Pennthorpe School was founded in 1930 at Chislehurst in Kent by Herbert Wilson Braby and his brother Sidney Gerald Braby, the second and third of four brothers; sons of a zinc merchant from Hampstead. All the brothers served in the Royal Army Medical Corps in the Great War, after which Herbert and Sidney decided to take up teaching and in 1930 founded Pennthorpe as a boys’ Preparatory School. The building they chose had previously been used as a girls kindergarten, but had originally been a house called Pennthorpe, designed by Ernest George c 1890. The house is clearly shown on an 1895 map of Chislehurst West, standing proud as one of only six houses in the road. The reason for the name remains unclear; it doesn’t appear to be a place name or a family name of the first occupiers.
The Braby bother’s chose a motto of “Non Nobis Solum Nati – Born not for ourselves alone” for Pennthorpe, which still stands today and is no less important to our current pupils than it was to the school’s founders.
Pennthorpe before the Braby brothers
Although designed as a house, Pennthorpe seems to have always been used for educational purposes. In the 1891 census the house was occupied by Florence and Augusta Pearce, sisters from Richmond in Surrey. Both are listed as ‘Schoolmistresses’ , and research indicates that they operated some sort of finishing school or domestic training establishment, with three resident female pupils aged 20, 19 and 13.
By 1911 Pennthorpe was still an educational establishment, described as a ‘Home School for Girls’ but now in the hands of Miss Albinia Arnstein from Birkenhead and Miss Louise Von Heinrig a German national from West Prussia. There were five female pupils ranging from 9 to 17 years of age.
By 1924 there was a change of ownership to Mr and Mrs Montague Eagle. Mrs Eagle was a tall, kindly woman with a pronounced stoop while Monty was nearly a head shorter, bald and wore a prince-nez attached to his person by a thin chain to a hook behind his ear! In 1928 Mrs A K Mason became the Principal of Pennthorpe and in 1929 the school is listed as a Preparatory School for Boys. This is how the school was sold to the Braby brothers in 1930.
Pennthorpe in Chislehurst
The Braby brothers were reputed to be business men rather than academics and very soon a large building went up in the garden with a smooth wooden floor, which functioned as the gymnasium. The Braby brothers evacuated the boys to Gibbons Mill near Rudgwick at the outbreak of the second world war in 1939 and the former Pennthorpe building on Mead Road was sold to the Local Authority and still continues its educational tradition today. On route to Rudgwick, Pennthorpe did set up temporarily in East Grinstead for just half a term.
The Braby’s had a family connection to Rudgwick, hence choosing it as the target for their evacuation from Chislehurst. They were grandsons of Mr James Braby (1824-1907) who was a Rudgwick benefactor and landowner, and first chairman of the parish council. Generations of Brabys were lay Rectors of the parish church. Holy Trinity Church in Rudgwick is home to the large and beautiful Braby East Window over the alter, in memory of James and Mary Ann Braby, the Braby brothers’ paternal grandparents.
Pennthorpe at Gibbon’s Mill, Rudgwick
Pennthorpe’s first home in Rudgwick, from 1939, was the Mill House, Gibbon’s Mill where it remained until 1948. At that time the school had about 30 boys, all residential, who by their own recollections seemed to greatly enjoy the experience.
“The school was set in the most lovely grounds with the fascinating Gibbon’s Mill near the river and a romantic, rather ruined cottage. The grounds were ideal for boys’ games and after tea, enjoying the benefits of the light evenings as a result of double British Summer Time, we were all allowed to play games on the front lawn. ‘Kick The Tin’ was very popular with everyone hiding in the surrounding foliage, as were fights with the Japonica apples (very hard these) messing about in the pond, climbing the numerous trees and scrumping for apples. To aid the war effort, the boys were encouraged to dig allotments, with very good results, especially a large compost heap for marrows. The football/cricket pitch had just been an ordinary field but in due time, became quite a respectable games field, and we boys were taught to mow it with an elderly ATCO mower by one of the two Headmasters Mr S Braby.
In those days, with petrol rationing, the roads had very little traffic and most of us had bicycles. We were allowed on our own to go as far as the Haven post office or occasionally, escorted by Mr H Braby, to cycle as far as Billingshurst or Horsham to spend some of our meagre pocket money and sweet coupons. In fact, food and sweets were in very short supply during the war and the diet was sparse. We had to eat a lot of things with our eyes shut and, as a result of one of the cook’s masterpieces ‘rabbit stew with pearl barley’, many of the pupils will have been able to enjoy a life of long abhorrence of that particular animal!” – A Gibbon’s Mill Pennthorpe old boy
Pennthorpe at Church Street, Rudgwick
In 1948 Pennthorpe moved to its present home in Church Street. The large house called ‘Gaskyns’, and the Gaskyns estate, had been built in 1891 for the Barker family. In 1931 they moved to Wales and sold the estate to a Mr David Jamilly. During the war years the house was used by the Canadian army as an officers’ mess and Mr Jamilly lived in Gaskyns Lodge. In 1948 he sold the house and its grounds, including what is now the Pennthorpe playing field and the area of Orchard Hill to the school. Another part of the estate was later developed into what is now Gaskyns Close.
After 40 years, one’s abiding impression of Pennthorpe is the great affection and regard we had for Mr ‘H’ and Mr ‘S’. They were the most considerate of men and particularly fine examples for us to follow. They would certainly have been delighted that their creation of Pennthorpe is being so splendidly carried on and expanded in the school we see today. – an old boy reminisced in 1991.
The founders, Mr H and Mr S Braby, retired in 1955 and were succeeded by Dennis ‘Chalky’ White who held the post until 1974. During Mr White’s time an outdoor swimming pool was built in front of the main house, the playing fields were fitted with a drainage system, new classrooms and a new dormitory were erected. During his headship the school rapidly expanded from 21 pupils in 1955 to 87 in 1974.
Memories of Pennthorpe are good, a happy but fairly crazy place in the countryside – playing in the woods, good friendships and lots of sport; too much Latin. Chalky – eccentric but gave the school its character and other masters–Plum, Tony Hubbard,Bruno, David Sillince, Speedy all with great old cars including the Vanden Plas which carried the cricket kit in the boot plus the smallest player selected!!!! Rubbish food, warm bottles of rancid milk in the summer (the contents of one made its way into Speedy’s fuel tank); being freezing cold in winter with smelly paraffin heaters. Dormitories named after castles…. – memories of Robert Howard (leaver 1960s)
Pennthorpe in more recent times
The Rev. John Spencer took over from Mr White in 1974 as Headmaster and served for 23 years. Over this long tenure he saw many changes including admitting girls in 1977, replacing old stable blocks with classrooms, building a new sports hall, netball courts and playgrounds, and opening a new computer room with 11 new computers. In 1995, Pennthorpe’s boarding facility closed and Pennthorpe became purely a day school. During Rev. Spencer’s time as Head of Pennthorpe, the school had increased its population to 206 (139 boys and 67 girls).
Mr Simon Moll was appointed Headmaster in 1996. Mr Moll oversaw the closure of Saturday school in 1997, improvements to the school driveway and car park, the new Clock Block was opened and new tiered seating was purchased to transform the Sports Hall into a theatre for school performances. The pupil numbers increased to 290.
Mr Matthew King took over Headship in 2013, followed by Mr Neil Jones in 2016. Our current Headmistress, Mrs Alexia Bolton, joined Pennthorpe in 2017 and made her mark by achieving EXCELLENT standards in the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) categories and FULLY COMPLIANT in all of the ISI regulations. The school currently has 280 pupils.