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29 November 2012

Portslade's Old Schools - Windlesham House Prep School

Judy Middleton

Published originally in Tales of the Old Hove Schools (1991) revised 2016

Famous Old Boy – Sir Michael Hordern (1911-1995) actor

Lieut. Charles R. Malden
Windlesham House laid claim to being the oldest purely preparatory school in the country. Lieutenant CR Malden RN founded it in 1837 at the suggestion of the great Dr Arnold of Rugby himself. But unlike other venerable educational establishments, Windlesham House has moved several times.

The school started out in the Isle of Wight before moving to the Brighton area. Here there were two temporary abodes, the first at 1 Brunswick Place, Hove for a few months and then at 78 Montpelier Road, Brighton. But in 1843 the school moved to Norfolk Terrace where two acres of land had been purchased and a new building erected to the design of Mr Dancy. It should be noted that in early Directories, the address of the school was given as Furze Hill Road rather than Norfolk Terrace. But whatever the exact address, the school stayed at this location for 70 years during which time several enlargements were carried out to the original buildings.

Henry C Malden
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Malden died in 1855 and his son Henry Charles Malden (1829-1907) succeeded him. H.C. Malden was an interesting character because besides his obvious commitment to education, he developed an abiding fascination with association football from his days as a student at Cambridge. Indeed, it is claimed he took part in drawing up the rules that still guide the game today. Malden also enjoyed the intellectual game of chess and became treasurer and secretary of Brighton Chess Club. He passed on his enthusiasm for chess to his son.

It is interesting to note the important part the Malden women played in the running of the school over the years. From 1855 until her death in 1884 Henry Charles Malden and his mother ran the school jointly. In December 1888 after H.C. Malden became incapacitated as a result of typhoid fever, he handed over the reins to his son Charles Scott Malden and his daughter-in-law Grace.

Charles Scott Malden
Grace was another remarkable woman known affectionately as Mrs Charles. She was the youngest in a family of nine children and her father was vicar of a country parish in Kent. There was no money to spare to educate a girl and so young Grace set about educating herself as best she could. In 1883 she married 

Charles Scott Malden when he was already a master at Windlesham House. At the age of 38, she found herself a widow with five young children to care for, the youngest being a baby of six months. At first she feared she would be unable to cope with running a school as well as dealing with her domestic responsibilities. But she was determined to keep the Malden name going at Windlesham House for the sake of her children’s future. In the event she was such a success she remained in charge for 31 years.
Mrs Charles S. Malden

It was Mrs Charles who decided the school must move because the area was becoming more and more built up. There was a possibility a site to the east of Kemp Town might be chosen. But the idea was quietly dropped after an influential parent, horrified at the bleakness of the situation, pronounced ‘If an archangel was to start a School there, I should take away my boy’.

Then Mrs Charles heard Portslade House was coming onto the market. It was a fine Georgian house standing in its own well-wooded grounds extending for 27 acres. It was close enough to Brighton for it to accessible to parents down for a visit and it was also within the orbit of the school physician Dr Alfred Scott – the latter being of considerable importance to Mrs Charles.

copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph gives a good idea of the extent of the school grounds in Portslade

There was only one drawback and Mrs Charles quickly set about overcoming it. The stumbling block was the name of Portslade itself, which Mrs Charles felt had connotations of ugly, industrial buildings and terraces of mean houses at the sea end. What self-respecting parent would shell out fees to have his son educated in such an environment? Casual passers-by were of course unaware of the charms of Portslade Old Village of which Portslade House was a part. The solution was found in the unlikely guise of a public house. Mrs Charles noticed there was a pub called the Southern Cross on Old Shoreham Road and so she reasoned there must be an area called Southern Cross. If that were the case, then Windlesham House would henceforth be located in Southern Cross. Once she had convinced the postal authorities, the matter was soon settled.

copyright © J.Middleton
The Georgian Portslade House was a beautiful mansion and became part of Windlesham House School. 

Mrs Charles purchased the Portslade House Estate in 1913. The house itself was destined to be her residence while the foundation stone for the new school was laid on 17th March 1913. Mrs Catherine Malden, Mrs Charles’ mother-in-law, performed the ceremony. Building work proceeded at such a rapid rate that the new school was ready for action some six months later. On 27th September 1913 the Revd Lionel Ford, headmaster of Harrow, officially opened the new school.

copyright © J.Middleton
The much-travelled school chapel. 

copyright © J.Middleton
The Revd Dr Leonard Burrows, 
Bishop of Lewes, 
rededicated the school chapel in 1913.
 At noon on the same day the Right Revd Dr Leonard Burrows, Bishop of Lewes, re-dedicated the school chapel. The chapel had been completely re-built not once but twice. It started life as the old Carfax church at Oxford but was surplus to requirements. Mrs Charles decided it would make a fitting memorial to her late husband and so she purchased it and when it was demolished in 1896, the parts were removed to Brighton to become the school chapel. She could not bear to leave it behind to an uncertain fate and so the chapel was taken down and re-erected at the new site.

Fortunately, the ceremonies of opening day were carried out in fine weather and it was an event of some importance to the local community. Music was provided by the band of the Industrial School (dubbed the Naughty Boys’ School by locals); Forfars of Hove prepared the lunch, which was served in a spacious marquee pitched in the grounds. There was a whole flock of eminent headmasters present although the headmaster of Rugby was unable to be present. But there was Frank Fletcher of Charterhouse, WV Vaughan of Wellington, FB Malim of Haileybury, the Revd FW Bowlby of Lancing College and the Revd WR Dawson of Brighton College. Windlesham boys had the closest links with Harrow but boys went on to other public schools as well. An appropriate gesture was to name the dormitories after some of them; hence Harrow, Marlborough, Wellington, Rugby and Haileybury.    

 copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection.  
The 'Quad' at Windlesham House

Everybody agreed the grounds were very fine. A favourite point was the low, decorative wall at the south end of the Quad that had a flat surface and was useful to sit on and admire the prospect. The view swept down over the fields to a broad belt of trees obscuring the buildings of south Portslade and beyond the trees, the sea was visible. Mature trees were a feature of the grounds and on Sundays boys were permitted to climb them. When the estate was purchased, the fields were thickly carpeted with cowslips.

The football field was levelled with a great deal of hard labour, some of it provided by the boys. The cricket field was prepared by laying the turf carefully removed from the old cricket area at Brighton. This meant the boys played on turf that been used for cricket for 70 years. A similar ritual took place at Hove when Brunswick Cricket Ground on the seafront closed for a move to the present site of the Sussex County Cricket Ground – the hallowed turf went too. But this did not mean Windlesham House behaved in an exclusive manner because Portslade Cricket Club was allowed to play matches there too. Their most eminent member was Joe Stannard, a former Sussex player. His father had been landlord of the Victoria pub.

At the west side of the lower field there was a shooting range. It was not as dangerous as it sounds because the boys were only allowed to shoot in a sort of dry ditch. The grounds extended from the Old Shoreham Road to north of High Street and the old iron bridge across the High Street connecting the two parts was still in use. The bridge led to the school vegetable garden.

 copyright © J.Middleton
The old iron bridge across the High Street

The boys were aged from eight to thirteen and they could attend as boarders or day boys. There were between 50 and 60 boys and there was a generous staffing level. For example, in 1913 there were 56 boys and 14 members of staff. The yearly fees for a boarder under nine years of age was £105 while for a boy over twelve it was £136-10s. Day boys were charged £63. Additional charges were made for extra lessons such as solo singing, music, drawing, dancing, rifle shooting and scouting.

 copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph  from his private collection.   
The First World War Army Camp on the school playing fields in 1917

In 1914 the boys had the diversion of seeing their playing fields commandeered by the Army and even assisted them in erecting their rows of white bell-tents. At one time some 600 mules were quartered at the camp, having been imported from America. Eventually, they were shipped off to the Dardanelles where they met with an unhappy fate because the ship transporting them was sunk.

copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection.  
A Portslade First World War postcard

During the later part of the war the camp became the School of Cookery for the Southern Division of the Army. In April 1918 it was stated that during the previous two years some 14,000 men had qualified as Army cooks there on a site comprised of 38 huts. According to the Directories the School of Cookery was still there until 1924. It is interesting to note that during all this bustle, David Scott-Malden was born at Windlesham House and went on to become an Air Vice Marshal. He died in 2000. A reminder of the appalling cost of World War I in the terms of young lives lost was the memorial panel placed in the school library to commemorate 66 Old Boys.

 copyright © G. Osborne 
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection.  
School of Cookery at Windlesham School in 1917

The famous actor Sir Michael Hordern was a pupil at Windlesham House for nine years. Although he started there at the tender age of five in 1916 accompanied by his nurse Frances, he recalled happy times at the school. His two older brothers were already at the school and so he was known as Hordern Three. Their parents were in India and the Horderns were obliged to be ‘holiday boys’, which meant spending the holidays at school too. It was not such a bleak time as might be supposed because the Horderns and Maldens were on friendly terms. During his school years, Michael became involved in amateur dramatics, which he enjoyed very much. He always enjoyed the best parts but that was natural seeing as he had written the play in the first place.

In 1924 he was in the first Fifteen and played scrum-half. He remembered the indoor swimming pool in whose icy waters the boys took a dip every morning. The water was changed infrequently and as the term wore on, the water grew progressively greener. Amongst the mature trees, most of them being beech, there were three special beech trees overlooking the cricket ground. The boys called them the triple crossing and only the best tree-climbers could manage the feat of swinging from tree to tree without touching the ground. 

Christopher E. S. Malden
In 1927 Mrs Charles retired after 31 years at the helm and her son Christopher Edward Scott Malden and his wife took over. He had of course been teaching there for some years beforehand.

By 1928 the composition of the school had changed somewhat. There were 72 boys, all of them boarders but the number of assistant staff had dropped to eleven although five of the masters had university degrees. The boys still went on to public schools or the Naval College, Dartmouth, and around 2% won scholarships. The curriculum was strongly influenced by the all-important Common Entrance Examination and there was a heavy emphasis on Latin and mathematics. In 1928 His Majesty’s Inspector wrote ‘The discipline in the classroom is excellent, but it appears that it is a tradition that in the five minutes’ break all restraint is relaxed. This relaxation is very valuable but in the opinion of the Inspectors, it is accompanied by unnecessary noise and banging of desk lids’.

It was under the new management that the decision was taken to move the school once again. After 22 years at Portslade (or Southern Cross) Windlesham House moved in 1935 to Highden, near Washington in West Sussex where it is still located. It goes without saying that the school chapel went too. The Maldens were still connected with the school in 1991 and the joint heads were Charles and Elizabeth Ann Malden – he being the great-great grandson of the founder. It was claimed to be the country’s largest co-educational preparatory school, girls having been admitted for the first time in 1967. In 1991 there were 200 boys and 130 girls, all boarders and a large staff.

copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph was taken at Windlesham House in 1934 and shows Christopher Scott Malden, headmaster, and his wife Helen with their children left to right back row, Bridget and Roger, and front Charles and Anthea.

It is rather sad to have to record the fate of the handsome Georgian house and magnificent grounds at Portslade. In 1935 there was a distinct possibility that Portslade might gain the estate for use as a public park. Portslade Councillors were quite prepared to give up flat, featureless Victoria Recreation Ground for building plots. But people in south Portslade were not so happy about the proposal and besides there were restrictive covenants on the site. Eventually the protracted negotiations fell through and the lovely grounds were soon covered in streets and houses. As the Brighton Herald remarked sagely ‘Portslade has lost a chance that will not come again’.

As for the school buildings, they have mostly survived. By 1936 the property was in the hands of East Sussex County Council. They were delighted at their bargain because it cost them a mere £4,500 whereas they reckoned it would cost £18,000 to build a new school. A further £4,000 was expended on adapting the premises; the Georgian Portslade House was demolished but the foundations remain under the playground. Portslade Senior Boys’ School then occupied the premises until 1971 when the first intake of girls paved the way for the creation of Portslade Community College in 1972.

In 2012 it is still in the occupation of Portslade Aldridge Community College’s Sixth Form but a giant crane on the main campus at Chalky Road heralds the building of a new Sixth Form College. Perhaps there will be a new school there in the future, which seems likely given the chronic shortage of school places in Brighton and Hove. In 2013 the school buildings became the temporary home of the King's CofE Secondary School of Hove.    

copyright © D.Sharp
A modern day view of the former Windlesham School minus its Chapel, now the temporary home of the  King's School, Hove.

Meanwhile the flint-built structure in Mile Oak Road opposite the school, which had served as a sick bay, became at length St Helen’s Home for the elderly. This lasted until the 1990s when stringent new health and safety regulations sounded its death knell. Windlesham House’s cricket pavilion was converted into a bungalow and is to be found in Melrose Avenue.


1837-1855 Lieutenant Charles Robert Malden RN
1855-1888 Mr and Mrs Henry Charles Malden
1888-1896 Charles Scott Malden
1896-1927 Mrs Charles Scott Malden
1927-1953 Mr and Mrs Christopher Edward Scott Malden
1953-1958 Roger Malden
1958-1990s Charles and Elizabeth Ann Malden

School colours black and white

School motto Miseris Auxilium Fero

Hordern (Sir Michael) A World Elsewhere (1993)
Information from Brian Denman, local chess historian
Portslade History Source Books. These include excerpts from school magazines, newspaper articles, notes, HMI Report etc. The volumes are to be found in Hove Reference Library and Portslade Library.
Information from Mr and Mrs Malden  

Copyright © J.Middleton 2015
page layout by D.Sharp