St John’s has a long and illustrious history of educating boys in the Pinner, Harrow and Northwood areas. In 2020, we will celebrate 100 years since the first pupils were taught in a single room in a Pinner house. Much has changed since then and the short history below charts some of the key milestones over almost a century.
St John's was founded in 1920 by Mr Claude Norman, the first Headmaster. The first classroom was a room in the vicarage of St John’s Church, Pinner – from where the school takes its name – and the class of 1920 contained just five boys, two of whom were sons of the vicar. A growing school roll quickly led to a move to 'The Briary' in Moss Lane, Pinner and then, in 1927, round the corner to Barrow Point House in Paines Lane. In 1930 Barrow Point House burnt down apparently due to an electrical fire. The property was rebuilt and was St John’s home for the next forty years.
From quite early on St John's had a House system with three Houses promoting healthy competition between the boys. Mr Norman led School House with the other two named after the then Masters in charge, Mr Richmond and Mr Cheshire.
In 1935, First World War desert hero T.E. Lawrence – Lawrence of Arabia – was killed in a motorbike accident. Mr Norman, who was familiar with the great man having served in Mesopotamia (now Iraq), decided to rename his House ‘Lawrence’ in his honour. Messrs Richmond and Cheshire were obliged to fall into line with Mr Richmond choosing Lincoln (after the US President) and Mr Cheshire choosing Oates after the self-sacrificing Captain who was part of the Scott Antarctic expedition.
One peculiarity of the House system was that a boy’s House was determined by where he came from. Lawrence was for boys from Pinner itself, if they lived in Hatch End and beyond they were allocated to Lincoln, whilst boys from the area towards Harrow went into Oates. St John’s still has these three Houses – although without their original geographical links – and to them a fourth House, Churchill was added, we think, some time after the Second World War.
At the start of the Second World War Mr Norman was offered the opportunity of evacuating the school to a safer country location, but he decided to stay put. Old Boys of the time have memories of watching dogfights in the sky above the school and of collecting shrapnel on the way to school in the morning. Throughout the war Mr Norman doubled his role of Headmaster with that of Lieutenant Colonel of the 13th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment of the Home Guard.
One Old Boy recalls the older boys helping with the unpacking and de-greasing of weapons from the United States recording: "Browning water-cooled heavy machine guns, Thompson .45 sub-machine guns, hand grenades, bayonets and cases of .300 Springfield and .303 Ross rifles - preserved for over twenty years from WW1 but in first class working order none-the-less."
In 1951 Mr Norman, having been Headmaster for 31 years, died after a sudden illness, and his son, Peter Norman, took over as both proprietor and Headmaster of St John's. One of the challenges with which the younger Mr Norman wrestled continually was the limitation of the Barrow Point site which was really too small for the thriving school. Games had to be played three-quarters of a mile away and no viable option could be found to expand the school despite a high demand for places.
Years of searching by Mr Norman for alternative premises were eventually rewarded when he discovered that Potter Street House, a large mansion with approximately 30 acres of grounds, was up for auction. What happened next is best told in Mr Norman's own words.
"Immediate inspection told me that this was a dream that had to come true. To secure the property before the auction it was necessary to sign up unconditionally within ten days which I did, without survey, against legal advice and without the finance! A successful outcome hinged on obtaining planning consent to develop the Paines Lane premises; the planning officer was not cooperative. I sought an interview with the Chief Education Officer to discuss my predicament and 'suggested' that he might be wise to plan to absorb my 150 boys into his already overcrowded primary schools, if I was forced to close St John's. His cooperation was much appreciated as the necessary consent arrived the following day."
The school moved to Pinner Hill in 1970 and Potter Street House became The White House which is at the heart of the school today. In the 1970s and 1980s a Gym and Science block were added, rugby fields were levelled and seeded and the formal gardens replaced with the 1st XI cricket ground. Finally, a new hall with classrooms at each end was built.
In 1984 Mr Norman retired after 33 years as Headmaster marking the end of one era and the beginning of the next. The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors, owners of the Merchant Taylors' School, was already familiar with St John’s having accepted a large portion of leavers in a relationship that flourishes to this day. The Company bought St John's from Mr Norman and with the change of ownership came a change of governance.
St John’s became a charitable trust and a board of governors was appointed who, in turn, appointed Paul Ramage as Headmaster. Mr Ramage recalls being told at his interview that the Governors would be willing to consider a certain amount of development; and they were certainly true to their word. In 1986 the Pre-Prep and new Gym were completed, in 1989 a new Science block and changing rooms was built on the site of the old one and a new Junior teaching block was added in 1992.
In 1993, with Mr Ramage's move to the headship of The Hall school in Hampstead, Chris Kelly was appointed Headmaster. Under his stewardship the school grew to its current 350 pupils and further developments were completed. The Pre-Prep was expanded in stages and a Nursery wing added and, in 1990, we were able to acquire land adjoining the site to the north. This is now the site of the Pre-Prep play area and the Nature Trail. In 1999, there was a major addition with a block with dedicated Music, ICT, Art and DT facilities as well as the Norman Hall, named after our founder.
In 2006 an all-weather playing surface was opened by the Mayor of London on the area below the school. Subsequent years have seen improvements to the playing fields and the addition of an athletics track and pitch and putt golf course.
Mr Kelly retired in 2013 after earning his fourth excellent inspection report. He passed on the reins to his capable deputy, Sean Robinson who became only the fifth Headmaster in the School’s history. Today, St John's is a flourishing Preparatory School and a valued part of the Merchant Taylors’ Educational Trust. Mr Robinson has around him a dedicated and highly skilled team of staff who support him in continuing to provide excellent teaching and learning in a superb environment.
This is just a snapshot of the many individuals and traditions that give St John’s its character. A fuller history of the school will be produced for the centenary in 2020 complete with surviving images and memories of alumni through the years. If you have memories, pictures or memorabilia that you can share for this project, please contact Head of Communications Mrs Savage at email@example.com.
Potter Street Hill
Middlesex HA6 3QY
Tel: +44 (0)20 8866 0067