West Downs School

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Coordinates: 51°03′22″N 1°20′35″W / 51.056°N 1.343°W / 51.056; -1.343 West Downs School, Romsey Road, Winchester, Hampshire, was an English independent preparatory school, which was established in 1897 and closed in 1988.



The school was founded by Lionel Helbert (1870–1919), with help from his sister Adeline Rose, wife to Vice Admiral Sir James Goodrich, KCVO (1851–1925). Helbert an exhibitioner of both Winchester and Oriel College, Oxford, was for over four years a House of Commons clerk. The Helberts were supported by Hampshire's Lord Northbrook (who had also helped found the predecessor school), and by their kinsman Lord Rothschild.

Helbert, who described himself as Principal, was influenced by the Miss Mason system, as seen at her House of Education, Ambleside (akin to the PNEU), and things like the Montessori method, the ideas of Edmond Holmes, and the Little Commonwealth for young delinquents developed by Homer Lane on the lines of the George Junior Republic in America, basically as put by Norman Mac Munn, who taught at West Downs 1914–18, they were interested in the: emancipation of the child.


Its buildings had been purpose-built for Winchester Modern School to designs by the architect Thomas Stopher on a good site on the south-western edge of the cathedral city of Winchester, nearly opposite (the Royal Hampshire County Hospital, architect William Butterfield) west of a Victorian county gaol, HMP Winchester (category B), and next to Edwin Hillier's nursery, established there in 1874.


On Helbert's death there was an hiatus under Dorset landowner William Brymer,[1] and Lady Goodrich then passed the school to Kenneth Tindall, a Sherborne housemaster.

During the Second World War the school was evacuated first to Glenapp Castle and then more significantly to Blair Castle. At the end of the war it returned to Winchester.

In 1953 the school was bought by Jerry Cornes, who was headmaster until 1988.

Move to co-education[edit]

For most of its history West Downs was a boarding school for boys aged between eight and thirteen, but in 1970 it admitted its first girl, and from 1975 to 1988 it was co-educational (though curiously the school's founding intake in 1897 of four comprised two girls). [correction: by Geoffrey Bass, grandson of Kenneth Tindall:- KBT's granddaughter Diana Bass also attended the school in 1949 when it was still an all male establishment].[2]

Closing and repurposing[edit]

West Downs was a rigorous and enlightened place which prepared its pupils admirably for a variety of schools (including Winchester and Eton) and also for life in general. It lasted ninety-one years and about three headmasters, closing in 1988 (Read more).

The school's site has lived on as The West Downs Conference and Performing Arts Centre, which was opened by Lord Puttnam in May 2001, and then from 2005 as part of the University of Winchester; and from 2009 as the university's own Winchester Business School.

Helbert family[edit]

Lionel Helbert Helbert was sixth or seventh child of Captain Frederic John Helbert Helbert (1829–), 5th Madras Light Cavalry and military correspondent to the Times during the 1877 Turco-Russian war, the fifth son of John Helbert Israel (by Adelaide (Adeline) Cohen), second son of Israel Israel. In 1848 the grandfather John Helbert (1785–1861), with his nephew John Wagg (1793–1878), had formed broking firm Helbert, Wagg & Co. (bought by Schroders 1962). They were the Rothschild's principal broker. Meanwhile, Helbert's mother was Sarah Magdalene 'Lena' (1837–1874) daughter of Richard Lane (1794–1870) (Plymouth Brother and descendant of Jane Lane) by Sarah Pink Tracey (of Liskeard). One of Helbert's Lane uncles was a Major-general in the Bengal Army and another, a shipping agent with Lane, Hickey & Company (bust by 1865), was English Secretary to the Japanese Legation in London and a Knight Commander of the Orders of the Rising Sun of Japan, Christ of Portugal, and Isabella the Catholic of Spain.

His aunt (click here to see a portrait of her by Fedrico de Madrazo y Kuntz, now in the Musée Bonnat, Bayonne) Adeline (1825–1892) was wife to Baron de Weissweiller of Madrid. Another was married to a Duke de Laurito (d.1907). His Cohen great-aunts, who were also his cousins, had married Nathan Mayer Rothschild and Moses Montefiore. A great-uncle Samuel Helbert Israel Ellis was a surgeon at the London Hospital c.1802 and treasurer of the Great Synagogue, Duke's Place, London. Samuel's son was Sir Barrow Helbert Ellis, K.C.S.I., HEICS (1823–1887). Meanwhile, Helbert's brother Charles Helbert Helbert (d.1903) married Evelyn Mary Kennedy, granddaughter of Earl of Cassillis and Viscount Dungarvan and great-granddaughter of Earl of Howth.

(source: Records of the Franklin Family and Collaterals, compiled by Arthur Ellis Franklin, private circulation, George Routledge & sons, London, 1915.)

Some alumni[edit]

About 2,100 pupils passed through West Downs, including the following:

Helbert era[edit]


Tindall era[edit]


Cornes era[edit]



  1. ^ He was a kinsman of William Ernest Brymer of Puddletown. A memorial tablet to Brymer at Puddletown reads: Wilfred John Brymer of Ilsington, High Sheriff of Dorset 1932, Justice of the Peace : Alderman of the Dorset County Council: For Many Years at West Downs School Winchester : Born 31 July 1883: Died 28 March 1957: Son of F. A. Brymer : Sometime Archdeacon of Wells.
  2. ^ Geoffrey Bass – family member of KBT
  3. ^ Names taken from research undertaken by Nick Hodson and the book of Mark Hitchens
  4. ^ Sir Jack Boles (obituary) in The Daily Telegraph dated 1 July 2013. Retrieved 2 April 2019
  • Nowell Smith (ed), Memorials of Lionel Helbert, Founder and Head of West Downs Winchester, London, Oxford University Press, Humphrey Milford, 1926.
  • Mark Hichens, West Downs – A Portrait of an English Prep School, Pentland Press, 1992.
  • Norman Mac Munn, (1877–1925), A Path to Freedom in the School, G. Bell & Sons, London 1914, & The Child's Path to Freedom, 1921.
  • The Times, 10 November 1919, obituary of Mr. Lionel H. Helbert.

External links[edit]