Dulwich might sound a strange name for a school in Kent. But we’re not afraid to do things differently and stand out from the crowd. After all, we’ve been doing it since 1938.
In the autumn of 1938, John Leakey – the Headmaster of Dulwich College Prep in London – was preparing plans for an emergency evacuation.
Initially, his camp consisted of just six wooden huts, a few bell tents, and a marquee, assembled in the orchard at Coursehorn, on land owned by Leakey’s father-in-law. On 1st September 1939, just one year later, the first train set off from West Dulwich carrying 135 schoolboys, aged 5-13, to Cranbrook.
With the help of some parents, the camp at Coursehorn in Cranbrook began to grow, as lorry after lorry arrived carrying desks, books, beds, and the odd piano.
Soon after, electricity and a tannoy system were installed, and the camp began to resemble a school.
By 1940, the large Oast House had even been converted into a recreation room, where the boys could play billiards and ping pong when they were not at study.
Quite how pioneering John Leakey was in this regard cannot be understated. As The Kentish Express reported in 1940:
“The only School Evacuation Camp at present fully established and working in England is to be found in the rural district of the Weald at Coursehorn, Cranbrook, where two hundred boys of Dulwich College Preparatory School have an encampment on the most modern and up-to-date lines.”
Before the war was over, more than 500 high explosive bombs, and thousands of incendiary bombs, had fallen on Dulwich – with around 90% of houses suffering damage, much of it critical.
As the war progressed, the danger to the boys – even in the relative safety of Cranbrook – meant that the school had to move again, this time to the Royal Oak Hotel in Betws-y-Coed, North Wales. In their absence, British troops took up residence at Coursehorn, in preparation for D-Day.
The boys continued their education in North Wales until 1945. After the war, they were permitted to return to Coursehorn to resume their schooling. To begin with, the school housed 50 day boys, mostly sons of local farmers, and 40 junior boarders, who then continued their studies at the newly acquired Brightlands in Dulwich.
From these arduous and uncertain beginnings, the school went from strength to strength – becoming one of the most successful prep schools in the country. And by the 1970s it had become one of the first co-ed prep schools in the county.
Today, on the same site in Cranbrook, we continue that proud tradition of progress and resilience. And although our facilities now bear little resemblance to our rudimentary beginnings, we still do the odd bit of camping…