PART 4: The Wards

  4. 1960s SCHOOL’S ADVERT.
  8. FOOTNOTES [Part 4].

1. Skippers Hill advert 1953

In 1953, Paton’s List of Schools published an advertisement for Skippers Hill Manor that had been placed by Harold Bucknall. The publication shows that Bucknall had become a member of the Royal Society of Teachers.

Key themes: Location, Facilities, Climate, Nutrition, Exercise, Fresh Air, Sports,
Public School Examinations, Happy Atmosphere, Boarders

Preparatory School for Boys
Five Ashes, Near Tunbridge Wells
Head Master: H. Bucknall M.R.S.T.

Boys are admitted at the age of 6 years and are carefully prepared for the entrance examinations to the Public Schools. Talented boys are encouraged to work for scholarships. Skippers Hill is a fine Sussex mansion standing 460 feet above sea-level in grounds of 20 acres, which include cricket and football fields, kitchen gardens, orchard, etc. The school has its own swimming pool. Health and physical development are promoted by a bracing climate, an abundance of wholesome food, fresh air and exercise, and a very happy and congenial atmosphere. There is accommodation for 70 boarders. [ed. no mention of day boys]
Fees: 50 guineas a term, including all necessary expenses. The only extras are for purely optional subjects. Prospectus from the Head Master.

[ed. 50 guineas was equivalent to £1,638 per term in today’s (2017) money, or £4,914 p.a.].

Interestingly, there is no mention in the 1953 Skippers advert of Harold Bucknall’s wife, Kathleen, being involved in any role in the life of Skippers. As Harold Bucknall’s wife was not involved in the running of Skippers as far as is known, he would not have been able to offer boys the Wards’ husband-&-wife, home-from-home formula that they had used to run Tavistock Hall School between 1944 and 1954.

2. New head of Tavistock Hall

In 1944, Harold Bucknall appointed John Raymond Ward (Wakefield, Yorkshire, 1921-2002) headmaster of Tavistock Hall preparatory school in Heathfield. Ward had been a Senior Master at Arnold Lodge preparatory school in Royal Leamington Spa, Worcestershire, where he taught geography. Ward became one of the country’s youngest headmasters at the age of 23.

When applying for Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society in 1944, Ward supported his application by saying “as a teacher of geography, I have a keen interest in geographical research, in the study of historical geography, and in the new methods for presenting the subject to pupils”.1 A schools’ inspector who audited Skippers in the 1960s described Ward as “a man of integrity, a good teacher and aware of current trends in education”.2

3. Changing of the guards

Harold Bucknall was the headmaster of Skippers from 1945 to 1953. The advert in the 1953 edition of Paton’s List of Schools shows that Harold Bucknall, aged 70, was still the headmaster of Skippers in 1952. It is thought that he stepped down from his position as headmaster in 1953 after the schools handbook was published. He appointed his stepson, Jack Bucknall, to take over the reins as headmaster. Jack Bucknall had been a vice-master at Skippers since 1950.3 He only held the position for about a year.

Jack Bucknall (27), born Jack Pope, married Anne Maria Magner (23) at the Catholic Church of our Lady of Pity and St Simon Stock, Putney, London on 2 Aug 1950. According to their marriage certificate, he was a school teacher at a private school [ed. Skippers] and his 23-year-old wife Anne Maria Magner (Clonmel, Ire, 1926-2012) was a school nurse at Tavistock Hall, Heathfield, Sussex. Harold Bucknall was recorded as a head teacher at a private school [ed. Skippers]. The Roman Catholic ceremony was solemnised in the presence of John R. Ward and Josephine Magner.4 Anne Magner was the sister of Maureen Magner, John Ward’s wife.

The following year, 1954,5 Harold Bucknall appointed John Raymond Ward as the third headmaster of Skippers. John Ward and his wife Maureen Eileen Magner (Cork, 1919-2007) had been running Tavistock Hall for 10 years from 1944 and had turned it into a successful [ed. profitable] business. Skippers under the Bucknalls, on the other hand, had been running at a loss. So Jack Bucknall was moved to Tavistock Hall where he became the school’s third headmaster and Anne Bucknall, his wife, went with him to help run the school. At the same time, the Wards were moved from Tavistock Hall to Skippers in the hope that they would turn the school into a profitable business, which they succeeded in doing.6

Maureen E. Magner & John Raymond Ward
with K.A. Maxine Ward (at J.R. Ward’s feet)
Skippers Hill Manor  |  Summer 1956
Photo by Buchanan of Portslade, Sussex7

Harold Bucknall died some two years later in the Royal Northern Hospital, Islington, London on 17 May 1956, aged 73. His address is recorded as Skippers Hill Manor Preparatory School for Boys (see below). His effects were valued for probate at £12,432, which in today’s (2017) money is equivalent to around £297,000. He died from a muscle-wasting disease and cancer.

Jack Bucknall is described on the death certificate as the “son” and “informant” residing at Tavistock Hall, Heathfield. There is no mention of Harold’s wife Katherine Bucknall. The certificate described Harold Bucknall as “a headmaster of Skippers Hill, Mayfield, Sussex”. Surprisingly, no mention is made of his home address. As John R. Ward was already two years in the saddle as headmaster at Skippers by 1956, and given Bucknall’s illness, it seems likely that Harold Bucknall’s role was purely that of a co-director without any involvement in the day-to-day running of the school.

4. School’s advert 1964

Advertisement (1964)

Key themes: Location, Sports Facilities, Clubs, Welfare, Matrons, Scouts & Cubs, Nutrition, Play Rooms,
Fresh Air, Public School Examinations, Bursaries, Boarders, Optional Subjects/Sports, Central Heating

In the early 1960s, Skippers under the Wards, positioned itself as a private school in 34 acres.8 with a cricket pitch, football grounds and a swimming pool. The school was centrally heated and had gardens, playrooms and orchards.

Boys were prepared for Common Entrance and scholarship examinations. Bursaries were available to clever boys. Optional riding, piano and violin lessons were also available for an additional fee.

There were clubs for boxing, shooting, Meccano, crafts, stamp collecting, a Sea Scouts Group and Wolf Cub Pack. There was a gymnasium equipped with a stage for theatricals. The headmaster was J.R. Ward, F.R.G.S. Mrs Ward was in charge of the kitchen and meals and responsible for the health, meals and welfare of the boys, assisted by two ‘lady matrons’.

Fees (boarders): 255 guineas (£268) p.a. all found [ed. excl. breaktime fruit, laundry, stamps and stationery]. In 2017 terms, annual fees were equivalent to £4,682.

5. The Limited Company

Sometime between 1970 and 1972,9 the stakeholders (directors) Jack Bucknall, Kathleen Bucknall and J.R. Ward [ed. MW was not a director] decided it was time to split up Tavistock Hall Preparatory Schools Limited.10

When the limited company was split, the Wards took Skippers Hill Manor as their share of the business, while Jack Bucknall took the rest of the company (i.e. Tavistock Hall, Heathfield). Jack Bucknall went on to buy Summerhill Court in Lindfield, near Haywards Heath, Sussex, in 1973, and merged it with Tavistock Hall. He renamed the merged schools as Tavistock and Summerhill.11

6. Foundership

In the autumn of 2019, I corresponded by e-mail with Mrs Nathalie Assayag Eales, the granddaughter of John Raymond Ward. She replied on behalf of her mother Katherine Maxine Assayag (née Ward). Here are the facts:

  1. Harold Bucknall purchased the Skippers Hill Estate in October 1945 and, based on my research, was the school’s founder and first headmaster.
  2. The Skippers website states that John and Maureen Ward founded Skippers Hill Preparatory School in 1945. This does not match my research findings.
  3. In Mrs Nathalie Eales’ e-mail (No. 2) she wrote: “As regards who founded Skippers, it was Harold Bucknall, who also owned TH, together with my grandmother, Maureen Ward”. In e-mail No. 4, she confirmed: “My grandmother (ed. MW) went with Harold Bucknall to found Skippers”, and assisted him in the first couple of years before returning to Tavistock Hall.
    Comment: In that case, she would have been employed by Harold Bucknall and paid for her services.
  4. There is a disparity between Points 2 and 3. The school states that the Wards founded Skippers in 1945, whereas Mrs Eales’ e-mails to me state that Maureen Ward co-founded Skippers with Harold Bucknall.
    Comment: These two accounts do not match. If Maureen Ward did co-found Skippers with Bucknall, why is Harold Bucknall not mentioned in any of the school’s communications? This seems inequitable. Mrs Eales could not comment for the school.
  5. In the So Tunbridge Wells Magazine of 2010, Mrs Eales wrote an article about Skippers, saying that her grandparents founded the school and her parents bought the school in 1990.
    Comment: Despite acknowledging that Harold Bucknall was a founder of Skippers in her e-mails to me, she neglected to mention the role of Harold Bucknall when she wrote promotional text about Skippers. As her article was written in the same year that the school was sold to Bellevue Education, it seems likely that the school adopted her narrative for their website.
  6. In 1954, John and Maureen Ward were brought over from Tavistock Hall where they had run a successful (profitable) school for 10 years, to take over the management of Skippers from Jack Bucknall, the headmaster at that time. Skippers was loss-making. The Wards turned Skippers back into a profitable business. (not disputed)
    Comment: As John Ward was headmaster at Tavistock Hall between 1944 and 1954, he cannot really be regarded as a ‘founder’ of Skippers in 1945, as he was already busy running another of Harold Bucknall’s schools!

See Section 7: Correspondence | See: Blog

It would appear that the Wards have claimed foundership of Skippers Hill Manor Prep School retrospectively because of Mrs Ward’s involvement in the first couple of years of the school as an employee and because the Wards took over managing the school in 1954 and then bought Skippers in 1990.

7. Correspondence

E-mail 1

24 Oct 2019

Author to Maxine Assayag (née Ward)

E-mail 2

18 Nov 2019

Nathalie Eales to author

E-mail 3

18 Nov 2019

Author to Nathalie Eales

E-mail 4

18 Nov 2019

Nathalie Eales to author

E-mail 5

28 Nov 2019

Author to Nathalie Eales/p1

[did not respond]

E-mail 5

28 Nov 2019

Author to Nathalie Eales/p2

E-mail 5

28 Nov 2019

Author to Nathalie Eales/p3

8. Footnotes [Part 4]


5 replies
  1. Cyril
    Cyril says:

    Dear Peter
    I went to Tavistock Hall and Skippers Hill. Harold Bucknall was like a father to me during the war years. I remember that when he purchased Skippers and I believe I was its first pupil. I attended Tavistock Hall with my sister in around 1942 and then to Skippers Hill Manor in 1945. I still have papers from the school. I was Head Boy when I left. I last met Harold Bucknall’s son [ed. stepson] Jack Bucknall in 1973 while on a visit to the UK. I remember those years with greatfulness and Harold Bucknall’s kindness. I was the only Jewish boy and went on to Beaconsfield School in about 1950. We used to march to a church near Mayfield on Sundays. Skippers and Beaconsfield used to play annual cricket and football matches against one another. I never saw my mother again after going to Tavistock Hall as a border. In 1957, I emigrated to Canada, 5 years after leaving Skippers. [Comment has been edited]

    • TriggerPoints
      TriggerPoints says:

      Hi Cyril
      Thanks for getting in touch with me and sharing some of your recollections of your time at Skippers.
      Please would you let me have your surname so I can confirm who you are. Would you be willing to share some of the ‘papers from the school’ to which you refer? I’m sure they would be full of interesting historical information which would benefit the website. I’m particularly interested to hear more about your memories of being the school’s first ‘Head Boy’ and about life at the school then. If you are willing to share this information with me, please use the Contact Form on this website and send me a few essential details. Then we can then continue corresponding by e-mail, which will be much easier for both of us.

  2. Patrick J OSHEA
    Patrick J OSHEA says:

    Hi Peter
    FYI, I do have some letters between Harold Bucknall and my grandparents from 1949-1951 which I could dig out if that helps? I was at Skippers for 7 years and barely saw JR Ward, who we knew only as the head at Tavistock Hall. I went on to found 4 companies over the years.
    Best regards

  3. Nick Webb
    Nick Webb says:

    I was at SHM 1964-1967 as a boarder, and have many vivid memories of the period, including many of the people mentioned on your site (the Wards, including their daughter Susie), Messrs. Magner and Mander (I still have my Sea Scout cap, belt, and badge), Col. Faro (“Colonel Bogey”)), as well as others (Mr. Burfield, Sylvia the cook, Victor Killick the handyman) and many of my fellow boarders (for many of whom, like me, SH was our first experience of living in the UK).
    Anyway, if any of this might be of interest, do feel free to get in touch.
    Nick Webb
    7 Dec 2021


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  1. Library of the Royal Geographical Society, Kensington, London.
  2. Report by H.M Inspectors of Schools on Skippers (see References).
  3. Bucknall’s position at Skippers (Vice-Master) is registered in his membership record in the Library of the Royal Geographical Society, Kensington, London.
  4. Marriage Certificate of Jack Bucknall and Anne Maria Magner.
  5. The date of the appointment was confirmed by Katherine Maxine Assayag (née Ward) by e-mail in 2019.
  6. Nathalie Assayag Eales. Correspondence, e-mail No. 2.
  7. Part of a panoramic photograph taken at Skippers in the summer term of 1956, supplied by Peter Kirby-Higgs.
  8. The school would appear to have acquired a further 14 acres after 1953.
  9. Kathleen Bucknall and Jack Bucknall, the executors of Harold Bucknall’s will, executed a Deed of Grant drawn up in 1970 between (i) themselves, (ii) Tavistock Hall Preparatory School Limited and (iii) the South Eastern Gas Board regarding a gas line that crossed under Skippers’ playing fields. That shows that the Bucknalls still owned Skippers in 1970. Then, on 31 July 1972, the Charges Register shows that John Raymond Ward executed a Deed of Grant with the Mid-Sussex Water Company, suggesting that the Wards had probably acquired full ownership of Skippers Hill Manor by then.
  10. The limited company’s name is recorded differently in the Report by H.M Inspectors of Schools on Skippers (see References) as The Tavistock Hall Schools Limited.
  11. Nathalie Assayag Eales. Correspondence, e-mail No. 2.