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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 College's sixth Headmaster, Gregg Davies, joined Shiplake in 2004 and during the course of the next 15 years saw the College through a period of transformation and success. Greater academic rigour and investment in energetic, forward-thinking and technology-embracing staff elicited a relentless upward trend in exam results and value-added scores. The legacy left by Gregg was further enhanced by the appointment of the College's seventh Headmaster, Tyrone Howe, in 2019.

The College now occupies 47 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.

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. In September 2014 the John Turner Building was opened, with a Resource Centre, Lecture Theatre and Departments for Art, Learning Development and Music.

Pupil numbers reached the milestone of 400 in 2013 and the College passed the 500 pupil mark in 2022. Demand for places is higher than ever.

The College's Seventh Decade

In September 2019, the College entered its seventh decade and also welcomed its seventh Headmaster, Mr Tyrone Howe. On 23 March 2020, the College moved to distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pupils were taught remotely until the end of the academic year.

In September 2020, pupils return to the school site, although operating in year group bubbles and normal school events conducted differently to normal. Also that month the College enjoyed the completion of two developments, the Marjorie White Building and the Davies Centre. The first is named after former staff member Marjorie White, which consists of Marjorie's Café for Sixth Form pupils, two classrooms and the Careers Department and the second, named after former Headmaster Gregg Davies, includes world-class facilities for rowing, watersports, outdoor education, Duke of Edinburgh, CCF, rifle and archery and indoor climbing.

In spring 2021 the College announced that in September 2023 it would welcome girls into Year 7 and start the transition to become fully co-educational, in response to the parental demand for "a Shiplake for girls".

The College achieved full compliance and the top category of 'excellent' in both "the quality of the pupils' academic and other achievements" and "the quality of the pupils' personal development" in its ISI Inspection in May 2022. 

To accommodate growing numbers in Years 7 and 8, the Lower School relocated to the Stableyard in September 2022, with refurbishments including new Common Room spaces and new changing and toilet facilities for girls and boys. Gilson House was extended again to provide more boarding accommodation for girls and changing and study/common facilities for day girls.

In September 2023 the College welcomed its first co-educational Year 7 cohort, with 25 girls making up 42% of the year group.

Ongoing investment and development will ensure that the College’s future is even brighter than its past.