St Aubyns – The Early Years
It was with great regret that the villagers and many further afield learned of the closure of St Aubyns School in 2013, an institution which has for so long been an integral part of life in Rottingdean and which has given the world many outstanding men in a wide variety of professions.
The school can trace its roots back to late 18th century, when a colourful local vicar, Dr Thomas Redman Hooker (1762-1838) ran an educational establishment in The Grange. Its pupils included Bulwer Lytton, who became a celebrated novelist, Henry Edward Manning, who became Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster in 1865, and Henry Fox Talbot, one of the founders of photography. As the school grew, some enlargement of the building became necessary and rooms were added to the north aspect. Dr Hooker also created the attic storey as dormitory accommodation for his pupils.
Further expansion followed, resulting in the Vicar using 76 High Street, the present St Aubyns, as an annexe. The premises changed hands several times, being called Kennedy’s School in 1832 and Field House School from the 1860s, when a Mr Hewitt was headmaster, through to the 1880s. It took the name Rottingdean School in 1887 under two brothers named George and Thomas Mason but this was transferred seven years later to new buildings north of the village which stood on the site of the present Rotyngs.
The year 1895 saw the introduction of the name of St Aubyn’s (which has been spelled without the apostrophe since 1940) under a Mr CEF Stanford. The pupils were all boys and all boarders. John Kipling, the son of Rudyard, attended from 1907 to 1911 before going off to his public school at Wellington. His death during the early stages of the First World War left his father devastated and affected his writing for many years.
In 1913, the School Chapel was completed and six years later, RC Vaughan Lang, a long-time associate of Stanford’s who lived in Steyning Road, became Headmaster. His long reign lasted until 1940.
St Aubyns – The Last Seven Decades
In 1940, the long headmastership of RC Vaughan Lang ended.
In that year, his successor, WH Gervis, was appointed and the School evacuated for the duration of the war to Voelas, near Pentrefoelas in North Wales, home of the ancestral Wynne-Finch family.
In 1969 the status of the school changed to that of a charitable trust and five years later JAL James became Headmaster. During his tenure (which ended in 1998), there was considerable physical expansion, with a sports hall and squash court opened in 1982 and new classrooms around the Courtyard in 1989. In 1995 the Pre-Preparatory School opened and in the following year the School became co-educational. Just a year after AG Gobat became Head in 1998, an 80-seat Performing Arts Studio was opened, while the Millennium year saw an ICT room with 22 linked PCs set up, followed by a new Library in 2001.
A feature in The Argus of that year recorded the ending of Saturday lessons and full-term boarding. Girls now accounted for 40 per cent of the 180 pupils aged from four to 13. The 9/11 attacks in the US were leading London parents to consider the safer
coastal option for the schooling of their children, thus swelling St Aubyns’ numbers. The article also mentioned prominent ex-pupils, who included 92-year-old Sir Wilfred Thesiger, explorer and founder of the SAS, England cricketer Matthew Fleming (nephew of novelist Ian), Olympic gold medallist rower Andrew Lindsay and former Government minis¬ters Sir George Young and Nicholas Soames, MP for Mid-Sussex.
Physical expansion continued under the last Head, Simon Hitchings (2007-13) with, for example, a new hard court for netball and tennis being opened in 2009.
St Aubyns School, with its fine traditions, splendid achievements and valuable contribution to the life of the village over a century and two decades, will be a great loss to Rottingdean in every way.