• Roland Jackson

The remains of Queenwood College


Queenwood College no longer exists. It was built in 1842, as Harmony Hall, for a project in community living of the socialist visionary Robert Owen. But the grand vision was bankrupt by 1845. In 1847 the Society of Friends established a school here, in the Hampshire countryside, under the Quaker George Edmondson.

Ruins of Queenwood College (Roland Jackson)

It was an innovative place, among the first to teach science through laboratory practice, and with a commitment to agricultural education, a particular interest of Edmondson’s. With no previous experience of teaching (he was a railway surveyor at the time), but a native ability to engage and persuade, Tyndall was appointed as one of the first teachers, along with the chemist Edward Frankland. Tyndall and Frankland both left in 1848, to study on the Continent, but Tyndall returned often thereafter. His experience at the school had a major influence both on his educational philosophy (expressed in a remarkable lecture in 1854) and on the development of his lecturing skills.

Edmondson died in 1863, and the school continued until destroyed by fire in 1902, a fire in which the headmaster, Charles Willmore, was killed. The main buildings were demolished in 1904, and their remains decay now in a wood.

I visited the area in November 2016, to get a sense of the environment. It was a place in which Tyndall could often relax with friends still at the school, away from the pressures of London. Today, it is still a tranquil, rural spot. Nearby Norman Court, with its extensive grounds in which Tyndall would ride and walk, is now a private school. The beautiful church at Bossington lies nearby, as do the small villages of Broughton and East Tytherley. Dunbridge railway station, from which Tyndall would come and go, is a couple of miles away.

The only easily visible remains of Queenwood itself are of the long kitchen garden wall. Almost all the site is now on private land, but with the kind assistance of local landowners we were able to see bits of foundations poking up beneath the trees. What looked like the remnants of fire-buckets lay among the leaf litter. Two sets of associated buildings have been converted into private houses: the laundry and some cottages, probably those in which schoolmasters lived. In a field above the old cottages is a scooped bowl in the ground. Its location corresponds precisely with the site of the laboratory on an old OS map, built away from the main house after explosions when it was in the basement. The Lodge, in which Tyndall occasionally stayed, seems to have disappeared. The once fine yew avenue is hidden in larger forestry.

The imposing building, the manicured grounds, and the cricket pitch are no more. But echoes abound in the woods and the fields.

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© 2017 Roland Jackson