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A selection of photographs and postcards of a Surrey country town
 
Prior's Field School, Compton


Despite the captions on both these postcards, Prior's Field School is in Compton, not Godalming. It is sited on the ridge above the main village, some distance from the village centre. However, like other properties along Priorsfield Road it received its letters through Godalming rather than Guildford[1]. Old maps show that the school, originally intended as a house, was built on a field to the south of Prior's Wood. It was designed by the Arts and Crafts style architect Charles Francis Annesley Voysey. The structure was built round a central courtyard. The first image shows the front of the school in about 1910-12.

The property was purchased by Leonard Huxley, then an Assistant Classics Master at Charterhouse School, and his wife Julia Frances opened a school for girls on the premises in January 1902.

Mrs. Huxley was a member of the Arnold family. Her grandfather, Thomas (1795–1842), had been the head of Rugby School and was considered to be a great educational reformer, her uncle was the poet Matthew Arnold whilst her father Thomas (1823–1900) became a professor of English at University College, Dublin[2]. Julia was born in Edgbaston in 1862, the last but one child of Thomas and his wife Julia (nee Sorrell). The family were to move to Oxford and in 1871 were to be found at Laleham Villa, Banbury Road. Julia attended Oxford High School for Girls and in October 1880 Somerville Hall at Oxford announced that she had been elected to "the Clothworkers' Company exhibition ... of the value of £35 a year, and tenable for three years"[3]. She was amongst the earliest of the college's students and took a first in English Literature in 1882[2]. Her future husband was at Balliol at about the same time[4].

The Huxley's were married on 16 Apr 1885 at SS. Philip and James Church in Oxford[5]; Leonard was already teaching at Charterhouse and they initially lived in one of the newly built houses "on the fringe" of the school in Peperharow Road[6]. It was called Laleham[7]. Leonard then built another house called Laleham[8] on Frith Hill, close to Hillside School and the Manor House. This second Laleham was to become a small Charterhouse boarding house, with Rev. J. Arnan Tait as the first housemaster, in 1904[6]. The reason so many of Julia's homes were called Laleham was because her grandfather had lived there and her father had been born there.


Looking east across the grounds towards the main school building. We can see the
distinctive double row of dormer windows set in the tiled roof
and the larger windows on the ground floor.
The group of trees in the foreground, where the pupils are sitting,
can be seen on the Ordnance Survey Maps of 1934 and 1968.


"Priorsfield was founded as a place of intellectual opportunity and freedom of thought"[9]. Before her untimely death at the age of 45 Julia Huxley had gained enormous respect in the teaching profession. She passed away at "Priorscroft" on 29 Nov 1908[10], and was survived by her husband, 2 sons and a daughter. Following her cremation at Brookwood Cemetery a short service was held at the Watts Cemetery Chapel in Compton and her ashes were interred close to the burial place of G. F. Watts, the eminent Victorian painter. The mourners walked from Prior's Field to the Watts Chapel. Amongst the attendees were family members, Mrs Burton Brown, the school staff and over 40 of the senior girls, as well as a number of Charterhouse masters[11].


Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 2 December 1908

"In the last years her life Mrs. Huxley had won an important place in the world of education. The school at Priorsfield, which was planned, founded, and carried on by her (latterly with the help of her partner, Mrs. Burton Brown) is less than seven years old; but already it ranks amongst the most successful of girls' schools in England. Mrs. Huxley had evidently inherited from her grandfather a gift for teaching and organisation, and the surprising success of her school was due in the first place to this, and in the next to her delightful personality".


Clifton and Redland Free Press, 4 December 1908

"Mrs. Huxley's place in the world of education will be hard to fill. When her school opened in 1902 it boasted one boarder and five day girls ; now it numbers eighty boarders".


Ethel Ann Burton Brown had, following her husband's retirement, been in partnership with Julia Huxley before the latter died[9] and she continued the school's success. In 1911, then aged 42, she was the sole headmistress. Several of the pupils were born overseas, the youngest boarder was 12 years old, there were 4 live-in teachers, two matrons, a children's nurse and various female servants in residence as well as a male butler and Mrs Burton Brown's 8 year old sons (twins?) who had been born in Rome[12]. Mrs. Burton Brown was headmistress of Prior's Field for 19 years in total. She had been a student at Cambridge where she took high honours, and lived in Rome before moving to Godalming[13]. Her daughter Beatrice (1892-1964) was the school's head girl in 1910, then went to Newnham College, Cambridge[12], and succeeded her mother as headmistress in 1927[9].

Prior's Field has continued to expand and 1993 saw the opening of a new music school and classroom complex[14]. Other alterations have been completed since then, including building a house for the headmistress within the grounds.


1. "Priorsfield, Godalming". Alfred Challen, Publisher, Godalming. Posted Feb 1913
2. "Prior's Field, Godalming". Published by Lofthouse, Crosbie & Co., Hampton Hill, Middx. Printed in Great Britain. British Manufacture. Unused.
Postcards in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.

References:

[1] Kelly's Directory 1913 and Kelly's Directory 1924.

[2] There is a good deal more about the Arnold and Huxley families in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which is now available to search on line.

[3] Announced in the "Morning Post" of 23 October 1880 and numerous other newspapers.

[4] The 1881 census shows Leonard as an Undergraduate at Balliol, Oxford.

[5] "Oxford Journal", 25 April 1885. "Julia Frances Arnold, third daughter of Thomas Arnold, M.A., Fellow of the the Royal University of Ireland ... with Mr. Huxley, eldest son of Professor Huxley of London". Amongst the list of wedding presents were several from Charterhouse staff and the Haig Brown family.

[6] Veale, W (1957) "From a New Angle. Reminiscences of Charterhouse 1880-1945". P & G. Wells, Ltd., Winchester.

[7] The 1891 shows Leonard and Julia Huxley living at Laleham on Peperharow Road with sons Julian and Noel Trevenen.

[8] The Huxleys, with daughter Margaret and sons Noel T and Aldous, were at the second Laleham in 1901. The two youngest children were born in Godalming. Leonard was both a Schoolmaster and author by this time.

[9] "The Times", 26 Oct, 1976. Obituary of Beatrice R Burton-Brown.

[10] "Rugby Advertiser", 5 December 1908 and National Probate Calendars. The name of the property where she died is from The Watts Chapel Records.

[11] "Clifton Society", 10 December 1908. Other members of the family were interred at the Watts Chapel: Aldous, Julian, Leonard, Noel, Aldous's wife Maria and Leonard's second wife Rosalind.

[12] 1911 Census for England & Wales. The school's entry can be found on FindMyPast.

[13] "West Sussex Gazette", 31 March 1927. Mrs. Burton Brown was also cremated at Woking, following a funeral service at Compton. Ethel Anne, Beatrice and Theodore Burton-Brown are all interred at Watts Cemetery Chapel.

[14] "Staines & Ashford News" 23 Sept 1993.




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