The present day Shiplake Court, which houses the Great Hall, Morning Room, Harrison
Room, Medical Wing, kitchens and Skipwith House, was built in 1890 as a fine Victorian
home for the Harrison family. However, there is ample evidence that the first Shiplake
Court was a home from 1265, or earlier. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries,
Shiplake Court was part of the property of the Englefield family. In the sixteenth century
it was the residence of Sir Edmund Plowden. The original Tudor mansion is pictured at
the time of the Plowdens in 1765, and survived on the estate until it was demolished in
The land on which the school now stands was bought at auction by Robert Harrison in
1888. The main house, now Skipwith Boarding House, was initially built as a private
residence for his family. The house was sold to Lord Wargrave in 1925, and then briefly
housed Ladbroke Grove, a small prep school, before the BBC bought Shiplake Court for
£15,000 in 1941. The purchase price included furniture, carpets and considerably more
land than the College has now.
The corporation’s original intention had been to use Shiplake for expanding their
overseas service, but instead it is apparent that in the first instance the house was
mainly used for storage purposes. Later, when the BBC Monitoring Service moved to
Caversham Park, the site became a hostel for BBC staff. After the hostel closed in 1953,
the BBC tried to find another use for the estate and considered the idea of making
Shiplake Court the BBC’s own library. Nothing came of any of these schemes and the
house remained largely unused until the arrival of the Everetts in 1958. When the
property was on the market, potential buyers all had very different intentions for the
site. The news that Shiplake Court had been bought (at a cost of £17,500) for educational purposes came
as a relief to the local community who feared other, possibly detrimental, forms of
The cost and time involved to transform the site into a school was relatively low.
After all, the previous owners had already divided the top floor of the main house into
numerous single rooms with plenty of bathroom facilities. Shiplake Court opened as a
boarding school on 1 May 1959. Alexander Everett, the first Headmaster, had a vision
of a small, friendly and different school and soon experienced a high demand for places.
The school had to find imaginative ways to cope with rapidly increasing numbers, before
more appropriate infrastructure was established.
The College progressed for three years under the stewardship of David Skipwith, after
whom the original boarding house is named. John Eggar took over in 1963 and remained
Headmaster until 1979. His first major act was to rename the school as Shiplake College,
in 1964. After overcoming early difficulties, there were many years of consolidation as
the College grew in size and went from strength to strength. One of John’s priorities on
arrival was to build a purpose-built gymnasium and sports hall. This was well beyond
Shiplake’s resources in his early days but it is a measure of John’s persistence that the
project was completed just a few months after he left. Eggar’s final year began with 315
boys at the College.
The next Headmaster was Peter Lapping. Peter’s nine year reign from 1979-1988
appears short in comparison with other Shiplake Headmasters, but it was undoubtedly
successful and stimulating. Furthermore, the College was full, stable and secure. His major priority was developing and improving the quality of boarding and classroom accommodation. Academically the school continued to develop and the outstanding pastoral care was recognised by the Times newspaper when they included Shiplake in their Top 20 Schools in 1986.
Bevan arrived in 1988 and presided over a 16-year era of immense change. Wooden
shacks were replaced by state-of-the-art buildings, emails replaced memos and
computers arrived on every desk. Girls joined the College in 1998, and are now an
established part of our Sixth Form. The vast improvements in facilities and teaching
standards earned Headmasters’ Conference (HMC) membership; the premiership of
independent schools. Pupil numbers never dwindled, as parents found Nick’s custom of
speaking from the heart with a degree of self-deprecation and a mischievous touch of
humour highly appealing. Shiplake College not only survived but thrived and gained a
national reputation as one of the best small schools in the country.
The sixth and present Headmaster, Gregg Davies, joined Shiplake in 2004 and has continued the College’s progression. Greater academic rigour and investment in energetic, forward-thinking and technology-embracing staff has elicited a relentless upward trend in exam results and value-added scores. Gilson House, for boarding and day girls, opened in September 2009, which was also the year that the first cohort of Year 7 day boys entered the newly formed Lower School.
The College now occupies 45 acres of land on the banks of the Thames and is comprised of a combination of the traditional buildings which stood on the original school site and a number of modern additions. This allows the College to effectively meet the needs of the 21st century. In September 2014 the John Turner Building was opened, with a 'Thinking Space', Lecture Theatre and Departments for Art, Learning Development and Music. Pupil numbers reached the milestone of 400 in 2013, and have since reached the record numbers of 458 for the 2016-2017 academic year. The demand for places is higher than ever.
Ongoing investment and development will help to ensure that the College’s future is even brighter than its past.
A full history of the College can be found in Hans Wells-Furby’s book “Wish and Fulfilment”. The author arrived at Shiplake in 1960 and served until his retirement as Second Master in 1993.