NOSTALGIA: Eastbourne College celebrates a special milestone

The very first pupils at the school, then in Spencer Road, Eastbourne, with headmaster the Reverend James Wood in 1867
The very first pupils at the school, then in Spencer Road, Eastbourne, with headmaster the Reverend James Wood in 1867
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This year Eastbourne College celebrates the 150th anniversary of its founding.

The college first opened its doors in August 1867 with just 14 pupils.

The Memorial Building under construction in 1925

The Memorial Building under construction in 1925

It has grown steadily ever since to become the thriving community it is today with more than 630 pupils - boys and girls, boarding and day students.

The college has developed with the town of Eastbourne and has always been an integral part of the local community.

The school began its life at a house in Spencer Road with the Reverend James Wood as headmaster.

The 7th Duke of Devonshire allotted 12 acres to the new enterprise and the first building, called College – and later School – House was erected on Blackwater Road.

Fire ripped through the Big School in 1981 causing damage running into thousands of pounds

Fire ripped through the Big School in 1981 causing damage running into thousands of pounds

By 1874 there were 100 boys on the roll and several other buildings, including the college chapel had been built.

The Cadet Force was founded in 1896 and thrives to this day, having produced numerous generals, admirals and distinguished airmen including two holders of the Victoria Cross.

Steady growth marked the early years of the 20th century until 1914 when war took the lives of 174 former pupils. After the war, an appeal raised £48,000 – £1.7 million in today’s money – in memory of the boys who gave their lives in the Great War, so enabling the erection of the iconic Memorial Building.

Further development occurred during the 1930s including the introduction of art and music as core activities.

The impressive Birley Centre opened in 2011 and is named after ex-headmaster Michael Birley

The impressive Birley Centre opened in 2011 and is named after ex-headmaster Michael Birley

With the onset of the Second World War, headmaster John Nugee led the wartime evacuation of pupils and staff to Radley College in Oxfordshire while the Eastbourne premises were occupied by a Royal Navy torpedo school, HMS Marlborough.

At the end of the hostilities the school returned safely to Eastbourne and in 1946 Ascham, the college prep school, opened.

In the same year former pupils purchased the playing fields now known as Memorial to remember their comrades who had fallen in battle.

By the time Mr Nugee retired in 1956 there were 420 boys at the college.

Michael Birley, the next headmaster, was a reforming head who banished corporal punishment and led the school through the “swinging sixties”.

In 1967 the college celebrated its centenary and in 1969 girls were admitted for the first time into the sixth form. By 1995 the school was fully co-educational.

In 1966, in anticipation of the college centenary, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited, and in 1967 former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan presented the prizes on the Centenary Speech Day.

Disaster stuck in 1981 when Big School was devastated by fire. Originally built in 1909 as the school assembly hall it was soon rebuilt as the college theatre, funded by donations from Old Eastbournians and others.

1997 saw the opening by the Duke of Devonshire of a fine new library, the Cavendish Learning Resource Centre and in 2002 and 2003 two magnificent buildings, a new Science Centre and a new Design and Technology Centre were opened.

In 2011 the stunning Birley Centre opened. In addition to providing state of the art facilities for college pupils, the centre quickly became a key venue in Eastbourne’s cultural quarter for music and performing arts.

The first phase of the Project 150, a £33 million development currently taking place at the college, opened its doors to delighted pupils and staff in January. The new Nugee Building has delivered 28 state of the art classrooms, a new cricket pavilion, two specialist IT suites and several stunning entertaining areas.

There is great excitement about the new sports centre, swimming pool and dining hall due for delivery in spring 2018.