Peacocks, flamingos and 400 years of history at one school

Whitgift School’s pink flamingos pay little attention to the former pupils’ international and Olympic sporting achievements, on display outside the recently renamed Christopher Barnett sports centre, built with some subsidy from the Lottery Sports Fund

WANDLE WANDERINGS: One of the country’s leading independent schools happens to have a mini-zoo in its grounds, which are rarely open to the public. WALKER DUNELM strolled through Whitgift School on its open day

Even when it’s going to a good cause, £4 just to look around a school’s grounds might seem a bit steep, but it would be a shame to miss the chance to look around the Whitgift Foundation’s extravagances at Haling Park, home of Whitgift School.

Peacocks everywhere: the flamboyant birds seem to be at every turn

There are peacocks everywhere calling, perching high at vantage points, sheltering in the shade in the quadrangle, even investigating the bins.

Pea fowl have abounded at Whitgift since the first gift of them in 1936, five years after the school first moved in.

By contrast, the wallabies are rather elusive amongst the three species of flamingos, ducks and exotic birds in the recently renovated “Duke of York Water Garden”.

Has anyone told the Duchess?

HRH, the Duke of York, KG, is the school’s patron, and he was wheeled out last month, when not on Royal Wedding duties, to unveil a plaque to mark “the refurbishment” of the enclosure, with new waterfalls, a bridge and more varieties of birds. Just what every south London school needs to top the league tables.

The view from the school terrace across to the spire of St Peter’s was, for a brief time, one of the best in English county cricket

The waterfowl and wallaby enclosure stands at the top of the hill overlooking the Brighton Road.

The statue of the school’s founder, Archbishop John Whitgift

The flamingos were flown in to South Croydon in 2005 (Sir David Attenborough was on hand to do the ribbon cutting then), at such a cost that some members of the teaching staff worked out that the bird budget could have paid to equip every pupil at the school with their own personal laptop. Whitgift has around 1,300 pupils…

All this spending on marsupials and exotic birds helps the teaching of art and science, says the guide given out when you paid your entry fee.

The zoo is open to arranged primary school visits, but otherwise the public can visit for the well-appointed boys independent school only on set open days. There are three in 2018, with one more to come in July.

Enjoying beautiful views back towards South Croydon’s St Peter’s church, framed by the school’s playing fields, the grounds also house the Founder’s House Garden, that includes the modern seven-foot tall statue of Archbishop Whitgift, which weighs one-third of a ton, sculpted by Sam Holland in 2012.

There’s lots of colour, and statues abound around the school grounds

That garden stands next to the school’s war memorial, flagpoles and the Founder’s new accommodation for boarders, also blessed by Prince Andrew on his visit to Whitgift in 2013.

Much of the recent grounds work owes its  enhancement to the recently retired head, Dr Christopher Barnett. A splash of colour is seen in planting by the re-titled Barnett Sports and Conference centre.

The Founder’s Garden includes (another) Archbishop Whitgift statue, this one dating from 1871.

Darren Greenhow’s Silver Lancer dazzles in the summer sunshine

Enthusiastic staff served nice cream teas to visitors enjoying the flowers in their radiant summer beauty and the bright reflections off David Sparrow’s silvered British Lancer in the sunshine, while other visitors, not just the younger ones, get lost in the school’s maze.

The school’s original quadrangle is named after another headmaster, Samuel Andrew, who was in charge of the school from 1903 to 1927, a time when it was a grammar and based in North End.

The weather vane is of Effingham’s flagship, the Ark Royal

For a school founded in the Elizabethan age, its current site, Haling Park, is particularly apt. The school moved in 1931 to Haling Park, which had been owned by Henry VIII and was later the home to Lord Howard of Effingham, the Lord High Admiral of the Fleet sent against the Spanish Armada.

What with Addington Palace not so far away and the Archbishops of Canterbury’s Old Palace in the town centre, Croydon was clearly the place to be at the turn of the 17th century.

The gardens open day well demonstrates that Croydon really does have a stately home in our midst; it’s just that unless you pay £18,000 a year to have a child educated there, it is rarely accessible to the general public.

In the school’s more recently laid-out gardens, there is a strong Japanese theme, with a Japanese garden opened by Ambassador Nogami, carp in the ponds and finely manicured bonsai trees.

The Andrew Quad is a scene of clam serenity, and peacock calls

Other notable topiary includes two replicas of the Mary Rose, almost matching Whitgift’s weather vane, which is said to be of Effingham’s Tudor flag ship, the original Ark Royal.

The less said about the loss of the Mary Rose in 1545, the better…

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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