Outdoor centre celebrates 100 years of healthy schooling for county's children

10:44am Friday 13th June 2014

A HUNDRED years ago next week, an experiment in education opened its doors on a wooded slope near the Malvern Hills.

And a century on, though many things have changed, the descendant of that original open-air school lives on in Malvern Outdoor Elements, which took the site over from Worcestershire County Council last year.

Local historian David Williamson has been tracing the story of the school sine it first opened its doors at Old Hollow, West Malvern, on June 15, 1914.

He said: "The site had been well-chosen by the founder, Miss Catherine Severn Burrow, on the wooded western slopes of the Malvern Hills, but it must have looked strange and frightening to the pale, undernourished little girls who arrived from Worcester and the Black Country, knowing they would not see their parents again for up to three months.

"Conceived along the lines of the Forest Schools in Germany, it offered a solution to major social problems in built-up industrial area, where overcrowding, malnutrition and unhygienic conditions blighted childhood and greatly increased the risk of tuberculosis.

"Miss Severn Burrow knew that children’s health had to be improved before they could benefit from formal education, and she campaigned to persuade the county council to fund the school, but the councillors strongly opposed it, as did some residents.

"After three years of stalemate she decided to build the school herself. It was inspected in September 1914 and received warm endorsement from the Board of Education in Whitehall.

"Six years later, Miss Severn Burrow was elected as Worcestershire's first female county councillor, whereupon she donated the school to the county."

The children slept in dormitories which were open to the elements on one side, while the schoolroom and other buildings were also open-sided, and as many activities as possible happened out-of-doors.

Boys were admitted after 1920, and it later became the popular Malvern Hills Outdoor Education Centre. Following threats of closure due to county council cuts, it was transferred last year to a Community Interest Company.

Centre manager Nick Hands said: "We've been going from strength to strength since we took over, with increased numbers and investment for the future."

Mr Williamson would like to hear from any former pupils with stories to tell or pictures to share. He can be contacted on 01684 575584 or dcwilliamson@yahoo.com.


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