Last week when I was writing the piece on the Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railroad, I came across a short piece on another Rottingdean (East Sussex) landmark that caught my interest. It is Roedean School, a famous private school for young girls.
Originally founded at 25 Lewes Crescent, Brighton, in 1885 by the Misses Dorothy, Millicent, and Penelope Lawrence, Roedean School was designed to provide young girls a “well-rounded” education. Roedean School is an independent day and boarding school, which is governed by Royal Charter. It is for girls aged 11 to 18. The school incorporates dance studios, music classrooms, a 320-seat theatre, a heated indoor swimming pool, a golf course, a private tunnel to the beach, a farm and a chapel, as well as a range of workshops, studios, laboratories and sports pitches.
The school was originally called “Wimbledon House,” for the Lawrence sisters’ brother, Sir Paul Lawrence, assisted them greatly in setting up the school, and Sir Paul resided in Wimbleton. The school’s curriculum was such to assist young girls into earning entrance in the newly opened women’s colleges at Cambridge, Girton, and Newnham Colleges. [Note: Girton is now co-ed, but was not so at the time of Roedean’s founding.
The school motto, Honneur aulx dignes, is in Norman French, and means “Honour the worthy”. When pronounced, it sounds like “Honour Roedean”.
In 1899, the school moved to its present site. The beautiful institution is located by a cliff, offering a magnificent panoramic view overlooking the alluring Brighton Marina and the English Channel. It is a striking white-washed Victorian pile replete with towers, turrets, and cloisters, set at the heart of a stunning, 120-acre clifftop Brighton campus. The buildings were designed by the architect Sir John Simpson.
The students and staff were sent north to Keswick during the Second World War, for the buildings and the tremendous view of the coast were occupied by the Admiralty. The facility was adapted for the use of Navy cadets attending the Mining and Torpedo School, which was known as HMS Vernon.
HMS Vernon was a shore establishment or “stone frigate” of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth. Vernon was established on 26 April 1876 as the Royal Navy’s Torpedo Branch also known as the Torpedo School, named after the ship HMS Vernon which served as part of its floating base. After the First World War, HMS Vernon moved ashore, taking over the Gunwharf site, where it continued to operate until 1 April 1996, when the various elements comprising the establishment were split up and moved to different commands. Portsmouth suffered heavy air raids during the war, with Vernon being hit several times. One bomb demolished Dido Building and killed 100 people. Subsequently, sections of Vernon were dispersed to quieter areas. On 3 May 1941 most departments of Vernon were moved to Roedean School at Brighton, which was known as HMS Vernon(R), whilst other elements were relocated elsewhere on the south coast and further away.
Currently, Rodean school is listed as one of the top schools in the United Kingdom.
It is a selective school. In 2019, 68% of GCSE grades were A*/A and 55% at A-Levels. 52% of the students are boarders.