Saturday 9 July 2011

The Bicentenary of Caterham School

Caterham School
Today I've been in Surrey to attend Speech Day at Caterham School, where I was a pupil 1978-1985, and to take part in the launch of its Bicentenary Celebrations. The school was founded in 1811  by the Revd John Townsend for the education of sons of Congregational Church ministers. As one such I benefited from this founding purpose, but the school soon accepted a much broader intake (it is now fully coeducational). Originally located at Lewisham in south London, it moved to its present site in Caterham, Surrey, in 1884, and is now regarded as being in the top flight of independent schools in England - see its website for more information. Its Bicentenary is a major achievement, as the establishment had long rocky patches before achieving its present fame and fortune, and it was a huge pleasure to be there at the start of the celebrations today. I have to congratulate the school and its Head, Julian Thomas, on the occasion and for the thriving state of the place today.

An ephemeral souvenir

John Jones and Jim Seymour:
my understanding housemasters.
Caterham has no gardens worth mentioning, but it lies in a leafy valley on the North Downs in Surrey: it is really at the last tip of the tentacle of the London conurbation, and the setting, with the Home Field in front, is beautiful. It is an easy walk from there through woodland to the ridge of the downs and their fascinating flora of chalkand plants, which I was able to fully explore during my schooldays. It was also while there that my interest in gardening really got going, unusual in a schoolboy perhaps, but fully supported by the staff, an understanding for which I am eternally grateful. Not surprisingly, there wasn't much of horticultural interest in the school library, but there were two books that have been very influential. First, Frank Kingdon-Ward's Plant-hunting on the Edge of the World, which gave me a lifelong fascination for plant-hunting and exploration in remote places, and secondly, the magnificently produced The Gardens in the Royal Park at Windsor by Lanning Roper, from which I learnt about garden-making and the joy of plantsmanship. The public library in Caterham greatly extended the options and it was from there that I first borrowed the My Garden trilogy of E.A. Bowles, so often mentioned in this blog. I have much to be grateful to Caterham for, in an association lasting, so far, one-sixth of its existence.

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