An independent boarding and day school for boys and girls from 3 to 18

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Walden School - Founded in 1702

Walden School has occupied 4 sites during its history, the first 3 being in London: Clerkenwell from 1702 to 1786, Islington Road from 1786 to 1825, Croydon from 1825 to 1879, and Saffron Walden from 1879.

Further information can be found in David Bolam’s book “Unbroken Community – The Story of Friends’ School Saffron Walden 1702 – 1952” and in James Backhouse Crosfield’s booklet “Saffron Walden School – A Sketch of Two Hundred Years” – 1702 to 1902. See also Farrand Radley’s account of ‘The Four Site Saga’ in our Tercentenary book “The School on the Hill” published in 2002. Click here to read Farrand Radley’s account. Click here to see a Timeline of our first 300 years.

The four sites occupied by Walden School during its history

Clerkenwell 1702 – 1786

In addition to supplying basic needs, each community would also care for its old people and sick, train its children, and make a profit for the public-minded men who had supported the schemes with capital. Above all, the life of the community would be harmonious. No man would need to be a rival of his fellows, “everybody is working for him.” “This Colledge,” John Bellers claimed, “will be a Community something like the example of Primitive Christianity that lived in common…”

His idea was for communities of poor old people and children, who were a burden on society. Here the children would learn trades which would help them to be later apprenticed when they left, and also provide saleable articles to support the communes in the meantime. Thus the communes or communities would be able to finance themselves.

John Bellers (1645 – 1725 – Quaker cloth merchant, philosopher, polymath, philanthropist, and Fellow of the Royal Society 1798) put his proposal before the Quaker London Yearly Meeting in 1697 and they were approved in 1699. But it was the Quaker Middlesex Quarterly Meeting that took up his idea in 1699 and decided to implement his project, but for only one such community.

A fund of £1,923 was raised and a former workhouse in Clerkenwell was leased. However, John Bellers’ dream was not to be fully realised as the colony that was set up was not to be his idealised self supporting colony but more akin to a traditional workhouse with a mixture of old people past their working life and impoverished children, and just for Quakers.

Some teaching was provided, initially at the local Quaker Meeting House at Peel, for the workhouse children who left at the age of 14 to take up apprenticeships. The first schoolmaster was appointed in 1706 and paying boarders admitted in 1707. The workhouse gradually evolved into a combined Quaker Boarding School and Workhouse.

For further information about the school at Clerkenwell see “The Clerkenwell Rule Book 1780” and “Richard Hutton’s Complaints Book”.

Islington Road 1786 – 1825

In 1786 the Committee decided to find a new home because ‘the numbers of Antient Friends were felt to be inhibiting the development of the children’s school’ and the school moved to nearby Islington Road. It was whilst at Islington Road that the workhouse element disappeared altogether and the Quaker School and Workhouse became known as Friends’ School. However, there were concerns over the low height of the ceilings and problems resulting from dampness which led to fears of ill health and which prompted the move to Croydon in 1825.

Croydon 1825 – 1879

In 1825 the School took over a beautiful house in Croydon, built in 1708. But they had learned: a minute of 1824 says “it is desirable that the rooms in the wings (the new additions to be built) be not less than thirteen feet in height and those of the dormitories not less than twelve feet”.

When Croydon became too unhealthy from typhoid fever other locations were explored, one of them being Saffron Walden. In 1876, came an irresistible offer from a Saffron Walden Quaker, the banker and former Mayor of the town, George Stacey Gibson, of a site – and a free one too! “It is beautifully situated . . .on an open breezy hill above the town, near the railway station and within a very easy distance of the Meeting House.” And what clinched it, after the Croydon experience, was that it had “a good supply of water from a deep artesian well”.

To find out more about our school in Croydon and its move from Islington Road click here to see the “Croydon School Rules 1870”.

Saffron Walden from 1879

An architect Edward Burgess was appointed and plans drawn up for a boarding school to accommodate 150 children. The Croydon site was sold for about £22,000 which covered the cost of the new build in Saffron Walden and the purchase of some additional land. On 19th August 1879 58 boys and 32 girls were installed in Friends’ School Saffron Walden.

Walden School – September 2016

Friends’ School Saffron Walden changes its name to Walden School.

Click here to read John Woods’ account of the first 100 years at Saffron Walden.

Click here to see the 1926 prospectus for the school.

Books, photographs and films about our School

Click here to see books, photographs and films about the history of our School.


Click here to find out information about our Archives