The History of Oakwood

The History of Oakwood
Oakwood school building

History & Alumni

Oakwood Preparatory School was opened in May 1912 in a small house in Highland Road, in the Summersdale area of Chichester. Captain Richard Playford Fenn and his wife Nora initially had one pupil, Charles Rendle and in her account of the time, Mrs Fenn recounts that after lunch on the first day, “the whole school became over-excited and was violently ill, however recovered sufficiently to go for a walk later in the afternoon.”

By half term, pupil numbers had doubled and the school had its first boarder: Walter Pinder from Middlesex. 

More boys joined until in 1914, Oakwood moved to a house in The Avenue in Summersdale. Captain Fenn was called up to fight with the 2/4th Hampshire Regiment in the Great War, and Mrs Fenn was left to run the school, coping in 1918 with the devastating outbreak of Spanish flu. 

In 1919, Captain Fenn returned, having been awarded the Military Cross for gallantry, and the school once again moved, this time to Summersdale Lodge. 

Oakwood continued to flourish and pupil numbers increased at a healthy rate. In 1940, however, when a German invasion looked likely after the battle of Dunkirk, Captain and Mrs Fenn were given 48 hours to evacuate Summersdale Lodge which was to be used to billet troops. 

The school moved to the Wilsey Down Hotel in Cornwall, a large building near Rock, owned by the father of one of the pupils. The school remained here throughout the war, using the hotel sitting rooms as classrooms and the bedrooms as dormitories. Captain Fenn commanded a local Home Guard unit and Mrs Fenn led the boys on lengthy cycle rides around the area as decreasing pupil numbers made organised games impossible. 

As the war ended, six boys remained at Oakwood and as Summersdale Lodge was still occupied by the Army, the Fenns spent every penny they had in 1946 to buy Oakwood House, a few miles away. 

Oakwood House was built in 1811 by local architect James Elmes for the son of a local brewer, William Dearling. The house stood in acres of parkland and was run by a ‘below stairs’ staff of at least five. The estate changed hands several times until it was bought just before the outbreak of World War II by Mr Green, who did not need the house but felled much of the timber on the estate. 

Captain and Mrs Fenn continued to lead Oakwood until their retirement in 1960. The Pre-Prep Department opened in 1975 and it was at this point that girls were admitted to Oakwood for the first time. 

The school has gone from strength to strength, and celebrated its centenary in 2012. From a tiny boarding school for fewer than 10 boys, founded and led with such enthusiasm and bravery by Captain and Mrs Fenn, we are now a flourishing and vibrant co-educational day school for over 310 children. Whilst the Fenns might be baffled by the incredible advances in technology and the teaching aids that we take for granted now, we feel sure that they would recognise the passion and dedication with which we help the pupils to reach their potential today.  

We enjoy meeting our former pupils and arrange special events for Oakwood alumni from time to time. If you would like your details to be added to our alumni database so that we can keep you informed of any events, please click the button below. 

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