Lancing College, as the name implies, is a College located in Lancing. Well, I tell a lie, it’s actually a public school (if you’re American, read "public" as "private") located in Lancing. For those of you who don’t know, Lancing is a small town just West of the city of Brighton and Hove, on the south coast of England. The College itself is situated on a hill which is part of the South Downs. If you’re an Etonian, you’ll probably know it as "the comprehensive on the hill" (which just goes to show how much the people at Eton know!).
If you’ve ever driven along the A27, you can’t really fail to notice the College. This is mainly due to the fact that it has the largest school chapel in Europe, which stands out a bit against the countryside. In fact, it’s often mistaken for some sort of castle by visitors to the area. The school dates from about 1850, although the architecture of the chapel would lead you to believe that it’s much older, and is the senior school of the Woodard Corporation.
A Brief History
The College was founded in 1847 by Nathaniel Woodard, a clergyman who was concerned with the lack of available education for the lower, middle and upper-middle classes of the time, and the drive to do something about it. After bullying several rich men into putting up the money (the story goes that The Rev. Woodard would lock the men in a room and refuse to let them out until they had pledged a sizeable amount to his project), he started his first school, St. Mary’s Grammar School, in 1848. At this point, the school was, as far as I know, located in Shoreham (just south of where it is now), and moved to its present site in 1857.
The College was founded very much as a Christian school, and to this day Christian worship (to be specific, Church of England worship) remains a central part of life at Lancing. The College was originally a boy’s boarding school, although this has now changed somewhat, and Lancing accepts boys and girls, day pupils and boarders, from the ages of 13 to 18.
Not content with building one school, Woodard went on to build another 10, which form the core of the Woodard Corporation. The Corporation now includes about 45 schools, including Hurstpierpoint, Ardingly and Bloxham.
The foundation stone of the college chapel was laid in 1868, but the chapel itself was not finished in Woodard’s lifetime. In fact, the chapel was never finished. It stands at about 175 feet (with foundations going down 70 feet into the ground), but the original plans called for a tower at the West end which would raise the height to an amazing 350 feet. The only reason that the chapel ended up as high as it did was that Woodard, cunning to the last, insisted that it be built to its full height at one end first, so that even if he died the height could not be cut down to save money. There are still plans to complete the chapel, although obviously money is a problem. Funds are constantly being raised by the Friends of Lancing Chapel, but as soon as money is raised, it has to be spent on maintenance. This is because the chapel is exposed to the sea air, which has a tendency to erode the stone on the South side. The chapel is built in the English gothic style of the 14th century, with 13th century French influences. It was designed by R. H Carpenter and William Slater, and is built of sussex sandstone from Scaynes Hill.
The chapel was dedicated to St Mary and St Nicholas in 1911, although the college used the finished crypt (which now houses the art school, strangely enough) from 1875. Inside can be found, amongst other things, the tomb of the founder, two organs (which I’ll talk about in a minute), and a huge rose window designed by Stephen Dykes Bower (which, I believe, is the largest in the world – do correct me if I’m wrong). The chapel is open to the public every day, Monday to Saturday from 10.00 till 16.00, and Sunday from 12.00 till 16.00. Full school services are held every Wednesday morning during term time at 8.35am, and on certain Sundays throughout the year. There is also a Eucharist every morning at 7.40am, and Benediction on a Friday evening.
I hope you’ll indulge me for a minute or two while I talk about the organs which can be found in the chapel (if not, feel free to skip this bit). The main organ, at the West end, was built in 1914 and 1986 by J. W. Walker and Sons. It started life as a 3-manual, 35 stop instrument, but now boasts 4 manuals (and pedals), and 54 stops. The manuals and pedals are split into the Bombarde, Great, Swell, Choir and Pedal organs. It uses a mechanical action.
In the summer of 1986, a new organ was installed in addition to the Walker organ, this time at the East End, on the North side. This 2-manual, 20 stop instrument was built by the Danish firm Th. Frobenius. It, like the Walker organ, uses a mechanical action.
Both organs are excellent instruments in their own right. However, the most amazing thing about them, in my opinion, is that they are electrically coupled. This means that an organist playing at the Frobenius organ can have what he is playing sound on either organ, or both simultaneously, and can change the registration of the Walker organ from pistons just above the manuals of the Frobenius – despite the fact that the two are separated by a good 70 feet horizontally and 30 vertically! The result of this is an amazingly rich sound which fills the building (which is no mean feat – the chapel has a very bad acoustic).
I you do ever get the chance, visit the chapel. It’s impossible to convey in words what a magnificent building it is, but I have yet to see a visitor fail to be amazed by it, and I never tire of the sight of it, despite having seen it every day for the past 4 and a half years.
Lancing in the present day
The boring stuff
These days, Lancing is a co-educational secondary school. It accepts pupils at the age of 13 on the merit of the common entrance exam, although an alternative is available for those who cannot take the exam. Entrants to the 6th form are interviewed, and asked to write an essay on their interests and aspirations. A range of scholarships are awarded at both levels, up to a value of 50% of the fees. A number of bursaries are also available for those who cannot afford the fees, for whatever reason. At the time of writing, there are just over 400 pupils, of which about half are boarders and a third are girls (I’m a day boy in the upper sixth form, in case you were wondering). The pupils come from a wide variety of backgrounds and locations. They range from those who live 10 minutes away (me), to those from France, Germany, Korea, Hong Kong, China and the USA. Surprisingly enough, everyone gets along very well.
I don’t know Lancing’s position in the league tables at the moment (to be honest, I don’t really care), but I do know that it has been steadily rising in the past few years, mostly due (in my opinion) to the new headmaster who took over 5 years ago. A very large proportion of pupils go on to higher education, and about half a dozen to a dozen each year get into Oxbridge.
The slightly less boring stuff
In my opinion, Lancing is the best school in the world. I’m biased, of course, and there is the fact that I don’t know much about any other school. What I do know is that I am, and always have been, very happy at Lancing. That’s not to say that it’s right for everyone. There are always a few people who don’t like it, and leave before the 6th form, but I’ve never understood why.
The College is split up into houses, each house containing about 50-60 pupils. There are 6 boys’ houses: Head’s (for day boys only), Second’s, School, Gibbs’, Teme and Sankey’s (for upper sixth form boys only) and 3 girls’ houses: Handford, Manor and Field’s. Most are named after benefactors of the college (one notable fellow being Henry Martin Gibbs, whose family made their money from guano (that’s bird droppings to you and me), but that’s an entirely different story, which I may tell sometime if I get round to researching it). The boarders live in houses, each of which is looked after by a house master/mistress who also lives in-house. About half of the staff live on-site, or 2 minutes’ walk away, so there’s always someone watching what’s going on (more’s the pity!).
Of course, being a school, there are lots of lessons. 40 a week in fact, but that’s not all that goes on at Lancing by any means. In the afternoons, pupils are pretty much free to do what they like (within reason). Activities include: football, rugby, tennis, squash, badminton, basketball, Eton fives, hockey, running, chess, tiddlywinks(!), debating, farming, clay pigeon shooting, DofE, sailing, CCF, outreach…you get the idea. You can do pretty much what you want, so long as you’re doing something, and you’re encouraged to do as much as possible. When I first arrived, I was told that if I had any spare time, something wasn’t right. Well, 4 years on, and I’ve almost forgotten the meaning of the words "spare" and "time". When holiday time comes around, I collapse from tiredness.
Aside from all of these activities, there is a thriving music department too. The chapel choir goes on international tours, and gives concerts several times a year, as do the various orchestras and bands. It’s possible to take instrumental lessons in a wide range of instruments, and a large proportion of the school does. Every year, nearly every pupil takes part in the house music competition, a fierce battle of musical talent between the houses (usually won by Gibbs’). There are also several plays put on each year, both school and house productions (Lancing boasts 2 theatres, one indoor and one open-air), always of a very high standard. Last year, Sir Tim Rice came to see a school production of "Jesus Christ Superstar", for which he wrote the lyrics, and was by all accounts very impressed.
Speaking of Sir Tim, Lancing has a tradition of illustrious old boys (and girls), or "OL"s as they’re known. Apart from Mr Rice, Evelyn Waugh went there, as did Jan Morris, (although (s)he was male back then, and known as James). Jamie Theakston was expelled, though I’m not sure what for. A couple of MPs, two presidents each of the Cambridge and Oxford Unions, etc etc. The list goes on. Oh, there’s also at least one other regular writer on everything2 who went to Lancing. I won’t say who it is in case she doesn’t want me to, but it just goes to show how small the world is!
Well, I think that’s about it. I’m sure there’s stuff I’ve missed, but I won’t attempt to write any further on the subject... until I get bored again. Well done for reading this far!
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