Ben Ffrench investigates further developments going on around the Beech Court project
Following exciting new revelations around the new development of Beech Court, I asked our estates director what else we might expect to see around the school in the near future.
The new facilities for the Art department, as well as the library and sixth form, open up a whole lot of space for the Beech Court reshuffle. What departmental changes and expansions can we expect? Will there be more projects in future?
We can expect many departments to be reshuffled in the longer term, but in terms of future projects and further expansion, this will be it. We’ve reached almost the ceiling of pupil numbers (the dining hall can’t fit too many at once), so we won’t need to develop facilities much further. The moving of Art means that Music and particularly Drama will be able to expand, with more space and facilities for the drama department. I have been discussing this with Jeremy Taylor. Southwell-Sanders is a house room that has quite inadequate facilities at present. This will be expanded and developed. We have almost reached ‘saturation’ point though; we expect these new arrangements to stick.
Our current Estates Department HQ outside the Science Centre is quite cramped and cold in the winter. It is nice and cosy, but the building has its flaws. In place of the current building, we aim to build a new two storey classroom facility, including a lecture theatre and special facilities. This will likely house economics, as the subject has limited classrooms in Mercers’ Court.
In terms of sporting facilities, what has recently been done, and what can we expect?
The new 4G pitch at Tilsley has FA accreditation, and has been renovated alongside a new throwing area, which we are pleased with. We also have plans for a new tennis pavilion, which we aim to acquire planning permission for by the summer. This will be symmetrical and dual-sided, with a storeroom and a nice place for refreshments, and will look onto both the tennis courts on the MUSA and waste court. The MUSA incidentally is a recent development which we are proud of. This will be a good place for refreshments as well as older relatives and parents who do not wish to watch their sons in the cold and rain. Finally, we also have plans to set up a new cricket muzzer on war memorial field, with specialist bowling lanes, in the north west corner, pending planning permission, which we intend to net over Easter.
How about developments for the gateway between Royce’s alley and Beech Court? When will it open? Will the building work on Waste Court field still be around after this?
The building work will be all gone by Beech Court’s opening in September 2017. Currently the work is cordoned off between 8am and 5pm. This is merely for the contractors to work. The gate is already open from a contractor’s point of view, and will open to the school in September 2018 with Beech Court.
The interview finishes, and we depart. Much has been revealed, and Abingdon School now heads towards another goal in Beech Court. Abingdon’s future is going to be more exciting, and you, the reader, might be the first to experience it.
Which of the new projects is the most interesting and exciting?
It would have to be Beech Court without a doubt. On base level, the development itself is exciting, but the archaeological finds we have uncovered are particularly exciting. One particular find is the uncovering of an old brick wall foundation in the back of the Head’s garden. This is particularly interesting, as it does not appear on an 1800 plan we have of the school, although we know it can’t be too old. We know that the area, before it was a school, used to be outside the town boundary, and was used to graze cattle, and dump waste, thus the name Waste Court. The wall may be a boundary for the town, or for cattle grazing. In either case, this is interesting.
There is also an old bomb shelter we have uncovered in the Head’s garden. This has two entrances and exits either side, with two side compartments either side of the main entrance. However, we know that this was almost never used, as no bombs were dropped on the area around Oxford. Hitler wanted to make the city his new capital, with its richness in history and learning, as he didn’t want to appear like a monster. He was going to use Blenheim Palace, the family seat of Churchill, to rule from as a symbolic gesture.
But all these discoveries should not surprise anyone; Abingdon, along with my town of Thatcham, claims to be the longest permanently inhabited town. Next time you go through the house on the way to the Library, have a look at the display cabinet.