In my second Friday Fact I noted a probable reason for the demise of Paddock Wood Girls Finishing School in Lightwater.
I promised myself to provide an update to the fascinating story behind the foundation and demise of the school. I can now tell the story, with information mostly derived from articles in the press during the 1960’s and 70’s, provided by Surrey Heath Museum, and with a bit of ‘googling’ by me.
Mrs Rosette Savill, a Monagasque [from Monte Carlo], was in 1939 running a successful couturier business in London. On the outbreak of the WWII, feeling this occupation inappropriate during wartime, she closed her business, and joined General de Gaulle’s Free French Forces, becoming a Welfare Officer. With the help of her husband and distinguished friends she set up and financed twelve clubs for officers and men.
The following is from an articles published in 1975:
In 1941, Mrs Savill, her husband and her two sons moved to Paddock Wood, in Lightwater, which was later to become the Finishing School. The place was chosen because there was a French Military Hospital and large French Camp in Camberley. She also set up at her new home, under massive security, a secret reception centre for the French Resistance Movement, where agents could rest between spells of duty in occupied France. At the same time she and her husband converted the coach-house and stable-block of their property into a convalescent home where armless or legless French soldiers were trained to use artificial limbs supplied by Roehampton.
In 1967 Mrs Savill was awarded one France’s highest honours, the local press reported:
Three years ago French Government officials began inquiries into Mrs. Savill’s wartime activities. They spoke to refugees and fighting men who fled to this country after the fall of France in 1940.
Secret agents who trained for resistance in a secluded house in Chobham Road, Camberley, were interviewed. So were blind and limbless heroes who recuperated at Paddock Wood. They questioned survivors from Nazi concentration camps who were brought to Paddock Wood the after the end of the war.
For Mrs Savill helped them all. She started by organising a committee to raise money for refugees pouring into Britain. She threw open her own elegant home at Paddock Wood as a country retreat for resistance fighters before they returned to France.
Back to the 1975 article, it continued:
For three years after the war Mrs Savill and her husband ran a Summer school at Paddock Wood, at first for the children of French Officers, who, having returned to France with a great affection for England, wished their children to learn English, then later, for students from all over Europe.
In 1949 Mrs Savill decided to open a full scale Finishing School. In this project she was greatly helped and encouraged by the four patrons of Paddock Wood. Among these personalities, with whom she had worked very closely during the war, were Lady Cynthia Colville, Lady-in-Waiting to the then Queen, and much concerned with young women’s education; and Lord Bessborough, a former Governor General of Canada. With the support of her patrons, and with her highly original system of mixing the academic, the practical, and the gracious in her syllabus, the Finishing School was an instant success.”
To get a flavour of the school, here’s the story of a pupil who was among the last debutantes. Well-known for her Dance School in Camberley, Lorna Timms was once a teacher of deportment and etiquette at the school.
But by November 1982 the local press were reporting, ‘Cash crisis at girls’ school’. The report said:
A financial crisis is forcing an exclusive girls’ finishing school to suspend operations at Christmas. The crisis has resulted from a decline in the number of of pupils due to the recession and political troubles abroad.
A couple of years ago Paddock Wood lost its Iranian pupils as a result of the revolution there. This year a couple of South American girls went home as a result of the Falklands crisis.
Sad demise, yes, but the school house remains, having been converted into flats. Also a large part of the gardens remain, including the ornamental lake and bridge, and wonderful Wellingtonia trees.
Oh yes, and I live in what were the grounds of the school, as do many hundreds of others. Happy to do so, just as I am.