Playwright, Former Cobham Schoolboy & Resident of Windlesham

Rattigan from website

Terence Rattigan, courtesy of The Terence Rattigan Estate website

Born in Kensington, Terence Mervyn Rattigan was a famous playwright whose best-known works include Flare Path and The Deep Blue Sea. Rattigan began to develop his writing talent in 1920, when he joined his eldest brother at Sandroyd Preparatory School in Sandy Lane, Cobham. The school’s alumni also includes Randolph Churchill and Anthony Eden. Rattigan went on to Harrow School in 1925 and later Oxford University, where he pursued his love of theatre and writing plays.

Wartime Inspirations
In 1935 Rattigan worked with Sir John Gielgud on an adaptation of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Success followed a year later with his first play French Without Tears. His next work was not so well received and, suffering from depression and writer’s block, Rattigan joined the RAF. In late 1941 on a mission to West Africa, Rattigan’s plane was damaged and while awaiting repairs he wrote Flare Path. Exploring the courage, fear and emotional upheaval of war, the play caught the mood of wartime Britain.

Affairs and Censorship
Rattigan began to confirm his own sexual identity at the age of 16 when he had a serious affair with Geoffrey Gilbey, the racing correspondent of the Daily Express. Gilbey was the first of a series of Rattigan’s male lovers but he had no long-term partner.

Rattigan explored themes of incompatible emotional and sexual desires in his writing. It is believed that he often wrote plays with homosexual elements but rewrote the characters as heterosexual to avoid censorship. This is true of The Deep Blue Sea, now considered to be his finest play. Originally written about two male lovers, and based on the suicide of his gay friend, Rattigan claimed that he changed the relationship to heterosexual for the purposes of the play. However, he feared that a performance licence would be refused, which may have lead to the media questioning his own sexuality.

My week with Marilyn
A recent article in the Guildford Magazine reveals that during the 1950s Rattigan lived in Windlesham and held parties attended by Hollywood stars including Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller. The inspiration for the recent blockbuster My Week with Marilyn comes from Rattigan suggesting Parkside, Windlesham as a temporary home for Monroe in 1956, while she filmed The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier.

Rattigan wrote numerous plays for stage and radio, including The Browning Version, The Winslow Boy and Cause Celebre; they are still performed all over the world today. His films include The Sound Barrier, The VIPs, and The Yellow Rolls Royce.

He was knighted in 1971, one of only a few playwrights to receive the honour. He died in 1977 of leukaemia at his home in Bermuda.

Sandroyd School Cobham 6729_8_7

Sandroyd School, Cobham, c.1910 (SHC REF: 6279/8/7)

Sandroyd School, Cobham
Sandroyd School was built on the Fairmile Estate at Sandy Lane, Cobham, c.1905. The school had existed since 1888, when Reverend Louis Herbert Wellesley-Wesley, vicar of Hatchford, had established a coaching establishment for boys at a property called Sandroyd in Green Lane, Cobham. Sandroyd had originally been designed as a house in 1861, by the Arts and Crafts architect Philip Webb, for the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Roddam Spencer-Stanhope (1829-1908). The school grew quickly and when Rev Wellesley-Wesley married in 1895 the school was taken over by Charles Plumpton Wilson, MA, and William Maysey Hornby, MA. Seeking larger, purpose-built premises, architects Treadwell & Martin were commissioned to build a new school on the Sandy Lane site (see SHC ref 8867/1/6). Surrounded by forty acres the new site provided enviable facilities including a heated indoor swimming pool, a nine-hole golf course, and two squash courts!

In 1905, Kelly’s Directory of Surrey lists Messrs Hornby and Wilson’s school at ‘Sandroyd House, Fairmile’ and by 1909 it is listed as ‘Wilson & Hornby boys boarding and preparatory school, Sandroyd Place, Fairmile’. By 1911 it is listed as Sandroyd School. Meanwhile, the Green Lane property was resided in by Lawrence E Peel and listed in Kelly’s as ‘Old Sandroyd’, presumably to distinguish it from the new Sandroyd School.

Mr Wilson was headmaster until 1920, but the school continued under Mr Hornby until 1931, the period when Rattigan was a pupil there (see http://www.sandroyd.org/prep-school/history.html and Kelly’s Directory). Truman and Knightley’s directory of private schools dated 1929 includes Sandroyd in the front index but no advert was taken out by the proprietor. The directory further mentions that the school was ‘inspected and recognised as efficient by the Board of Education’, whilst the 1931 edition of the Southern Railway Company’s Southern Schools directory lists Sandroyd as boys’ preparatory school, and member of the Association of Preparatory Schools.

In 1931 Mr H ff Ozanne became headmaster and proprietor. However, by 1939 with the threat of war, Ozanne sought new premises away from London. He settled upon Rushmore House, Wiltshire, owned at the time by the Pitt-Rivers’ family but unoccupied. The house was subsequently taken on a short lease in March 1939 and was soon home to ninety boys. Rushmore House was renamed Sandroyd School and has been the school’s home ever since.

In 1946, the former Sandy Lane site in Cobham became the new home of Reed’s School (see http://www.reeds.surrey.sch.uk/).

Interestingly, ‘Old Sandroyd’ in Green Lane, Cobham, was renamed Benfleet Hall when it became an independent girls’ school sometime in the 1930s. This was done at the behest of Miss Helen Gifford, who had previously been the principal of the Marie Souvestre School at Benfleet Hall, Sutton (see Schools 1929, Truman & Knightley Ltd, p.482, and S P B Mais, Southern Schools, [1931]). The first mention of the school moving to Cobham is in the 1938 Kelly’s Directory and presumably the name was retained to provide familiarity with prospective pupils and parents (see http://benfleethistory.org.uk/page_id__296_path__0p59p73p.aspx). It remained a school until the late 1950s.

Surrey History Centre holds the following records:

  • Ashwell and Nesbit of Leicester and London, Heating Engineers, installation plans for Sandroyd School ground floor and basement showing classrooms, chapel, ‘future library’, and domestic arrangements  (SHC ref 2451/1/1) and first and [second] floor plans, showing dormitories, staff rooms [some staff named] and ‘practice rooms’, 1905 (SHC ref 2451/1/2).
  • Printed illustration of plans and elevations of Sandroyd School, by Treadwell & Martin, Architects taken from ‘The Building News’, Aug 1905 – Dec 1908 (SHC ref 8867/1/6).
  • Photograph of Sandroyd School (now Reeds School), Cobham, c.1910 (SHC ref 6279/8/7).
  • Archives relating Reed’s School (SHC ref 3719).
  • David Taylor, Cobham: A History.
  • David Taylor, Cobham Houses and Their Occupants.
  • Photographs, correspondence and research papers relating to Benfleet Hall 1980-2005 (SHC ref 7835)
  • Kelly’s Directory of Surrey
  • School 1929 (Truman & Knightley Ltd; SHC ref 373.2)
  • S P B Mais, Southern Schools (Southern Railway, [1931]; SHC ref 373.2)

Online sources

For the Sandroyd School website, which includes a history of the school, historic photographs of the Cobham site, and a list of famous alumni, see http://www.sandroyd.org/prep-school/history.html

Benfleet Community Archive have researched the link between Benfleet Hall, Sutton and Cobham and their website features feedback from former pupils at Benfleet Hall at http://benfleethistory.org.uk/page_id__296_path__0p59p73p.aspx

For the Reed’s School website, which includes a history of the school, see http://www.reeds.surrey.sch.uk/

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