As fireworks exploded in the skies over Colchester on November 5 1921, there were celebrations in the Duggan household. Mr and Mrs E. F. Duggan had just secured the lease on a house with several acres of land. It was the perfect site to allow them to fulfil their dream of opening a boys’ prep school, which would be realised at the start of the summer term in 1922.
With the country recovering from the turmoil of the First World War, the Spanish Flu pandemic, and on the cusp of the Roaring 20s, the Duggans wanted to provide children with an education that would prepare them for the world. Their aim was “to develop the individuality and abilities of each child; to make them self-reliant and adaptable.” The world has changed a great deal during the school’s first century, but in many ways the uncertainties that the early cohort of pupils were experiencing then are uncannily familiar to us today, and the Duggans’ underlying values still ring true.
In 1922, the world was full of pioneers. The BBC made its first broadcast, and Howard Carter discovered Tutankahman’s tomb. In the summer term, Holmwood House opened its door to just three pupils. The school’s history is scattered with examples of a pioneering spirit and resourcefulness; during the war, the whole school was evacuated to Worcestershire and the buildings were occupied by the army. In 1976 (as the VHS video was launched) the prep school purchased a local village hall, dismantled it, transported it to the school site and rebuilt it as the now much-loved Talbot Room. In 1981, the headmaster took a group of pupils up to the Edinburgh Fringe to perform a piece entitled “Princes”; and in 1985, Holmwood opened its doors to girls for the first time.
“In 1922, Holmwood House opened its door to just three pupils.”
Holmwood House pupils through the years have continued to benefit from the core ethos set in place by the Duggans. From transplant surgeons to newspaper editors, teachers to West End performers, Holmwood alumni have gone on to do varied and amazing things. Most recently, alumnus Robert Thorogood, a screenwriter on BBC One’s “Death in Paradise”, published a new novel. As one alumnus put it, “Holmwood House gave me independence… the desire to learn, and motivated me to do well in my everyday life.”
Alexander Mitchell, only the fifth Head of Holmwood House School in nearly 100 years, believes the Duggans’ values and ethos have been fundamental to the success of the school, which is now part of the Bellevue Education group.
“We are incredibly proud of the school’s history, and have stayed true to its heritage and tradition whilst pioneering new technology and innovation, as we move towards its second century,” Mr Mitchell explains.
“From transplant surgeons to newspaper editors, Holmwood alumni have gone on to do amazing things.”
He continues: “We aim to provide a lifelong curiosity and give our pupils the tools they need to develop an understanding of how to learn rather than just what to learn. Through encouraging ownership of their learning, we believe our pupils are able to study independently; manage themselves; persist in the face of difficulty; understand their responsibilities; and are, as such, able to reflect on their learning and personal development. We believe that these qualities are intrinsic to each child’s achievement and development.”
Having started with just three boys, the school now has a thriving nursery, Early Years, pre-prep and prep school departments set in beautiful grounds, providing 300 boys and girls up to the age of 13 with an inspiring learning environment. However, the adaptable and pioneering spirit continues to thrive, as the school has recently decided to extend its provision up to the age of 16. In its centenary year, Holmwood House will be taking pupils into Year 7 who will be able to continue their educational journey at the school right through to their GCSEs in Year 11.
“The adaptable and pioneering spirit continues to thrive, as the school has recently decided to extend its provision up to the age of 16.”
Mr Mitchell comments: “I am thrilled to see Holmwood House expanding its already excellent provision. This is a momentous decision and, as the school approaches its 100th year, it is one which I feel reflects both the ambition of the school and the market need locally and is an opportunity to extend its traditions.”
Gregg Davies, education director at Bellevue Education, adds: “It is imperative that schools, particularly in the independent sector, adapt and evolve to reflect the changing needs of a modern education. We are delighted to be supporting Holmwood House School in the implementation of this exciting change.”
On November 5 2021, when the fireworks will be set off on the hockey pitches to mark the start of Holmwood House’s Centenary Celebrations, the Duggans would surely be incredibly proud. The students of 2021 are continuing to benefit from the inspiring education they had envisaged, developing self-reliance, individuality and adaptability. It turns out that these are as critical for the children of 2021 as they were for those three boys 100 years ago.
To find out more about Holmwood House, visit the school’s website.