St Stephen’s School, A Skeletal History

During Victorian times the Church of England pioneered the building of schools for those who could not afford the fees of independent schools. The school was built during this time, founded in 1840s, ‘for the poor and manufacturing classes of Beacon Hill’, says its trust deed. The church was built at the same time, and the two institutions have been deeply connected ever since. The Rector of the church, and the churchwardens, were to be the trustees of the school - and the same is still true today.
 
In 1920 a hall was built on the site for the church to use as a parish facility. The school, desiring VA status, needed it in order to fulfil the criteria. The church sold it to the school for half price (bargain!). A parishioner, Joan Cottrell, who died aged 99 in 2011 having lived her whole life in Richmond Place and Summerfield Road, remembers having to take in a penny a week in order to save for the hall. In those days the people who lived around the green, called ‘Brinkers’ were allowed to graze their sheep on what was then ‘common land’. (The term ‘Brinkers’ comes from them being on the brink of Mt Beacon, and was a derogatory term by those at the other end of Richmond Place, who considered themselves decidedly superior…)
 
During the war there were several young men, former pupils of St Stephen’s School, who gave their lives for their country. We celebrated and remembered them last Remembrance Day.
 
During the 1980s the numbers at the school were far in excess of the space needed to accommodate them.  The Rectory was used as an extra classroom. I have married couples where one of them remembers sitting in what is now our dining room for arithmetic (aka numeracy). There was a gate in the fence between the playground and our garden for easy access. I have to admit that I have used this on several occasions.
 
Just before Mr Mountstephen arrived in 2005 the school underwent expansion and improvement to be the building it is today, including the leveling of the playing fields in 2009.
 
Throughout the history of the school, Christian values of love, compassion and justice have always been central to its ethos. 
 
Revd. Philip Hawthorn

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