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The fascinating history of Orwell Park School as it celebrates its 150th birthday

PUBLISHED: 15:28 05 November 2018

Aerial view of Orwell Park School.

Aerial view of Orwell Park School.

Archant

It is a landmark year for one of Suffolk’s best known schools as it celebrates its 150th anniversary.

Headmaster Adrian Brown and General Sir Adrian Bradshaw talk with pupils after a recent Desert Rats memorial service at Orwell Park School. Picture: SARAH KIRBY-SMITHHeadmaster Adrian Brown and General Sir Adrian Bradshaw talk with pupils after a recent Desert Rats memorial service at Orwell Park School. Picture: SARAH KIRBY-SMITH

A series of special events has been held to mark Orwell Park School’s birthday, including a concert at Snape Maltings, anniversary ball, and commemoration service in Aldeburgh – where the school was based for nearly 70 years.

Headmaster Adrian Brown said: “This is a very special year in our history.

“We have always been a school that seeks to nurture and develop the passions and talents of every child and the concert at Snape was a wonderful celebration of the quality and variety of music making at the school.

“We look forward to the next chapter in our history with a great deal of excitement and optimism.”

Orwell Park School, now set in a stunning location overlooking the River Orwell  Picture: Orwell Park SchoolOrwell Park School, now set in a stunning location overlooking the River Orwell Picture: Orwell Park School

The school is set in a stunning location on the banks of the Orwell, but it actually began its existence in Aldeburgh.

The school’s founder and first headmaster was the Reverend Walter Wilkinson.

He moved to Lowestoft in the 1860s and with his wife, Charlotte, founded a ‘Classical Grammar School’ in 1868, now known as Orwell Park School.

In 1870, the school moved to Crespigny House in Aldeburgh, with just 24 boys on roll.

Eaton House in Aldeburgh, where the school was briefly based  Picture: Orwell Park SchoolEaton House in Aldeburgh, where the school was briefly based Picture: Orwell Park School

It moved again to Eaton House in the town in 1884 and, when it outgrew its current premises, it relocated to Aldeburgh Lodge in 1904.

There was a further change during the First World War when it relocated to Rushbrooke Park in Bury St Edmunds, but returned to Aldeburgh Lodge in 1919 until 1937 – and it was then that it moved to larger premises at Orwell Park, purchased from the Prettyman family, relatives of Colonel Tomline, for the sum of £6,000.

Colonel Tomline was responsible for the development of Felixstowe Port and commissioned the building of the famous observatory at Orwell Park, which at the time was revolutionary.

In fact, it is still used and is thought to be one of the last of its type in the world.

Boys at Hembury Fort House in Devon  Picture: Orwell Park SchoolBoys at Hembury Fort House in Devon Picture: Orwell Park School

When the Second World War broke out, pupils were evacuated from the Suffolk coast to Hembury Fort House in Devon, where they stayed for just one term, before moving to the safer surroundings of Bedstone Court in Shropshire.

During the war the Seventh Armoured Division, The Desert Rats, was stationed at Orwell Park.

There, they trained for the D-Day landing and waterproofing their landing craft in the estuary.

The school maintains its links with the Desert Rats and has a memorial service every year with members of the Division and Association attending.

Aldeburgh Lodge  Picture: Orwell Park SchoolAldeburgh Lodge Picture: Orwell Park School

For over 40 years, two headmasters – Maurice Emra Wilkinson and John Frederick Spurgeon – led the school.

They were succeeded in 1946 by three headmasters – Maurice Wilkinson’s son Noel, Ted Cawston and Brian Belle.

They would lead the school for over 20 years.

When Noel and Ted retired in 1969, Brian Belle ran the school with his wife Sylvia for a further decade, retiring in 1979 and bringing to an end 111 years of the same family running it.

North Hall at Orwell Park School  Picture: Orwell Park SchoolNorth Hall at Orwell Park School Picture: Orwell Park School

He was succeeded by his deputy Ian Angus, who oversaw further expansion, and in 1992 the introduction of girls when the school became co-educational.

Andrew Auster became head in 1994, developing the Pre-Prep – or Junior School as it was then known.

At this stage flexible boarding was introduced too, a departure from the full-boarding model the school had been used to.

The current headmaster, Adrian Brown, started in 2011, and soon after a new state of the art Pre-Prep (for children aged two-and-a-half to seven) was built in the grounds of the mansion.

Recent developments have included the refurbishment of the boarding accommodation, the introduction of a new Library, the addition of floodlights to the hockey astro, a multi-use games area and an outdoor classroom in the woods.

When the school moved from Aldeburgh Lodge to Orwell Park there were 60 boys.

Today there are 307 pupils, girls and boys, aged up to 13, enjoying the magical setting of the 110 acre park that leads down to the Orwell Estuary.

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