13, 2012 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Hi All, what a trip down memory lane this has been. 62 was my number. The only contact I have had with Newells/Handcross since leaving in 1969 has been with Chris Matthews. All the names came tripping out Miller, Overbury, Bentham, Ramsden, Utting, Oag, Whetstone, Lynes, Peters, Bishop, Gorham, Lydall and how could any of us ever forget the famous Matron list every night at supper: Adams, Aveline...... everyone pretty much always saying yes, until if you said no you were whisked off for Syrup of Figs - took me a while to figure that one out. Andrew, I think you came out on leave with me with my aunt and Uncle to Ashdown Golf club and yes we built dams as well as camps in the woods. The day I was allowed to ring the bell to get everyone in I distinctly remember that I could not make it dong - too complicated just to pull the rope! Queuing up twice a week to have ones underwear inspected was fairly gross looking back on it but I have to say that unlike the school I went on to, Wellington, I was very happy at Newells and subsequently at Handcross. One sadness with the fire was that many boys never came back which was a real shame and Handcross was the poorer for it. Yes I do remember Miss Vellacott's map of Britain cut in the turf and Mr Dancy's French imperfect endings "ais, ais, ait, Ions, Iez, AIENT  boy" - Pye (Hugh?) I remember took it from me with hits on the head with a pencil case. The other French teacher at Handcross was M. Lazo and taught rugby as well, came from Desmoor as did Combes who was a real inspiration. We all seemed to become very fond of Mr Reford as we got older and I will never forget his use of the Goddamn word, specifically on the rugby field in the sense of "Run Trewhella, you're like a goddamn old woman"! Wouldn't be PC these days. Unfortunately I cannot make the May 23 reunion but would love to get to a future one - Tim Kilpatrick I think was the boy who was in charge the night I arrived in September 1964 having been driven all day from Falmouth by my mother in her Morris 1000 and he looked like a grown up in that dining hall - I was amazed as I seemed so young and small. Thanks again to all for putting stuff on this site which has been really great. Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba rang I recall vividly but always thought it cane from the song Barbara Anne which was around at that time......? Also Charlie the groundsman who on the night of the fire was reputed to have saved the tuck cupboard and Matron - in that order. Other really odd memories like why did I collect all the triangular Dairy Lea cheese labels that we had every night, I had hundreds of them which I then buried in purpose built holes in the woods. So many other memories come back now I have opened Pandora's box, thought I had lost them for ever! Best wishes to all and do get in touch if you read this and remember anything...............

Andrew Miller

Posted by newells on April 23, 2012 at 4:50 AM Comments comments (1)

22nd April 2012.

I was sent to Newells in April 1965 at the relatively late age of 9 together with my younger brother Mark when my father was posted to Italy with the Foreign Office. I stayed right through to my Common Entrance exams in 1969 but Mark, after four attempts at running away, finally left a term or so after me without sitting his CEE.


I have many vivid memories of the school itself, the teachers and even to this day can instantly recollect clearly the faces as well as the names of almost every single boy who was there during my sentence.


Over a series of blogs I hope to bring all these memories bubbling to the page and hope that others will recall some of the characters and events.In due course I shall add all of my school photos, complete with the names of all boys and staff I can remember.


Even before joining the excitement started with a trip to Harrods to be fitted out with the regulation school uniform. Grey corduroy shorts, grey shirt, grey V-neck pullover with a blue V, grey shirt and socks, black shoes, blue tie and a blue elasticated belt, adjustable, with an S shaped buckle that hooked into the other end. We were expected to wear white vests and Y-fronts. If one was fortunate to be promoted then a vice prefect had a blue tie with yellow/gold stripes and a matching belt and a full prefect had a yellow/gold tie with matching belt. I eventually made it to Vice Prefect.


I can remember the excitement of seeing my mother stitching me new name labels to all my clothing, flannel, towels and bedclothes. A Miller - 23 - that was me - and brother Mark was M Miller 24. I still have my red and cream metal tuck tin with one of the labels securely glued to the top and when it resurfaces I shall upload a photograph.


The dormitories were all named after famous British heroes of history beginning with the yougest occupying Clive ( located at the end of the first corridor to the right of the main landing where the 3/4 size billiard table stood. For use only by prefects or the very senior boys). Next up was Nelson, where I began life at school, then Drake, Winston and Lister. Others up in the old servants quarters included Tensing and Hilary, usually only 3 or perhaps 4 boys were in each of these. Every dormitory had a dorm captain whose role was to keep everyone in order depending on the nature of the individual this could leave plenty of scope for conversation and misbehaviour. In practice it often meant that people he liked could talk and the rest had simply to shut up.


The headmasters study lay immediately adjacent to the billard table and as he often used to march around checking that we were all in bed (6.50 pm for Clive, 7.10 for Nelson and I think Drake & Nelson by 7.30 pm) and silent, we were obliged to have look-outs posted by a dorm door to warn us with the whispered word Cave (pronounced KV) if he should be spotted heading our way. This was essential as more often than not one or more boys would be out of bed and most of us were probably talking anyway - hardly surprising at that hour of the evening when Summer nights still had three hours of daylight to go !


Scurrying back to bed in complete silence on old floorboards with the head only 20 - 30 feet away was a difficult art and on many occasions the slipper would be meted out. Usually it would only be one or two boys who had to bend over the bed end (though I remember one occasion in Winston when the entire dormitory was punished)while the head (Capt Hope Lang) would administer up to six wallops of some boys slipper


There was also a rather unpleasant "dormitory cane" which unlike the regular one had a split end designed to pinch when used and occasionally draw blood and it was used either for more serious offences or if the head was in a bad mood. Two - six strokes was the norm but I do remember John Ramsden receiving six one night followed by a further FOURTEEN when he was caught out again the same night. And I am almost certain that Stephen Whetsone received a number the same night


In future blogs I shall remind you of (Brother) Michael Dancy's memory system for French irregular verbs, what happened to an attractive young (Norwegian) junior nurse, stars and stripes, which boy nearly cut his thumb right off while working as a Bushranger, dam building in the woods, the pigs table in the dining room, my brothers disappearance. Mrs Vellacotts excellent teaching of the landscape of the British Isles, early morning exercise, burnt rice pudding,the termly weighing and measuring of boys and lots more.


I also have copies of most end of term Newsletters and the end of term details for every boy in the school highlighting their academic performance as well as the number of plusses and minuses allocated for good/bad behaviour. And I could have told you in one second flat, without looking at the score sheets, which boy consistently outscored every other in the school every term with the minuses - it is one of the existing 25 members on this site ! Oddly enough one of the other regular high minus scorers is also among the 25. More anon




A quick recollection - does anyone from Michael Dancy's era of teaching recall his excellent "football team pronoun" memory method for French. In those days all soccer teams played a 5 forwards, 3 halves and two backs formation so we all learned quickly and by heart


Me, te, se, nous, vous ( forwards )

Le, la, les ( halves )

Lui, Leur ( backs )

Y ( goalkeeper )

En ( linesman )


And then there were his 40 irregular verbs with the six tenses across the page



Être, e´tant, ete´, je suis, j'etais, je serai

( to be, being, been, I am , I was, I will be )

Suivre. suivant, suivi, je suive, je suivais, je suivrai

(to follow, following, followed, I follow, I was following, I will follow


I am sure that if somebody gave me all 40 I would still be able to conjugate them !


I have found these memories invaluable when having to speak French !

John Ramsden

Posted by newells on November 2, 2010 at 6:09 AM Comments comments (4)

Every two or three years I search for Newells and "Peter Hope-Lang", and
have now found this excellent site. Many thanks for setting it up, and long
may it continue and grow.

I started at Newells in Sept 1964, before my 7th birthday, and was there and
at Handcross Park until the end of 1970.

My first memory there was walking down to the bathroom in a crocodile, and
being sent to Mr Lang for exclaiming "Cor blimey!". Anyone remember the Rec
room, where we would line up in houses, with the prefects running their feet
down a crack between two strips of the polished wood to indicate where we
should align our toes? Or scooting about on our backs there, propelling
ourselves with our feet? Or two formations of boys on each others shoulders
each forming an "elephant" singing "Ba ba barang" and competing to dislodge
the other formation?

I recall spending a few days in the sanitorium with Nigel Aveline in 1965.
I forget what ailment I had contracted, or his; but the warts on my hand
vanished practically overnight!

I also recall Kilpatrick returning to visit the school in about 1965.
A group of us went for a walk in West Wood, and when I had trouble with
the stile on the way back, or was playing the fool, I recall him saying
something like "come on Ramsden, stop messing around!".

I vividly remember the staff, such as Mr & Mrs Dancy. We called Michael
Dancy "Brother Michael", due to his bald monk-like head. But it seemed
he had a slight complex about his brother, who was headmaster of a public
school (Marlborough I think), and he became apoplectic on overhearing his
nickname one day, thinking it was a slighting reference to this.

Mrs Vellacott was another, who I fear some of us slightly teased for her
fundamentalist beliefs. Then there was Captain Bill Stokes, puffing on
his pipe, and Nigel Coombes, and Captain Peter Gamon, and Colonel
Reford. (I don't recall his name being spelled Wreford BTW), and
the French master, who was French but could complete the Times
crossword in a few minutes!

I have a vivid memory of Reford in his carpentry shop in the basement,
planing away, standing in a mound of shavings. I sometimes wonder if
the terrible fire in 1968 was caused by a spark from his pipe. But the
official explanation, of a defective electrical cable, sounds far more
likely, and is consistent with the fire happening on the first night
of term when the electricity load of course suddenly rose.

I seemed to spend forever in the junior dormitory, Clive, but had
advanced, via Nelson, to Drake by 1968. On the night of the fire
I was in the bed next to Nigel Levaillant (the actor), and I recall
meaning to ask him the next morning if I could borrow his Look and
Learn magazines which I gathered he had acquired, to catch up on
the latest goings on in the Trigan Empire!

Then there were the woods, East, Middle, and West wood, trudging
along as part of a sweeping party, climbing Big Beech in Middle
Wood - Watching with awe a boy called Carter walking along a
branch about 100 feet up.

On my first day my "substance" (to whom I was the "shadow" - or
was it the other way round?), Bentham, lost me for a couple of
hours in East Wood.

There are so many more memories, and if I get time I'll post again.
Meanwhile, it will be fascinating to read others' recollections.
Some things are vivid; but it's amazing what one forgets.

Also, does anyone know more details of Captain Hope-Lang's earlier
life? I gather he, and perhaps Gamon and Reford, were in the Indian
army at some point. They were all true gentlemen though. Not a bad
word to say about any of them, or the female staff.                                           


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A.F Duncan

Posted by newells on September 16, 2010 at 4:08 AM Comments comments (1)

        I left the school at the age of 9 and am now 81.

        I'm afraid that time has taken it's toll and I am unable to remember the name of even a single one of my former school mates, Maybe this interchange will be seen by one or more of them and we will get information on more ex Seafield Park students who were there before the school was moved.

       The photo of Seafield Park (See photo section) is interesting. The building I remember seemed much larger but without any details other than the fact that the pond I remember playing in was at the left hand front corner of the building (looking at the photographer) and the swing in a tree at the edge of the forest to the left behind the person that took the photograph. The building faced the sea and there was a path down to the beach I referred to earlier.

        I suppose that STIFF STARCHED collars were the order of the day at most schools at the time but very difficult to handle for a six year old. Another memory comes to mind that we slept with the windows open and in winter any glass of water left on the night table would be frozen in the morning.

       The Headmaster at Seafield Park during my time there was Mr. Webb. His name I have always remembered.




Alan Fraser Duncan

Posted by newells on September 14, 2010 at 5:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Born of British parents in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I was sent to Seafield Park at the age of six from 1936 to 1939. I remember fire escape practices on a canvass shute from a dorm on the second floor facing the field; playing with boats in small concrete pond perhaps 6 or 8 feet wide; playing on a swing hanging from a branch which seemed at least 12 ft. high but above all going down to the beach for a swim in full uniform and having to get help to remove the stud from my stiff collar. The memory of being called in to see the headmaster who would select the appropriate stick from a cupboard behind the door and bending over the the arm of his leather chair to receive six of the best is perhaps the most vivid. My brother and I were taken out of school and sent to St. George's College in Argentina in 1939 just before the war broke out.


Would be great to hear from anyone who has similar memories.


With best regards,


Alan Fraser Duncan

Tom McMeeken

Posted by newells on July 25, 2010 at 3:29 AM Comments comments (0)


I am Tom McMeeken, a former pupil at Newells Scool. I was very pleased

to find the Web site, and will be glad to contribute memories and one or

two photos. I am one of the many students of British descent who came

to the school from Brazil.

I live in Belmont, just outside Charlotte, North Carolina, USA working

at Bank of America, am married with 3 adult children.




Posted by newells on September 9, 2009 at 4:40 AM Comments comments (15)

Norway : Started Wednesday Sept 9th, 2009.

From : Tony Potts, atttended Seafield Park and Newells (1946 - 1951) - Webmaster

Hi All,

Thank you to all who have contributed to the blog and photo sections of the web site since it was first published . I am also delighted to say that I have also had several direct contacts with Old Newellians in the years since I put the site out.

It has been especially pleasing to be able to have contact with the present Headmaster of Handcross Park school resulting in a successful reunion for Old Newellians, which was held at Handcross Park school on the 23rd of May 2012. After the meeting at Handcross Park, some participants were able to visit the grounds of Newells farm.

I have also had contact with the present owner of the house standing on the Newells site.

A special 'Thank you' to Chris Mathews for his piece on Alexander Parker and the tragic fire.  In reference to the fire,  it was also interesting to read the 'Blog' by John Harrison and his memories of it, not as a pupil, but a neighbour to Newells.

To those who wish to contribute any of their memories of Newells or Seafield Park please add your comments to this blog, open your own blog or add photos to the relevant section . You can contact me direct at [email protected] , send me your contribution and I will put it on the site for you.

Michael French has commented on the Swimming Pool situated at the far end of the Sports pitch. I recall it was a converted concrete Fire Service water tank. Before this conversion took place, Mr Lang had acquired for use as a swimming pool, a canvas affair filled with water . I found out later that it was called an ' S tank' and was originally designed for use by the Military to temporarily store fresh water. I would actually call it a rather small pond and it was situated by the Sand pit.

The freedom we had playing in the woods, climbing trees, building dams, sploshing about in the stream, cycling and creating roads on the terrace banks for Dinky toys, all bring back very happy memories.

I would like to conclude by saying that I originally started work on and published this site, in order that people who attended Newells and Seafield Park would have a forum where they could refresh memories, add comments to the blog section or publish photos of their time at the school. However, in saying this and, although I am delighted to be contacted by them, I did not mean that ex pupils who only attended the school at Handcross Park, should add their photos and comments . To include their input would take up much more space than I have available. These ex-pupils have the excellent Handcross Park school website to cater for their needs.

Best wishes to all - Tony :D (Updated 23 May 2015)