Bembridge School

Coordinates: 50°41′06″N 1°04′19″W / 50.685°N 1.072°W

Bembridge School
Bembridge School Crest

TypeIndependent school
Staff40 (approx.)
Age13 to 18
Colour(s)Light blue/dark blue
Former pupilsOld Bembridgians

Bembridge School was an independent school in Bembridge on the Isle of Wight founded in 1919 by social reformer and Liberal MP John Howard Whitehouse. Set in over 100 acres (0.40 km2) on the easternmost tip of the Isle of Wight Bembridge was a public school intended to challenge the traditional concept of education. Many of the radical ideas first employed by Whitehouse, such as teaching of woodwork, American history and modern languages, were not to become mainstream for half a century.

From 5 boys sited in what is now known as Old House the school rapidly grew, New House and the Ruskin Galleries and the chapel being built in the 1930s as well as the refectory and library and teaching blocks. By the end of Whitehouse's life there were 264 boys and the school continued to grow and to flourish.

During the Second World War the site was used as a military base by the Army and the school moved to The Waterhead Hotel in Coniston, close to Brantwood, the former home of John Ruskin and owned by the school. The school returned to Bembridge in 1945.

The school was noted for its collection of art, books and memorabilia relating to John Ruskin, the largest of its kind. This included many notable manuscripts and the school was founded on the teachings of Ruskin. This collection is now housed in the Ruskin Library at the University of Lancaster.

The school continued to grow and thrive into the 1990s, over the decades building and acquiring many new buildings including Kilgerran House, the music block, squash courts, the Stedman Sports Hall and additions to the preparatory school and the formation of a popular pre-prep. Bembridge School greatly considered the importance of sports in its students' lives and the grounds contained three cricket pitches including the centre pitch, the largest and perhaps the best fast-bowling wicket in the county, a nine-hole golf course, two football/rugby pitches, tennis courts and a hockey pitch. Pupils also had the opportunity to go swimming in the sea, shooting and climb the cliffs at Whitecliff Bay.

Shortly after celebrating the school's 75th anniversary the Education Trust, a hereditary committee with few links to the school, announced their intention to dispose of the school, whilst retaining possession of the valuable Ruskin collection.


Ruskin sketch
John Ruskin, art critic and writer

Throughout its history two men drove the school's philosophy, founder John Howard Whitehouse and 19th-century art critic and writer John Ruskin. The school's development, particularly during the early years, was visibly shaped by their ideas and even in later years the school never let go of their principles. The school's history spans seven decades and the boys and girls who attended the school seldom fail in later life to retain a sense of the school, or of the philosophy behind it.

Camp Beaumont, Kingswood Centre, Bembridge Boarding Campus is now run at Bembridge School site.

Early years

The Warden of Bembridge School and several students, visiting Fridtjof Nansen
The Warden and boys visiting Fridtjof Nansen in Oslo

Bembridge opened its doors to five pupils in 1919. The school grew quickly and by summer 1920 there were 42, increasing to over 100 by 1924.[1]

John Howard Whitehouse, known as the Warden, left Parliament at the height of his career and as such was able to attract a high calibre of pupil from a number of influential parents. This coupled with his radical approach to education brought much interest from many society figures of the day with whom the Warden was acquainted, many of whom were to be involved in the school. Early visitors to the school included John Masefield, Walter de la Mare,[2] Henry Nevinson and Isaac Foot amongst others.[1]

As the school grew in stature and numbers so it also began to expand out of its initial base in Old House at the bottom of the long drive. This began in 1920 with the building of Culver Cottage, at the Hillway end of the drive and the Gymnasium (later known as The Little Theatre) in 1924. The school entered a phase of rapid building work between 1927 and 1939.

New House was the first to be constructed, the Warden's House and New House being finished in 1927 to which was added the Ruskin Galleries in 1930. Junior House (the "Big Room" and Nansen Dorm) was built in 1929. In 1933 work began on the chapel and the first service was held in Spring 1934. The refectory and library was completed in 1938. By the outbreak of war the school looked similar to how it now appears.

During the early years of the school the boys' were encouraged to join the "School Journeys". These were trips made annually to Europe, starting in 1924 with a trip to Venice. Most interesting of these trips, usually to cultural events such as the Passion Play at Oberammagau, were two trips. The first of which being a visit to meet Fridtjof Nansen in Oslo. Nansen was a leading explorer and The Warden was involved in the restoration of his ship, the Fram. Second was a trip to Rome to meet Mussolini. The Warden had a great respect for the dictator, though he was later to realise his mistake. The boys presented the Italian with paintings by John Ruskin.


Wartime Brantwood
Bembridge boys by Brantwood, Ruskin's house and wartime home of the school

As war engulfed Europe life at Bembridge continued, albeit with slight changes; each house had an air-raid shelter and The Royal Artillery were present on Culver Down. The school beach was laid with barbed wire. By summer of 1940 it was decided to move the boys and the school to the Lake District. The Warden had earlier purchased Brantwood, Ruskin's former home, and The Waterhead Hotel was also bought, to boost capacity. Everything at the school, including the large printing presses, moved to the North where the boys quickly settled into their familiar routine.

Life continued at Coniston for several years, the boys being actively involved in "Digging for Victory" and following the course of the war via their radios. An athletics track was constructed, flag poles flew the various house and school flags and the boys started the tradition of regularly climbing the "Old Man", a tradition that generations of Bembridgians would continue to enjoy on what became annual visits to Brantwood in peacetime.

In Spring of 1945, the war clearly at its climax in Europe, the school was derequisitioned by the military, who had been stationed there, and handed back to The Warden. The boys returned in the Christmas term and life at Bembridge continued.

Bembridge Old Boys' War Memorials

The School Chapel has two versions of the War Memorial to Old Bembridgians who died in the Second World War. On the exterior of the building is a stone plaque set into the brickwork, while in the Chapel itself is a wooden plaque. Over the Chapel door is a sculpture representing St George and the dragon.




More details of the Boys whose names are inscribed may be found at Bembridge School War Memorials

Post War

Main driveway, passing by the head master's house and the New House (Bembridge School, White Cliff Bay, Isle of Wight - 1988)
View alongside the school drive

The Story of Bembridge School was completed in time for the seventy-fifth Anniversary Celebrations in 1994.

Nine months later, just before the summer term, 1995, staff gathered together for their usual meetings. Plans for the year ahead – excursions, new rules, curriculum changes, examination time tables, boarding duties lists – were suddenly forgotten as the Headmaster made a surprise announcement that the school's owners had decided to sell the school.

Once the parents had been informed, there was an energetic response. A committee was established, under the chairmanship of Dr Peter Randall, to investigate various ways of saving Bembridge School. Meetings were held with a representative of the Trustees and the committee believed it could raise the money to take over the school. However, it was announced that an agreement had already been made to sell the whole establishment to Ryde School.

It was announced that Ryde School would continue to run Bembridge as a separate unit, although the successful Dyslexia Department and the Pre-Prep School would cease to function, and the Junior school would no longer operate as a separate entity. By the end of the term, many parents had withdrawn their children.

Some teaching staff remained and, with dedication, led first by Jeremy High and then by Alan Doe, kept something of the old Bembridge School spirit, but for others there was no place. A few were eligible for early retirement. Others had to move from the Island to find employment.

The Ruskin collection that once made Bembridge School unique is now housed at Lancaster University.


Old House

Old House is the only building to predate the school on the current site. Originally called The Old School House it came into The Warden's possession in 1914 and formed the centre of the development of the early school.

The building was extended in 1921 to allow for the dining facilities of the house and balconies constructed in 1932 and 1934.

As the school spread across the site the house was used as a school 'hub' and administrative centre. The large room to the right of the entrance hall becoming the Headmaster's Study with the room to the right becoming the Masters' Common Room.

In 1928 courtyard house was built alongside Old House in the courtyard as a home for various Housemasters (and later Housemistresses). It was first occupied by Edward Dawes, Sub-Warden of the school and most recently by Matron Anne Sutton.

New House

New House was accorded Listed Building Grade II status in 1994. Ryde School, the new owners of Bembridge School, have continued to use this building with its leaded light windows and sea views.


Nansen House was unusual in that it was did not fall within the Bembridge School grounds and was one of the few buildings that make up the school not to be built by the school. Nansen House, on Howgate Lane, was originally a large family home called Southcliffe. It was acquired by the school in 1958 as accommodation for 20 boys under the first Housemaster, Henry Warren and changed its name to Nansen, in honour of the explorer who was linked to the school, in 1961. It rapidly developed into a larger house with a number of extensions and served generations of boys.


Kilgerran House was formally opened by Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, president of the school, in 1981. The first boys occupied it in the Christmas term. Set at the bottom of the drive Kilgerran is the newest house at Bembridge and overlooks the junior cricket pitches on its northern side and McIver's house to the South. It is set over three floors and built in the school's trademark red brick.

The house and dormitories were refurbished in 1989 and the Nansen Wing (or Sixth Form centre) was added at the East end of the house and looking across the Junior School quadrangle (which was added at the same time) and the refectory.

Kilgerran Housemasters were Richard Warren-Betts, Martin Cooke, Richard Curtis, Anthony Adlam and, most recently, William Leach.

President of the School

Inge and co
Dean Inge (front left) with John Masefield, John Howard Whitehouse and others

President of the School was an honorary position created by the Warden at the foundation of the school and filled by four incumbents since 1919. The President of the School acted both as an ambassador for the school, as well as a regular visitor and participant in the philosophy of the school and direction of the curriculum.

The first President, later to be named Poet Laureate, was John Masefield. Masefield was followed by writer and academic Dean Inge, known as "The Gloomy Dean". Upon Inge's death economist and social reformer Lord Beveridge was given the position. Beveridge had known the Warden from their time in Government together and had alike political views. He authored the influential Beveridge report which put in place much of framework behind the welfare state, particularly the National Health Service. He took the position in 1954 and served until his death in 1963. He was followed by Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran.

Old Bembridgians

Old Bembridgians include Ian Mosby (model), Darsie Rawlins (sculptor), Sir Dingle Foot MP (former Solicitor General), Paul Gregory (guitarist), Lord Foot (Parliamentarian), Richard Studt (violinist and conductor), John Brandon-Jones (architect), Sir Robin Day (broadcaster), Dr James S. Dearden (Ruskin expert), Michael Relph (film maker), Barry Field (former MP for the Isle of Wight), Adrian Beach (painter), General Sir Peter Whiteley (former Royal Marine and Governor of Jersey), John Heath-Stubbs (poet), Patrick Gosling (soap star), Sir Richard Parsons (ambassador and novelist), Laurence Broderick (sculptor) and Andrew Morris (conductor and organist).

The Old Bembridgian Association, founded in 1923, has its president, Sandy Rogers, and the honorary secretary, Christopher Holder, deals with all day-to-day matters.


  1. ^ a b Bembridge School Records, 1935, Yellowsands Press
  2. ^ Some Thoughts on Reading, Address by Walter de la Mare, Yellowsands Press, 1923
Andrew Morris (conductor)

Andrew Morris (born 18 December 1948) is a British conductor, organist, adjudicator and teacher based in Cambridge.

Barry Field

Barry John Anthony Field (born 4 July 1946) is a British Conservative Party politician. He gained the constituency of Isle of Wight from the Liberals at 1987 general election, and held the seat until he stood down at the 1997 general election.


Bembridge is a village and civil parish located on the easternmost point of the Isle of Wight. It had a population of 3,848 according to the 2001 census of the United Kingdom, leading to the implausible claim by some residents that Bembridge is the largest village in England. Bembridge is home to many of the Island's wealthiest residents. The population had reduced to 3,688 at the 2011 Census.

Bembridge sits at the extreme eastern point of the Isle of Wight. Prior to land reclamation the area of Bembridge and Yaverland was almost an island unto itself, separated from the remainder of the Isle of Wight by Brading Haven. On the Joan Blaeu map of 1665, Bembridge is shown as Binbridge Iſle, nearly separated from the rest of Wight by River Yar.

Prior to the Victorian era Bembridge was a collection of wooden huts and farmhouses, which only consolidated into a true village with the building of the church in 1827 (later rebuilt in 1846).

Bembridge School And Cliffs SSSI

Bembridge School And Cliffs SSSI (grid reference ST647869) is a 12.58 hectare geological Site of Special Scientific Interest near Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, notified in 1999.

It is listed in the Geological Conservation Review.

This site consists of the coastral strip in the northern part of Whitecliff Bay. Steyne Wood Clays containing fossils from the Quaternary period are found at the site.

Desmond Donnelly

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Dingle Foot

Sir Dingle Mackintosh Foot, QC (24 August 1905 – 18 June 1978) was a British lawyer, Liberal and Labour Member of Parliament, and Solicitor General for England and Wales in the first government of Harold Wilson.

J. Howard Whitehouse

John Howard Whitehouse (1873–1955) was the founder and first Warden of Bembridge School on the Isle of Wight and a Member of Parliament. His father, George Whitehouse, was a Quaker and an uncompromising Gladstonian Liberal whose strong views on issues such as Irish Home Rule and opposition to the politics of Liberal Unionist, later Conservative, leader Joseph Chamberlain were to shape his son's political views. Whitehouse, throughout his career in politics and later at Bembridge, was an intense believer in the right of the individual to shape his own life and a bitter opponent of any form of bureaucratic control.

He attended the Midland Institute and Mason Science College (which became the University of Birmingham), specialising at the former in literature, history and political economy. It was here that he first read the works of John Ruskin, of whom he became a lifelong disciple.

In 1894, Whitehouse joined the firm of Cadbury as a clerk. Living in Bournville, the model village, in 1899 he founded and managed a large youth club. In 1901 he began a campaign to establish a national memorial to Ruskin in the village. Ruskin Hall, now the Bournville Centre for Visual Arts, comprised a library, museum and lecture hall. In the early twentieth century he acted as treasurer to Birmingham Technical Education Committee.

Whitehouse founded the Ruskin Society of Birmingham in 1896, organising lectures by notable speakers, focused on the social questions of the day. Every year he organised excursions to places of Ruskinian interest, including some of England's great cathedrals. He founded and edited the society's influential quarterly journal, Saint George (1898–1911), managing its business affairs and eventually becoming its publisher.

In November 1903 he was appointed secretary to the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust, resigning because of irreconcilable differences with the trustees in 1905, when he joined the university settlement, Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel, east London, as secretary. He took a keen interest in its education and youth work, and had lectured widely on such matters since the late 1890s.

He worked briefly with Baden Powell and edited "The Scout", became Sub-Warden of St George's School in Harpenden and was warden of the Manchester University Settlement at Ancoats.

In 1910 Whitehouse entered Parliament as a Liberal representing the constituency of Mid Lanark.

He served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George, and pursued his interest in education, serving on a number of committees dealing with child labour, child wages and reformatory work.

Shortly before the Great War broke out Whitehouse was introduced to Edward Daws, who showed him the Isle of Wight. He was so taken with the place that he bought a field and a house known as The Old School House. This was to form the nucleus of Bembridge School a few years later.

At the beginning of 1916 he organised opposition to the Government's Military Service Bill that successfully introduced conscription. In 1916 he lent his support to the growing conscientious objector movement, reflecting his Quaker background.

As a result of a minor revision of constituencies, Mid-Lanark ceased to exist, and Whitehouse unsuccessfully fought for the Hamilton seat in the 1918 election. Despite his past close working relationship with Lloyd George and because of his opposition to the Coalition Government during the war, Lloyd George publicly supported his Unionist opponent at the election.

This defeat germinated the idea that had long been in his thoughts, the foundation of a boarding school based on different principles to those underlying orthodox public schools of the day.

Whilst his life from 1919 was closely bound up with the school he continued to pursue outside interests, penning a number of pamphlets and books on the subject of education and contesting every election between 1922 and 1935 (with, as he once noted wryly "equal measure of success").

He again stood as a Parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Party at six General Elections; Hanley in 1922, Hereford in 1923 and 1924;

Southampton in 1929, Thornbury in 1931 and finally Stoke Newington in 1935;

He organised the committee to ensure the preservation of the Fram, the ship which carried Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen to the Arctic and later Roald Amundsen to the Antarctic. He also bought Brantwood, Ruskin's home in the Lake District.

In 1953, during an Old Boys cricket match, he was struck in the eye by a cricket ball, and was severely injured. The effects incapacitated him, and he died in his sleep on 28 September 1955.

John Brandon-Jones

John Brandon-Jones (18 September 1908 – 1 May 1999) was a British architect. His work was heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, of which he was a noted architectural historian.

John Foot, Baron Foot

John Mackintosh Foot, Baron Foot (17 February 1909 – 11 October 1999) was a Liberal politician and Life Peer.

John Heath-Stubbs

John Francis Alexander Heath-Stubbs OBE (9 July 1918 – 26 December 2006) was an English poet and translator, known for verse influenced by classical myths, and for the long Arthurian poem Artorius (1972).

John Whitehouse

John Whitehouse may refer to:

John Whitehouse (cricketer) (born 1949), English cricketer

John Whitehouse (footballer) (1878–?), English footballer

John Whitehouse (poet), poet from England, author of Ode to War

John Howard Whitehouse (1873–1955), founder of Bembridge School on the Isle of Wight

John O. Whitehouse (1817–1881), American congressman

Laurence Broderick

Laurence Broderick, MRBS FRSA, is a British sculptor. His best known work is 'The Bull', a public sculpture erected in 2003 at the Bull Ring, Birmingham. His work consists largely of figurative carvings in stone and editions in bronze.

Marcus Patric

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Michael Relph

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Peter Whiteley (Royal Marines officer)

General Sir Peter John Frederick Whiteley, (13 December 1920 – 1 February 2016) was a British Royal Marines officer. He served as Commandant General Royal Marines and then as Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Northern Europe.

Rhys Lloyd, Baron Lloyd of Kilgerran

Rhys Gerran Lloyd, Baron Lloyd of Kilgerran CBE, QC, JP (12 August 1907 – 30 January 1991) was a Welsh Liberal Party politician.

Son of James G. Lloyd of Kilgerran, Pembrokeshire, Lloyd studied at Sloane School and Selwyn College, Cambridge, before taking a teaching post at Bembridge School on the Isle of Wight, where he involved himself in the trusteeship of various organisations relating to John Ruskin. He became a barrister at Gray's Inn in 1939, specialising in patent law, then became a Queen's Counsel in 1961. During the Second World War he served as a government scientific researcher.Lloyd was made a Justice of the Peace for the county of Surrey (where by 1983 he lived at Esher) in 1953 and also awarded the CBE the same year.Lloyd stood unsuccessfully for the Liberal Party in Anglesey at the 1959 general election, becoming President of the Welsh Liberal Party from 1971 to 1974, and of the British Liberal Party in 1973–74. In 1973, he was given a life peerage, and in the Lords, he focussed on developments in patent and copyright law. From 1977 to 1983, he was joint treasurer of the party, with Monroe Palmer.He married in 1940 Phyllis, daughter of Ronald Shepherd of Chilworth, Southampton, Hampshire, with whom he had two daughters. Lord Lloyd died aged 83 in 1991. She outlived him, dying on 11 September 2006 aged 99.

Richard Parsons (diplomat)

Sir Richard Parsons (14 March 1928 – 23 April 2016) was a British diplomat who was ambassador to Hungary, Spain and Sweden, and a novelist, playwright and (under a pseudonym) crime writer.

Robin Day

Sir Robin Day (24 October 1923 – 6 August 2000) was an English political journalist and television and radio broadcaster.Day's obituary in The Guardian by Dick Taverne stated that he was "the most outstanding television journalist of his generation. He transformed the television interview, changed the relationship between politicians and television, and strove to assert balance and rationality into the medium's treatment of current affairs".

Ryde School with Upper Chine

Ryde School with Upper Chine (or, informally, Ryde School) is a co-educational ISC independent day and boarding school in the seaside town of Ryde, on the Isle of Wight. Among the school's former pupils are the author Philip Norman and the former world-record holder as the youngest cross-Atlantic yachtsman, Seb Clover.

Further Education Colleges

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