Vanbrugh Castle School

Cuttings from 1966

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Kentish Independent 22nd April 1966


THIS photograph shows a boy from Vanbrugh Castle, the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund's school at Blackheath, for sons of airmen who have died, tackling a climb on rocks at the Bowles Mountaineering Gymnasium, near Tunbridge Wells.

The Vanbrugh Castle school climbing team has been awarded by the Gymnasium, for the second year running, the Schools Trophy for the " best disciplined prep school of the year."

One of the climbs at the Bowles Mountaineering Gymnas­ium has been named Vanbrugh Ridge, in honour of the boys.

The headmaster, Mr. John Corner, believes that the climb­ing exercises teach the boys self-reliance and leadership qualities.

Kentish Independent September 1966

Godfrey Evans obliges three boys from Vanbrugh Castle School Blackheath - Brian Tykiff, John Elliott and Paul McCann. The autograph of the famous Kent and England cricketer was much sought after.

Cricket At Blackheath

It was an afternoon for the cricket connoisseur at the Rectory Field, Blackheath on Sunday, when the International Cavaliers played a West Indies side in the last match of the season in the B.B.C. 2 television series.

The matches were started last season after the Cavaliers club had been formed to play for charity, and since then the series has been partly sponsored by the B.B.C. Sunday's game was in aid of the Greenwich Hospital and the Richard Dimbleby Cancer Fund.

At the end of the match the awards for best performances were made, the judge being Sir Learie Constantine former West Indies Test star and commentator during the series. Presentations were made by Mr. Kenneth Adam of the BBC.

The matches were played with each side batting for 40 overs and no bowler was allowed more than nine overs. A 100 guinea purse was presented to the winning side in each match.

The West Indies, side without many of their star players, were beaten by 21 runs in Sunday's match. But nobody minded, least of all skipper Garfield Sobers who received a tremendous ovation from the crowd.

The Cavaliers, who batted first and made 191 for 9, were captained by Denis Compton, a founder member of the Cavaliers.

The Mercury May 27 1966


IT'S hard on London schoolboys. Skyscraper blocks of flats, postage stamp-sized gardens and parks with their forbidding notices leave no room for the adventuresome streak in their natures.

At home, lack of space limits high spirits to a quiet game of tiddly-winks. And at school . . . well, you can't go exploring in a space age construction of mainly glass.

So where do they unleash all that excess energy ? On occasional trips to the country ? Or on the streets where boredom usually expresses itself in unsavory ways.

It's a problem, as any youngster cooped up in a top-floor flat will soon confirm.

That is why the boys who live in the castle near Greenwich Park have every reason to count themselves lucky.

Nearly 60 of them live in Vanbrugh Castle, 249 years old and a boys' dream right down to the last narrow corridor.


Every room has a character all of its own, and the castle, with its spiralled staircase and great oak doors, spells adventure for every one of its young inhabitants.

But the boys, all aged between 8 and 13, are grateful for their castle home for a different reason.

For all these boys are fatherless, and their prep school education is provided by the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, who own the school.

The building was given to the Fund in 1921 by the late Mr. Alexander Duckham, the oil magnate, for the education of airmen's sons as a memorial to his daughter Dinah, who died at the age of 18 months.

Mr. Duckham stipulated that the castle, built in 1717 by Sir John Vanbrugh, the architect and dramatist should be be used to educate only the children of non-commissioned RAF officers.

Today the school is administered as a fee-paying boarding school by the fund for the boys who are selected by the Benevolent Fund's education committee.

The boys are happy in the big-family atmosphere which has grown up in the school, and no special mention is ever made of their fathers.


But the subject is by no means taboo. If a few boys brag about their fathers no one looks for any deep psychological reason. It is thought best to treat the situation as completely normal, which is how the boys react to it.

After they have been approved by the Fund, each candidate is given an interview, and, depending on that, his medical fitness and "reasonable scholastic ability", the boy is given the next vacancy.

While at the Castle the boys undergo the normal education for boys of their age in small classes. The head-master Mr. John Corner runs the school on fairly strict discipline lines in the belief that you can't start to educate a boy academically until his character has been trained.


Evidence of this type of schooling and the family atmosphere in which it is done, is apparent to any visitors in the boys' impeccable manners, their obvious happiness, and the way in which they treat their home-from-home with respect.

For instance, their library, a gift from the Variety Club of Great Britain - as was the younger children's playground - is kept neat and tidy by the boys.

Because it was so beautifully decorated they appreciate it, and any boy tempted to scratch or mark the furniture wilfully would probably be quickly put off the idea by his school friends without the intervention of authority.

Other gifts, of which the school has many, include a games room presented by Greenwich Round Table and the Wakefield Wing, given to the Fund by Lord Wakefield in 1939.

At 13 the boys take their common entrance examination and are then usually transferred to one of two boarding schools, Kingham Hill in Oxfordshire or Reed's School in Cobham, Surrey.

Vanbrugh Castle provides regular physical training, cricket, football, athletics and swimming, a Wolf Cub pack and an excellent school band, trained by Mr. Paddy Purcell, conductor of the London Military Band.

The band often plays to the public and provides several members of the London Youth Band.


The boy's day is certainly a busy one. After lessons there is time for homework and hobbies. Meals in the old dining hall hardly resemble school dinners at all.

The one I had when I visited the school - and it was the same as the pupils - was home-cooking at its best.

After lunch the boys spend an hour lying down on their beds in light, airy dormitories, and during the weekend sports take up a lot of time.

Then there is the sprawling garden to play in, three pet ducks to feed, and television if there's time to spare.

Visiting days is once a term, and, typical of Mr. Corner's interest in his boys, those without visitors are treated to a film show and a bumper tea to make things fair.

But this has been so successful that the " lucky " boys who have visitors end up being just a little bit envious of those without.


During holiday times the boys must go home to their mothers, but even then, Mr. Corner, who has been at the school for 10 years, has trouble in finding time to relax. His job, he says, keeps him busy seven days a week.

But he stressed : " I'm no substitute father. Just fatherly".

The porcelain plaque, pictured at the top of the page, was given to Vanbrugh Castle school by an anonymous donor three months ago. It was recently unveiled bv Air Chief Marshal Saunders. He is pictured here with a group of the pupils after the ceremony.

Blackheath Reporter 1966

They could have been the forqotten ones, but thanks to the RAF Benevolent Fund they're ...


Fifty-seven mischievous and bouncy little boys greeted me for lunch when I visited Vanbrugh Castle School and I was soon gorging boiled cabbage, shepherd's pie, fruit and custard along with chirpy young faces which answered to nicknames like "Pinky", "Mouse'', and "Jelly".

WITH such a normal and happy atmosphere it was hard to realise that these boys of prep school age came from broken homes in which problems emerged when fathers were killed serving as R.A.F. airmen. In many cases, the widowed mothers, left without means, had problems themselves adjusting to a working life, perhaps marrying again and having little time to spare for their kids. These children, through the assistance of the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund, are getting a full preparatory school education away from home in the traditional boarding school style.

"Boarding school education is not a 'must' simply for the privileged but a necessity for all", says headmaster Mr. J. H. Corner. "A school like this provides discipline and wards off delinquency when they grow older."

Yet beside the discipline, there is obviously great sympathy, interest, and a real effort to make the children feel they are really wanted. One boy's nervous problems, for example, were soon solved when Mr. Corner made the little chap his personal "fag". Over lunch, served most professionally by the boys, I found myself besieged by bubble and laughter. One boy, Paul, 13, told me of his visits to Germany, pronouncing those long words with great fluency. "Pinkey" talked about aeroplanes, "Mouse" had lots to say about various zoos, and his home in Penzance.

The boys find much at the school to interest and stimulate them. They come from all parts of the Commonwealth — from Belfast to Pakistan. The arts are encouraged as an alternative to games and no boy is pushed into an activity which is obviously against his nature. One snag though — and the boys are always willing to voice it loudly. There are not enough boys at the school for it to compete on much of a scale with other schools.

by Olga Maitland

The first beginnings of a school orchestra came when Mr. Corner discovered a broken violin in an attic. From this meagre start, he was inspired to scrounge £400 to buy woodwind and brass instruments. Now under the enthusiastic baton of Mr. Paddy Purcell, conductor of the London Military Band, they have gone from strength to strength. To the outsider it may look a little comical to watch these serious little faces struggling with a bassoon that touches the floor and a horn which they can barely hold in their arms. "The boys have struggled along gallantly to turn out a proficient orchestra", says Mr. Purcell, "and I am very proud of them."

Now they are getting a schedule of annual engagements. Each year the orchestra visits the Star and Garter Home for Disabled Servicemen. Already they have played to members of the Royal family. Princess Margaret applauded them when she and Lord Snowdon heard them play at the opening of the new Youth Club in the Deptford Parish Church Crypt. They have also played for Princess Marina when, as Chairman of the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund, she visited the school five years ago.

The stage, too, plays an important role in the children's education and they like to revel in the world of fantasy and drama. The staff supervise the production of a different Nativity Play each year. The boys also compete for a silver trophy given for the best play scripted and produced. There is generally a good deal of blood and thunder on these occasions. Yet there have been times when a socially conscious theme is presented, like for instance, "The Cure of the Problem Child", which was written and directed by a boy of 13!

There are many people who have taken an interest in the school from outside. Odiham R.A.F. Station, for example, have a very close association. Every year they invite the boys down for a day on the station when they have the opportunity to swarm all over the aircraft before sitting down to a grand feast. To their wonderment and delight the boys exclaim, "You mean to say we can have anything we like?" Other R.A.F. Stations have also taken them under their wing. The Officers of the R.A.F. Station at Badweilerhof in Germany last year invited six boys over for two weeks holiday of sightseeing whilst the boys stayed with the married officers' families. Back home interest does not rest only with the R.A.F.

Every Christmas the United States Air Attache comes down to Vanbrugh Castle with presents from Santa Claus (Michigan style). In return for their kindness the boys give a musical and choral show which is followed by a huge feast culminating with enormous portions of giant plum puddings donated by the Australian Government.

But life at Vanbrugh Castle is not all play. The boys work hard at their lessons and receive a good basic grounding from a permanent staff of four and several outsiders in subjects ranging from the sciences to weaving. Their splendid library was built up from donations from the Variety Club and the Greenwich Round Table presented the large and much-used indoor games room.

Turrets, winding staircases and a big garden full of trees and shrubbery gives the kids ample opportunity to relax and run around. The buildings are warm and bright. Gay with print curtains, modern furniture and fresh paint, it is all certainly a far cry from the severe schools of Dickensian times.

Vanbrugh Castle was built by Sir John Vanbrugh the architect and dramatist in 1717, but the family died out and the property was eventually taken over by the late Mr. Alexander Duckham, who, in memory of the death of his 18-month-old daughter Dinah donated the property to the Fund in 1921. The premises were augmented by the gift of the neighbouring house, the Wakefield wing, by the late Viscount Wakefield in 1939.