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Whittinghame College

Whittinghame College was opened in 1931 as a ‘Jewish Public School’, in the south coast conurbation of Brighton and Hove. This choice of location was unsurprising, for by 1931, the area had quite clearly become one of the main centres of Jewish private education in Britain. Two potential rivals to Whittinghame College were already well-established… Read more »

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Whittinghame College was opened in 1931 as a ‘Jewish Public School’, in the south coast conurbation of Brighton and Hove. This choice of location was unsurprising, for by 1931, the area had quite clearly become one of the main centres of Jewish private education in Britain. Two potential rivals to Whittinghame College were already well-established there.

Jacob Halevy, although born and brought up in Palestine, had graduated from Manchester University in Chemistry in 1925, and also taught Hebrew at schools for the Manchester Jewish community. He had come to the conclusion that his future career lay in education, and in September 1931, Halevy founded Whittinghame College in a house at 62, The Drive, Hove. Financial support is believed to have come from prominent members of the Jewish community in London, and the name was taken from the ancestral seat in Scotland of Lord Balfour, author of the 1917 Balfour Declaration in support of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Halevy was strongly Zionist, and his aims for his pupils included not only a sound Jewish and secular education, but also support for the foundation of a State of Israel. Pupil numbers increased rapidly to 30 by the end of the first school year, then to 72 pupils and 23 staff, and the school expanded first into 66, and then 64, The Drive. From the start, both football and cricket flourished at Whittinghame College, using the training grounds in Cromwell Road, Hove.

There was a large intake of German pupils from the mid-1930s, not always welcomed by their schoolmates, and by 1935 Halevy was seeking larger premises. The school acquired a very large Victorian mansion, Woodlands, in Surrenden Road, Brighton, with a view to having purpose-built modern accommodation on the site, as well as possibly keeping the older property. The architect for the new building was A V Pilichowski. The modernist building featured in the Architecture Illustrated of June 1936, and in The Builder of July 1936. Unfortunately, a last-minute decision finally to retain the original building, and some cost cutting, resulted in much criticism of the new building.

With the outbreak of war in September 1939, the school became a receiving station for evacuees, up to 500 at a time passing through to billets in the area. After Dunkirk the school was requisitioned, and became a military hospital, and some teachers of German origin were classed as enemy aliens and interned on the Isle of Man. The school was forced to relocate to Carmarthenshire in Wales, eventually settling at a country house near Llandeilo. Several of the other Jewish schools in the Brighton area also relocated to Wales at this time, as the Jewish Chronicle reported in July 1940.

The school returned to Surrenden Road in 1945, and activities included military training in the form of a Cadet Corps, which regularly participated in the annual AJEX remembrance parade in London. By the late 1940s, the pupil numbers were beginning to rise yet again, including a significant number from Palestine/Israel and other Jewish communities in the Middle East, and the intake levelled off at around 200. Instead of being merely a British school, the input continued the process, begun in the 1930s, of globalising the institution, and when a count was made in the late 1940s, the school boasted pupils from no less than 38 countries.

Between 1948 and 1964, Whittinghame College was in its heyday. By the mid-1950s the lack of further classroom and dormitory space in Surrenden Road indicated that some form of physical expansion of the school was vital if it was to keep pace with its growing popularity. A suitable building with extensive grounds was found at Handcross Park, Handcross, and all school classes below the Lower Third, were relocated there in the summer term of 1958.

However, this move did not prove successful for a variety of reasons, as evidenced by falling academic standards in the junior school. Eventually Halevy was persuaded to set up an educational trust to run the school, and by 1966 a board of trustees, chaired by Lord Sieff, and reflecting a wide diversity of Anglo-Jewry, was in place. By then the site at Surrenden Road had been sold for housing development, but on the premise that the transfer of the school to Handcross would take place over an extended period. The new owners did not agree, and a hurried move ensued in September 1965.

Sadly, the new arrangements led to falling numbers, and after various attempts to save it with new funding, or even merger with Carmel College, the school closed in December 1967.

*With acknowledgement to ‘Jake’s Legacy – a History of Whittinghame College’ by Eric Shanes.

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