Gone but not forgotten… Westerleigh School – Derelict in the UK

Westerleigh School/St Leonards College

There was a tremendous response to the old pictures we published a couple of weeks ago of St Leonards Congregational Church so we have dipped in to the Facebook site Derelict in the UK (https://www.facebook.com/DerelictintheUKOfficial/) once again to bring you these photographs of the now demolished Westerleigh School in Hollington Park Road.

The familiar frontage to the school.

Originally a manor house built in the early 1800s, the school was founded in 1906 and occupied a site that extended to some ten acres. The private school, in its heyday, catered for 360 pupils and employed more than 40 teachers.

Westerleigh saw many thousands of pupils pass through its doors, including world motor racing champion James Hunt and many distinguished figures from World War II, as well as Richard Mason, the last person reported to be eaten by cannibals in South America.

St Leonards College, situated on the same site, was founded in 1994 and achieved top ranking in Sussex for five years in GCSE grades A to C. Pitter-Patter Nursery and creche was also part of the complex.

The whole campus closed in the summer of 2004 due to financial difficulties.

These photographs were taken in 2015 before the demolition work began.

How many hungry mouths had passed through these doors over the years?

Do you have memories of Westerleigh School? Tell us about them in the comment section below.

27 thoughts on “Gone but not forgotten… Westerleigh School – Derelict in the UK

  1. My son James was at Westerleigh School going from his
    Nursery to his first primary school.

    We were both very sad when it closed.

  2. My daughter started there when she was 12 due to Broomham closing, she spent 4 very happy years there and did extremely well in her GCSE’s

  3. I went there and remember that hall
    In the photo where I spent most breaks writing out the list of mmm (manners makers man) in capital letters (I objected because I was female). This was always under the servere surveillance of Mr Wheeler. I have very fond memories of his brother, Mr Dick… at a young age I could feel his sweet demeanor. The dinner ladies looked after us well… the teacher who substituted step up With ‘close your mouth’, her name is on the top of my tongue… she has the room next to the Mmm room.. Mr Porter, my form teacher-a distanced, but amusing man… the lovely English teacher… again a name will
    Come to my head later… last
    But not least… Bing or mr Channing-Wright (often wrong in his approach) I named him
    Bad apple
    Due to a large mark on his head and it stuck
    For years (the name, I
    The students in my time (1978/80) were Stephen G, Sara (my fellow female
    Footballer (a short career) Mark B (in class with my younger brother)

    1. It was interresting to read you comments, I was at Westerleigh in the 50’s 54-58 when it was a small boys prep school. As my parents lived in the middle east I only went home in the summer holidays, the others I spent at the school with a couple of other boys and we were part of the wheeler family for Christmas and easter, alot of fun was had. In those day the school was mainly surrounded by fields so alot of exploring. every week we all had to sit down an write a letter home, in my case on a blue folding airmail letter.
      one other boy at about that time was James Hunt the racing driver.
      In a room below the gym we had a large hornby model raiway which i think belonged to the headmaster Mr Wheeler.
      There are obviosly lots of other memories from my time there.

  4. I didn’t go to this school but grew up in Hollington Park Road in the ‘ 60s and remember, as a child, all the grey uniformed children coming out of school at the end of the day – it might have been all boys. Fond memories. Sad to see it’s demise.

  5. I was at Westerleigh from 1969 to 71. Compared to awful stories from other boarding schools of that era I remember only good things and happy days. What I admire looking back is that every boy was given the chance to be in the school teams and get on the coach even though looking back I was rubbish at sport. The teachers were decent people. The food was really poor. Grey stale bread and odd -tasting butter that aged 9 I did not know was rancid but every weekday wooden trays of fresh doughnuts or sticky buns at teatime. Shame its gone but from a bygone age like the Manners Market Man that we copied from a wooden plaque on the wall as punishments. 13 rules of good manners which might be seen as sexist now.

    1. I was there September 21 1966 to July 1968.
      Remember Mr Dick ( History and a WW 1 shrapnel limp) , it was a radish on the stumps in the nets. Also Mr Channing Wright ( German and maths and a fan of silent movies. Mr Robins was English and Mr Stewart was Latin, Jimmy Wheeler French of course.
      I can vouch that I remember Pyrgos 2 -Martin was indeed called out of the dorm in his pygamas to be caned. He was Very good at sport, Lions House, I was Antelopes, he was centre forward in the soccer team. Tigers and Panthers were the others. Four Hunt brothers, all of whom became very successful and all of whom sadly I believe may have predeceased us all. It was a long time ago.
      British bulldogs on the lawn , the outdoor pool filled in the last week of term ready for Jimmy’s summer holidays.
      I was brilliant at sport at Westerleigh, first in every event on sports day in 1967 and 1968, I still have all the little red ribbons. peaked too soon I’ve been rubbish ever since like Richard T my brother.
      I have the school photo from 1968 and can remember nearly every boy – must say something about best days of your life.
      Mrs Stokes the matron was kind.

      1. Sorry just as post script for those of you who didn’t like the food.
        I still have the invoice for the school fees Christmas Term 1966 – all inclusive full board and tuition ……..£97 and 10 shillings or about £1 a day.

  6. I was at the school for 2 years in the early 1970s. These were good years and I remember the Wheelers very fondly.
    Very sad that the school is no more.

  7. Mmm..yes I was there. Colonel Frith was the maths teacher and had fought in the Boeer war… Had us all standing at attention when he came in… Piano tutor rather too enthusiastic in inviting children up to his room… Mr Edwards teaching cricket.. etc..etc… Actually a very nice little school…but unfortunately I wasnt very good at anything other than sports…. always seemed bottom of the class and have suffered from it. They had a gorgeous matron though and I expect most folk were doing their best. Thank heavens, just before I got there, prefects of 13 years old had been banned from caning the juniors… Lucky I suppose to go there… Really didn’t understand any of it. Message to Platt… Humble apologies…I had no idea what I was doing.

  8. I was at Westerleigh between 1965-71 same time, for a period at least, as Richard T, but without your surname Richard, forgive me, I do not recall you. Just to be clear the name of the list of manners Jim Wheeler would make us write out. Is called “Manners Maketh Man” I should know as I feel he invented it for me! He even had me writing it out in French and Latin, sadly neither do me very good when it came to exams in those subjects.. Like one of the former pupils wrote about living in the Middle East, our parents, I had two brothers at the school, lived and worked in Turkey. The Wheelers were always kind and considerate in this regard although it did not stop me from feel the whip of Jim’s friend Mr Cane. The names of the teachers came flooding back as I read them and of course particularly Mr Dick who as a keen cricketer himself and 1st XI coach would have us bowling at a single stump with a strawberry perched on top as a reward for e hitting the wicket. Good memories, good people and a great launching pad for things to come.

    1. I have covid presently so found myself searching this stuff again. MMM of course, mine was a predictive text error. I was friends with your little brother Mark. I think he came to lunch with my parents at Battle and we pooled our sweets into a big bag and hid it in an airing cupboard. They disappeared, I hope Mark ate them!
      From some of the experiences of others on here either the school cleaned up its act by 1969 or I was lucky. Mr and Mrs Dick were kinder for sure.

    2. I think we overlapped a few years although I mainly remember your older brother Michael?). A few years ago I came across someone at a flea market who had cleared various bric a brac (apparently with the blessing of the Wheelers) so I bought the sign from the end of the drive and a pile of cricket score books… I was very pleased to find a few 2nd XI matches I played in

  9. I was at Westerleigh from 1959 to 1964, and have generally happy memories of my time there. There was a scholarship board listing those who obtained scholarships to secondary school and I wonder if that was preserved, or if other records from the school still exist?

  10. I loved my time at Westerleigh, left in 1986. Mr Wheeler used to supervise air-rifle shooting in the Gym on Saturday mornings – which was so much fun. I remember Nana, Mrs Drake, Mrs Leigh, Miss Skelet?, Mr Porter, Mr Dick, Nicolas Wheeler, Peter Wheeler, Mr Warwick, Mr Channing Wright (Bing) Mrs Weakly? (South African), Mrs Talkington (French teacher and a bit frightening)…. and so many students, Chris Bennett, Jake Weller, Charlie Bannister, Elizabeth Wray, Ben Goodberry, David Sitwell, James Brown, Steven Rochefort, Helen Hollingsworth, Sarah Ensell, Sarah Reid, Sofia Ludwig?, Sarah Docherty, Daniel Vidal, Oliver something, and I remember Jane Dyson and Claire Crutchley in the year above – they were so beautiful! Really great times, such nice staff and students. Really sad to see these pictures.

  11. I was there as a day pupil in 74/75 as we lived in Silverhill. Fond memories of the Zip line over the pond and the rope swing. Didn’t enjoy Latin lessons though. It was a good school for activities in general. Very old fashioned teaching style in those days though. Very sad to see the building in such a bad state, what a waste.

  12. I do not have fond memories of Westerleigh of ’59 – ’64. I lived in fear of Mr. Wheelers cane, being beaten several time for reasons I could not fathom. Being late to school on Monday ( I was a seven year old weekly boarder) because the bus was late was one example, another is a mystery to this day, waiting for a bus on Friday, Mrs wheeler drove past, stopped and started screaming at me. I was doing nothing but waiting for the bus. On Monday I was beaten again. Jim Wheeler used to poke you in the ribs with the back of a pointed biro, you know, the ones with a pointed cap, every time he found a spelling mistake when checking your work. Little bruises appeared up your side (I was a bad speller).
    I remember being hit on my backside with a cricket bat for dropping a catch in cricket (that teacher did get sacked for groping T Willis in a piano lesson). My younger brother was punched by a teacher and knocked out of his desk. That was the last straw for my parents and he was removed from the hell. I had already left. By the way Peter Wheeler, nice job with the pier and the bite marks on my arm did fade.
    Finely, I must mention the food. You had to eat it all up and you stayed at the table until you did, and trust me, to say it was unpalatable is an understatement.

    1. I was a pupil at Westerleigh about the same time as James B and can confirm many of his memories. I started as a day boy and subsequently became a boarder.
      One of my most prominent memories is being made to stand outside the headmaster’s study waiting for him to return. The study was at the end of a long corridor so you could watch him approach. He would call you into the study and ask why you had been sent to him. Mr Wheeler had a variety of canes as I recall, kept, I think, in an umbrella stand. He would choose the one he considered most appropriate for the offence.
      There was also the teacher who threw board rubbers at pupils and—I think it was the same one—who had a habit of sneaking up behind a boy and twisting the hair just behind his ear. That was painful and left no mark.
      In retrospect the level of violence metered out to pupils was high but we just accepted it as normal.
      One very positive thing I do remember was a visit by Sir Learie Constantine, the great West Indian cricketer and politician. In those days the school, and the town, were very white and Sir Learie Constantine was the first black man I had ever met. I remember him as charming and thoughtful, and happy to talk with us boys.
      Nobody has mentioned Mr Binney, unless he is the same as Mr Dick? He had shell shock from the war and I remember one time during a soccer game the ball hit the goal post with a loud noise and he collapsed.
      There was also the boy, I remember his name as Gore, who got hit with a cricket ball on the side of his temple. He was taken to the sick bay where he died. We were told nothing and life at the school carried on as if he had never existed.
      To the shock of my parents and myself I failed the 11 plus exam. It turned out that this had been arranged by the headmaster because somebody had heard me mentioning I had a friend at a grammar school and might like to go there as well. The school wanted to ensure that I went to a public school for my own good.
      Well, Westerleigh; what can I say except that it was better than St Dominics, the convent school on Filsham Road where I had been sent by my parents because it was close to where we lived. St Dominics is a whole other story of incompetent teaching and violence towards pupils.

      1. Hi! My views on Westerleigh preparatory School as it was then are quite favourable, and I enjoyed my few years there as a boarder back in the days when James Hunt was head boy, and me making friends with so many other young characters, most of whom I never saw again, once I left the institution.
        The more I reflect back on those days, the more I can remember and by and large they turned out to be the some of the happiest days of my life!
        James Hunt, the future motor racing champion, seemed even then to be very grown up in his ways and made for a good school leader, but I got on far better with one of his younger brothers, Peter Hunt, who I read sometime ago becoming an accountant. I shared a dormitory with him and sixteen others, but in those days, he was suffering a lot from home sickness in the early part of the term time, but, make no mistake, although on the quiet side, he was a great guy.
        Other boys I knew and got on with were James Manning ( nicknamed ‘beastie’ ) who would willingly slap anyone who tried to do him down and someone I would have liked to get in touch with again;, the two twins, Ewan and David Grant, and others who I only remember by their surnames including Hollingsworth, Wicks, Stace, Reed, Banks and Hodgkinson. Cornwall too now comes to mind – one of the dayboys – and what an amazing story teller he was!
        I also remember Dominique Gabb who was constantly bullied by all and sundry, but he always took everything thrown at him with a smile and he had a tremendous sense of humour for any occasion. Unfortunately, he was’nt destined to live for very long and I was, for one, very saddened when I learnt of his demise.
        As for the teachers, Jim Wheeler, head master, Mr Binny, Mr Champion, Mr Wilkinson and the guy whose full name escapes me who taught woodwork classes. Mrs. Rolf the piano teacher and her lovely wire-haired fox terrier who lived opposite to the school. She taught in the junior classes and it was through her that I learned to both read and write.
        I remember the four houses allocated to us that showed how good and how bad we all were during the term through stars and stripes and also the listings of where everyone could see their placements in league tables, relating to how well or not we performed against other peers in the same class
        Also I can remember like it were almost yesterday the structure of each room, what they were used for, where they were in the building, the tuck shop, dining room, the several dormitories etc., and of course the headmasters study. Happy days those were for me anyway, and what a great shame it was to see it all eventually finish up as it did.

      2. Hah do I remember ‘the wack’! The worse part was being made to stand out side the Head Master’s office with back against the wall. Yes in that same hall way where my friends would tease me running by, or peeking around the corner, saying ‘bugs is getting the wack, bugs is getting the wack, bugs is getting the wack’. Sometimes I would have to stand there for what it felt like hours and then more hours after Mr Wheeler then entered his office. He would always make you wait for quite a while for mental torture before calling out one solemn ‘come in’. I can envision it like it was yesterday and not 52 years ago. There was a wooden chair in the right side corner opposite the door. He would close the study door then walk over and slide the chair out to turn it around and say ‘bend over’. You knew you had to hold the chair back with both hands. He would then pronounce your sentence saying usually three ( for minor) or six ( for major). I dont remember ever getting more than a six. he would then select the instrument out of an umbrella holder in the corner by the chair. I remember him using bamboo canes and a short billiards cue. For night time wacks, when we were in our nylon pajamas, he would use a giant plimsoll that he kept in the bottom of a built in white wall cabinet to the right of the door. There were times when I tried stuffing sheets of blotting paper in my pants but he would notice after the first lash and make me remove them, which would earn me a few extra lashes. While the wack was being delivered out slowly and methodically, I remember hearing the giggles of my friends who had their ears stuck to the other side of the door. Once the punishment was completed he would open the door and just say ‘go’. So during the whole process he would only say 4 words. I never cried but I probably did when I was little like 7 or 8 for the first times. You tried not to cry because you would be teased and called ‘a baby’. Upon exiting his study you would run like hell and be chased by your friends into an empty class room where you would have to pull down your shorts and show your bottom. By then there would be reddish to purple stripes forming and they would try to count them. I remember being on the other side of the door and hearing bawling and screaming from some of the kids, who would exit the study crying at the top of their lungs and running down the hallway holding on to their bottoms. Yes it did burn like hell at the beginning and I also remember having a very sore bottom for a few days while sitting in class or in the dining room. In retrospect I have no regrets for the ‘treatments’ I was given from age 7 to 12.

  13. This was where I first taught. I was there part time from 1995-96. I would love to get in touch with Chris Wheeler who was teacher there at the same time

  14. I was there from 1956 to 1961 when I went on to LancingCollege.
    As a colonial i.e. parents that worked abroad I would frequently have to stay at the school during the holdays.
    The Walkers and Lewty would often have to stay there also.
    Anyone know where they are now.?
    My email is drinnes@telus.net and would love to reminisce sometme with anyone that remembers me.
    I now live in Victoria, British Columbia if you ever visit, having finally retired from medicine.

  15. Wow I can’t believe I found this! I was a boarder at Westerleigh from 1968-1973. A little kid dumped there by my overseas parents who I got to see once a year in the summer. I doubt a day goes by when I do not think of my life at this school. I could write a book about my adventures there! Bing, Mr (and Mrs) Dick ( shot in leg at El Alamein), The black lab of the Dick’s, How Mrs Dick smelled like her lab, Mr Abrahams the Aussie, Mr Porter, Mr Weeks the gardener and list goes on! And the wack of course! ( 42 times). I usually had more stripes than stars. Miraculously I still have my green report book but when my mum died I lost the only school photo I had. I would do anything to get a copy of one during my incarceration there. I had 2 good friends. like brothers, but lost touch decades back. One I could have found, David Hunt, but he passed away young. The other disappeared. Anyone help with a photo? the one where we would all line up on the lawn with the teachers etc in the spring time?

  16. I was a day student from 1976 to 80 when my family emigrated to Canada. My 2 older brothers attended and l was allowed to attend because of them but there wasn’t very many girls at the school. Lots of fantastic memories about teachers, games and friends. Awful food memories, being forced to eat every mouthful on the plate, as you weren’t allowed to leave anything. Some great teachers and some nightmares, when you look back you realized people wouldn’t put up with some of the things that used to go on. All in all great memories like wandering the fields mushroom picking with Mrs Wheeler, I was very lucky to go there.

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