Longacre School will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2021. The school was originally founded in 1946 by Miss Ursula Fairfax-Cholmeley who was fondly known as “Chum” and her motto “A happy heart goes all the way” is still very much part of the school’s ethos.
Miss Ursula Fairfax-Cholmeley was born in Italy on the 24th October 1911. She was always happy when working with small children and in 1931 she took a Diploma Course in Theory & Practice in the Montessori method. By 1936 she had a small nursery class of her own in Chelsea. In 1940 when the bombing in World War II became severe, it was reluctantly decided to close the school in Chelsea. Lord and Lady Esme Gordon-Lennox had recently moved to Pasture Woods, Shamley Green and it was at their suggestion (their daughter Sara having been to Miss Fairfax-Cholmeley’s school in London) that the school should re-open at Shamley Green. Once she had gathered together the necessary six pupils to start the school, Miss Fairfax-Cholmeley accepted Sir Philip Gibbs’s kind offer to lend her a cottage in the grounds of his home, Dibdene, in Shamley Green. The cottage was located behind the Arbuthnot Hall and the school opened there in May 1940.
In June 1945 Miss Fairfax-Cholmeley purchased Longacre and the school moved to its current site in Hullbrook Lane in January 1946 by which time the school had increased to ten pupils. The property had been requisitioned during the war for use as a children’s hospital by Surrey County Council and had been left in a very run-down state. The house consisted of 20 rooms on three floors; seven rooms on the ground floor plus a large front hall, seven rooms with two bathrooms on the second floor and four rooms on the top floor.
The move from Dibdene to Longacre enabled the school to enlarge to 40 children, 21 of whom were boarders, plus eight staff. The ground floor rooms were used as classrooms, kitchen and dining rooms and the first floor used as dormitories, surgery, Headmistress and Matron’s quarters. The top floor was used for resident staff accommodation.
Both Chum and her husband Robert FitzGerald, who was affectionately known as “Uncle Robert”, lived at Longacre from the start. In the early years the school was so cramped that their bedroom doubled up as the office where parents were interviewed. It was not until 1966, when it was decided to become entirely a day school, that they were able to have the luxury of a private suite.
As the school expanded, additional classrooms were built in 1951. The Assembly Hall with stage was completed in September 1955, and further cedarwood chalet classrooms were added in 1957 and 1958, followed by the addition of a wooden classroom for the Kindergarten class in the mid 1960s.
Chum continued running the school up to May 1984, when at the age of 73 she suffered a severe stroke, dying in November of that year. The school, which had reached a total of 131 pupils, then became a charitable trust in 1985 through the generosity of Uncle Robert who became the founder trustee and a Governor. Uncle Robert died in 2002 at the age of 90; he and Chum are buried together at Christ Church, Shamley Green.
After Chum, Heather Clarke, who had come to teach at Longacre in 1974, took over as Headmistress in 1984. The school continued to grow under her headship, reaching 160 day pupils by the early 1990s. Heather Clarke was followed as Headmistress by Louise Prince in 1994 who in turn was succeeded by Margaret Lillyman in 1997. When Margaret Lillyman left in 2001, Dawn Martin, Longacre’s Deputy Head acted as Head until Joyce Nicol took over in in early 2002 before leaving the following year to join a larger London school. Mark Beach was appointed as Headmaster in 2003 and he oversaw the first phase of the school’s new development plan, started in 2007, which saw the opening of the Founders Building in 2008 including new classrooms for Science, Arts and Music and a new ICT suite (opened in 2011).
Mark Beach was succeeded by Alexia Bolton in April 2010 who continued to grow the pupil roll and oversaw the next phase of Longacre’s development which included the construction of a new Creative Arts and multi-purpose Sports Hall and Astroturf pitches. The Palmer Hall, named after the late Mrs Caroline Palmer who had been a pupil, parent and teacher at the school for 17 years, was formally opened by the Olympic athlete (and Longacre parent) Roger Black and Colin Jackson in July 2015.
The next phase in the school’s development plan was the replacement of the old kitchen and dining room. Work began on the new £1.5 million kitchen and dining room facilities in 2017 and was completed shortly after the appointment of Matthew Bryan as the new Headmaster in January 2018.
For further information about joining the Longacre alumni association please visit our Alumni page.
*With thanks to Michael Harding and the Shamley Green History Society.
- “A Happy Heart Goes All the Way” – Memories of Longacre School published privately by Robert FitzGerald in 1997.