Vanbrugh Castle School

Times Educational Supplement

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The Times Educational Supplement Friday October 17 1958


On Sunday the reconsecration of the Church of Saint Clement Danes, the Royal Air Force Church in the Strand, will take place in the presence of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and other members of the royal family. The choirboys will be from the Vanbrugh Castle School, Blackheath.
That the choir of a church which is now the memorial to the men of the Royal Air Force who were killed in the war should be formed from the boys of this school is sadly fitting, for Vanbrugh Castle School is for the orphans of the Royal Air Force. The sons of the dead will sing in their memory.

Physical training on the lawn

The running of the school is one of the many educational activities of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. The fund provides for more than 2.000 children whose fathers died in the Royal Air Force service. Vanbrugh Castle is the only school run directly by the fund. It was founded in 1920 when the property was presented to the fund by the late Mr. Alfred Duckham, and enlarged in 1939 with the gift of a neighbouring house, now the Wakefield Wing, from the late Viscount Wakefield.


When your Correspondent visited the school on a fine day last week, the sight of the school rising amid the trees of the park, gave him a slight but agreeable shock.
It is an extraordinary building; it was built by Sir John Vanbrugh, the architect of Blenheim Palace, an odd contraption of romantic medievalism, with Venetian windows of the period surmounted by a machicolated parapet and chimney-stacks that look like the towers of a medieval castle.

It would be difficult to imagine anything further removed from the glassy, stream-lined ideals of contemporary school architecture, or anything more likely, as the headmaster Mr. J. H. Corner, M.A. said to your Correspondent, to appeal to the imagination of small boys.

A class in progress


Mr. Corner has 51 boys. After a reorganization now taking place they will all be aged from eight to 13. The smallness of the school enables Mr. Corner and his staff of three (one of whom is a graduate) to give very close attention to the boys as individuals, which is particularly necessary considering that they are without fathers. Your Correspondent had an example of this during lunch, which he had with the boys, when Mr. Corner pointed out to him a boy well known for his enormous appetite. Sometimes he had as many as five helpings and Mr. Corner's attempts to curb him by limiting him to two helpings had been thwarted by the cook, who now gave him a second helping large enough to make up for the others he would miss.

All the boys seem to play a musical instrument

The remarkable academic results obtained by such close attention are shown by the 65 per cent, grammar school passes obtained by the boys in the 11-plus examination this year.

Choir practice in St. Clement Danes

Such success is not obtained by any undue concentration on the academic side. The main subjects before the 11-plus are English and Mathematics: after it the boys begin French and have two hours a week General science teaching from a master at the local grammar school.
A science laboratory is being built at the moment. But the chief thing that struck your Correspondent about the school was music. Not only is there the choir which will sing at St. Clement Danes, but almost every boy seems to play a musical instrument. For this flourishing of music Mr. Corner is responsible.
When he arrived three years ago there was little music. He thought of it as some substitute for sport, for the school is too small for games to be easily organized—though when the boys do go out into the field they usually succeed in beating schools sometimes 10 times the size of their own.
The tradition of the Royal Air Force is strong in the school, though for obvious reasons Mr. Corner does not press his boys to enter the service. The boys who sat on either side of your Correspondent during lunch both had the firm intention of going to Cranwell. It is a pity that even within the Royal Air Force few even know of the schools’ existence. Mr Corner said that only one mother had known of it before the fund had suggested it to her for her son. The Vanbrugh Castle choir singing in St. Clement Danes will give the school a deserved publicity, both within the Royal Air Force and among the general public.

The school from Greenwich Park