HISTORY OF BEESTON HALL SCHOOL
Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer Esq., the last Squire of Felbrigg, who also owned the Beeston Regis estate wrote the following in the first edition of the school magazine, ‘Surge’, published in December 1960.
“Beeston Regis Hall and the surrounding estate came into the possession of the Cremer family by marriage early in the 18th century. The property had belonged to a family named Greene since the reign of Elizabeth 1, and Mary, the daughter and heiress of Robert Greene, married Francis Cremer in 1715. It was the home of successive generations of Cremers until 1924 when my father moved to Felbrigg Hall. Beeston Hall was seriously damaged by a German bomb in the summer of 1940. The house was then the property of Flying Officer Richard Ketton-Cremer (the squire’s younger brother) who was killed in active service. It remained empty until it was let to Mr. T.W. Tapping as a school in 1948. In that capacity it has already proved its worth. May it go on and prosper!”
To understand why in 1948 Beeston Regis Hall should be transformed into a prep. school, it is necessary to go back to 1897, the year in which a Mrs. Agnes Eyden founded a boys’ prep. school at Harrow, called Quainton Hall. The aim of the school was “to express the virtues of a Christian family”. Her son, an ordained priest, eventually took over the running of the school which prospered, as it does to this day. However, when war broke out in 1939, about fifty of the boys, under the care of the Music Master, were evacuated to the vicarage at Long Marston, a village near Aylesbury, the remainder staying at Quainton Hall. Then in 1944 the Long Marston Vicarage was requisitioned by the military and the Guardians of the Sanctuary at Little Walsingham invited the boys to form a choir school there. The offer was accepted and the evacuees were housed in the Pilgrim Refectory before moving to the vicarage. The new establishment was called “The Sanctuary School” and Mr. Thomas Tapping was appointed Headmaster.
Unfortunately it was not long before he and the Guardians of the Sanctuary (who were also Governors of the School) fell out, principally over the disruption caused by the boys being required to attend frequent services in the Shrine to the detriment of their education. After three years Thomas Tapping had had enough and left Walsingham to set up his own school. He lit upon Beeston Regis Hall because it was big enough, and was available on long lease, so saving the capital expenditure required for a freehold sale. Many of the Sanctuary School boys followed him to Beeston and the Sanctuary School closed in 1956.
Thomas Tapping and his wife ran Beeston from 1948 until 1958 when, no longer a fit man, he decided to put the school on the market. In 1959 the ‘for sale’ notice in the Times Educational Supplement caught the eye of Martin Swindells. The majority of prep. schools in those days were privately owned and buying was an expensive business, but Beeston was for sale ‘leasehold’ and therefore an interesting possibility. Martin Swindells and his wife, Peggy, took over the running of the school in 1960. Even before arriving, the Swindells’ objective was to turn the school into a non-profit making charitable trust but, in 1960, Beeston did not meet the necessary criteria. At that time, physically, the school was almost entirely undeveloped and remained essentially a country house and garden.
Following improvements to both pupil numbers and the school’s facilities, on July 17th, 1967 the school became an Incorporated Trust. However, something of far greater importance to the school happened in 1970 when Mr. Ketton-Cremer died. Having no close relations, he left Felbrigg Hall to The National Trust and tenants of the rest of the estate were given the opportunity to acquire the freehold of their property. In this way the Trust acquired Beeston Hall.
In the early 70’s the wind of liberalism was sweeping through the prep. school world and a few avant-garde IAPS schools went co-ed. In 1975 the first girl Beestonians entered the school and the first boarding places for girls were available from 1978.
In 1986 the Swindells retired and John Elder was appointed Headmaster. Under the leadership of John and his wife, Hanneke, Beeston flourished and in 1998 Beeston’s fourth Headmaster, Innes MacAskill, took over the reins. He and his wife, Sandy, continued to take Beeston forward to the point where it became one of the top prep schools in the country. In 2009 Robin Gainher, arrived at Beeston from Cranleigh Prep. Robin and his wife, Ali, quickly began to make their mark and build on the success of their predecessors across all areas of the school. In September 2016 Fred de Falbe and his wife Juliet were appointed to begin a new chapter in the school’s history.
Beeston Hall today is unrecognisable from those early days of the 60’s and the school has more than fulfilled Robert Ketton-Cremer’s wishes for its future prosperity.