Just as the Cobham family were deciding to vacate their splendid mansion house and dispose of the Leighton Park Estate, the founders of a new Quaker school were seeking suitable premises. Thus it was that the building that we now know as Old School became the original school building and housed the first four boarders. Known until 1990 as School House, it accommodated as many as 80 pupils. It is a Grade 2 listed building, and this is one of the reasons for which it was not demolished when major dry rot problems were discovered in 1986. Instead, a new School House was built and was officially opened in the school’s centenary year by the distinguished former pupil and teacher Duncan Wood.
There were only 4 pupils when the school opened on 22 January 1890. This number increased rapidly in the first few years, so much so that in 1894 the school opened its first purpose-built boarding house, Grove House. It takes its name from Grove School, Tottenham, a Quaker school that had closed in 1878. The trustees of that school financed the building of the new house with the funds left over at the closure of Grove School, Tottenham. The architect was the former Grove School pupil Alfred Waterhouse, best known for the Natural History Museum.
This building must surely hold the record for the number of names it has had and the number of purposes it has served over the years. The original intention of the governors was that this should be the Arts and Craft building, but the pressure of increasing numbers led to the house opening on May 7th 1920 as a boarding house – Third House was its imaginatively conceived name. The rush to provide extra boarding accommodation was such that the house opened while building work was still in progress. Prefects found that their studies were used as ‘woodwork shops’ and ‘there were heaps of rubble on the dining room floor’. For a brief period in 1921 the house was named Penn House, but this name was, in turn, removed in favour of ‘Townson, in memory of the school’s first Headmaster. This building ceased to be a boarding house in 1928 when the occupants were transferred to Reckitt House. Since 1928 it has had a number of functions, as illustrated by the 1928 floor plan.
Fryer began its life in 1923 as the school’s Hospice – health care having been previously been on the site now occupied by Townson, known as the Sanatorium. The sanatorium had been integrated into the new building, but the accommodation was needed by boarders. The building was given to the school by the mother and sister of Joseph Fryer, a former pupil who had lost his life in a mountain accident in 1921. The building was extended in 1968 to accommodate 30 Fourth Form (now Year 9) boarders. From the mid-seventies part of the building was used as a Sixth Form girls’ hostel. In 1985 the building was re-opened as the boarding house for pupils aged 11-13.
At the southern end of Leighton Park Estate there was the famous black fence, separating the school from the neighbouring Cressingham Esate. Leighton Park Trust purchased this property in 1924, and the elegant Cressingham House was converted to become a boarding house for 50 boys. This was funded by Sir Philip Reckitt in memory of his father Sir James Reckitt and his son James.
The school was faced with a major problem when dry rot was discovered in School House. A bold decision was made to sell the land occupied by Reckitt House and some other buildings at the Southern end of the park. This entailed replacing Reckitt House with a new version that was opened in 1990. It was several years later in 1997 that the original Reckitt was demolished.
This large house in nearby Northcourt Avenue (no 64) was used as a junior boarding house from 1946 to 1964. This extract from The Leightonian magazine in 1964 gives one a flavour of the life of the house: ‘Perhaps not an ideal building for a Junior House it has, nevertheless, served its purpose well, and there will be many memories of Fox and Penn, the fire escape, cricket balls in neighbours’ gardens, the fish, Oscar, and Mr. Barlow’s lovingly tended garden.’
In 1949 George Cadbury started a fund to raise money for a new boarding house, and this plan came to fruition when Field House was officially opened in 1965 by J. Christopher Cadbury, George’s son. In the early part of this century it was extensively modified to join the others as a co-educational house.