School walkers revive some golden memories

Westbrook Hay walk from old site to current school to mark 50 years since change, January 2013
Westbrook Hay walk from old site to current school to mark 50 years since change, January 2013

It’s now been 50 years since Westbrook Hay prep school upped sticks from its former home in Hemel Hempstead’s Gadebridge Park.

And to mark the anniversary of the big move, which took place during the coldest winter of the 20th century, school supporters set off on a chilly walk to retrace the 3.5 mile route between old and new.

Events to mark the anniversary started with a commemorative evensong service for parents and children, which also attracted former pupils, staff and governors and the head teacher at the time of the big switch, Trafford Allen.

Mr Allen, now 87, gave an address looking back at the move during 1963’s big freeze, when there was snow on the ground until the middle of March.

The children sang the Gadebridge Park school song, recited the original school prayer and finished with a question and answer session.

They quizzed former pupils about life at Gadebridge Park before the move – the food, the discipline, the termly boarding and life without television and other modern conveniences.

They were happy to confirm that stale bread is no longer on the menu at meal times, the writing of lines doesn’t feature any more but the climbing of trees and building of dens is still enjoyed by pupils today.

The walk the following day was organised by the school’s parents’ association, and a party of around 80 took two hours to tramp the distance between Gadebridge Park and the school’s home on London Road.

Since it was established in 1892 Westbrook Hay has made its home on four different sites. It was originally based in Bedford, but came to Hemel Hemsptead in 1914.

Its home until 1963, Gadebridge House, was the former seat of the Paston Cooper family whose most famous member, the surgeon and medical pioneer Sir Astley Paston Cooper, sealed his reputation and his fortune when he removed a tumour from the head of King George IV.

What began as a school with just two boys on the roll now has 300 pupils of both sexes.

Westbrook Hay was the home of the Hemel Hempstead Development Corporation in the early days of the new town, but that body was looking for a new HQ when the school was looking for new premises.

The school was known as Gadebridge Westbrook Hay until the last of the class of 1963 left, and then changed to the name it is known by today.