An incredible effort from the @_CollegeHouse_ boys. We are aiming for 700 kilometres on the ergo as a group. We are raising money for The Kikunduku School Project (GAP AFRICA). @ShiplakeCollege @BurrHouse @SkipwithHouse @EverettShiplake @WelshHouse @ShipOrch @Gilson_House Posted about 11 hours ago


Founded in 1959, Shiplake College is relatively young in comparison with many traditional independent schools in the UK. Despite this, there is no doubt that the College boasts a rich history and tradition of its own. The College itself has provided a home and a school for over 4,500 pupils, spanning five and a half decades. Moreover, we are the current occupants of a residential site dating back over 700 years.

History of Shiplake Court

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 1804.

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 development.

The School’s Early Years

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.

Consolidation and Growth

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.

Nick 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.

21st Century

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 480 for the 2018-2019 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.

2019 sees the College celebrate its 60th anniversary and in June Mr Davies steps down after 15 years as Headmaster.

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. 

The governors are very committed to the original aims of the school, but equally recognise the need to ensure that its education and direction in all its aspects are fitting for future generations of pupils, by providing the stimulus for growth and improvements.
ISI Inspection - Spring 2015