Our History

Our founder Augustus Orlebar

Westbrook Hay has occupied four houses during the past 120 years, changing its name to that of its new home after each move. It was originally founded in Bedford by Augustus Orlebar, formerly a housemaster at Radley College. His father, the Revd Augustus Orlebar was the boy on whom Judge Thomas Hughes based the character Tom Brown in Tom Brown’s schooldays. Tom’s memorable fight against Slogger Williams was based on a real fight the Revd Orlebar had at Rugby against someone who later became the Revd Chancellor Bulkeley Owen Jones.

Just two pupils

The school opened at Rye Court, Bedford, with just two boys on 19th September 1892. As numbers increased, the school was moved to Orlebar’s family mansion of Hinwick House near Wellingborough. In 1902, the school was purchased from Orlebar by George W Gruggan. On selling the School, Orlebar stated that he did not wish it to use his family crest but agreed to Gruggan’s wish to combine the Orlebar motto with Gruggan’s crest.

The school therefore acquired a collared gryphon with the original motto of ‘Ora et Labora’ (Pray and work) which is a pun on the name Orlebar. By 1913, numbers had grown to 33 and accommodation at Hinwick House became so tight that Orlebar was confined to his dressing room. As a result, in January 1914, Gruggan and his assistant J Inness Hopkins decided to move the school to Gadebridge House, the former home of the Paston Cooper family. Its most famous member was Sir Astley Paston Cooper (the 1st Baronet) who once removed a tumour from the head of King George IV.

Gadebridge Park

Following Mr Gruggan's retirement, 'Hoppy' carried on  for a few more years until he was joined by Humphrey Lindsay in 1932.  He in turn was joined in 1935 by Monty and Isabel Churchill-Dawes and they brought the School through the difficult years of the second world war and the establishment of Hemel Hempstead as new town.  

By 1960 it was clear that school would have to move - Beechwood Park, then a delapidated girl's school, was considered but the opportunity arose when the Hemel Hempstead development Corporation based at Westbrook Hay since 1947 was looking to move sites.  It was agreed that the move would take place in January 1963.

Term was to start on 28th January and the move to Westbrook Hay had to take place during the severest winters of the century.  It started to snow on Boxing day and green grass was not spotted again until 15th March.  A snow plough was arranged with a firm of agricultural contractors to clear the drive every day up to the morning of 21st January - this also kept the A41 clear.

At Westbrook Hay

Once moved to Westbrook Hay, the frailties of the roof were discovered and so although the school term did start on time, much of it was spent on the roof clearing hopper heads and snow and ice.  More problems came in February when the contractor who was installing the swimming pool decided to take advantage of the frozen ground to dig the hole for it.  All went well until one morning the driver of the JCB cut through the main electricity cable.  The replacement driver who arrived the following day cut through the water main!

Initially known as Gadebridge Westbrook Hay it remained so until the final Gadebridge pupil left.  Humphrey Lindsay became joint Headmaster with Trafford Allen until his retirement in 1967.With a boarding capacity of only 68, the school accepted day pupils from 1965.  By the 1970s the school had a total number of around 100 pupils between the ages of seven to thirteen.

Girls were first admitted in the late 1970s and Trafford Allen retired in 1982 and Anthony Wright became sole Headmaster.  Unfortunately in 1984 he died suddenly and the whole school thrown into financial limbo.

An Educational Trust was formed in 1985  enabled the school to continue under John Allen overseeing some extensive modernisation and redecoration was carried out.  Expansion in pupil numbers over the years led to an increased building need. - 

  • 1972 - An all purpose Assembly Hall was built and a pre-prep 

  • 1995 - Sports Hall - opened by England rugby player Jeremy Guscott.

  • 2001 - Middle School opened with modern classrooms, science and D&T laboratories.

  • 2008 - Lower School - opened for the nursery, Reception and Year 1 classes with a modern Art Studio

  • 2016 - Performing Arts Centre - replaced the Assembly Hall providing a 300 seater auditorium, music practice rooms and a dance studio

Keith Young was appointed in 1996 and was able to retain the intimacy of the site while continuing to expand it.  During his tenure he oversaw the expansion of the school from 140 to 350 pupils with the successful development of the Middle and Lower Schools, the IT suites and the Performing Arts Centre.  Although boarding is no longer offered the children continue to move on to prestigious boarding and day schools with many winning scholarships and awards.

Following Keith's retirement in 2019, Mark Brain has taken on the role of Head at Westbrook Hay.