By Alex Bateman
The first few years of the 1970s were a time of uncertainty and controversy for Harrow County School. The Government seemed determined to eradicate the Grammar School, even to the point of refusing a request to allow the continued wearing of the famous green blazer. The result was that from summer 1975, Harrow County School as was, ceased to be.
The renamed Gayton High School opened its doors for the first time in September 1975, boasting a new Headmaster in Harry Hull, who had relinquished his position as head of Bourne School in Ruislip, where he had been since 1960. With the great upheaval of the proceeding few years, it was no easy task to take over a School which boasted such a rich history in all areas. Despite the illness and death of his elder son, Harry took on the challenge with calmness and courage, working hard to be sensitive to the varied attitudes of his colleagues, not all of whom welcomed the change from grammar to comprehensive.
One of the most noticeable aspects of the new school was the loss of the upper two years, Gayton now catering for boys aged 12 to 16. Even so, the School continued to excel at sport, produce well presented drama, and provided a fair range of extra curricular activities. The once thriving Cadet Force was by now reduced to two sections (Army and Royal Air Force), while most Scout activities took place outside the School. Gayton still breathed a sense of tradition, and most who went there were well aware of its past merits. The well known journal of the School, 'Gaytonian' foundered almost for good at this time, making a brief appearance in 1982, and again in 1988, before being laid to rest for good.
In 1982, Harry Hull retired. This was something of a turning point for the School seeing also at about the same time, the retirements of Maurice Venn (Long time Commanding Officer of the CCF), Ken Waller and Harry Mees (well known for his work with the Scouts and on stage), two of the longer standing members of staff. With these three members of staff gone, it was probably now that the last breaths of HCS went also. Gone were the days of the singing of hymns and the reading out of sports reports in assembly, no more standing up when the Head entered the room. Looking back, it was almost like the new boy coming out of the shadow of big brother for the first time, and finding his feet. The new man at the helm was Donald Ellery, appointed in January 1983, having worked for the previous 17 years at schools in Cyprus. Although a good head, he was less visible than his predecessor, but well liked and respected. Around this time, the School itself was under a dark cloud also, a proposal having been put forward to close it entirely and re-locate it to another premises. This was not so much a reflection on the School, but instead a move to use the Gayton Road buildings for a new college. After much consultation, and debate, it was decided that there was not much advantage in the move, and the School was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
At the end of the Summer term 1984, Don Ellery retired after suffering a period of ill health. His place was taken (after a stand in period by deputy Head Mike Morrell) by Chris Connop later that year. Gayton High, by now some ten years old, had assumed its own identity, and shaken off its former incarnation. It continued to produce excellent pupils who rose further after leaving, two being Angus Fraser and Mark Ramprakash, both later international cricketers, while Steve Francis a former cadet joined the Royal Marines, gaining the Sword of Honour at his passing out parade.
It had been realised before the move from Harrow County to Gayton High that the structure of the Gayton Road site was becoming rather weary, and in some areas not suitable for the 750 boys it was catering for. The outdoor swimming pool, for several years unusable due to damage, was finally closed after a former pupil holding a grievance set alight to the wooden changing rooms and the equipment it held, destroying the next door drama studio also. Within a few years, the large pipe organ housed in the hall and also in need of repair, was removed. With no one to play it, and funds unavailable for its restoration, it was the logical solution. Next came the large cricket pavilion. It had been fenced of for several years deemed unsafe, and later too succumbed to the bulldozers. Within a couple of years, the playing field, for so long the scene for summer cricket and athletics was gone also, replaced by several all weather pitches which were rented out by the hour, by local football teams and sports groups.
By the early 1990s, the roll had started to fall, and again a long hard look was taken at where the School might be falling short. 1994 saw the retirement of Chris Connop through ill health, and the appointment of Martin Buck. it is likely that, having made great strides in the past, Martin was appointed to turn round the failing School. He decided to concentrate on several areas which included improving the building with a particular emphasis on technology, science and sport, to increase the intake of students into the School, to improve exam results, and to increase the range of extra curricular activities available. It was with some surprise then that one of the first jobs he did was to close the Cadet Force, an ever present sight in the School and about the only extra curricular activity left. In addition, the annual Remembrance Day Service, held every year since 1919 was also dropped to the disgust of many old boys.
It is fair to say that these latter two points aside, Martin did make great strides in improving the School. By the mid 1990s however, it was realised that, despite a slight upturn, the only way that Gayton was to survive permanently was to go co-educational. After this had been decided upon and confirmed, a plan of rejuvenation and rebuilding was started.
One of the first priorities was to decide upon a name change for the new school. After several months, the name Harrow High was finally agreed, with a proposed opening date of September 1998. Work began on a new 'Expressive Arts' Block and sports hall, part of a £6.7M rebuilding programme to bring the School into the 21st century, while plans were also laid for a new wing, built along the Sheepcote Road to the same style as those constructed in the 1930s.
Martin Buck was not to see the completion of these improvements, leaving at the end of 1999 for another school in London. Before leaving though, he did reinstate the November Service of Remembrance to the delight of many, and left the School in the very capable hands of Christine Lenihan, who took up the position in January 2000, the first female Head the School has had. Martin Buck, the last Head of Gayton High, and first of Harrow High, must be credited with saving what at one time must have seemed to many to be an almost lost cause.
As a new chapter opens, the fledgling School is flourishing, with improvements in all areas, and numbers continuing to rise. It can be said that Harrow High is facing the 21st century with a lot more certainty than might have been only a few years before.