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Educating young people who are blind or vision impaired

Chorleywood Centenary Celebration

One hundred Years of Education for girls with a vision impairment

In January 2021 we will be celebrating one hundred years since Chorleywood College for girls with little or no sight opened its doors.

Chorleywood College for girls with little or no sight was founded by the National Institute for the Blind (now the RNIB). The school was located in the Cedars, a large Renaissance-style mansion in Hertfordshire which is now the site of the Cedars Retirement Village.
Miss Phyllis Monk, the first headmistress, was establishing the first secondary school for girls with a vision impairment. Many girls from Chorleywood were to be pioneers going onto the universities and into occupations including physiotherapy, engineering, education and the law. 

In 1987, Chorleywood College for Girls merged with Worcester College for the Blind, a boys’ school, to form the current New College Worcester. 

On Thursday January 21st 2021 we will be holding a day of celebration to mark this milestone in our school’s history. We will spend a day off timetable with themed lessons, meals and celebrations and in the afternoon will be holding a virtual event open to all to help us celebrate this special day.

We would welcome any memories of Chorleywood, and people involved with the former school may like to register to attend a virtual celebration event being held in the afternoon. 

The History of Chorleywood College for Girls with little or no sight

The establishment of Worcester College for the Blind in 1866 gave boys the opportunity to progress on to higher education, but there was no such establishment for girls until Chorleywood College was set up by the National Institute for the Blind in 1921. 

The school was to be located in the Cedars, a large Renaissance-style mansion in Hertfordshire, but delays in the necessary building alteration meant that the school spent its first term at the Jordan’s Hostel miles away.

The College opened with just five pupils, aged 17, 13, 11, 10 and 9. It rapidly gained the sense of community which was to characterise its existence, and was able to gradually increase in numbers after its move to its permanent home. Although it was predominantly a secondary school for girls, it did have a Preparatory section, and for a number of years there were a few small boys in the school. 

Sport at Chorleywood
From the early days Chorleywood girls did swimming, dance, gymnastics and running. Miss Monk was also keen to encourage team sports. Miss Monk adapted existing sports to create Quickit, a version of cricket, and netball-tennis, as well as a totally new game, Sport-X. The girls played some of the local public schools. Former students claimed: ‘It was necessary to play as though one played for Roedean; woe to her who attempted to potter.’ To find out more about Sport X, click here.

By the 1970s, the school had a sailing dinghy and two ponies, and took students ski-ing, canoeing and tandem riding. Judo also became popular.

In 1987, Worcester College for the Blind, the boys’ school, merged with Chorleywood College for Girls, and the school site became the home of RNIB New College Worcester.

The closure of the two former schools was inevitably going to cause some sorrow. Hilda Turner was one of the first students at Chorleywood. Her words below express the feelings of many former students about the end of the schools as they had known them.

A LAMENT FOR OUR SHIP by HILDA TURNER
Our ship has been sailing for sixty odd years,
With experienced folk at her head,
Now a younger committee is letting her sink,
And we’ll go to another instead.
Once we merrily warbled her signature tune,
And we thought she would never go down,
But her time’s running out! it’s a piece of bad news,
So we greet with a sigh, and a frown.
Captain’s Monk and McHugh have been saved from this blow,
So have others who’ve left us for good,
Captain Markes isn’t thrilled with the merger to come,
Or our exit from dear Chorleywood.
Other ships have been moored for a very long time,
They are older by far than our own,
Please, committee think deeply! for they should go first,
And this closure we cannot condone.
Captains never like losing the ships that they love,
And we’re sure your decision is wrong;
You are trying to turn into falsehood the truth,
Which is told in our splendid school song.

The Merger

The Merger formally occurred on 1st September 1987, the day after Chorleywood College and Worcester College for the Blind had been officially closed. 

The possibility of such a development had been under discussion for a number of years. In their submission to the Warnock Committee in 1975, the Governors of Worcester College for the Blind mentioned that the RNIB was recommending to the Department of Education and Science a merger of the two schools. This was supported by the Secretary of State for Education in the Department of Education and Science proposals of May 1984.

The nature of the new school needed to be decided, as did where it should be sited. This was the task of a Special Working Party which was set up by the RNIB Education Policy Sub-Committee, reporting in October 1985.

In their Report the Working Party stated:

  • Members wish to record their admiration for the present schools. At both, a most impressive list of academic subjects is studied with conspicuous success in GCE examinations and in university entrance. The schools have established an academic reputation which is unequalled anywhere in the world, and an excellent range of sporting activities takes place at both schools.
  • The working party believe it important to stress that whatever arrangements are made for the future they should be such as to ensure that these high standards continue. We believe the functions of the new school should be to provide for pupils the opportunity for optimum personal, social and academic development, and enable them to realise their potential, and that it should continue to provide for those pupils capable of benefiting from it an education leading to university and equivalent higher education.

The Report recommended that the new school should also take students with a wider range of vision and more average ability than had usually been the case at Worcester College and Chorleywood.

It was also felt that the new school should meet a broader need in the education of the Visually Impaired:

  • There is a need for an energetic special school to enable parents to express a preference for educational placement and to act as a focus for specialised curriculum development and for the development of teaching methods and materials within groups of visually handicapped pupils.

Student memories of the Merger

The Cedars from the air
Anita
Former student of Chorleywood

I was at Chorleywood between 1982 and 1987 and must admit that I generally have very good memories of my time there. For me, this was the perfect environment in which to try anything and everything, and we did – sport, music, drama, singing (any time we got on a bus!), and anything else we could think of. Personally, if I were given the chance to turn back time, I wouldn’t change anything about my time at Chorleywood. The things I liked about the place have filled my memory with good recollections and the things I disliked have in hindsight served as a means of consolidating my opinions and strength of mind.

As the merger grew closer, there was an almost 50 – 50 split in my year group in terms of those in favour and those against the idea. I most definitely belonged to the latter group. I was very comfortable in my Hertfordshire “home”. I had everything I could wish for and had grown very used to our way of living and studying and the beautiful surroundings of the college.

During the final days at Chorleywood, many tears were shed by many of us. There were many staff who we would not see again and this also had its effect on our morale.

Then, summer came and for me it changed everything. I had the opportunity of getting to know some of the boys from Worcester at an international goalball competition in Milton Keynes and I began to realise that things might not be as black as they appeared to be. September came and with it many novelties – new friends, a new place to live, and a new course (first year of A-levels). I don’t recall those early days at Worcester being half as traumatic as I had imagined and I think that this was due to the fact that although I had left many good people and things behind at Chorleywood, I had also taken to Worcester perhaps the most important part of my life at that time – my friends. We gave each other the confidence and support needed to adapt to the new situation. The environment at Worcester also helped us along the way. It was more open and willing to embrace differences than Chorleywood. Perhaps we did have more distractions and maybe we did lose some of our solidarity as the couples soon began to spring up, but there were a wealth of new experiences to be discovered and enjoyed. As I once said in a speech at a Reunion weekend the merger was “not good, not bad, just different”.

Aerial view Worcester College for the Blind
James
Former student of Worcester College

Initially, the Merger in the case of our form, 1984 intake/1992 leavers, had little practical impact. In our case, we received precisely no new members! Perhaps the most notable change for us was the time when the building was being altered and adapted. Prior to September 1987 we had all been in the dormitory system, five or six to a room.

One of the immediate effects of moving into the house system was that the form unit was broken up more and we instead came into contact with more people from other years. There were other upshots of the house system, such as having meals in the house as well as in the main school dining room … and don’t forget, a new house parent … with new ways and … a family!

There were new experiences like certain members of the house all going out to Tesco’s for the week’s shopping … and don’t forget by now Michael, Andy and I had to cook for ourselves in the evening. Ah, now, what do you do with potatoes? Peel them? And precisely how does this peeler thing work? How do you peel them so it doesn’t take half an hour for one?

Aerial view Worcester College for the Blind
View of the Worcester site from the air

The History of The Cedars building

The history of the Cedars estate can be dated back to 1692 when it was the property of a Thomas Marriott. It remained in the same family until 1738. 

Some years later, around 1747, it was purchased by the Rt. Hon. William Finch and, on his death in 1774, it passed to Lady Charlotte Finch, and soon afterwards to Lord Winchelsea.

The property then changed hands several times until in 1801 it was bought by William Morris. This gentleman bought as much local property as he could, including other local properties Appletree Farm and Wyatts Farm, eventually leaving it to his son Edmond. On Edmond’s death the property was again put up for sale and was purchased by John Saunders Gilliatt in 1861 following his marriage to Louisa Babbington. He pulled down the old house to build another to his own design which included two conservatories, a ballroom and a swimming pool.

Although the estate was recorded as being 637 acres at the time of its sale in 1861, it would seem that Gilliatt did not purchase all of it since his Cedars Estate was later said to be approximately 250 acres. It ranged from Bury Park to Dog Kennel Lane along the south of Turnpike Road but including two fields to the north of the Turnpike which were part of Wyatt’s Farm. In modern terms the southern border of the estate was approximately Cedars Avenue on the Uxbridge Road, then along Shepherds Way to Arnett School, then across the M25 to Shepherds Lane and to Chorleywood Bottom, then up Dog Kennel Lane and Solesbridge Lane to Chess Way, then back to the Chorleywood Road, down to Rectory Road and the Ebury roundabout.

John Saunders Gilliatt was Lord of the Manor of Rickmansworth, Chairman of the Council, President of the golf club and almost every other association in the district! He was a major benefactor to many local causes and was also an important figure in the City of London and became Governor of the Bank of England for two years in the 1880s. When, in the late 1880s, the Metropolitan Railway sought to purchase land from the Cedars Estate for the railway line from Rickmansworth to Chesham and Aylesbury, Gilliatt insisted as part of the transaction that the Metropolitan Railway provide a station on the line for his own private use when travelling up to London. The steps to the platform can still be seen today, just under the bridge at the bottom of Berry Lane.

On his death, in 1912, the estate passed to his son, Colonel Babbington Gilliatt, who decided he did not want to keep up the great estate and duly sold it in 1913 to Henry Darvell, a local builder, and James Henley Batty. As his part of the bargain, Batty kept the title of Lord of the Manor and also retained The Cedars mansion. In 1917 he presented the mansion and grounds to the National Institute for the Blind for use as a school.

In 1987 the school was moved to Worcester and the site was later  developed as The Cedars Retirement Village.

The Cedars today
The Cedars today
View of The Cedars 1912
The Cedars
Hertford Mercury Title

The following copy is from advert for auction on 30th October 1861 in the Herts Mercury of 19th October, 1861

Formerly the Residence of the Earl Russell, near to a Church, and good roads in all directions, 20 miles from London. …

THE CHORLEYWOOD ESTATE FREEHOLD, and the greater part LAND-TAX REDEEMED including a well appointed MANSION, seated on a delightful eminence, in a beautiful timbered PARK-LIKE PADDOCK, having ENTRANCE LODGES, and commanding extensive landscape scenery, (Moor Park, the seat of Lord Ebury, forming a prominent feature), and replete with every accommodation for a family of distinction; it has four reception rooms, with noble entrance-hall, 13 bedrooms, and offices of every description.

EXTENSIVE GROUNDS which immediately surround the House, and in their disposition great taste has been displayed, a profusion of the choicest SHRUBS, with an ornamental and tastefully arranged FERNERY, a CONSERVATORY, and the far-famed CEDARS are truely magnificent; immediately adjoining the pleasure grounds is the GROVE WOOD, with its splendid beeches and delightful walks; a KITCHEN GARDEN, with southern aspect, having GRAPERIES and Forcing Houses.

Very superior STABLES recently erected with all the modern appliances, including stalls and boxes for 12 horses, with rooms over for the coachman and grooms; standing for four carriages.

Nearby is a Miniature FARMSTEAD, with Bailiff’s and Gardener’s Houses and Dog Kennels. …

The Country is hunted by Lord Lonsdale’s Hounds, and on the Estate is a well-known cover, which is seldom drawn blank; Mr Way’s Harriers are often in the neighbourhood, and many of the meets of Her Majesty’s and Lord Dacre’s Hounds are within easy reach. …

The MANSION (possession of which will be given) with about 600 Acres of Land in a ring fence, will form one lot …

 

Below is some footage filmed at Chorleywood in 1958, which gives insight into the lives and learning of the girls who were studying there during the 1950s

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