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Brooking’s Architectural Rescue – Thornchase School, Merrow

Published on: 14 Feb, 2013
Updated on: 14 Feb, 2013

Architectural historian Charles Brooking writes about some of the interesting architectural fixtures and fitting he salvaged from a building being demolished in Grove Road, Merrow, that was formerly Thornchase School.

Charles Brooking

Architectural historian Charles Brooking.

Berkeley Homes generously gave me access to the building prior to its demolition in 2011, and it proved to be interesting for several reasons.

Thornchace School was situated off Grove Road, adjoining the Guildford Golf Club House. I was given ample time to record the building photographically and recover items of architectural interest prior to demoliton. The main school building, almost certainly originally built as a private house, circa 1905, was of a curious design in a restrained Arts & Crafts manner.

Whilst the entrance facade sported decorative vernacular-revival leaded light landing windows, tile-hanging and other details, the remainder of the building was quite plain with the first floor exterior being pebble-dashed and the rear elevation being even more restrained in feel. The roof had patent Roman-style pantiles made of red clay.

The interior was equally quirky. I noticed that the windows, with their Arts & Crafts wrought-iron handles and stays, were identical to those used by Ralph Nevill, an Arts & Crafts architect, who designed many local buildings, including Snowdenham Hall, Bramley, the 1898 and 1911 extensions to the Guildford Museum, and several estate cottages and houses in the Godalming and Hambledon areas.

Thornchase School being demolished in 2011. Picture by Charles Brooking.

Thornchase School being demolished in 2011. Picture by Charles Brooking.

The other interesting feature was the staircase, with its stylised newel-post and splat balusters – this was identical to the staircase at Overthorpe – a house in Guildown, Guildford, built circa 1900-1906 – without doubt designed by the same architect. This house, situated next door to Little Croft, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1899, was demolished around 10 years ago.

The windows were, apart from those in the hall and landing area, timber casements with elaborate mouldings.

The fire-grates, particular those in the ground-floor reception rooms, were of a high-quality Arts & Crafts design widely used during the period, circa 1895-1925. They were possibly made by Thomas Elsley of London, a firm that produced a wide range of fire-grates and other products, such as rainwater goods and ironmongery, many being designed by important architects and designers of the period.

Identical fire-grates were used in the 1905 extension to the Savoy Hotel in London, which I was fortunate enough to visit and ‘rescue’ items from in 1982 when it was gutted.

Laundry window from Thornchase School rescued by Charles Brooking.

Laundry window from Thornchase School rescued by Charles Brooking.

At Thornchase I was able to carefully remove examples of the various window types, fire-grates, mouldings and ironmongery from the building before demolition commenced. I was allowed to visit the building during demolition when the plaster plaque shown here was discovered behind later panelling in what was probably the billiard room.

Another interesting fact is that a house on the corner of Warren Road and One Tree Hill is identical in its architectural detailing and finishes, originally sporting the same patent roof tiles. This house, once occupied by a friend of mine, Mary Butts, who then taught at Tormead School, was built in 1905. This was researched by Mary whilst she lived there. Was there a connection between these two properties, considering they were relatively closely situated to each other?

The bungalow on the left at the bottom of the drive to the house [Thorncroft] was built circa 1927-29 and had Crittall windows, typical of the period.

My research is as yet at a very early stage and I would very much welcome any information people might have relating to the history of this building, and views on whether it was in fact designed by Ralph Nevill or someone in his office.

If you can can help, please leave a reply in the box below or email Charles at

Ralph Nevill also wrote several books, including Old Cottage Architecture, Godalming in 1888.

If you are having improvements or renovation work done to your home (large or small) and the builders are rapidly filling a skip with old fixtures and fittings, Charles may well be interested in salvaging some of the items, particularly widow frames. If so, give him a call on 01483 274203. He may also be able to help you with examples of original fittings that your house would have had.

For more details about The Brooking Collection of Architectural Detail click here to see website. 

To read Charles’ previous article on the Clavadel Hotel, click here.

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Responses to Brooking’s Architectural Rescue – Thornchase School, Merrow

  1. Janet Rye Reply

    September 25, 2013 at 9:05 am

    I was a teacher at Thornchace and part of the team who tried to save the school. On its closure the information we had gathered was sent to the Surrey History Centre near Woking. I think there was some reference to the building being owned by a brother of a bishop of Canterbury, although I cannot be sure. I have an old bible rescued from the cellar, which I am hoping to return to the family at some point – it is inscribed as being a gift to A. Warwick from his mother L Warwick on his 50th birthday on Jan 16th 1879. I don’t know if this is relevant to the building, or if it just happened to be there! If you have any info which would help me locate the family I would be grateful.

    • Nicola Garrad Reply

      September 20, 2021 at 9:06 pm

      Hello Mrs Rye, it’s Nicola Garrad.

      Wow it’s been a long time. I moved to America, remember?

      You went out of your way to train me with my swimming and I’ll never forget that.

      You saw something in me and I want to thank you for that. I would love to catch up with you.
      I hope that you’re well.

      Sincerely N J Garrad xx

  2. Ian A Anderson Reply

    March 26, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    Hello Janet.

    Thornchase was owned by the late P K Lang, a brother of Cosmo Lang, who was Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of Edward VIII’s abdication.

    If you are still looking for descendants, there is one still living in Merrow and if you contact me I will make a connection.

  3. Janet Rye Reply

    April 13, 2017 at 9:55 pm

    Hello Ian. Well nearly 4 years on and I still have the bible, I would be grateful if you could make the connection for me. thanks, Janet.

  4. Fiona Moore Reply

    November 23, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    I went to Thorn Chase School when it was a boarding school for boys and girls. I was wondering if you have any photos of the school?

    Or do you know if they is any way I could get some of the headmaster who was Mr Baron. He and his wife lived in the house beside the school.

    • Ricki Chilton Reply

      June 4, 2018 at 5:13 am

      Hi Fiona. I also attended Thornchase School with Mr and Mrs Baron.

      I think I might have some photos of them that I asked Sue for before they left.

      Do you remember Sue and Siobhan the after-school youth worker house madams?

      • Fiona Moore Reply

        April 3, 2019 at 2:50 pm

        I went to Thornchase from the age of 8 until I was 13. I loved going to that school. I wanted to stay longer but couldn’t.

        In response to Rikki, I remember Sue and Mary who looked after us at the school with Mr and Mrs Baron. I wonder if he remembers when we played outside in the afternoon, then had to go inside where we were allowed to watch TV for a little while and then had tea in the dining room. We had a potty in the bedroom and had to make our beds.

      • Lyndon Street Reply

        September 23, 2020 at 9:03 pm

        I think I also attended this school. I certainly remember Sue and Siobhan.

        If I remember rightly, Sue had short dark hair and Siobhan had long blonde hair?

        I’m certain this is the place but for some reason I remember it as Thorn Lodge.

        If it is the same school, there was only a maximum of around 25 students at any given time, each with their own issues.

        There used to be a tuck shop, you could win certificates in assembly and each certificate was worth 25p or £1 in the tuck shop (depending on if it was yellow or gold).

        I have looked all over online for information on this place because I was so young when I went there. Is any of this ringing a bell?

        • Tayden Turner Reply

          January 18, 2024 at 5:02 pm

          I’m sure we were friends at Thornchase. I was there at seven years old and used to get a taxi there with someone called Lyndon. The headmaster I’m sure was called Mr Lodge, And yes Sue and Siobhan were housemothers, Siobhan was mine. One teacher was Mrs Humphreys. I hated the place.

    • Chris Doman Reply

      October 24, 2020 at 11:42 pm

      I too went there in the 1960s.

  5. Mark Devine Reply

    September 28, 2018 at 11:42 pm

    I attended Thornchase from 1975/6-1977. I remember Mr & Mrs Baron and their children, Nicky and I think Richard. I also remember the staff, Sue and Philomena. Somehow, I remember an English/Indian boy I used to hang out with.

    I’d welcome anyone who remembers me from that time to contact me.

  6. Nina Jenkins Reply

    May 6, 2019 at 10:50 am

    My aunt worked at Thornchase in the 1950s and I used to be sent there every summer during the holidays. I loved it. I was allowed to wear dungarees, I had a little wicker basket under my bed in the dormitory where I used to store my clothes and we had great fun in the playroom.

    My memories of those times are very happy and I still have a photo or two although they mostly show people, with the house just as background.

    • David Bradbury Reply

      November 19, 2019 at 7:38 pm

      I was at Thornchase 1958-61.

      What was your aunt’s name? The staff I remember were Miss Mary Green, Miss Reid, Mrs Harper and Miss Lawrence

      By the way, my name was Dave Reddick at the time.

      • Linda McAllister Reply

        February 6, 2020 at 4:43 pm

        I also went to Thornchase and I remember it being a home.

        I was only six years old and I don’t remember how long I was there for, it would have been 1958.

        I remember it was the first time I ever wore a pair of shorts.

        We used to play on a rope swing up the back off the large lawn where there was a gate that opened on to the common or golf course.

  7. Ailsa Nicholas (nee Howard) Reply

    November 28, 2020 at 3:49 am

    I attended this school between the ages of 7 to 13. I had a different surname back then.

    Fiona Moore and I shared the middle dorm room in the attic. As you look at the school from the back, the left attic room was Mrs Baron’s room and our fire ladders were in there, the right-hand attic room stored the water tanks and all of our suitcases.

    When I was there we had a maximum of 18 boys and girls (14 boys, four girls)
    Sue and Mary were just two of the house mothers whilst I was there.

    Mr Davis lived in the cottage as you entered the drive. He was our gardener and handyman he could also be found in the school garage/his workshop tending to the injured birds and critters he’d found.

    I have no photos from my time there, as we weren’t allowed cameras. If anyone has any copies of any photos of Mr and Mrs Baron I would be grateful. I saw them on their very last day.

    I found out recently that Mr Baron has passed away in the last couple of years.

    If Fiona Moore reads this, I would love to get in contact with her through The Guildford Dragon.

  8. Tammy Solman Sculley Reply

    December 2, 2021 at 9:50 pm

    I went to Thornchace when it was for girls only in the mid/late 1990s. I set up a Facebook group for anyone who is interested. We have about 100 members, from people who have worked there or been a student many many years before I went there, lots of photos etc, I haven’t updated much last few years but feel free to check it out and join the group.

    Architectural archivist Charles Brooking was kind enough to let me visit his workshop after Thornchace was demolished and I posted some interesting photos of items found at the property on the Facebook page also.

    • Jacob Thompson Reply

      April 22, 2023 at 4:51 pm

      Hi Tammy – I’d like to join the group. We now live in one of the houses that was built on the site of the old Thornchase School.

  9. John Wallace Reply

    May 4, 2022 at 9:54 pm

    I went to Thornchase from 1969 to 1973. My best friend was Jack Chapman.

  10. Ricki Chilton Reply

    September 3, 2023 at 1:34 pm

    Yes Lyndon it does, that was after Mr and Mrs Baron had retired.

    Mr Lodge was then the headmaster.

    Does anybody remember Gunnar Scarano and Graham Wicks. Also Scott Mills and a fella called Edward. He wore glasses>

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