The Downs Malvern

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The Downs Malvern
Motto Aedificandum est
(It is in the building)
Established 1900
Type Independent preparatory school
Religion Christian, ex-Quaker
Headmaster Alastair S Cook BEd (Hons) FRGS
Deputy Head Andrew McKay, MA PGCE, MA Cantab
Chairman of Governors K U Madden Esq
Founders Herbert and Ethel Jones
Location Brockhill Road
WR13 6EY
Coordinates: 52°05′11″N 2°21′14″W / 52.0864°N 2.3538°W / 52.0864; -2.3538
DfE URN 117002 Tables
Staff 79 (including peripatetics, pastoral staff, and support staff)
Students 221[1]
Gender Coeducational
Ages 2–13
Colours      Red      Green
Publications The Badger and The Owl

The Downs Malvern is an independent prep school in the United Kingdom, founded in 1900. It is located on a 55 acres (220,000 m2) site in Colwall in the County of Herefordshire, on the western slopes of the Malvern Hills.[1] The school comprises a nursery, kindergarten, pre-prep, and preparatory school; the preparatory school takes both day students and boarders. The Headmaster since 2009 has been Mr Alastair Cook who is a member of the Boarding Schools Association and the IAPS. Fees are currently up to £21,471 pa for full boarders and up to £16,221 pa for day pupils.

Since 2008 the Downs has been the preparatory school for Malvern College.

A distinctive feature of the school is its miniature-gauge railway, the Downs Light Railway, which was begun in 1925. Complete with a tunnel and a station, it is the world's oldest private miniature railway.


The Downs School at Colwall was founded in 1900 by Herbert Jones, who had been educated in Cambridge and was headmaster at the Leighton Park School when he and his wife Ethel Jones founded the Downs Malvern as a preparatory school for boys. It opened with four pupils, and slowly expanded, with 40 pupils in 1918.

The Downs was unusual in being a Quaker school, a status which would eventually fade away.[2] It was also unusual in pioneering extra-curricular activities, such as music and hobbies, for its pupils. This innovation would eventually spread across the mainstream preparatory schools.[3]

In 1920 the Joneses left[4] and were succeeded by his second master, Geoffrey Hoyland. He had married into the Cadbury family and used the family's wealth to expand and improve the school during his tenure as headmaster. Hoyland built new buildings, introduced student self-government and an innovative curriculum with an emphasis on science and the arts. Under his supervision, the pupils built and maintained a miniature railway, the only one in any English school at the time, which still survives to this day. Among the notable masters he hired were the painter Maurice Feild and the poet W. H. Auden.

Frazer Hoyland succeeded his brother Geoffrey as headmaster in 1940. He increased the school's emphasis on music and drama. Shortly after the war the poet James Kirkup taught at the school for four terms, and wrote his first collection there. Julius Harrison composed a cantata and sonata for the school's Jubilee in 1950.

William Vaughan Berkley became headmaster in 1952, and remained until 1969. In 1957, he appointed as English master the actor Anthony Corfield, who sustained an active programme in drama for more than thirty years. James Brown, who had been assistant head to Berkley, became headmaster in 1969. He wrote the history of the school, The First Five (meaning the first five headmasters), published in 1988. Brown was succeeded as headmaster by Christopher Syers-Gibson, D. H. M. Dalrymple, Ian Murphy, Andrew Auster, Mrs. J. Griggs, and, in 1999, Christopher Black.

By the end of the twentieth century the school was coeducational and included a nursery, kindergarten and pre-prep as well as the original preparatory school.

Alastair Ramsay became the next headmaster and, in 2008, the school merged with Malvern College prep school, on The Downs' existing site.[1] In September 2009 Alastair S. Cook became headmaster.

The Downian Society draws its membership from former pupils of the school.[5]

W. H. Auden at the Downs[edit]

The poet W. H. Auden spent three years teaching English at The Downs during 1932–1935. He returned for the summer term in 1937 when the English master was away. He was loved as one of the more extravagant and eccentric teachers, who supplemented his teaching of English by teaching pupils how to make spitballs stick to the ceiling.[6]

He helped to found the school magazine The Badger in 1933, and his contributions to it included poems about school personalities. He continued to contribute occasionally after he left the school. In 1935 he wrote, composed, and organized a musical "revue" in which the entire school took part and reused some of the lyrics in his play The Dog Beneath the Skin. In 1937 he wrote a preface to the catalogue of an exhibition in a London gallery of paintings by present and former members of the school. Auden lived at the school in a cottage that he named "Lawrence Villa" (one of his allusions to D. H. Lawrence). During the summer term, he used to sleep out on the lawn; thus the opening line of his poem "Out on the lawn I lie in bed".[6]

Benjamin Britten, Hedli Anderson and William Coldstream visited Auden at the school several times to work on their collaboration for the G.P.O. Film Unit, and to perform music and teach art to the pupils.[7]

Among the poems that Auden wrote at the Downs were Hearing of harvests; his evocation of his Vision of Agape in June 1933, Out on the lawn I lie in bed (later dedicated to Geoffrey Hoyland); Our hunting fathers; Look, stranger; and, during his return in 1937, the despairing Schoolchildren. He was particularly taken with one of his pupils, Michael Yates, with whom he fell in love for some years and later maintained a lifelong friendship.[8] Auden's time at The Downs was one of the happiest periods in his life.[9]

The epigraph to Auden's posthumously published play The Chase (written in 1935) was a poem by a Downs pupil, John Bowes, which had been mocked by the other pupils in Auden's class. Auden rebuked them, saying that the poem was not only satisfactory but that he would use it in his next book. Bowes (later second master at Bryanston School) and Auden corresponded in later years, and Auden stayed with Bowes and his wife in Cheltenham in 1972.

Downs Light Railway[edit]

The Downs Light Railway is a distinctive feature of the school. This miniature-gauge railway was begun in 1925 and, complete with a tunnel under Brockhill Road and a station, is situated within the school grounds. It maintains working engines under both steam and petrol power and is used as an extra-curricular activity to teach pupils a range of skills.[3]

Former pupils[edit]



  1. ^ a b Independent Schools Inspectorate; The Downs, Malvern College Prep, 2015. (Retrieved 2 February 2017).
  2. ^ Peter Bevan; "A Quaker Tradition: A brief history of Quakers in the Malvern area", Malvern Quakers Newsletter, Summer 2013.
  3. ^ a b Brown (1988)
  4. ^ The Jones were Quakers. They moved in 1920 from the Downs Malvern to Geneva, Switzerland, with the objective of creating a Quaker Embassy. They left Geneva in 1923. See J. Ormerod Greenwood Quaker encounters (Vol.3 p.247) and History and Biography Project : “Let Their Lives Speak” : A Resource Book (Switzerland Yearly Meeting, 2005).
  5. ^ The Downian Society
  6. ^ a b Carpenter, Humphrey (1981). W.H. Auden. (2nd impres. ed.). London: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-04-928044-9. 
  7. ^ Cooke, ed. by Mervyn (2005). The Cambridge companion to Benjamin Britten. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 64. ISBN 978-0521574761. 
  8. ^ Jury, Louise (2000-03-18). "Auden's schoolboy inspiration tells the truth about their love". The Independent. Retrieved 2016-09-25. 
  9. ^ Tony Sharpe; W.H. Auden, Routledge, 2007.
  10. ^ Sir Lawrence Gowing, Tate (Retrieved 2 February 2017)
  11. ^ Alan Hodgkin; Chance and Design: Reminiscences of Science in Peace and War, CUP, 1992
  12. ^ C.J. Wrigley; A.J.P.Taylor: Radical Historian of Europe, Taurus, 2006.


  • Jim Brown, The First Five: The Story of a School (1988)

External links[edit]