History & Heritage

heritage of heath mount school grounds

A Rich and Varied History

Heath Mount School is one of the oldest Prep Schools in the country with a prestigious alumni.

Previously known as Hampstead Heath Academy, Heath Mount Academy and Heath Mount Grammar, the School was founded as a boarding school in about 1796 for the education of ‘boys and young gentlemen’. The first Headmaster was the Rev John Hunter, who rented a house on Heath Street in Hampstead, in an area known as Heath Mount due to its proximity to the summit of the Heath.

In 1875, Mr Bush – the fifth headmaster – surrendered the lease to Mr Goldsmith, who moved Heath Mount to a school he had established in the early 1860s at New End in Hampstead. John Grenfell took over as Headmaster in 1896 and the school grew under his leadership. He introduced a green school uniform which included the Grenfell ‘Griffin’ crest in gold, and the green uniform and griffin continue to be used to this day.

By the early 1930s,Hampstead had expanded rapidly and the New End site no longer met the needs of the school. The search for a new site outside London started in 1933 and Headmaster Rev Arthur Wells secured the lease of a beautiful Georgian country mansion on the Woodhall estate in Hertfordshire, Heath Mount School’s new home.

The school, together with its 32 boys from Hampstead, moved to its current home in January 1934.

The House and the estate have their own prestigious history. There are records of a house at Woodhall since 1372, and the country property that the Rev Wells leased from the Abel Smith family had been built by renowned architect Sir Thomas Rumbold in 1775, who sold it to Samuel Smith in 1801. More on the history of the Woodhall estate can be found here).

Heath Mount thrived in its new spacious surroundings. It remained as a school during the Second World War, with some girls admitted as a temporary measure, although the first girls did not fully join until 1976. Until the 1980s, all classes, boarding and other activities took place in the main house.

The school expanded under the Headships of the Rev Ian Watson (1980 – 1987), the Rev Harry Matthews (1988 – 2006) and Mr Robert Middleton (2006-2014). The sports hall was built in 1984 and a Pre-Prep building established in 1990, and these developments have allowed numbers in Pre-Prep to increase and give more space in the main house for the Prep classrooms and boys’ dorms.

The development of sports, science, art and music facilities along with a new state of the art Nursery, which was completed in 2014, give the school its current shape and character.

Heath Mount has had many famous sons and daughters over the years, whose names live on in the School’s leavers’ and scholars’ boards.

Amongst these are:

Sir Gerald du Maurier, (father of Daphne), the actor and theatre impresario. He was a pupil at Heath Mount from 1882 – 1887 and wrote in a letter home that “we had such a fearful pudding today that I hid it with my spoon. It was made of blancmange and plums, bad clotted cream and small black beetles.” Our social committee is named the du Maurier Society in recognition of Sir Gerald du Maurier’s attendance at Heath Mount.

Sir Arnold Bax who studied music at the school in 1897 under Signor Masi before entering the Hampstead Conservatoire. He went on to be a highly successful composer, writing seven symphonies and music for films as well as writing poetry and stories. He was knighted in 1937 and became Master of the King’s Musick in 1942. Our premier choir is named the Bax Choir in Sir Arnold Bax’s honour.

Cecil Beaton and Evelyn Waugh who were pupils at the school from 1913 to 1916 and 1910-17 respectively. The main Reception room at Heath Mount is named the Beaton Room after this most talented photographer and designer. Evelyn Waugh refers to Heath Mount School in his diaries.

John Spedan Lewis, English businessman and the founder of the John Lewis Partnership. John was the elder son of John Lewis, who owned the John Lewis department store in London. On his father’s death, he formed the John Lewis Partnership and began distributing profits among its employees in 1929. He transferred control of the company to the employees in 1950, resigning as chairman in 1955.

Sir Peter Tapsell, British politician, Member of Parliament and Father of the House since the 2010 general election.

Jodie Williams, British sprinter who specialises in the 100 and 200 metres. A prodigious junior, at the age of sixteen, she was the top-ranked British woman over 200 m in 2010, and is now one of the UK’s most successful young sprinters.

And so, after over two centuries educating boys and girls, Heath Mount, with its early roots in Hampstead, celebrates its 85th year in Hertfordshire.