Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Downs Malvern is an independent co-educational preparatory school in the United Kingdom, founded in 1900. It is located in Colwall in the County of Herefordshire, on the western slopes of the Malvern Hills.


The Downs Malvern comprises a nursery, kindergarten, pre-prep, and preparatory school; the preparatory school takes both day students and boarders. It is the preparatory school for Malvern College. One distinctive feature of the school is its miniature-gauge railway, the Downs Light Railway, which begun in 1925. Complete with tunnels and station, it is the world's oldest private miniature railway.

History of the Downs

The Downs Malvern was founded in 1900 by Herbert Jones, who had been educated in Cambridge and was headmaster at the Leighton Park School when he and his wife Ethel Jones founded the Downs Malvern as a preparatory school for boys. It opened with four pupils, and slowly expanded, with 40 pupils in 1918.

In 1920 the Jones left and were succeeded by his second master, Geoffrey Hoyland, who had married into the Cadbury family and used the family's wealth to expand and improve the school during his tenure as headmaster. Hoyland built new buildings, introduced student self-government and an innovative curriculum with an emphasis on science and the arts. Under his supervision, the pupils built and maintained a miniature railway, the only one in any English school at the time, which still survives to this day. Among the notable masters he hired were Maurice Feild, who taught painting to a number of notable English artists, including Lawrence Gowing, W. H. Auden and others.

Frazer Hoyland succeeded his brother Geoffrey as headmaster in 1940. He increased the school's emphasis on music and drama.

Shortly after the war the poet James Kirkup taught at the school for four terms, and wrote his first collection there. Julius Harrison composed a cantata and sonata for the school's Jubilee in 1950.

William Vaughan Berkley became headmaster in 1952, and remained until 1969. One of his most notable appointments, in 1957, was the actor Anthony Corfield as English master, who sustained an active program in drama for more than thirty years.

James Brown, who had been assistant head to Berkley, became headmaster in 1969; he wrote the history of the school, The First Five (meaning first five headmasters), published in 1988.

James Brown was succeeded as headmaster by Christopher Syers-Gibson, D H M Dalrymple, Ian Murphy, Andrew Auster, Mrs. J. Griggs, and, in 1999, Christopher Black.

In the late twentieth century the school became coeducational and added a nursery, kindergarten, and pre-prep school to the original preparatory school.

Alastair Ramsay was then headmaster and in 2008, the school merged with Malvern College prep school, on The Downs' existing site.[1]

In September 2009 Alastair S Cook became headmaster.

W. H. Auden at the Downs

The poet W. H. Auden spent three years teaching English at the Downs Malvern (1932â€"1935; he returned for the summer term in 1937 when the English master was away). He was loved as one of the more extravagant and eccentric teachers, who supplemented his teaching of English by teaching pupils how to make spitballs stick to the ceiling.

He helped to found the school magazine The Badger in 1933, and his contributions to it included poems about school personalities; he also contributed to it occasionally after he left the school. In 1935 he wrote, composed, and organized a musical "revue" in which the entire school took part; he reused some of the lyrics in his play The Dog Beneath the Skin. In 1937 he wrote a preface to the catalogue of an exhibition in a London gallery of paintings by present and former members of the school. Auden lived at the school in a cottage that he named "Lawrence Villa" (one of his allusions to D. H. Lawrence); during the summer term he took his bed out to the lawn; thus the opening line of his poem "Out on the lawn I lie in bed".

Benjamin Britten, Hedli Anderson and William Coldstream visited Auden at the school several times to work on Auden, Britten and Coldstream's collaboration for the G.P.O. Film Unit and to perform music and teach art to the pupils.

Among the poems that Auden wrote at the Downs were "Hearing of harvests"; his evocation of his "Vision of Agape" in June 1933, "Out on the lawn I lie in bed" (later dedicated to Geoffrey Hoyland); "Our hunting fathers"; "Look, stranger"; and, during his return in 1937, the despairing "Schoolchildren". He was particularly taken with one of his pupils, Michael Yates, with whom he fell in love for some years and later maintained a lifelong friendship.

The epigraph to Auden's posthumously published play The Chase (written in 1935) was a poem by a Downs pupil, John Bowes, that had been mocked by the other pupils in one of Auden's classes; Auden rebuked them by saying that the poem was not only satisfactory but that he would use it in his next book. Bowes (later second master at Bryanston School) and Auden corresponded in later years, and Auden stayed with Bowes and his wife in Cheltenham in 1972.

Former pupils

  • Percy Browne, politician and business man
  • Lawrence Gowing, painter
  • Alan Hodgkin, neuroscientist and Nobel laureate
  • Richard Mason, novelist
  • Drummond Hoyle Matthews, (1931â€"1997), geologist and marine geophysicist
  • Frederick Sanger (1918-2013), biochemist and the fourth person to become a double Nobel Laureate
  • A. J. P. Taylor, notable historian
  • Michael Yates, television designer
  • Will Merrick, actor


  • Jim Brown, The First Five: The Story of a School (1988)
  1. ^ The Jones were Quakers. They moved in 1920 from the Downs Malvern to Geneva, Switzerland, with the objective to create a Quaker Embassy. They left Geneva in 1923. See J. Ormerod Greenwood Quaker encounters (Vol.3 p.247) and History and Biography Project : “Let Their Lives Speak” : A Resource Book (Switzerland Yearly Meeting, 2005).

External links

  • School website
  • The Downs Light Railway Trust

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