Southey Hall Boys Preparatory School

hallEastwick Manor had been the seat of the Howards, one of the premier families of England but many local people will remember it as Southey Hall Boys Preparatory School.  It had become a school in 1924 and remained such until 1954.  But what do we know of it?  There are a diminishing few who have active memories of their schooldays there.

The school was originally established far away from Bookham in about 1885 in a building in Southey Road, Worthing (hence its name) by three ‘Wood sisters’, Sarah, Mary and Anne aged 42, 39 and 37 all unmarried.  Because Sarah was the oldest she was the Head of the school.  It was a boarding school for boys.  It was taught just by the three sisters with a matron and three domestic servants one of which was the cook.  It started with just twenty four boarders aged between 7 and 12.

dormBy 1901 the school had changed ownership into the hands of a Mr Newton Hinxman and his wife Edith with Newton as Head.  Ten years later the school had enlarged to 30 boarders aged 6 to 14 and a domestic staff of a Matron, a cook and 5 servants.

We have no record of the school during WWI but afterwards Newton Hinxman was of retiring age and sold the school to a 42 year old Henry Reginald Fussell from the Wirral, Cheshire who took over as Headmaster.

washroomBy this time the school was presumably limited by the size of the building and the number of boarders it could take and Henry in 1924 looked for a far larger suitable property.  Eastwick Manor was available and ideal and Henry purchased the lease and changed the name to Southey Hall Boys Preparatory School.  The size of Eastwick Manor meant that the school could be built up to be a major preparatory school.

Both Henry Fussell and his son Dennis were good tennis players to the extent that they both played at Wimbledon. Henry played in the 1919, 1920, 1922, 1923 and 1924 Championships. In 1922 he reached the fourth round.  Denis got into the second round in 1929 but was knocked out in three sets. This established a good tradition for tennis at Southey Hall School.

The original school in Worthing was purchased and became ‘Southey Hall Hotel’ and in 1953 was converted to flats and was called ‘Southey Hall Flatlets’. It is still a block of flats but it is now known as ‘Dolphin Court’.

In Southey Hall the school continued to grow in the period up to WWII and there were about 60-70 boarders (no day boys). At the beginning of the war the school at first stayed in the house as the bombs started to fall. In October 1940 the lodge of Southey Hall School was bombed and shortly afterwards a land mine fell in the grounds and it was decided that the school should be evacuated.  The school evacuated to the magnificent Great Fulford House at Dunsford near Exeter for the duration of the war.  At this time the Headmaster was about 60 and it was a good time for him to retire and hand over the headship to his son Denis Fussell.  Denis was then 33 and a confirmed bachelor.  His father did not have a long retirement and died in 1941 aged only 63.

School uniform was grey corduroy shorts, black and white striped ties, a jersey with the black and white school colours around the neck, long socks with the colours around the tops and school caps. On Sundays it was a grey flannel suit to go to St Nicolas church.  The boys always referred to the Headmaster as ‘Sir’ but behind his back as Denis.  He was a large burly man, fairly shambly in attire with somewhat whitish or auburn  hair and rather a reddish face. He was approachable and well liked by the boys and a good teacher.  The senior master was Mr Locke called Dumbo by the boys for the obvious reason.

While they were evacuated Southey Hall was taken over by the Canadian troops stationed locally.  They didn’t have the same respect for the property with military exercises in the grounds and a casual approach to the house.  By the time the war ended and the troops had departed the house was in a very poor condition with banisters pulled down, decorations dirty and depleted and furniture devastated.  Even with the best attempts the house was in a poor state.

This was the house to which Southey Hall School returned in 1945. The period after 1945 was not an easy time.  The war had finished but rationing and shortages continued through to the late 1950s.  It would have taken a fortune to restore the house to its former state, far outside the finances of a school’s budget.  It was a matter of living with the state it was in.

The school continued until 1954 when suddenly, overnight, the headmaster Denis Fussell vanished from the scene – he no longer appeared at the school.  It was an unfortunate and amazing incident.  The explanation was recorded by one of the boys at the school.
‘One evening early in the summer term, soon after the rest of us had gone to bed in our dormitories, there was a terrific commotion in the house – a boy was clearly being chased and was trying to get away from Denis’s clutches, and there was shouting and swearing – I remember this very distinctly because nobody ever swore at Southey Hall, even among ourselves. The very next day the headmaster disappeared from the school, and so did the boy in question.’

The rumour that the headmaster had been interfering with one or more of the boys appears to be substantiated but the degree of truth in this will never now be established.  It would however account for the extraordinary departure of the person who was the owner of the school and previously had been highly spoken of and well thought of by the boys.  A further rumour amongst the boys to explain the sudden departure was that he had been killed by a train door hitting him but that was not true as he lived until 1977 (age 70) and died in the Southampton area.

The school was taken over by the deputy headmaster Mr Locke and continued under Mr Locke for a short time but presumably it was still owned by Denis Fussell and was closed down.  It is hard to see that the school was financially viable and nobody would have taken it on with an income from fees of  just 70 boys.  The remaining pupils were either taken away from the school or transferred to the Little Abbey Prep School, Burghclere, Newbury.

It was sad to see what had once been a majestic house stand empty and abandoned and fast going into decay. Modern development has lead to the whole area becoming the Eastwick housing estate. The sole sorry remains of the once majestic house are gateposts from its original entrance still standing in Lower Road.

The appendices record four recollections of the school, one in the prewar period, one when evauated to Great Fulford during the Second World War, one in the immediate post-war period and one in its final years.

Martin Warwick

(For a far fuller article see the article in full but with a number of Appendices giving the memories of Old Boys – because of its length it is in Adobe PDF format)

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