‘Big Fredville’ House was used as a girls boarding school from the mid-1920′s after the Plumptre family moved to the nearby newly built “Little Fredville” house.
Actress Georgette “Googie” Withers was a pupil there around 1929 to 1930 just prior to beginning her long career. She was educated first at Fredville Park School, and after a year or so moved to the Convent of the Holy Family in Kensington. Her professional training was undertaken with Italia Conti and then with Helena Lehmiski in Birmingham.
“Googie” was a successful stage, film and T.V. actress known in the 1940’s as “the best bad girl in British films” and was still performing in the West End with Vanessa Redgrave in 2002. She died aged 92 in Australia in 2011.
Information is sparse regarding the girls boarding school at the old Fredville mansion during the 1920’s and 30’s, and I am therefore very grateful to have received some photographs and, more importantly, some information kindly supplied by Philip Rowett whose late aunt, Nancy Rowett, attended the Fredville House school from 1931 to 1933.
Philip informed me that the school was run by two sisters, known as “Aunt Maud” and “Aunt Mary”, who claimed to provide a “home from home” for the children of parents who were abroad. The school had a lot of pet dogs, ponies, and other animals, which, Philip said, would have suited his aunt. He also said the description he had received of the school was that there was complete absence of discipline. This is somewhat at odds with what “Googie” Withers was reported to have said of the school in an interview referred to in “Double-Act: The Remarkable Lives and Careers of Googie Withers and John McCallum”, by Brian McFarlane, and published by Monash in 2015”, where it’s recorded that the school was run by two Irish sisters who, Googie said, “had no qualms about meting out punishment. We got beatings on our bottoms, and quite frankly I think I deserved it”. Perhaps her self-confessed bad behaviour led the sisters to take extreme measures and was the reason for Googie’s short time at Fredville.
Many of the photographs below come from an album of photographs that appear to have been given to prospective pupils parents to show the school facilities kindly sent to me by Philip Rowett. Other photographs are ones belonging to the late Nancy Rowett.
The school seems to have had some seventy or so pupils and the inclusion of photographs of a nursery and kindergarten indicate that pupils attended from a very early age, while other photographs show girls in their early to mid-teens.
My late father, Ron Webb, and his boyhood friend, the late Ken Theobald, both told me stories of how they and other village boys use to try and ride bareback on the schools ponies, which were kept in a part of Fredville Park, and of how they were chased off by staff from the school for doing so. Apparently none of them were able to stay on any of the ponies for more than a few seconds. My father told me that the pond opposite “The Royal Oak” was divided in half by a fence and that the Fredville ponies drank from the coach road side half of the pond and farm livestock from the other half.
At the out-break of the Second World War in 1939 the old mansion house was requisitioned by the Government and soon occupied by the Canadian Army, but shortly after they moved in the house was unfortunately badly damaged by fire and was eventually demolished in 1945. However, the clock tower, coach house, stable yard and out buildings escaped demolition and are now houses and workshops.