History of Donhead

The First Days

Donhead opened its gates for the first time on September 25th 1933. Summer holidays were obviously even longer in those days! The school opened with 75 pupils and was for boys from 7 to 11 years of age. Donhead was founded by Fr Oscar Withnell, the Rector of Wimbledon College at the time, when the need arose to find suitable premises in Wimbledon where the junior classes of the bulging College could migrate to form a preparatory school with its own Headmaster, staff and grounds. Providentially, he was given the chance of buying the house immediately opposite the College gates, which was already called 'Donhead Lodge'. In Anglo-Saxon 'head' means top and 'don' means hill so we can only assume that is how the house got its name. The house was bought from Mr and Mrs Smail for the princely sum of £6,000.

Headmasters of Donhead
Fr Edmund Millar SJ 1933-1939
Fr Francis Moran SJ 1939-1942
Fr Edmund Basset SJ 1942-1945
Fr Christopher Farwell SJ 1945-1949
Fr Bernard Egan SJ 1949-1971
Fr Philip Wetz SJ 1971-1985
Mr Denis O'Leary 1985-1997
Mr Chris McGrath 1997-2017
Mr Philip Barr 2017-

Building Development

Since then the House has been enlarged and expanded quite considerably. 1993 saw the opening of the Diamond Jubilee Building by Fr Wetz SJ, Headmaster of Donhead from 1971-1985, and was named the 'Fr Wetz Building'. This building currently houses Reception M, PP1J, PP1T and LP1W. In 1997 the sports ground was purchased. In September 2004 the first stage of the building development was completed, giving us a new Entrance Area. In September 2006 the St Ignatius building development was completed giving us a new Changing Room, Multi-Purpose Hall, Art Room, Music Room and ICT Suite. This was officially opened by Fr Michael Holman SJ. In October 2010, the Berchman's Building was opened by The Most Reverend Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark. This building currently houses Reception and Pre-Prep. At the same time, a new dining room and kitchen was completed and a new Music Practice Centre established in the basement too.

The Donhead of today is in robust health, with September 2016 seeing the completion of the school's ten year, £8m facilities development; the final stage giving the benefit of four new air-conditioned classrooms, a Chapel, an Art Centre and a 150-seat Auditorium for Music and Drama. Donhead now boasts a suitable range of facilities to offer an excellent and broad education to boys from 4-11 years of age. In addition, Donhead's academic, sporting and musical programmes have, between them, recently secured 33 Scholarship Awards to major independent public schools. Donhead has more than doubled in size between 2006 and 2016 and now offers the highest quality of preparatory school education, within the Jesuit tradition.

The School Grounds

The grounds too have been improved over the years. During the summer of 2013 the lawn and playground were developed with the installation of a 3G artificial surface in both areas. Both areas had a 22mm rubber layer installed to ensure a soft surface. Overall, the play areas for the children have been transformed, both in terms of quality and safety. Two adventure playgrounds have also been added to enhance the facilities for the boys at Donhead, as well as an outdoor stage.

The Uniform

The uniform of Donhead did not have a special cap, tie and blazer until the second and third terms. The opportunity was taken to get away from what one old boy of Donhead has described as "the rather drab College dark-blue". The colour has been described as 'Royal blue', but it was a distinctly lighter shade than what we are familiar with nowadays - one reason for this being that the original colour was impossible to get during World War II.

 

Houses

Although the College was already organised into 'Houses' for competition in sports, Donhead did not start the system until 1936 when Fr Miller and Mr Farwell began a team organisation, clearly based at first, on the rivalry of the playground games; awarding points for scoring a goal, being on the winning side, kicking the ball over the wire netting. Later, points could be gained for supporting the matches of College teams, or lost for untidy lockers, hands in pockets or a bad report from the (drill) Sergeant. Coupons were first introduced in 1942. "Just as coupons were needed by all civilians to keep body and soul together, so for a Donhead boy they became the means of making sure of the welfare of his House". The first House Tea was held in July 1937.

Changes

From September 1944 the College became an 'Aided Grammar School' under the 1944 Education Act and was committed to receiving its entire entry on the results of the 11+ examinations, abolishing fees there. Donhead's status as a fee-paying school remained, while the numbers steadily rose, parents no doubt being ready to pay fees to have their sons started off young in the Jesuit system, with the prospect of these fees ending when the boys reached the age of eleven.

There have been a number of changes in the age-range of the school over the years. In September 1969, Donhead became a school for boys from 7-13 years of age. In 2002 Donhead, once again, became a school for boys from 7-11 years of age, as it was when the school started. In 2007, however, Donhead became fully established as a school for children from 4-11 years of age.