St Michael’s Prep School was founded in 1872 when Father Arthur Tooth (who was born in Cranbrook and educated at Tonbridge School and Trinity College, Cambridge) established a school and home for ‘orphaned’ boys at Hatcham in New Cross. The school wasn’t strictly an orphanage as it was intended for sons of the Clergy, officers of the Army and Navy and of professional men whose homes had been marred by bereavement or by some form of domestic unhappiness.
Much has been written about Arthur Tooth who as a young priest fell foul of Disraeli’s Public Worship Regulation Act and was imprisoned for 28 days in Horsemonger Lane gaol. He was the first priest to be gaoled to protect the public from “ritualism and the Mass”. After his imprisonment he devoted his life to his school which he moved to Woodside in Croydon and then in 1925 to Beechy Lees in Otford which had previously served as a hunting lodge for Londoner Barclay Field’s family.
A log book, started by the Senior Master Charles Manning Jaggard, and continued by Michael Cork covers the years from 1916 to 1941 and gives a fascinating insight into the day to day lives of the 40 or so boys who boarded at the school.
Fr Tooth died in 1931 and was succeeded as Warden by Fr Charles Harcourt Blofeld, who was succeeded on his death in 1938 by his younger brother Father Thomas Guest Blofeld.
In 1937, the Warden took on a young man Donald Cormack as Senior Master, a role he held until his retirement in 1981 (the post became known as Head Teacher on the death of the Warden T G Blofeld in 1964).
Father Paul Cox succeeded Cormack as Head, and was succeeded in turn by Simon Cummins in 1990. Dr Peter Roots was Head from 1996 to 2002, and an interim Headmaster, Frank Skipwith held the post until Mr Keith Crombie took over in September 2003. The current head of the school, Jill Aisher took over in 2013.
For almost 100 years all St Michael’s boys were full-time boarders, and averaged 50 pupils. Until the 1930’s there was only one holiday during the year!
In the 1980’s the school started to expand and the then Headmaster, Father Paul Cox, introduced both a pre-prep section (in the old stable block) and girls (though they were only introduced into the Main School in 1991).
Boarding was finally abandoned in the 1990’s and the expansion of the school continued under the headship of Simon Cummins. The grounds were landscaped to accommodate several pitches and a new sports centre was built. 2002 was the 130th anniversary of St Michael’s Prep School and proved to be a very successful year academically with 30 out of the 50 leavers achieving scholarships.
Today with over 450 pupils, a state of the art newly built Pre-Prep and a strong and healthy string of scholarships across the range of subjects into a range of prestigious schools, Arthur Tooth, our founder might be surprised to see what his extraordinarily generous gift has become.