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St. Joseph's Sambourne

Starting of Croome court

The History of Besford Court School


October 1st 1917

"This School Opens Today - Two boys on Register,"

With These words, Thomas Newsome began a life's work. He had little money. was tired from months of striving and effort, and surrounded by piles of rubble, workmen's' ladders and dust, the increasing struggle with funds still to come.  "We where exhausted, mentally and physically, with the endless money worries. No-one can appreciate how, at that time. each day was a frenzy of effort to satisfy many demands" - but faith launched him on a sea of uncertainty from which there could be seen no farther shore. and on a voyage to the harbours of international recognition.

"Besford Court has become a model for such institutions throughout the world. Its reports are quoted in official reports and used as textbooks in most civilised countries."


October 12th 1917

"There are only two boys on registers still."

October 15th 1917

"Admitted one new child. Reverend Manger Visited  - brought a football for the boys."

October 19th 1917

"Two boys admitted. Received tables for the classrooms, toys for the playrooms."

The First record of the court is found in a "Charter of Privileges to Pershore"  from King Edgar in 972. It was owned by the Abbot of Pershore. Edward the Confessor confiscated the land, but two thirds if it remained with the Abbot. The Doomsday Survey of 1086 records that besford was held then by the Abbot of Westminster. He, together with his men, had "one carrucate and a half and ten acres of meadow... there is a wood half a mile long and three, perhaps, wide...it was worth 20 shillings of this land... there were four servants and two maids and ten acres of meadow... it was worth thirty shillings."

William the Conqueror granted Urso D` Abitot many manors in the county,   including Besford.   With the death of D`Abitot it passed to his daughter Emmaline who married Walter de Beauchamp. The manor became the property of the family of Besford, An ancient lineage, who held it until 1492. As they had no male heir, it went to in-laws and then to the Harwells. The last Harwell, Sir Edmund, was the high Sheriff of Worcester in 1597, and during his year of office he became bankrupt due to "lavish living" , so Besford was sold to the sebright Family who owned it until 1885. Then it was purchased by Earl Beauchamp of Madresfield who also sold it, to Mr - later Sir - George Noble in 1910.


He hived of various parcels of estate, and, through the good offices of Father Hudson of Children's` Society fame, and Mr. James Webb, a collector for the society, Father Newsome knew that the court was due on the market.

With his customary dynamism - "he was blessed with great journalistic flair" said Webb" and was brimful of idea's" he mentally framed himself in Besford's famous front door, something of an American-style go-getter. (he wore horn rimmed spectacles, not a common practice in 1915)

He went after the building with the panache of the hunter, and scoured the country for money to buy it. it was to be his challenge to a land where often, the unfortunate child was neglected, and the orphan moved from one desperate situations to another. "The Child needs more protection from Society. then Society needs from the child", he said.

His Idea's were of the highest.......

"Besford must be a home in the very best sense of the word", he wrote, "watched over by motherly and fatherly souls, full of love for these precious brethren of Christ. The home, with its surroundings, must be all that love, science and nature can make it."

Mr. Noble had knocked down the Georgian part of the Court and spent 60.000 - in today's money (1996), an incalculable sum - on buildings a superb mansion, - and this became an addition to the old house. An army of workmen built around a "noble quadrangle" the shell of a "chaste Tudor-gothic building". It held an exquisite little Chapel and minstrel's gallery, later converted into bedrooms - the only black mark that father Newsome laid at his architect's door.  

Suddenly, incomplete but glorious - "a glittering shell was empty inside" - it was put on the market at a knock - down price.

A Film company wanted to buy it to blow it up at the end of their latest epic. and sand and gravel merchants had designs on its well-known deposits. so, in the face of such vandalised intent, the Catholic Church emerged the winner.

" in Besford Court they saw instantly Providence had placed in their way, a great opportunity. The estate, now reduced to 150 acres with its stocked farm and outbuildings, its orchards, pasture and plough lands, was most fitting for the purpose in view. as man proposes, God Disposes, so it has come to pass that Besford Court, with its beautiful mansion intended for the home of a millionaire and his wife, is to become a home for children."

Henry Grant of Birmingham Adapted the building. The splendid results remain outwardly unchanged. Two years of frenzied building, often in circumstances of grate difficulty, lay ahead, before the interior held the saxon style Chapel, Classrooms, gymnasium, refectory, large kitchens, bathrooms with footbaths, - in 1917! - and "isolation blocks" which could be cut off from the building if epidemic threatened. that year came the great influenza scourge of the last years of war, which seriously affected all Britain.


A heating system, electric plant and water supply were self-contained.

In the walled kitchen garden of 2 acres "the children will be taught to work the land and so obtain for themselves, a great portion of their living". The impression of "beauty and brightness, life, cheerfulness and restfulness" were marked.

The Mayor of Worcester wrote "Besford is but a name until you have visited it - then you are filled with wonder. It is a scheme which makes one almost breathless at its boldness. I regard it as a work of national importance which at the best should receive the support of the whole nation, and at the worst should have the enthusiastic encouragement of the Catholic community."

Kathleen o`Carrigan - Manual instructuress, Helen Rafrice, the Aunt of Sister Frances Clare, a present Governor and Former Headmistress of Croome Court, Besford's Sister school - and J. O` Brien, certificated teacher, were the three staff on the opening day.

Wilfred Lewis Clark, 14 years old, was the First Child to enter, In the month before the first Girl, the 15 year-old Nora Hayes, Came, Another 16 boys arrived, and by Octorber 1918, 74 children where present.

The year held its little dramas but a picture of gentle growth persists.

The First Prize Day was the milestone which could be expected. Neville Chamberlain spoke and his wife presented the prizes.

By the end of 1919, at the second Prize day, the number on roll was 114. The farm had been brought, some workshops - precursors of splendid block of buildings later built by the boys - put up, the walled garden made in to "a condition of perfect cultivation"  and much equipment added inside the house.

The Red Cross had given fittings for an operating theatre, and the honorary medical board contained a surgeon, aurist, ophthalmic surgeon, orthopaedic surgeon, physician, radiographer, psychologist, medical officer and dental surgeon.

"this afternoon, 14 boys  had to have their tonsils out. I played the melodeon for them to cheer them up before they went in " said frank Hayes. ( A photograph of this operation is in existence, a graphic example of mass tonsillectomy).

This enormous concentration - perhaps not all that common even now - on the health of the children is a recurrent theme in the school's story, placing it in advance of the times.

Father Newsome was emphatic tat only the very best medical conditions should apply, and the boys and girls where consulted at all stages about their food, its quality, its quantity and its serving. They were expected to give opinions on all these matters.

Father wanted to have a daily dialogue with the children. His Humour was a strong force, and in order to systemize events, a Parliament was set up, meeting on each Friday, at which any matter could be raised by the pupils.

Boys being boys, Food took its rightfully predominant place.

"Frost asked if they could have "spotted Dog" for dinner, otherwise known as "Bug In The Bolster". Monsignor asked Mr. Tobin to Remember this when making up the diet."


"Recently it will be remembered, a Parliament was held on the question of food, and the boys were asked to state frankly what dishes there were, if any, that they disliked. They showed their dietetic wisdom by unanimously voting against turnips. These consist mostly of water and are also very filling, thus destroying rather then satisfying an appetite."

"There is something in the parsnip unpleasant to a boy's taste. Parsnips are therefore taboo."

"Hot Meat fat was another thing that they unanimously rejected."

"We are going to try cold meat on several days a week. Tinned Beef does not seem to be popular."

"Our cabbage is boiled only for a minimum of time. We are going to substitute raw salads worked up with our own special dressings, instead of cooked cabbages."

"Only one boiler can be spared for the making of tea, A Scheme is under consideration, and it is hoped that all boys will be able to get more tea if they deserve it."

Mr. Tobin spent long hours devising the best method for making the Besford Bread; bread which became noted for its health giving qualities not only at the school, but in the surrounding villages. it was brown, in times when white bread meant purity.

A special parliament was again held to discuss diet.

The boys "voted for plenty of boiled or fried potatoes. Carrots they loved. Mince they did not like, unless it was dried mince. The besford mince, made from fresh meat, contains a certain amount of fat which separates out as oil. Cabbage they prefer to eat raw as a salad (!!). Milk puddings, pea soup and lentil soup were asked for. a Committee of 8 boys were chosen to meet regularly with Mr. Tobin on the matter."

One content which Father Newsome had acquired but not paid for, was The Ghost. it was believed that the site had been inhabited for thousands of years - the Romans had a station here, and an area that appealed to them would appeal to earlier settlers and would have attracted Paleolithic men. The obligatory ghost in such a place would soon command attention.

A witness said:

" Apparently the Dower House is the home of an "elemental", which is similar to a poltergeist and may hurl objects about, and this creature visits infrequently. lights have been seen coming from rooms where they had been previously extinguished, and doors open mysteriously. unexplained shadows of figures have been seen as well as `queer unearthly faces`."

A `Grey Lady` has also made appearances. in October 1928 the figure of a woman dressed in 18th century costume, with a bustle and sun bonnet appeared. Her features were indistinguishable but she seemed to be a gentlewoman of about 30 years. Mr. Charles Burke, a member of the staff of masters, watched as she turned and went through a closed door sideways. The ghost was seen at midnight.

The Story of the Grey Lady is known to most staff and Pupils and some claim to have seen her recently, The truth is unknown but it is believed that her baby died `under distressing circumstances`. local folklore has it that the child was murdered in the corner room.

Sightings are not confined to the past. The Doors still mysteriously shut and open.


By 1923, it was becoming apparent that the success of the court. and the consequent number of applicants, meant that the early, somewhat simple curriculum, had to be improved upon.

Monsignor wrote in that year:

"Many of the bigger boys were experts in the making of wool mats, fancy leather bags, crochet work, knitting etc., But they went on doing this when such work had long ceased to be educational so far as they were concerned. They were ready for bigger and better things"

It was decided to buy an army hut, call it the collage of St. Sebastian, and direct it near the school. Boys of 13 and in a few cases, less - went to the hut both in the morning and in the afternoon for more detailed work, which was reported on daily - as was their behaviour. From this 'Collage' and its instructors. grew the formation of the sports teams, which were to play such a great part at Besford.

The School was an enlightened place. In 1927, "a magnificent cinema machine" was bought "for a few pounds last summer in Germany". An earlier machine flickered a great deal, but the new on had an arc lamp so that "it is impossible for the children to be affected by eye strain."

"Terry of the Twins", "Pals of Buckskin" and "Blue Daniel" were some of the first films shown in St. George's. The Mayor of Worcester at that time happened to own a cinema and so "Oliver Twist" and "Nero" were sent along.


"The Children are trained to a certain amount of Domestic Work. They make their own beds and keep the dormitories in order, and those boys who are capable, have 'a charge' in the house for whom they are responsible",

When a boy arrived, an older, trusted pupil, took him in hand, looked after him, taught him to wash and dress according to the school's idea of excellence - which no doubt differed in some cases, from the previous experience of the boy - and to make his bed.

As Thomas Newsome gradually swung all into the lines he wanted, his constant gratitude was expressed to the Nuns who, working under a Headmistress, were his front line troops.

"The value of the Nuns' work cannot be expressed in words. Without any system of punishments they maintain a marvellous discipline throughout the Home, and have filled it with an atmosphere of radiant happiness. The needs of the children are always their first consideration", he wrote, and then ended the year's report thus:

"and the success of the children is the success of the home"

At this stage, such was the national prestige of Besford Court, that the Appeals Committee, of which more later, contained the writers G. K. Chamberlain and Hilaire Belloc, Austen Chamberlain - Radical MP and Father of Brimingham - Neville Chamberlain, Future Prime Minster. and The Lord Nelson - a self explanatory name - while the addition of the luminaries of all walks of life. to the various Boards and Trust involved with Besford, attest to its growing international importance.

After a start of only six years, such an achievement was phenomenal by any standards.

A Phoenix had been born, not by coercion, but by love.

Physical Punishment was Banned. This enlightened outlook must be viewed against a national background of great rigidity. Corporal punishment was the norm in most schools, parents regarded clouting their children as a right, and society generally looked upon physical pain as a pill which, when administered, brought an instant improvement in the conduct of the receiver.

Throughout his period of office, Thomas Newsome not only abhorred physical violence - "it corrodes the soul of both the giver and the receiver" - but saw it as a positive deterrent to progress.

"An Important Notice to all members of Staff" was printed.

"The administrator warns all members of staff that corporal punishment of any kind given with or without an instrument is most rigidly forbidden by the Managers,"

This enlightened attitude would be at odds with a society which added to its folk language, phrases which were born out of punishment.

". . . it never did me any harm" being perhaps the one most often used by older people.

The complexity and variety of the organisation which called itself Besford Special School grew, until it resembled a quite large manufacturing company - which, as the end product was hopefully a fully integrated member of society, fashioned from an often too impure clay - it was.

The grouping gradually took the following shape:

Monsignor Newsome

Mr. Lee

Mr. Tobin Mr. O'Neil Matron Mr. McAllister Miss Knight Rector


Hardware Stores

Food Stores

Furniture Furnishings


Food Values





Manual Classes





Cleaning of House


Serving Linen Room




Medical Stores






Social Life

Clothing Stores

Correspondence with Public Authorities and Parents

Case Papers of Boys





Case Studies

Psychological laboratory

General organisation: Monsignor Newsome

Estate Dep, Offices Finance Sambourne
Mr. O'Neil





Appeals and


Miss Dinley

Finance Control

Buying Office

Rev. Mother

Junior Department

Of Besford Court

Each Head of department had under them a goodly number of staff, A typical 'workforce' at any given time in these earlier years could contain the Headmaster, five assistant teachers, four craft teachers, a religious instruction teacher, a record keeper, secretary, seven 'supervision' staff - afterwards called care staff - a junior headmistress with eight assistant teachers, and three care staff (usually Sisters).

In addition an estate steward and his assistant, a farm manager and various ancillary staff, could be 'on roll'

The children' day was also rigidly timetabled from:

"Nasal exercises" at 6 am to "lights out" at 9pm.

Today, after the passage of years, strands of this format are still adhere to. When the nasal drills were abandoned is not known. perhaps complaints from residents nearby were taken into account.

That the outside world impinged on Besford, is not in doubt.

For years Thomas Newsome was in spirited and gloriously invective correspondence with a farmer whose land abutted that of the Court.

The Correspondence, full of claims and counter claims, threats of legal action, purple passages et al, centred on one fact - drainage.

The Farmer Claimed that sewage from Besford was killing his cows by seeping into his water supply. Thomas Newsome said it was doing nothing of the sort. The Letters became so delightfully personal, that father was told by Worcester education Office to publish them, and "give the reading public a thoroughly good weekend."

Dear Sir

I am grateful to you for your letter, which happily re-opens a correspondence which I feared from your prolonged silence had come to an end, but to reply to it in detail would be to discuss topics on which i have written to you at great length. May I therefore suggest that you read some of my previous letters?

"Is it, " you ask me "in the nature of cows to discharge filth?"  Beyond saying that there is a general impression that this is the case, I think I must leave you to make your own observations.

Nor am I interested in the digging scheme which you somewhat obscurely describe and invite me to carry out by August 1st, but I am interested in your promise of letters from your solicitors. Last time you only employed one and until he faded out after three years activity, I used to get very welcome letters from him to which it was a pleasure to reply "solicitors" in the plural thrills me (and) it overjoys me to know that next month we shell begin to gambol together once more in the legal meadow.

I am

yours faithfully,

(Thomas Newsome)

Administrator and Resident Manager 

God our Father
We praise you for
the glorious life of
our patroness, Saint Theresa
of the Child Jesus
and we thank you for the
care and love which she has for us all.
Help us all to love you as she does
and through her prayers
grant the petitions
off all those who seek her help.
we ask this through Christ our Lord

St Theresa of the Child Jesus
pray for us.

St Theresa,
Patroness of Besford Court,

pray for us.

By the Twenties, the influx of boys - the last girl admitted had been received on may 27th 1920 - had, in Newsome's words - "produced a crisis in the history of Besford which became urgent,"

The Boys and young men were aged from 7 to 21, and it was found necessary to deal with this 'problem' in two ways,

Firstly, men teachers and instructors would be employed to teach the older boys, form sports teams, a scout troop - begun in 1924, and, as numerous photographs show, destined to be an increasingly important part of Besford - and to generally organise a work oriented approach. giving skills in many crafts.


St. Joseph's, Sambourne

Secondly, a junior school would be opened separately from Besford, where the junior boys would be taught by Sisters, and continue to be under the control of a Headmistress.

The older boys now had a band master, drill instructor, cricket pavilion, outdoor swimming pool, "football field with first class dressing rooms", and a gymnasium, while the junior boys had a school bought for them - "until the financial situation permits the erection of an additional Home in the Besford court Estate" - at Sambourne, near Redditch.

The Story of Sambourne and its successor Croome Court, is linked to, and an integer of, Besford

December 15th 1924

St Joseph's Sambourne

"School opens here today as the junior Department of Besford Court. There are 54 Boys on the school registers".....

....The Community of the Sisters of Charity of St Paul was founded in England by Genevive Dupuis, a Sister from Chartres. She was remarkable in that she came to England unable to speak the language, to devote, at the request of her Superiors. the rest of her long life to founding and running the order. working among the under privileged of industrial communities. The Order was asked to undertake the running of the school, and the two braches - educational and social - united with enthusiasm, and to have remained a part of Besford until the present day, being represented on the teaching and care staff, and Governors.

The Administrator at Sambourne was Father McSwiney, and the staff at the beginning consisted of a Headmistress, three teachers and a cook.

Soon, this school was contributing to the weekly "Besford Gazette" and the boys looked forward to being transferred to the mother establishment.

Gordon Troughton wrote:

"Tuesday was one of the happiest days we ever spent. After breakfast we all went to the playroom, changed, and waited for Mother and the Sisters to get ready. After some time we got into the bus, the men started the engine and we went off.

as we went along the road we started to sing all the song we knew. After some time we caught sight of Besford, with the Besford boys playing football in the field. so we began to cheer, until the bus stopped at the bottom of the drive. We were met by two cadets. and Mr McAllister told them to take us for a walk to Lower Farm. and show us the Chinese geese and the pigs. Then we came back to Besford by another way, and as we walked down the drive, we saw Monsignor waving to us from the window, so we waved back. then we lined up for dinner which was prepared by the chefs. The dinner was lovely. It consisted of fish and chips, followed by Christmas pudding, custard and lemonade. Then we played with the Besford boys until two o'clock, then we we lined up and went to the pictures. We had three comedies, one was 'Bobbie the Scout' the other two were 'Bonzo' and 'Felix', but we did not finish because the lights fused, so we went to the kitchen sat down and had our tea. After tea we had lucky bags with chocolates, toys and sweets in, then we talked and played with our old friends who we knew from Sambourne. Then we lined up and got in the bus, and Monsignor, Father Elrington, the Masters and the Besford boys came to say goodbye. Soon we started off and had a safe journey home, had some milk, washed our hands and faces and then went to bed and fell to sleep."

...Happiness, peace, contentment, enthusiasm - the calm of a summers day - and the marvellous spirit of youth, wrapped up in the envelope of love and care which was Besford. There are other accounts of that day but none which shows so clearly what the court meant.

It was home and hearth.

For twenty five years. Sambourne was to provide the base upon which Besford built. until Croome Court was Bought, and the boys transferred there in 1949.


One of the strands of the story of the court which persists down the eighty years, is that of mutual humour between staff and boys.

"At a newspaper shop we came across a book entitled "welsh Made Easy". We explained to the proprietor, who was a Welshman, that we were looking for another book entitled "welsh Made Impossible". He did not smile."

". . . we are expecting on Easter Week to have the honour of a flying visit from Bishop Brown. No Scottish jokes will be admitted until his Lordship has returned. For the present. we are giving our attention to the Welsh - look you, whatever."

". . . Miss Kate Dinley promised that, if we worked hard, we should have ham and eggs for breakfast on Tuesday morning. Only Bully-beef turned up. She explained "I was going to give you ham and eggs if I had got any ham. only there weren't any eggs."

". . . I should like to see the school plumber put through their own pipes."

Farmer: "Hi William. Where be ye goin' with that lantern?"

William: "I be goin' courtin' Sir."

Farmer: "Well, ye don't want lantern fur that. I never had one."

William: "Ye didn't, and look want ye got ahold of."

The growing professionalism of the older boys in manual skills received its first recognition in 1925. when, on April 20th, the sod was cut by James Webb for a bungalow, to be entirely by them.

From broken rubble, sand and cement, they moulded each, watered them for several days. laid them, constructed the roof rafters. erected and tiled the roof, and completed the inside.

The exterior work was finished by November, in spite of an interregnum of some months for the annual visit to camp, and the whole was a successful precursor of the later much more ambitious programme which saw the whole of the teaching block built by the boys.


From the first entry of Father Newsome into the Court:

"We were standing then in the Great Ballroom of the Court. I took from my pocket a coloured picture of the Little Flower, and I put it up in the Ballroom: asking her if it were the will of god, to take possession of the house."

He was dedicating his life's work to St Theresa of Lisieux, and she has remained the Patroness of the Court to this day. The life and death of this young nun was such a remarkable story in its own right, that her Canonisation in 1925, only a comparatively short time after her death, was a worldwide event. Besford sent a representative to Rome, to the glittering ceremony itself, and Besford boys and staff at this period went to Lisieux where Theresa had been re-interred at Carmel.

The scent of roses, such as she carried, has often been smelt at Besford, and her call for humble duty by the smallest, was Newsome's inspiration and guide.

The occasion of her canonisation was marked at the Court by impressive ceremonials, lasting from the 17th to the 27th may.

Under a large awning constructed in the quadrangle, a series of Masses was said, the scouts and cadets paraded, flags were flown, sports held, the Archbishop's car was escorted both into and out of Besford by scouts and cadets, and everything was done that could possibly be done, to give the occasion the importance which showed the reverence in which the Little Flower was held.

Her spirit has hung over the school - a beneficent cloud, nurturing, comforting and being the fount of much of the good which has moved outwards. The appeals for support which were instituted in her name, became a buttress that supported the Home at many times of crisis.

Thousands of well-wishers, over many years, have given in the name of Theresa, and the constant flow of request for help from the Court to the outside world, the reciprocal offers of aid, and requests for prayers, are a constant of the last eighty years. The booklets issued bear witness to the extra-ordinary war which it was necessary to wage against shortages of money.

The heading of the Appeals sometimes show desperation.

 "The needs of the Home Are Very Urgent."

"The Reverend Father Thomas Newsome begs to thank you for your application of Novena Treasury."

"This is what you must do - you must make me known everywhere . . . After my death I shell let fall a shower of Roses."

And Newsome's own account of the first Mass at Besford, support his views of the saint's importance.

". . . came to Besford on Holy Saturday.

A little Altar was erected in a cottage, and on Easter Sunday at this temporary Altar of our Lady of Victories, I said Mass for the Beatification of the Little Flower and the intentions of her clients."

The St. Theresa medals were sent to Besford from Lisieux, but the supply was limited during the First War and Father Newsome went to France to find that the war difficulties precluded the manufacture of more of them. However, he was "promised that a supply should be sent from time to time as far as possible,"

The Appeals were launched in America, and indeed worldwide, sometimes accompanied by last minute enteaties.

"After this booklet had been compiled, and while it was in the hands of the printers,. . . a most serious deficit has been revealed, due to the enormously increased cost of all the food, clothing and equipment. My financial anxieties, therefore, are now doubled, and the prospect of the winter months . . . fills me with trepidation. Will you, then, When you come to consider what offering you can make me, bear in mind our greatly increased needs,"

But, in true entrepreneurial spirit, Newsome was not above resorting to the methods of the marketplace.

The Besford Court for Children
30,000 in Prizes.
The 5/- ticket will be exchanged for
an Entrance Ticket
in the
Great Prize Competition.
Over 2,000 other prizes.
Guaranteed by Bovril Ltd.

Unfortunately, the offers for help were not always what was required.

One family wrote to give:-

". . .Aunt Emma, who is very fond of children, but is apt to run amok occasionally with a hatchet. She will not require any salary,"

Educationally, Besford began to be known overseas for its very advance methods of teaching.

The then greatest teacher on earth, Maria Montessori, visited on June 4th, 1927, accompanied by her niece.

Her revolutionary method of education, the basis of all modern teaching, revolving as it did, around the idea of apparatus to teach the "3 R's", was in advance of its time, and any school which embraced the Montessori system, was bound to be immensely forward looking. Doctor Montessori had successful day at the Court, saw the work of both the Junior and Senior Departments, and then wrote from London on June 7th:

". . . I am convinced that you will achieve a triumphant success,"

She lectured at the Aeolian Hall on what she had seen, and the Times Educational Supplement said "Besford Court, children manifested a great desire to progress,"

This educational advancement, placing Besford in the world's eye. would, if successful. lead to a great nourishment in other areas, it was felt, and so the idea of the classroom block was mooted.

The staff realised that the efforts of the boys had reached such a stage, that they could not undertake, with instruction, the building of a large, finely-made, superior quality set of buildings, to house the workshops which up to that time had been scattered around in rather a haphazard manner.

Work started on what is now the classroom block and progressed steadily and with efficiency, until the building, which, in style and form, if not complexity, so echoes the Court itself, came in to being. It is a great memorial to all Besford Children, constructed and formed by them, and successfully continuing its functions until the present day. (1996)

For years, either no children went home for holidays, or only those with permission from their parents, but this did not necessarily mean that there was no break in school life.

As soon as if was financially possible. summer camp became a feather of life at the school, and there are enthusiastic accounts of being away.

" We had a good holiday. I have seen some black snakes, but Mr. McBride didn't let us kill them."

"We went fishing yesterday, It was a river by the sea, but Mr. Tobin said it was only a stream. I didn't catch anything."

"The best part of the holiday was some wild horses. There were brown, but one was white. I would like to ride them."

"Last night, there was a thunderstorm, but today it is lovely and hot. After Mass, we all enjoyed looking for wild fruit. I found some strawberries."

"My friend has been swimming in the sea. I can't go because of my toe, but instead, I fished in all the pools. The crabs were great"

The first camp was pitched at Caldey Island, Tenby, in 1925, with some of the older boys, and in the following year, the experiment was extended:

". . .to include all the boys in the Home. This camp is not a haphazard affair, but involves the transference of the whole administration of the Home to the seaside, and under canvas. The places of such members of the staff as are engaged in taking their holidays are more then filled by volunteers, - young men of public School and University standing.

The camp staff included a Resident Manger, Medical Officer, Commandant, Camp Officers and a Naval Cook and Steward. The Cooking was done in a portable kitchen and a furnished home, close to the camp, was used for the Sisters and Junior boys, and as a base hospital.

Each day was based on the routine of an army camp with certain naval modifications, such as reckoning time by bells, and ringing the half hours on the camp bell, thus leaving it open for a time to considerable doubt whether we were an army corps, or a ship, it was finally decided that we belonged to the "Royal Fresh Air Force'''.

The timetable was:

6 am Reveille - Ablution parades.

7 am Mass

8 am Breakfast

8:30 am Clean Camp, Lay out Kits.

9:15 am Camp Parade

Inspection of boys, kits, and tents, followed by sick parade.

10-1 pm P.E., games, bathing, boating, excursions.

1 pm Dinner

2:30 - 5 pm Classes, reading, rope work, kit washing, storm evaluations (calling one up?)  song practice, etc.

5 pm Bathing parade.

6 pm Supper

6:30 pm Free time (they needed it)

8:30 pm Night prayers around the flagpole. Retreat.

9 pm Last Post. Lights Out.

First Night watch 9 pm - 12 midnight

Second Night Watch 12 - 4 am

Morning Watch 4 - 6 am.

A certain amount of self-satisfaction was apparent:

"Some of the parents, Most Unwisely insisted on their boys going home for the summer holidays, and these returned presently, a woeful contrast of pasty faces, flabby muscles, and mental lethargy,"

Caldey Island provided this first base until it became clear that a more permanent location would be necessary. Accordingly, a house was bought at Caerdeon, in North Wales and from then on, this also began to figure more and more prominently:-

"Last Sunday, I said Mass at 6 o'clock in order that Mr, O'Neill and I could make an early start for Dolgelly,
. . . we made an inspection of a very large country house, surrounded by a tiny but well-wooded estate of fourteen acres, and finally came to terms with the owner.

Caerdeon is the name of our summer house. It is an enormous house of three storeys, with many spacious rooms. In front, is an uninterrupted view of the estuary. Across the estuary are the mountains. with Cadyr Idris proudly over-topping its lesser brethren. Years ago the owner of this marvellous house and garden was a collector of rare flowering shrubs and with these and many unfamiliar trees, the gardens intersected by paths and level terraces - are filled.

Every boy in his turn will go to camp."

The house was in need of a great deal of improvements.


"For a little more then three months, Mr. Mansfield has kept the flag flying at Caerden. He will return to Besford next week and will be replaced by Mr. Bick.

Mr. Bick will please take this intimation that most of the boys at Caerden will return on the lorry next week and that his contingent will go up on February 10th.

Although the party has manfully toiled away, and have succeeded in carrying out great deal - the work we have previously listed - there is still quite a lot to be done,"

Then follows " - complete the septic tank . . . build an intermediate tank . . .connect up all pipes and valves . . . build a filter bed . . . construct a new sewer . . . renew the floor joists . . . put up a new ceiling in the infirmary (again this concentration on the best health provisions) . . . clean up debris and small coal,"

In the following years. North Wales proved a wonderful second home and gave an increased sense of freedom and achievement. The experience gained in dealing with boys in the open, gave birth to the Scouting Movement at the School, and a small group of Sea Scouts was also built up, with a bugle and drum band. As a result of these endeavours, Thomas Newsome decided to embark on a course which would make scouting an integral part of the boys' life and lead eventually to a meeting with Lord Baben Powell, the Chief Scout, at Worcester.

"A hundred Scouts by Easter"  was the rallying call. On Easter Monday, 1928 three troops set out simultaneously, for six days, under the following rules:

1) That the Easter Monday start would be undertaken, irrespective of the weather.

2) That, though the Scouts would be provisioned with raw food by lorry day by day (for shops would sometimes be too far distant from their camps) they should carry with them uncooked provisions for twenty-four hours. Every boy should carry apart from his equipment packed in the trek-cart, his own personal kit, his blankets, his waterproof sheet and his knife, fork, spoon and oil billy-can.

3) That no tents should be taken and that the boys should make their bivouacs from the waterproof sheets and dead wood gathered on the site of the night's camp.

4) That the first troop should move its camp every day by a distance of at lease five miles, and that the other troops should remain on the same ground for a maximum period of two nights if this was found to be necessary. All three troops were to meet in a common camp on Saturday night. By the Kind invitation of Lord and Lady Coventry, this was to be situated in the Deer Park of Croome Court.

The Weather was atrocious after a good Monday morning start, and, when they arrived at Croome on the Sunday, "a steady north-east blizzard penetrated even the warm winter clothing and thick overcoats of visitors,"


The routes were as follows:

First Troop M Second Troop M Third Troop M
Wood Norton 8 Bredons Norton 6 High Green 4 1/2
Abbots Lench 6 1/2 Tewkesbury 5 The Nash 4
Grafton Flyford 6 Pull Court 4 Earls Croome 3
Grafton Flyford - Upton 5 Red Deer Farm 3
Spetchley 5 Earls Croome 4 The Nash 5
Croome Court 7 Croome Court 4 Croome Court 2
Besford 2 Besford 2 Besford 2

The camps at summer-time were held in varying parts of the coast.

Caldey was visited for two years, one year Lulworth, and finally Trevose in Cornwall for five years. At first it was envisaged that the Sea-Scouts would journey to almost any accessible place in Britain, but the idea of the settled home at Caerdeon grew and was finally accepted.

Thomas Newsome celebrated the silver Jubilee of his ordination in November 1930 and could look back on outstanding leadership and endeavour, bringing the Court from "a shell" to a school of international standing.


Lower Drive was now electrified - possibly due to the fact that one of the houses there - St. Bernadette's - had been privately built by the parents of a boy, for the exclusive use of himself and his nurse. (A recurrent feature of the early years of Besford, was the fact that children of wealthy, and sometimes titled, families, were sent to the school)

The concept of health, which was always a constant at Besford, took a new turn when it was decided that fresh air really meant fresh air.

"No Gazette was published last week. It was practically ready by Friday dinner, but as the blizzard was increasing in strength, the office was hurriedly closed."

"That night the boys were blown out of their dormitories and all had to be brought indoors."

"Apparently the open-air dormitories at Sambourne are more exposed to driving snow and rain then the ones at Besford, three of which lie in a hollow and are thus sheltered. Recently the snow blew in onto the beds of the Junior Department. Special short curtains will be put around the dormitories,"

This method of induced health gave way to experiment at Sambourne in particular, with windows which "allow at all times for a steady stream of fresh and pure air."

Gradually, the method adopted by most of Britain at night, was returned to.

Monsignor wrote now:

"The new device on our (magazine) cover calls for a word of explanation. Various suggestions have been made for a coat of arms for Besford Court, and one very elaborate coat was once drawn up, but. . . working with Mr. Huyshe of Chipping Campden, the Administrator later devised a shield which exhibits some of those things from which the spirit of Besford is derived. The motto taken from Virgil means a struggle through endless


difficulties to reach the stars - which indeed is our life at Besford. To symbolise this, there is a cross sitting upon the summit of a hill, with the five resplendent stars above in the blue sky, representing the objects towards which we are striving. We have indeed hitched our wagon to a star - or rather five!"

The inscription was therefore in place at Besford before the RA.F. also adopted it. 


The constant worry occasioned by money-raising and committee work, coupled with the day to day care and attention which he lavished on the boys in his care, and to whom he had dedicated his life for nearly twenty years, had begun to slowly but inexorably wear down the Monsignor, Over many months he began to feel the intimations of mortality, and his exuberant spirit sank gradually, until he realised that he must resign from his position as Administrator.

He reached this conclusion after much thought, but, having decided to resign he did so with promptitude, and left Besford on June 14th 1935, resting at Beaconsfield for seven years until his death in 1942, when he was buried, firstly at Olton - The Abbot of Prinknash Abby officiating and then, eventually and most fittingly, under the trees at Besford, facing the front door of the house he loved so well.


The Man chosen by Monsignor as his successor had already studied the administration of the Court under him, but assumed the same role with less time for preparation then he would have liked, having only arrived at Besford on June 7th. Father McSwiney said "I look, not only for a great measure of sympathetic toleration of the mistakes which i will inevitably make, but also for helpful co-operation in avoiding such mistakes".

Father McSwiney was named "Resident Manager", and forsaw sweeping changes for Besford, carrying forward the work of his predecessor.

It could be said that now the average number of staff 'on roll' at any one time was:

12 Instructors
3 Certificated Teachers
4 Nurses
9 Supervisors
plus 'a large domestic staff.'

There would be about 250 boys at the school and under these circumstances, alterations were needed.

As the transition from Sambourne to Besford was always so final, it was felt that an interim period at Sambourne, where qualified men teachers would take charge of the boys, was necessary, and that the increased formal teaching which would now be undertaken at Sambourne, should be carried on at Besford.

This resulted in the gradual increase in formal schooling at the main school, spreading upwards as the boys who transferred from Sambourne, grew older.

The System of open-sided dormitories was also to be abandoned, and all boys integrated into the main buildings.


The Early years of Father McSwiney's period as Administrator, led, not only to these changes in the organisation of the court. but also to the gradual realisation that there was to be a war.

The Growing inevitability of conflict meant that large buildings, such as Besford Court, were seen as centres of refuge in times of bombardment.

An agreement was entered into with Brimingham whereby the school, Because of its special contribution to the country, would only be considered as a haven for bomb victims, as a last resort, but the strain of war-time, here as everywhere, soon became apparent.

 The most obvious difficulty was that of mobilisation for the male staff members. It was decided to pay them a retainer while they were in the Forces, and for six months after that. Replacing them would always be difficult, here as everywhere else.

One unexpected war-time feature was that uniquely, Besford had money in the bank - over 3,000. This affluence was in place solely because no repair work could be carried out owing to material and labour restrictions. When the Board of Control asked that the fees be reduced, the Administrator quite correctly pointed out that much more than 3,000 would be needed afterwards, to put right the deprecations of time, and the Board agreed.

The older boys, during the war-time, served on the airfield, and also as replacement workers for the surrounding area, so giving Besford its input into the conflict - and in 1941  the future Cardinal Griffin was appointed to the managers, proving to be a new source of strength to the Court. When he was elevated to the position of Cardinal, one of his first tasks was to write to the school, thanking them for their best wishes, and reminding them of his happy associations with the area.


December 16th 1941:

" The Administrator reported that, owing to there being 180 boys under 16, it was necessary to increase the teaching staff numbering three."

These three miraculous mass-educationalist were not special to Besford. This was the era of huge classes throughout Europe, only partly as an answer to manpower shortfall. and partly to learning as it was then viewed, "Education for the Masses" could often be interpreted as "en masses,"

The Silver Jubilee in 1942, was muted, as was fitting:


(" The Administrator stated that he would be able to provide lunch for a limited number of guests") - and by 1943 when Mr T.T Kelly was appointed Headmaster (to be followed in 1945 by father Warner as Administrator) - the difficulty of administering two separate sets of buildings, so recently felt in the case of Caerdeon, had been concerned, and, slowly, a realisation came that a Junior school as close as possible to besford, would be needed.


Accordingly,Croome Court Became the secound Junior school. It was brought from the Earl of Coventry in 1950. The Coventry family had long been associated with Besford, and one of the conditions of sale, was that their family portrait was to hang in the main hall in perpetuity.

Now the Junior boys were almost within hailing distance of the premier establishment, and Sambourne was closed, with the Sisters transferring to Croome, Which officially opened by the Archbishop on June 21st, 1951. 

Still Besford remained open at Christmas, for those boys who did not go home.

"Looking back" says the Founders' Report "Over the earlier period of the history of Besford Court, one of the outstanding features is the devotion and zeal of the Sisters. They have succeeded in many ways, where success would seem to have been almost impossible of attainment."

Twelve Sisters constituted the entire teaching and care staff at Croome, and the determination with which the now challenge - to build on Sambourne's reputation - accepted, is best shown by the words of Father Warner less then a year later.

"Last year I said 'can we pay off the debt on the new Junior School at Croome Court?' The Answer! We have nearly done it!"


The efforts which have always been made, on all sides, to make the union of Besford and the surrounding villages a happy one, have been a constant, and the Coronation celebration "-Besford Parish Council accepts the invitation of the manager of Besford Court to join and supplement the very full programme of events -" enabled both communities to come together.

Father Warner was concerned now, that the influence of home should be increased as much as possible, and for the first time, the school was shut completely in August 1956, to enable the boys to all spend time with parents.

" I must make an appeal to every Authority to find some home... for every boy for his holidays, " Wrote the Administrator.

Father Warner and Mr. Kelly both relinquished their positions in 1958, and, after an interregnum of one year, Mr E. J. Hughes was appointed as Headmaster and Father W.J. Smith as Administrator.

Throughout all these years, the importance of self-help at the school, had been constantly emphasised, and the farm and garden, active since the early days, continued to provide and a large scale. (During the war 70 tons of patatoes had been raised on 8 acres, over 4% above the national average.)

"The gardens are increasing in productivity, and are supplying all our needs at the present time, as regards potatoes and vegetables. The fruit crop has been poor this year, but we have managed to can several cases of fruit. There is an excellent crop of tomatoes, and these will be preserved in the summer holidays.

The pigs have done well. At present we have six growing pigs and a sow and litter. The 'fit' of the litter is being reared by the boys as a pet.

The tractor has been used consistently since January both inside and outside the walled gardens. It is an ancient model, too large for our needs, and will need replacing."


The Strengh of Besford Boys has often flourished in the care they lavish upon the weak and defenceless:

Pet's Corner

"One can hardly call the space allotted for pets as Besford Court School a 'corner'. It is more like an area or 'preserve', and, like the wide space, the diversity of animals, birds, reptiles, etc., is also often quite wide.

I do like the story of the boy who kept (until discovered) an owl, some hay and some eggs in the warm confines of his shirt front above the belt.

We find the grasshopper or sand be in box or bottle, the squirrel, the grass snake, the pet mouse in its box, or the attractive jackdaw, but the largest groups are in the pigeon and rabbit class.

The interest is intense and most healthy, until perhaps the form of juvenile revenge upon one's enemy means an attack upon that boys pet. This is surely the real meaning of 'pet aversion'.

Everything is done to encourage the keeping of pets, and great interest is taken, their care being an admitted form of occupational therapy. but, there is another side to this apparent innocent pastime. The homes (duckets I believe they are called) for pigeon and rabbits, which ever seem in need of increasing living space, often promote a fair amount of pilfering to acquire the requisite wood, wire, nails and netting.

The attempts to get the dawdling pigeon back into his loft, alas, does mean many broken tiles and windows in the nearby school premises. It also may mean a handy excuse for a boy to be where he should not be.....'Looking for me pigeon Sir!'.

The food problem for these rabbits and pigeon is a major one. But this again too frequently causes futher breaking of rules - as bread and provender secreted out of the dining hall - cabbage leaves purloined from the vegetable house - attempts upon the stores of local farmers - or the proffered excuse to being well out of bounds, 'Please, Father, I'm only getting rabbit food!'.

I have enjoyed writing this, as it does well to point out the disciplinary and moral problem that are known to the administration and staff, when in reply to the lady visitor's query 'Are your boys allowed to keep pets?'. we can always reply, so sapiently, 'Oh, yes, of course!'''.

The prestige of both Besford and Croome is emphasised.

". . . applications for vacancies as present for outnumber the vacancies available. Unfortunately, many of the applications refused, were for boys 13 years and over. It may be many months before we can admit a boy directly to Besford, as every vacancy there, is needed for a transfer from Croome."

The increasing attention given to careers after Besford, received a boost when an Army Cadet Force was formed to supplement the Scout Troop, and dialogue was begun with the local Careers Office.

Sister Frances Clare joined Croome in 1961, after a distinguished career in education in both Britain and Africa and shortly afterwards, following the retirement of Sister John, Headmistress for 14 years - was appointed as Mother Superior, combining this role with that of headmistress.

(Apropos of absolutely nothing, a general overhaul of the electrical system at this time was undertaken by the newly appointed Electrician ... Mr Wire.

At Croome, a new boy was admitted, and asked to see Sister Frances Clare.

"How many meals am I going to get here?"

"four. Breakfast, dinner, tea and supper."

"that's good."

Four days after his arrival a Religious Ceremony and consequent Bishop arrival, took place, which meant that High Tea was provided, instead of the last two meals.

The small boy reacted violently.

"You told me I was going to have four meals. but I have only had three today!"

"That's because tea and supper were all one meal, making three."

"That's alright then."

A little later there came a knock on the headmistress' door.

"Which part of that meal was my tea, and which part was my supper?"

The encouragement of personal freedom, which was being more and more emphasised as time progressed, led Mr. Hughes to report:

"A cycling mania has hit Besford. Boys have been building bicycles from old frames and wheels salvaged from the refuse tip near the school. Several odd-looking constructions are about the school, but one or two very good machines have also been made up,"- this very laudable emphasis on a reaching-out into the world, continued in the years up to the Golden Jubilee, which was celebrated in fitting style and ceremony. Father O'Brien became Administrator, and the Archbishop "celebrated Mass on an altar erected in front of the main entrance to the Court."

In March 1986, fire broke out and almost reached the point of being a total conflagration.

"It was noticed at 9 p.m., and seemed to have started in the Linen Store Room, and spread rapidly, destroying nearly all the wooden outbuildings, comprising the Store Rooms for the linen, Linen Work Room, the Food Stores, and part of the Maintenance Workshops. It destroyed also the living quarters of two of the Domestic Staff, together with the Dinning Rooms for the Domestic Staff, and also that of the Masters, and a small kitchen attached.   

At the time it was feared that the fuel oil tank, and the petrol tank, would catch fire, and that in turn the dower House would be lost".

The boys and staff were praised for their part in putting the flames out. During the period when Father Manion and Father Dennison followed each other as Administrator, Sister Frances Clare received this letter:

"Dear Mother Frances and all the Nuns, Staff and Boys,

I don't know how to start this letter, as it has been quite a few years since I left Croome and Besford... I would like to give you my regards and best wishes, as, over the years at Croome Court the staff and Sisters there helped me a lot. Since I left Besford, everything has gone wrong... I wish I was back at school and starting all over again, as once you leave school, you have the biggest task in your life.

Please will you read this letter to the boys and staff, as it will show them what I think school has done for me."

Almost in answer to praise such as this, plans were laid for a new Chapel to be built, replacing the cramped one which require two 'sittings' at Mass - it had seats for only eighty - and, in November 1973, the present magnificent Church was opened by the Archbishop. It was designed by Horsley Currell of Stafford, and its octagonal shape, seating 120, meant that no seat is more than 35 feet feet from the Altar.

The carvings of the station of the Cross, designed by Erick Carr of liverpool, were executed by Irwin Shaw from Stafford, and the overhead natural lighting gave an air of fitness to this most complete building.

Mr Hughes retired as Headmaster in 1979, and on August 29th, Mr. P.J.Quigley wrote :-

"I took up residence at Besford Court and assumed my responsibilities as Headmaster."

During the period of his Headmastership - a post which, shortly after his appointment was combined with that of Administrator - the first time that this dual responsibility had been shouldered at Besford - A programme of interior alteration and refurbishment was undertaken.

The Former Chapel was converted into corridors; rest rooms and service areas, Bathrooms and leisure facilities were added, and the whole of the inside of Besford was renovated and carpeted.

In addition, a new Sports Hall, modern and multi-purpose, was built, and eventually following some years of planning and organisation - a magnificent swimming pool came into use in 1992 - the Headmaster being the first involuntary swimmer.

The social conditions of the pupils also underwent quite radical reform, with more communal activity, out-of school work and self-help, and the school also had a new grouping, as the demands of modern life mitigated against having two such establishments as Croome and Besford so geographically close together. Reluctantly, the decision was taken to close Croome and amalgamate the two places, so that older and younger boys - and now girls also - as they were reintroduced in 1982 - could grow and be educated together.

The difficulties inherent in such a move - no staff were made redundant - were gradually surmounted with patience and faith, so that Besford could enter a new era of promise and confidence.

All living organisms have a momentum, and the Great Trinity, birth, growth and death - comes into the story of every organisation. The past feeds the present, which will feed the future, and no man-made breaks can affect the good that flows from the past.

Besford was the first Shrine to St. Theresa in Britain, the first in linking intelligence to ability and the first in using the Montessori method in such an establishment.

It is the first in the heart of many and first in their thoughts.

One evening many years ago, the local constable arrived at the front door of the school to deal with the disappearance of some chickens from a local garden. 

A small boy appeared, 

"Excuse me Sir, Can you help me? Can you reach up and ring that bell - I want to get in, and I'm too small to ring it,"

The constable was only too pleased to help, and rang the bell.

The whole establishment descended on him and he spent the next five minutes explaining why he was acting like an eccentric.

The small boy was never found.

Like the policeman, many other visitors have also found Besford to be not what they expected. It was a giver of hope where there was none, a place of sanctuary where before there had only been fear.


It has called forth devotion beyond duty:

Sister Ursula has served Besford - with Croome - for thirty-three years.

Mrs. Pearl Garrard has served Besford - with Croome - for twenty - six years.

Mr. Paul Hamer has known and worked at Besford for sixty years. His parents are buried here.

Mr. George Scrivens came to Besford and left when he was eighty-two. He lives in Persore.

William Cockersole was the twelfth boy to be admitted. on November 11th 1917. He died in his seventieth year. He never left. He is buried here.



Long, long be my heart with such memories filled,

As the vase in which roses have once been distilled,

You may break, you may shatter the vase if you will,

But the scent of the roses will hang round it still.

Thomas Moore 



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