In 1908, just two years after the ‘Gerrards Cross and the Chalfonts’ railway station was inaugurated as part of the Great Western and Great Central Joint railway line, Arthur Taylor and his wife opened a preparatory school for boys aged 7 – 13 at Milton Avenue, a new road leading out of the old, picturesque Bull Lane in Gerrards Cross. Its aim was to prepare boys for the leading public schools of that era. It was a turbulent period of history. Queen Victoria had died only seven years previously and the Great War was to consume much only six years later.
The origins of the name Gayhurst are obscured in the mists of time as is much of that early period of the school. Legend has it that by naming the school after Mrs Taylor’s home village in North Buckinghamshire Arthur was able to persuade her that this was a course of action worth pursuing. Mrs Taylor taught the boys to write and played, ‘Rule Britannia’ on a regular basis in assembly. Soon after the school was built some farm land in Bull Lane was converted into playing fields for the pupils to engage in team sports. A pavilion was built and, later on, an outdoor swimming pool was constructed in 1928.
Mr C.C.S. Gibbs M.C., a veteran of the First World War bought the school from the Taylors in 1927. Working with his brother in law, Cecil Sykes, an architect, he immediately embarked on ambitious plans to build a new school on the Bull Lane site. This was duly done although the grandiose plans originally envisaged, with two wings and a central building, were not completed in full at the time. Pupils and staff transferred to the new school in April 1930. There were 66 day boys, 11 boarders and one girl, Priscilla Gibbs. R.M.J. Cowles was Head Boy who later, tragically, lost his life flying with the RAF in June 1940.
Gayhurst flourished under Stormont Gibbs and his wife. He was soon joined by some extraordinarily capable school teachers such as Patrick Campbell, Arthur Paget and Miss Dallas to name but a few. Academic scholarships to leading Public Schools were won regularly and Gayhurst established a reputation for excellence in preparatory school circles. It was not all work and sport. Boys and girls at the school led busy lives outside the classrooms too. There were the school duties to carry out, cleaning, washing up, spreading the used coke from the boiler along the cinder track and, during the war years, extra tasks such as blacking out the school at night, maintaining the kitchen gardens, looking after the hens as well as carrying messages for the local Home Guard unit.
The annual school camp to Dieppe was an event looked forward to with great excitement by the senior boys but there were many local outings too. Some boys took part in films such as, ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ at the nearby Denham studios. There were regular visits to the school’s house at Bourne End where children could fish, row or sail. Groups often caught the steam trains to view a gallery in London or attend a concert or a show. Patrick Campbell, assisted by his wife became responsible for producing the Gayhurst plays. These were lavish, ambitious Shakespearian productions that took place at the end of the cricket field using the woods as the wings and the back drop.
Mr P.J.C. Campbell M.C. left Gayhurst in 1953 to become the first Headmaster of Westminster Under School in Vincent Square. He returned frequently with groups of boys from Westminster to picnic and camp on Pease Field and to compete with some very successful Gayhurst cricket 1st Xls in the mid-1950s.
Stormont Gibbs died in 1968. He had been Headmaster of Gayhurst for forty-two years, a remarkable achievement. His own children were educated at the school as indeed were Patrick Campbell’s and Stormont’s successor, Jonathan Stafford.
Times at the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s were demanding for essentially day preparatory schools with small boarding elements. As a result Jonathan Stafford took the difficult decision to end boarding at Gayhurst and was much maligned by some for doing so. A scholarly, popular, gentle giant of a man, he retired through ill-health in 1974. The Deputy-Head at the time, Jonathan Langridge steered the school until Ronald Eglin took over as Headmaster. Mr Eglin ran the school with shrewdness and dynamism for the next seventeen years. He was aided hugely by two people in particular, David Gibbs, the son of Mr C.C.S. Gibbs and Nigel Hague, a contemporary of David at Gayhurst. Both men were to be long-standing and extremely successful governors and Chairmen once the school achieved charitable status in 1988.
Mr Eglin built a new, multi-purpose hall named after the founder of the school on the Bull Lane site. It was an invaluable addition to the school. Drama, concerts and French plays became increasingly important features of the annual school calendar. New classrooms were built on the edge of what was known as the Wilderness to help cater for a lowering of the intake age into the school from seven years to five. Trips abroad, including skiing trips took place with regularity and debating teams, particularly Rotary Club debating and public speaking were spectacularly successful. The four houses of the school, Blue, Green, Red and Yellow became synonymous with some of the key figures in its history during this time; Gibbs, Stafford, Campbell and Taylor.
Mr Eglin retired in 1993 and was succeeded by Andrew Sims. The school embarked on a series of significant building programmes in the 1990s and the early twenty-first century. The Junior School was rebuilt in 1994-5, 2008 and 2017. The Senior school was rebuilt, with the exception of the main building, in 1999-2000 and a new Nursery and Art block were also constructed in 2008. An Astro-turf pitch was added to the school premises in 2001 and Mevora, the cottage adjacent to the school became the staff quarters in 2014. A brand new pavilion was constructed in 2010. There were other significant changes during Mr Sims’ Headship too. Reception classes were created in 1994. Girls and Nursery children were officially admitted in 2008 and Years 7 and 8 (the old fifth and sixth forms) were phased out in 2016 – 2017. In addition to the traditionally strong academic results music and sport flourished in both breadth and depth.
Mr Sims’ retirement in 2016 also saw the creation of a fifth house with the blessing of the Chair of Governors, Caroline Conn; Sims House. The sixth appointed headmaster of the school is now Mr Gareth Davies. Gayhurst has been privileged to possess many fine teachers and pupils over the years, too numerous to recall them all and the nature of teaching has changed almost beyond recognition in the digital age. Some 3,000 children have been educated at Gayhurst and are now spread throughout the world. However, the key, defining features of the school remain unaltered since Mr Taylor opened the doors of Gayhurst for the first time in Milton Avenue 110 years ago: preparing children for the challenges of both secondary schools and life in general: Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re.