Three schools celebrate their rich heritage and look forward to bright tomorrows

150 Years in the Making at Marlborough House School

In 1874, the year Disraeli succeeded Gladstone as Prime Minister, Thomas Hardy published ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and the term ‘Impressionism’ was coined, a less notable, but for us, no less significant event took place. In the rapidly expanding Victorian seaside resort of Hove, Mrs Sophia Lombe White opened a small school for boys aged 8-13 and the ancestor of today’s Marlborough House School was born.
It is believed that our four house names; Awdry, Dunbar, Egan and Hawkings, were chosen to commemorate the first four boys on the school roll, as Marlborough House’s connections with each of these families went back to the early days of the school and each family lost a son in the Great War. To anyone who has ever read the Thomas the Tank Engine stories, the name Awdry will be familiar for other reasons. The Rev. W.V. Awdry and author of the much-loved children’s series, followed in his late half-brother’s footsteps, attending Marlborough House from 1919-1924.

In 1930 Mrs White’s grandson, Christopher Bullick, partnered by Headmaster Arthur Harrison, purchased the New Lodge estate in Hawkhurst from the Hardcastle family and moved the school to our present site. Their task was to convert a family home built in the 18th century into a suitable educational facility for the 25 boys who moved from Hove. Over the years, the school facilities have proved surprisingly versatile; rooms initially used as dormitories have become common rooms, classrooms and offices. And although new buildings have been added and extended along the way, as recently as 2023, the core of the school remains the ‘main building’ – the same beautiful 18th century house adapted now, yet again, for 21st century schooling.

Despite Arthur Harrison evacuating the school to Bidlake House in Devon during the Second World War, it was the 1980s before a seismic shift took place in the Marlborough House world and the school became co-educational. The next 30 years were a time of significant change and growth for the school. Purpose-built school buildings have been added, staff and pupil numbers increased, and weekly boarding and Saturday school disappeared. And though increasing regulation has brought an end to raft races on the Spec pond and tree houses in the Dell, today’s pupils enjoy the kind of comfort, food, facilities and opportunities which would be the envy of past pupils.

Mrs Sophia Lombe White would no doubt find much of the world for which we are preparing our pupils incomprehensible but, as Marlborough House celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2024, she would, we hope, still recognise in ‘her’ school our determination to give our pupils the best possible education and preparation for life.

New Beginnings at Hilden Oaks

Headmistress, Mrs Katy Joiner, started at Hilden Oaks Preparatory School and Nursery in September 2015 and set about making an excellent school even better. The first new initiative she introduced was Values-based Education, for which we now hold an IVET Quality Mark. Our Values have become an integral way of life at Hilden Oaks, supporting the children in developing strong social and interpersonal skills, as well as enhancing their academic achievements.
During the past twelve years, under Mrs Joiner’s leadership, and with the help of an incredibly supportive and creative team, there have also been several other new initiatives introduced including: mindfulness, the THINK curriculum, One Planet, Building Learning Power (BLP) and Talk for Writing, to name but a few. We have also received two Gold Awards in succession for SMSC (Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development). At the last full ISI inspection we were also rated as ‘Excellent’.
During the pandemic our amazing team provided a seamless transition to online learning, making use of our investment in new technology – every child in the main school has access to their own iPad. In 2021 we started a new building project, including two new classrooms, a music suite, a new medical room, kitchens and more space for teaching small groups and 1:1.

Throughout this time academic achievements have remained high, with the majority of children who take the 11+ and Common Entrance exams moving on to their secondary schools of choice – both grammar and independent. Mrs Joiner has enjoyed welcoming back past pupils and hearing how they are flourishing. Her first Year 6 class at Hilden Oaks are now at university!
It is now, however, time for new beginnings, and although we are sad that Mrs Joiner will be leaving us, we are delighted to announce that Mrs Sharon Wade will be taking over as Headteacher in September 2024. Mrs Wade, who is currently our Deputy Head and Director of Studies, has been an invaluable support for Mrs Joiner since they both started at Hilden Oaks in 2015. Mrs Wade has a wealth of knowledge and experience and will be building on the strengths of Hilden Oaks and will doubtless be finding new ways to improve our already excellent school. We look forward to hearing about her new vision for the school when she takes over in September.

1919 – 1924 The Rev. W. Awdry, author of much-loved Thomas the Tank Engine series, attends Marlborough House

1959 Pupils travel from Marlborough House to the Hawkhurst Village Fete wearing vintage costumes and in a stagecoach they had renovated

1985 The opening of the Pre-Prep building is celebrated with a hot air balloon taking off from the school pitches

1990 The Harrison Building is constructed

The extended Harrison Building today, home to Years 3-6

1999 International Cricketer David Gower (MHS 1965-1970) returns to open the Sports Hall

Another round of firsts for Cobham Hall

Cobham Hall is no stranger to firsts. The Hall’s Old Library was the first home of cricket’s renowned Ashes, presented to then-owner and England captain, Ivo Bligh, before being donated to the museum at Lord’s. Its grounds were the first resting place of Charles Dickens’ famed ‘Swiss Chalet’ writing den after the author’s death in 1870. And in the 1960s, pioneering Cobham Hall was the first all-girls school to win a place at the table of the international ‘Round Square’ network of schools committed to experiential learning.
Campaigns, speeches, secret ballots: democracy in action at Cobham’s annual ‘Guardian Convention’ student leadership elections never fails to cause a buzz. But there was an added frisson this term, as the school’s newly co-educational Sixth Form yielded the first-ever male candidate in its sixty-year history.
Local boy Jude upended tradition as he was elected Deputy Guardian. But it was Nattakarn (Ruk) who took the top spot and will lead the student body. Cobham’s first-ever Thai Guardian, Ruk promises to draw on her own experience as an international boarder and “make Cobham Hall feel like Cobham Home to everyone”.
With eyes firmly on the future despite its historic roots, last year Cobham added industry-focused Graphic Communications to its array of A Level options – and the subject’s inaugural cohort of alumni has scored a first of their own. Sabrina, Year 13, has not only secured a place at Loughborough – ranked first in the UK by The Guardian for Graphic Design – but has also been awarded a highly prestigious international scholarship.
Cobham Hall is certainly a school like no other. To experience the difference, contact us to arrange a visit on

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