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POTTED HISTORY OF HOMEFIELD
Homefield Preparatory School for Boys was established in 1870 by Miss K Rose and her sister in Sutton Park, adjoining Grove Road in Sutton. From the start Homefield aimed at a high standard of scholastic achievement and good manners which it continues to this day.
In 1882 the school was sold to Mr Woodburn J Bomford who had assisted the sisters some years previously. He eventually married and took Holy Orders and under his supervision, Homefield consolidated its reputation and identity as “Homefield, a preparatory school for the sons of gentlemen”. The school had then, as now, a fine family atmosphere, the Bomfords’ six children growing up among the boys and an excellent team spirit between masters and pupils was created and continues to this day. For the hesitant mother a notice was attached: “Special attention is given to delicate boys”. It was “a homely, friendly school” which the daughter, Connie Bomford, remembers.
In 1898 The Revd. W J Bomford died suddenly at the age of 42. At that time there were barely 30 boys with eight boarders. Under Mrs Bomford’s tenure as principal, and with the assistance of Mr G E Bradley as Headmaster, the numbers blossomed. In 1908 there were 72 pupils and nearly 15 boarders. Homefield was now advertised as giving a “carefully graduated preparation for Public Schools and Royal Navy, either on the classical or on the modern side”. Miss Connie Bomford returned from Germany to teach French, Drawing (Graham Sutherland was an enthusiastic pupil), Music and Dancing.
In 1912, Mrs Bomford sold the school to Mr Charles Walford and Mr Rupert Gray. The happy spirit of the school continued and at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 there were nearly 80 boys in the school. At this time, as all round the country, fit young men departed for the front leaving the staff room severely depleted. In 1916 Mr Walford added The Limes in Grove Road to the school’s property portfolio.
Charles Walford continued as Headmaster for the next forty years and gradually the numbers rose to about 150 between the wars, reaching 200 in 1939. He interviewed all boys and their parents and was careful in selecting his staff.
Following the Second World War, Homefield emerged as one of the finest preparatory schools in the area and was held in respect by many Headmasters, particularly those of Epsom, Dulwich, Tonbridge and St Paul’s. The number of boarders grew steadily to nearly 40 by the late 1930s. Charles Walford continued to maintain strict discipline, both among the boys and the staff.
Numbers fell sharply during the war years though many boys collected shrapnel in the playground after air raids and watched doodlebugs flying on course for London. The boys supported the war effort in their own ways and spirits remained high. It was during these years that Colin Cowdrey (later Sir Colin Cowdrey) attended Homefield School and scored his famous 93 at the age of seven, and proceeded to captain Tonbridge, Oxford and England. Other members of the team later captained Malvern, Sherborne and Clifton. Other sporting and academic excellence continued.
In May 1945 the school roll was down to 125, which suited Mr Walford who claimed that he could get to know each boy much better. Alas, Homefield cricket eleven lost their first match since 1932, a severe blow to Mr Walford and the team. Mr Walford died on Ash Wednesday, 1953.
Following this, Homefield underwent a time of crises, culminating in a boy being disbarred on gounds of his colour, resulting in Homefield’s name being raised during Question Time in the House of Commons. During the Easter Term 1954 the parents and staff were informed the Homefield was to close at the end of the Summer Term. However, a rescue plan was put in place before too much damage had been done, and with the faith and backing of a few parents Homefield was saved and Mr Michael Hall became Headmaster in September 1954.
With the new Head came new routines and new life. Boarding had been discontinued, staff versus boys matches took place and a house system had been introduced. This led to competition between the groups in the athletic and academic fields. Honours boards were erected to mark the scholarships achieved. In 1962 Mr Hall retired to Eastbourne, and he was succeeded by Mr Martin Carnes.
The strong foundations left by Mr Hall were built on by Mr Carnes and innovations were gradually introduced including the Carol Service at the end of the Michaelmas Term, excursions to places of interest and groups were taken on the IAPS cruise ships. Athletics, cricket, football and rugby were coached by young masters and sporting achievements grew parallel with many scholarships gained to a large number of public schools both in the area and further afield.
Another crisis hit Homefield when the Governors negotiated the sale of the land for development and the school’s survival looked doubtful. Eventually, shareholders of the school offered the Western Road playing field and adjoining house free if a viable scheme could be produced and a group of parents set about securing a loan of £80,000 to build and run the new school. School numbers were shrinking daily but Mr J ‘Bert’ Ellis was introduced to the school by one of the Governors, Mr Frank Williamson, who saved the situation by lending money to the school on most generous terms. Homefield eventually emerged from this crisis thanks to the Board of Governors under Mr William Houston, the Headmaster and his staff.
In April 1968 Group Captain Douglas Bader opened a fine, custom-built school in Western Road. Parents, Old Boys and the Parents’ Association contributed time and money to the landscaping of the grounds. In 1970, the school’s centenary was marked by a week of celebrations, and Mrs Connie Sainsbury (formerly Miss Connie Bomford) planted a tree in memory of her parents.
Martin and Ann Carnes retired in 1987 after 25 years at Homefield, leaving a thriving school firmly established on its present site. It had also acquired an improved facility, and was one of the first in the area to erect a custom-built sports hall.
It had long been a problem for the Junior Department that break times were often curtailed or forced to take place indoors due to the uneven surface of their playground. Despite efforts to remedy this, outdoor play, so important to lively youngsters’ development both physical and social, continued to be dogged by puddles, even when the weather was reasonable, if rainfall had taken place within recent hours. So, at a staff/governors meeting the decision was agreed that the Sports Hall should be the next project. The loan so generously made by Mr Ellis had been paid off together with the debentures taken out by parents, and fund-raising began in earnest. Planning permission was approved in 1985. Old boys, parents past and present and various commercial enterprises were approached and the sum of £150,000 was raised. 10% of the monies raised was donated by the Sports Council on the understanding that the hall would be open to the public, and to this day cricket coaching and badminton clubs meet regularly, making use of the excellent facilities. On 7th March, 1987 the hall was opened by the Mayor of Sutton and Cheam, and the then Member of Parliament for the constituency, Sir Neil Macfarlane, who had also been the Sports Minister in the Government. Play times were staggered so that numbers in the old Senior Playground were limited.
The 11+ Borough selection procedure, which took place annually at the school, was discontinued in 1986 in a bid to stem the flow of boys from Year 6 to the Grammar Schools in the borough.
However, boys still take part in the National Batsford Townsend-Warner History Prize each year. Following the marking of the papers, a highly diverting list of schoolboy howlers is published and circulated to the schools that entered contestants.
The Reverend Andrew Walters came to Homefield in September1987 with his wife and a very lively Springer Spaniel. Mr Walters was a keen sportsman, with a particular fondness for cricket, and the annual West Country tour of the 1st XI now encompassed a fixture with Exeter Cathedral School. Adjustments were made to the uniform, caps now no longer being de rigeur, and the motif on the blazer was also changed. The music took off in a big way, and various groups, bands and choirs performed at such venues as children’s t.v. (Blue Peter) Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Royal Albert Hall amongst others.
All this time, school numbers were rising and the computer age hit Homefield. As a result, the two rather dilapidated portacabins which had for so long housed the music and art departments were replaced by the Johnson Building (named after the Chairman of Governors who had been instrumental in its building and much of the continued success of the school). The building, which housed a computer room with several of the latest computers, a music room and practice rooms, an art department and a Design Technology room (CDT was introduced to the curriculum in the Spring Term of 1988), was opened in 1992 by Lady Olga Maitland, who had succeeded Sir Neil Macfarlane as member for the constituency. This was followed by the departure of the Walters, who had been headhunted by Lichfield Cathedral School where Mr Walters had been born during his own father’s tenancy as Headmaster.
On April 1st, 1992 Mr Robin Mowbray became Homefield’s 11th Headmaster and soon made his own imprint on the ever-adaptable school. Among alterations have been the return to the old shield badge on the school blazers, the installation of a uniform shop, the opening of an Early Years’ Unit in 1994, a greatly improved, relocated computer room which moved into the old Library and a modern Learning Resources Centre.
School Inspections are the bane of every teacher’s life but in February 1966 Martin Carnes wrote to the Chief Inspector inviting him to visit the school - no reply was received. However, inspections under DES, IAPS and ISC have since taken place at regular intervals and the latest one, in February 2006, describes Homefield as a school where “the boys enjoy a broad and interesting educational experience ..and reach the intellectual, personal, physical and aesthetic standards required of them to enter the senior schools of their choice.”
The kitchens (an equally important part of the school) have also always come away with awards for cleanliness and healthy eating.
All these developments are made to complement the teaching skills of the dedicated staff, several of whom stay for many years fostering a strong atmosphere of family and continuity. The results of their labours, together with those of the boys of course, can be seen on the increasing number of honours boards, in the Common Entrance results each June and at Prize Giving at the end of the academic year. And the school is not resting on its laurels.
As we moved into the 21st Century, initial plans for further, phased redevelopment/refurbishment of the school were drawn up in June 2000 by Robert Adams Architects. The first tranche of this very exciting new development was completed by the beginning of the Autumn Term 2003. Since then the school has seen the installation of interactive whiteboards and of 2 additional computer rooms. Numbers of pupils have steadily risen, from 30 pupils in the 1880s to now 400.
Boys can keep in touch with each other via the Old Boys Association , and Friends Reunited, which makes interesting reading – one boy remembering that a dead squirrel fell on his head from one of the lime trees surrounding the old cricket ground in Grove Road!
Charities will continue to benefit from the boys’ and the parents’ generosity and hard work. Substantial donations have in the past been made to Guide Dogs for the Blind, Tadworth Court Children’s Hospital, the Diamond Riding Centre, Queen Mary’s Hospital, St Helier Diabetic Unit, Famine Relief, Sherwood Park School, Muscular Dystrophy Group of Great Britain, Multiple Sclerosis and others too numerous to mention. The list seems endless. It is almost a case of “If it is local and/or involves children, we’ve donated to it.” Monies are raised by cake sales, sponsored Events run by the Parents’ Association and collections from the audiences at plays and concerts.
The school also benefits from these events, both financially and spiritually and as a result, has been able, with the constant support of the Parents’ Association, to install an adventure playground, instruments for the expanding music department, additional sports equipment, books for the Learning Resources Centre, not to mention help behind the scenes in the various musical and dramatic productions at all levels.
In conclusion, we are proud of the fact that, as noted by the inspectors in February 2006, “the governors and teachers ensure that the boys are happy, valued, challenged but not pressured”. Homefield is a happy and successful preparatory school!
Mr Bradley was replaced by Mr Harry Gray in 1910. Every Sunday, under Mrs Bomford, a dozen boarders would attend Matins at St Nicholas Church, followed after lunch by games and hobbies. Sports Day then, as now, was the most popular day of the year and held at the end of the Summer Term. Prize Giving was held in the Masonic Hall at the end of the Michaelmas Term, followed by Guy Fawkes’ Night. These traditions still stand, although Prize Giving has been moved to the last day of the Summer Term and takes place at the school