Dewhurst St Mary JMI School, Cheshunt

By Jane Ruffell

The original 1640 building before redevelopment c. 1986
Jane Ruffell
C.1983 L. the 1640 building R. part of the St Mary's Girls School
Jane Ruffell
C. 1983 Part of the St Mary's Girls School
Jane Ruffell

The Dewhurst School for Boys

In 1640 local lawyer Robert Dewhurst opened his school in Churchgate so that poor boys in the parish of Cheshunt could receive an education in reading, writing and arithmetic.

In an Indenture date 31st December 1642 the school was handed over to a board of 12 trustees.  The Dewhurst family had long-standing connections in the area and were a prominent family.  Robert’s father, Barnard was secretary to William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, who also owned Theobalds Palace and Hatfield House.  Robert himself was born in Wormley and followed a legal career, at his death he was the Keeper of the Briefs in the King’s Bench, a distinguished role.  He had 3 wives, but no heirs.

The main building, built in 1640 was originally one large school hall (now the Dining Hall) with a Trustees Room and Headmasters quarters upstairs – these areas underwent re-development in the late-80s and were turned into residential properties.

St Marys Girls and Infants School

In 1873 St Mary’s School for Girls (named after the local St Mary’s Church) was built adjacent to the 1640 building and was extended in 1913.  The schools were merged into the now Dewhurst St Mary’s JMI School in 1958.

An Amateur Local Historian

Having taken a keen interest in local history whilst a pupil at the school in the late 70s/early 80s, my friend and I were privileged enough to be given a special guided tour of the ‘old (1640) building’ prior it’s re-development by the then Headmaster, Reginald Brandling.  Uninhabited since the 1950s, they were at the time somewhat derelict and I remember the floors were lined with newspapers from the 1940s and 50s.  As a 9 year old obsessed with history, these were things I considered to be real treasures and I grabbed myself a souvenir or two.

There were many gory tales that I recall being told about the haunted ‘old building’, most notably that there was a ghost of a young student from the Victorian era who died after having a slate pencil put up his nose by one of the masters in some form of strange punishment!  I must admit there was a particularly eerie feel to the place, left empty to gather dust and, no doubt, mice.

Fond Recollections

I have such happy memories of my school days at Dewhurst and of some exceptional teaching staff, most fondly remembered is my Year 6 tutor – Mr Sturgess – who encouraged me in my love of history and was kind enough to give me some history text books and a ‘Kings and Queens of England’ wall chart, which I still treasure to this day.

In July 1987 I returned to the school for my work experience.  At this time the ‘old building’ was undergoing re-development with the Trustess Room and old Headmasters’ quarters being converted into residential accomodation to be sold on the open market.  I was shown around by the contractors and could not believe the difference!

I understand that the school itself has recently undergone some internal alterations and I look forward to returning once again to see the changes in the near future.

This page was added on 28/02/2011.

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  • I was at Dewhurst School from 1953-1956. The teachers I remember were Mr Abbot, Mr Marcesi , Mr Brown and Mr Hebden, who got me through the 11+. I think in 1954 we one the district school sports and Mr Gray treated all us competitors to a strawberry tea. In the winter a coke fire was lit in the corner of each classroom, but the teacher and those sitting in the front got most of the warmth.The main part of the school was a large room divided into different classrooms by sliding glass and wooden screens.
    I still have the small booklet on the school history written by a librarian in Cheshunt Library. One summer some of us went to a school camp in Cuffley, great fun. Happy memories

    By Brian Harris (27/08/2021)
  • I too was at Robert Dewhurst from 1952-1955. I took my 11+ once I moved and found the preparation made it easier somehow. I remember open air boxing in the playground – not a lot of fun.

    By Philip Ladds (02/11/2019)
  • I was there 1975-1980. I had teachers Flatley, Thaine, Sturgess, Povey, and Evans. I too recall the ‘pencil-up-the-nose’ story. As a history student now, I would like to trace some primary sources in connection with that story (or any)

    By Glenn Hands (08/06/2019)
  • I was at Dewhurst from 2008-2014. I heard it was the toilets in the “Victorian building” pictured that were haunted. The taps and the hand drier would turn on by themselves. Noises could be heard from the music room when no one was in there and sometimes dolls sat in the upstairs dining room windows, even though it no longer had a second floor… 100% believe

    By GreenD (22/05/2019)
  • Such memories: I started at the St Mary’s Junior and Mixed Infants around 1952 or 1953.

    Miss Margetts’ white hair with a yellow tinge – a smoker I think. She had the house next to the Infant School. The field at the side where we could go at playtime, and learn about wild flowers. Miss Fell who lived in Bury Green Road, tall and gaunt. Somebody tried to teach us Scottish dancing – or was it Irish?

    Then joining up with the boys next door at Robert Dewhurst. That huge barn of a building with moving screens to divide the hall into classrooms – and BBC radio music – dancing!

    I see that Ivy Lily Margetts is buried at Cheshunt Cemetery – top of Bury Green Road. She died at the Whittington Hospital in Islington. Cannot find newspaper report. Her family seem to have come from “up North”, she was born in Stockton on Tees, but her parents were from Birmingham. She seems to have been teaching in Lincolnshire in 1939.

    Mr Reginald S Gray also lived on the premises of Dewshurst school, had a wife called Margery.

    I usually went home for lunch, but for a week or two I had to stay to school dinners, vague memory of a long walk to a dark building with dark green doors, over the river and the Arterial Road. Did it used to be a school? First time I’d ever had pink custard!

    By J Kay (10/09/2018)
  • I too started at the school in 1953, I was left crying by my mother on my first day.
    Recall Mr Grey and his Consul (grey I believe)
    The long wall near the open entrance where could shelter from the sun on hot days. The outdoor toilet block, where you had to ask for loo paper from the office.
    Took and failed my 11+ exam in I think Mr Gray’s office.
    Can remember questions the like of which I was totally unprepared for, and no warning!
    I certainly understood from my parents that I had missed a chance of a Cheshunt Grammar school place as a result.
    But had happy times at nearby St Mary’s high school behind the church (now demolished, turned into expensive houses).
    I remember the large green dividing screen and the hot water pipes and old radiators, and an unusually large playground. We had sports days on that triangular piece of grass nearby that ran down to the new river, shared I believe with the infants school.
    Did we have schools meals in Church lane Cheshunt down the path across what was then called the Arterial road (A10)?

    By Reg Scheuber (26/12/2017)
  • I started at this school in 1953,I remember mr gray the headmaster and his mk1ford consul.i do remember the single room building with folding divider doors to seperate the classes and a Tarmac playground with a garden area next to mr grays house where we did our lessons in gardening,I can’t remember the teachers at the time.

    By Steve arnold (01/05/2017)
  • I remember my years at the school, i started in 1950. Miss Jones, was a favourite teacher, Miss Margrets was Headmistress, she was killed in a car crash. I remember Mr grey, he was a nice man, his office was a bit dark and spooky. Happy times.

    By Janice Soons ( Sharpe) (10/09/2017)