School chalks up 60 years of success

Lavant House celebrates 60 years.
Lavant House celebrates 60 years.

The Queen’s isn’t the only diamond jubilee this year. Also celebrating 60 years of success, the highest of standards and enduring respect at the heart of the community is Lavant House School, just north of Chichester.

For Marilyn Sadler, it’s an anniversary with a particularly special resonance. Effectively, it was for Marilyn that the school was created - by Marilyn’s mother, the school’s founding headmistress Dora Green.

“My father was a serving naval officer; mummy was a qualified teacher. She had been following him around as a naval officer’s wife, but she had always had the idea that she would like to run a school.

“She was very much an educationalist with very developed views about the nurturing of children and making the best of their potential. They were living in Southbourne at the time; my father was still in the navy full time.

“We are talking about the days before the quality of state education is what we have now. She felt that the schools in the Chichester area were not what she wanted. She felt that there was a need for a girls’ school, and after a search they found Lavant House. They felt that it was wonderful. It had about 14 acres of ground. By borrowing money from various members of the family, they managed to buy the freehold. And there were sitting tenants in three different parts which meant they had some rent coming it.

“And so we moved there in November 1952. I was eight by then. I remember the move from Southbourne because we had an extremely old and antiquated car. And I had tonsilitis! I felt miserable!

“I had an older brother who was away at prep school. The next brother down was 21 months younger and there were two little boys of one and two. We were a big family!”

The school began with just five girls, among them Marilyn, but rapidly grew: “To start with, it was a day school, but because there were the facilities for boarding there, the idea was always that we would have boarders.

“I only stayed for three years. By the time I was 11, I think mummy thought it was a good idea for me to go off and plough my own furrow. I went to Sherborne in Dorset.”

Marilyn, who now lives near Wimborne, left behind her her own moment of shame. One of the girls confessed that she wasn’t happy and so Marilyn and the girl decided to run away, setting out at four in the morning with the intention of walking to Chichester.

They just about reached the main road before they were picked up by the police and returned to Marilyn’s mother - a 5am call she most definitely wasn’t expecting: “I will never forget the look on her face. It was a disgraceful part of my background!”

Those early days were a struggle in some ways for Mrs Green: “Mummy was in a rather antiquated building trying to keep everything going including the boiler which kept conking out.”

But her spirit prevailed, says Marilyn who was herself a governor of the school for 30 years:

“My parents owned it themselves, but mummy always felt that it should be an educational trust. If you look at independent schools, they quite often fold when the owners sell them. But mummy wanted continuity. She wanted to persevere by making it an educational trust.”

And now, as the school celebrates its diamond jubilees, Marilyn for one is delighted at the way it has remained true to her mother’s founding principles.

“She was an unusual woman - quite a strong character. Her ethos was very much a Christian ethos. Both my parents were committed Christians, and my mother felt very strongly that children needed to be in an environment where they felt that all their gifts were valued, not just their academic gifts - that it should all be seen in the bigger environment. She was very keen on the whole of education, not just books. She was so glad that she had some land so that everybody could learn riding. She was also very keen on music and drama. All of that wider type of education was very important to her.

“And it is remarkable that that ethos has remained - a constant nurturing and making sure that the young people believed in themselves.”

/blob/ To celebrate the anniversary, Lavant House is asking people to send in their own memories/photographs of their time at Lavant House. The school is compiling a book and will be holding a big 1952-themed garden party in the summer. Send your memories to Dawn Sharpe at the school on sharped@lavanthouse.org.uk.