The School

In December 1952 a resolution was passed that Town Thorns be taken over by the Coventry Education Committee and that it be put to use as a Residential School for handicapped pupils. The far-reaching Education Act of 1944 made some attempt at positive change in relation to special provision. LEAs were duty bound to identify children above the age of two years who would require special education treatment. Implicit in the whole concept of special educational treatment were suitable facilities, suitable programmes and specially selected and trained teachers able to make the best use of the new opportunities.  One category was for what was then known as Educationally Sub Normal (ESN) as measured on an IQ scale. Day and residential schools had to be provided for these children. Previously, those Coventry children statemented to be placed in Residential Special Schools were sent to schools run by other towns or voluntary bodies and there was a waiting list. Accordingly in November 1953, Mr and Mrs B Brittain were appointed as Head Master and Housekeeper.

The Residential School for ESN children aged 11-16 opened its doors in January 1954. There were 34 children at first and four teachers as well as house-parents, a driver-handyman and ancillary staff. The numbers soon rose to 42, 22 girls and 20 boys. These children were not ‘in care’ and went back to their own homes for the end-of-term holidays.

 At this time the buildings stood in their original form. This was meant to be a temporary measure while premises were purpose built in Coventry. That plan was abandoned. Later, in 1954, some improvements were made to alleviate the pressure on staff accommodation. The number of school places rose to 58.

In February 1961, the Education Committee decided that the property would be radically altered to provide places for 100 children. The condition set by the executors of the late Sir Alfred Herbert was that the exterior of the country house would remain unchanged. The Town Thorns Unit was set up at Corley Special School then designated as a residential school for Delicate Children, or commonly known as the ‘Open Air’ School.

Rebuilding began in April 1961.

Everything adjoining the Big House was torn down. The new building occupied the same area as the previous one. It was largely prefabricated and two storeys tall. Classrooms, Day Rooms and Quiet Rooms were on the ground floor, sleeping rooms on the first floor. No bedroom contained more than three beds. House-parents’ rooms were on the wings alongside those of the children. A suite of rooms comprised a surgery and Nurse’s flat. A doctor came in once a week. All laundry was done on the premises. An open plan glassed dining area was on the first floor adjoining the kitchen. The dining–room in Town Thorns BEN is situated in the very same location. The Assembly Hall could be overlooked from the dining area. It was floored with expensive polished oak.

The Big House was used for staff accommodation. The Headmaster occupied the ground floor except for what is now the Chapel. That room was the Library and a classroom. A plaque on the door testified to the gift of the building by Sir Alfred Herbert, that it was for city children to enjoy the country. One room on the top floor was used as a sewing room and the rest was flexible accommodation for staff. Three more staff flats were situated at the far end, once the stables, now the Garden Wing. A fully fitted workshop for woodwork and metal work was installed and one room was well equipped for Domestic Science. Two cookers were powered by electricity and two by gas. Three gas tanks were refilled by tanker and supplied the gas, which was used in the kitchens. The boiler house, with oil-fired boiler provided central heating and hot water. It was situated at lower ground level adjacent to an area that had been excavated to make an amphitheatre.

The figure quoted in the local press for ‘improvement’ in 1954 was £3875.  The cost of demolition and rebuilding in 1961 was projected at £145,600. It was completed three years later at a cost of £146,000. The new building could accommodate 100 children 50 girls and 50 boys. 36 of the girls’ places were allocated to the Leicestershire County area for those over the age of 11. In the early days a few girls came from other Authorities, but as provision for special needs became more common countrywide, by the mid-seventies the 50 boys were all from Coventry, 36 senior girls came from Leicestershire and the rest of the girls were from Coventry. The entry age was lowered and children from the age of seven were being admitted. The school leaving age was 16. The numbers remained static for twenty years.