Epping House Special School


A Radical Institution

Epping House Special School was a residential school near Ware, about 28 miles from the family home in Berkhamsted. Epping House was not a boys’ special needs school typical of this period – it was radical and experimental under a recently appointed headmaster who was shaking it up when Susan’s brother was sent there early in the summer of 1957.

The Building

The main block was an old building on three floors, dating back to the 17th or 18th Century. It was extended in the 1820s by Sir William Horne, who was Solicitor General for a time whilst he owned it. It is, today, a Grade II listed building, with twelve pane sash bay windows on the first floor, and six pane sash windows on the second.

A Radical Regime

The school’s regime (in the broadest sense) was being shaped by the headmaster, Howard Case. His ideas were revolutionary. This school had a serious impact on (or, depending on one’s view, failed) Susan’s brother. To quote from The Student Voice Handbook:

“In many ways his approach is best understood through the pivotal practice of the Daily Meeting attended by all staff and young people…
…it was here that all significant decisions about how students and staff lived, worked and learned together were taken on a daily basis. The Meeting was chaired by one of the children and normally lasted about an hour…
…The constraining items, such as the Stop or Veto list in which children whose activities were restrained in some way by the will of the Community as expressed in the Meeting, were dealt with first. This was followed by the negotiation of activities that staff were able to offer in the afternoon and evening, after the 11:00 am-12:30 pm class groups, which the school expected the children to attend. Children were free to choose which activities they wanted to take part in or to offer activities of their own or do nothing at all…
…Then came the allocation of communal work such as sweeping and cleaning and looking after the dogs and cats that had an important role to play in the emotional reparation and development of many of the children in the school. ”

Homer Lane and Little Commonwealth

Whether Howard Case’s approach to education was influenced by the American Homer Lane’s views on the education of children with special needs is not clear. There are obvious similarities between Epping House and the policies and running of Homer Lane’s ‘Little Commonwealth’ at Evershot in Dorset in the years 1913-1918. The ‘Little Commonwealth’ took in children with criminal records and up to the age of 19 years.

Children are Accepting

Of course, from a child’s perspective, it was rather different. Children knew little about the debates over special needs education policies. Children were generally accepting of the regime, however strange it might have seemed to many adults.

The practice (as recounted by Susan’s Brother) at Epping House Special School of letting (even encouraging) the children run around unclothed would clearly be totally unacceptable today.

The school was closed in July 1997.

65 thoughts on “Epping House Special School”

  1. I don’t no why I felt I had to look up about EH and found this site Susan’s Brother ,but I’m glade I did . I was at EH 1961-1966 I DIDN’T KNOW I or we was a radical experiment . AL I understand I was a lonely frightened 7 yr old . EH was as far as I can remember good to me. reading all your comments bought bake memories . I allso have a lot of blank spots why i dont no .I get flashbacks every so often like today why I thought of EH And looked up this site . Thank you for letting me read your comments some good some not .

  2. I was there 1962 – 1966. I really loved it and when we had holidays, I couldn’t wait to get back to my mates.
    My best friend was Michael Axford, he was a great swimmer and he taught me to swim. I also remember a kid called Raymond Chell, (I think), and he was an amazing classical pianist. We had another mate called Charles and we formed a band miming along to all the latest pop songs.
    Howard and Mary were great, as were all the staff. Mel’s bedtime stories about a city in the sky were a big hit with everyone.
    Weekends were great, either going to Hertford to spend your pocket money, or getting a packed lunch and walking through the woods all day. Having a dog of your own, building ‘forts’ from wood and tin, camping out all summer if you wanted to, climbing trees and great friends. What more could a boy want?
    I for one never saw any abuse of any kind from the staff. All we got was love and encouragement to do better. Although the food could have been better!
    And I never felt like a kid with ‘special needs’, I just felt like a kid having a good time. I LOVED EHS.

  3. I also attended EHS, I was sent there due to my Father having a nervous breakdown. Can not remember the exact date I was there but it would have been around 1957 -1960, and have mixed views and memories of the place. I also remember the tuck shop down the lane and going into Ware town on a Saturday. My stay did have a direct influence on my education, which I never caught up on, but did not impact on my career and achieved senior management within some large corporations I have fond memories of the Howards and teachers and did not experience any bullying. My best friend there was Phillip Beven and I do have some photos of the school and pupils during that time.

        1. Do you remember Alan Scrivener ? He died a couple of years ago. Peggy Smart turned out to be his friend for life. I remember her shouting at you in the dining room: “Number 15 !” You said “I’m not doing anything !” She said ” I know. That’s the trouble !”

  4. many good memories of E H S 1954-56. A real adventure, Headmaster was Mr Southwell at that time. I have many fond memories of the staff, The Matron Bertrice, Mawreen, Dora, and Len Stout but for a few. Unfortunately for me I was expelled from E H S for misbehaviour, leading other boys astray, Venturing out late at night when we should be sleeping, going up on the school roof via the attic. I was branded the ringleader by the Headmaster and given the cane four times with my shorts down, Ouch. I remember very well my last day at the school waiting by my Fathers Lambretta on the front drive, He had gone in to see the Headmaster, It was very shameful and embarrassing for me to see several of the Staff grouped at the corner of House waving me a fond farewell, I looked away for a moment towards what I remember a large Cedar or Lebanon tree and when I looked back they had gone. Ps; I never ever told my parents about the caning I had from Headmaster Southwell.

    1. Hi Alan,
      I think you and I were friends, though we didn’t start off that way if you can recall. If you can’t recall my name, l was one of the boys who ventured out at night in your company! I think I must have left EH before you, as I don’t recall you being expelled.
      I have both good and bad memories of EH, and a lot of unanswered questions as to why I was sent there – questions that will probably never answered. Anyway, if you would like to get in touch, it would be really good to exchange experiences.

      Best regards,
      Eddie (Edwin)

  5. hi all just to add to my other post after reading all yours yes howard and mary were really good people and I was lucky and saw no bulling by staff really I to was well behide with schooling when I left to go to another childrens home and remember discussing it with howard and got extra lessons but what has affected me is why did I get sent there why am I different but to old to worry about that now does anyone remember the airplane by the cedar tree I used to play in it for hours I was 5

    1. The plane was replaced by an old bus in about 1962. Both were removed within a short period as they were used as toilets by the children.

  6. Adrian, I was there around the same timeframe as you, and didn’t experience any issues outside of Francis being a bully to kids. The staff were mainly fantastic, and the kids great to. Weird that we have such different experiences.


    1. Hmm. Maybe people had different experiences but I remember a guy called Shaun getting physically beaten in the dining room by two members of staff. And as for Francis, well today he would be up for sexual abuse charges.

  7. I agree with that statement Adrian c. Alan hood could be very nice . also can be very nasty. When I was there in the 80s there was the news of the African famine in the media about 1984 time . one day at dinner time there was something I didn’t like so it was not on my plate. He asked me why I didn’t have the pie I said I don’t like it . with that he picked me up shook me hard shouted in my face I should be greatful I ain’t starving like Ethiopia people. I cried and was terrified. Yes he was right but I was 10yo didn’t understand not that aware of the world outside my own at that age. That’s one instant he was a bully way over the top .

  8. Adrian yes I am sure I was there when you was. ( I liked playing the piano) I know who you are. Hi! Yes I also went to see the place a few yrs back its done out as apartments now so very different. Thought I was the only one who thought it could be horribl. Richard ash Alan hood could turn nasty sometimes yes.

  9. Hello I attended EHS from 84 to 86 there was 11 boys 6 girls I remember having good times and bad but probably the worse for me was being forced to sharing a bath with the opposite sex then being told if you haven’t brought a swimsuit with you for the outdoor pool there was no choice but to be told go in naked and at 10 years old was not something i wanted to see but to scared to tell until 5yrs ago i told my mum as being an adult now i know that was wrong up bringing from professionals

  10. I don’t read much about my past because it is all too emotional but James suggested I read this blog. At 70 and at last content and happy I would like to say that everyone at EHS did their best for me but I was to far gone for anyone to help. My father died when I was 5 and my mother, God bless her, didn’t really want me. My sister grew up with what I now know as ‘Princes Syndrome’ so she could do no wrong and was practically worshiped by the extended family whilst no one had any time for me. So combining that with being a slow learner and it was not surprising EHS could not do much with me. I certainly do not blame them in any way at all. My memories of EHS were not all bad. I remember the tuck shop at the end of the lane, the sunny days in the grounds of the school, Howard’s son riding his motorbike around, so thanks for reminding me of those memories and God bless you all. I’m going to sign off as Chris Robinson and not Susan’s Brother, so that’s an improvement!!

  11. Hi

    I went to EHS between 1976 – 1978 in the era of Alan Hood.

    Got to say I saw it as an evil place. A place of abuse, both sexual and physical and in no way under the sun would I call it positive. Went back there as an adult (to deal with some of the ghosts of the past) and banged into Alan Hood, who proved to me what an evil place it was by his reaction to meeting me. My girlfriend at the time, now my wife , came with me and was horrified at how evil the man was and I finally felt justified in my beliefs.

    Horrible, horrible place!


  12. My brother John Long attended Epping House in the late sixties, early seventies. He had learning difficulties, and really needed the program Howard provided. I went there myself from around 1974-77, when Alan Hood was in charge. I remember how much the staff and kids before me had loved Howard and Mary. Alan was fair, but likely not with the plan that Howard instituted. Love my time there, except for Francis, who was a nasty bully within the staff. I remember building stuff with Richard, and enjoying Ian’s lessons. Some fantastic staff, and I made some great friends.
    Now I’m living and working in the US, but still cherish my memories there, camping and the visit to Little Berhamstead and Hereford to spend pocket money. They had a great program in the seventies, and it sad to see that all gone now.

  13. I was at EHS the same time as Paul Hickmot and I remember him being my best buddy even met up with him for a while after leaving. So hope your good Paul. Lastly memos of epping house best described as very fond. Except Alan Hood who could be an ass at times.

    1. Hi Christopher

      Yes doing well thanks – live in Northampton now. Been married for 30 years and still enjoying every minute of it so I feel fortunate in that respect. I hope you are well and enjoying life

      Kind regards


  14. I was at EHS from 1956 to 1961. I had the utmost respect for the Cases in the end. I re bear running away from the school more than 10 times, never ever got it right as I used to be wearing my PJs lol. They had this rule about sliding down banisters and fines imposed. On the last day of term one year I slid down banister on 3rd floor and lost my grip and ended up in hospital (not very clever) I remember playing with an old HMV gramophone, and playing lots of old 78s, I Leo remember the tuck shop. Something that has always stuck with me was the marvelous Muselea they made, also love molasses that matron would give you when unwell lol, loved the old building had some fantastic memories.

      1. Hi James I whet to Epping House as of 1986 to 1991 I know exactly who your talking about old guy glasses smoked a pipe ( Alan hood head master ) his wife was a teacher too. cold tea ring any bells to any one and who am I talking about you can’t for get Roy & Betty and joy and the old cedar tree on the playing feld

  15. Hi, I was at EHS when I was 7yo 81-85. I did not settle in normal school so I was sent there I felt very abandoned by my family.missed home a lot. I did catch up on my reading and writing as I couldn’t spell but I found some of the teachers like Richard ash a bully and Alan hood would pick you up and shake you and shout if you was naughty. So not all happy for me there.

    1. Hi jimmyboy, sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy your time there. I went to a regular school and saw much the same behaviour from some teachers. Regards, James.

    2. Hi Jimmy, i was at EHS the same time as you, for me it was like a home as home life was not good at all and hated going home for weekends and holidays, i felt happy there but will admit being picked up and shouted at by Alan Hood, one of the most kindest members of staff to me was Betty.

  16. Hi

    I attended EH School from 74 – 78
    I feel it helped me significantly and I appreciate the time and attention that was given to me
    To this day I often reflect on how the staff and the approach to helping children was exceptional and I feel blessed because of it
    Kind Regards
    Paul H

  17. Hi

    I attended EH School from 74 – 78
    I feel it helped me significantly and I appreciate the time and attention that was given to me
    To this day I often reflect on how the staff and the approach to helping children was exceptional and I feel blessed because of it
    Kind Regards
    Paul H

  18. I was sent to Epping House School in the summer of 1949. My mother had called in social services as she was leaving my father, unknown to him. I had just turned eight. lessons seemed very easy and I was allowed to spend most of the time reading. As a result, when starting at secondary school in 1952 I was way behind and struggled for the next four years. I left in 1956 without any exam results. I still, at age 75, cannot write properly (I print), or spell and have no real knowledge of grammar. My memories of EHS was the tuck shop at the end of the lane where we spent our pocket money on a Saturday morning. I enjoyed singing in the choir at the village church. I also remember the regime at the school being fairly strict, certainly the “cold baths” we were made to take if we were too noisy at bedtime. Still we did get to watch films of George Formby, so it wasn’t all bad. I have made a good life, travelling and working around the world, then married for 42 years and two children who both did well at university. I retired 18 years ago from the civil service, having been promoted several times to middle management. It seems I was good at covering my lack of education and to “think on my feet” and perhaps also “outside the box” were lessons actually learnt at EHS after all.

    1. Hello Brian

      Thank you for your comments. Clearly EHS worked for you, but failed Susan’s Brother. You certainly see to have had a fulfilling career and family life, and it’s great to read another about another person for whom the school worked!

      Best wishes


    2. My name is John Rayner and we would have been there at the same time. I also arrived in 1949 and I was around 7 years old. I too remember the tuck shop and the cold baths. I left in December 1954. I am also retired after a long service with Royal Mail.

      1. Hi John, nice to read about someone at the school same time as myself (1949-1952). I have to admit I don’t recognise your name, but then I can’t really remember any of the names. All that comes to mind are the incidents, some good and some bad. I guess that’s much the same at any school! Would be good to share memories. Brian Townsend.

  19. Some names here that stir up the past … Sandra … Janet … and Dianne (Hi Again!)

    Obviously, lots of people have different views about their time at EH, and all of those views are equally valid. For myself, I loved the place, loved the regime, loved the sense of freedom I found there and most of all loved (in the widest sense of the word) all the people who were there at the same time as me.

    Looking back, with the benefit not just of hindsight but also personal maturity gained through being a parent myself, I have great respect for the efforts of the staff who made the whole ethos of the school work. Not just Howard and Mary, but also Brian, Alan, Gavin, Wendy, Dennis, Jenny and Brenda and others.

    (one of the great shames that I feel in later life is remembering when Howard announced that Brenda was leaving and the whole meeting erupted in a great cheer … poor Brenda fled the room visibly upset … yeah kids can be cruel sometimes).

    I cant speak for others (and wouldnt want to try) but for myself, EH has left its mark on me and that mark has been extremely positive.

    Personally, I think the world is a poorer place for not having schools like EH available for kids who would benefit from its ethos.

    But, of course, not everyone enjoyed their time there …

    1. Hi Julie

      Thanks for taking the time to write. There must be many other positive stories out there! That must have been quite a moment for Brenda. Maybe she learned from it?

      Best wishes

    2. Hi my name is Bobby boultwood I went to EH age 7 till I was 12 back in1961 I to had found memoirs that will stay with me for ever .your words some it up just right ..

  20. I was at the school in 90/92 and I’m glad the school has shut down, never agreed in them ancient regimes of sending kids away to a old spooky isolated house with a bunch of adult horrible aggressive strangers that treated children like animals. when I was there most of the children was sent their because they was unsettled due to the fact they had unfit parents with problems. so for the benefit of the parent only they had their kids sent away. so the child can go through life questioning it self wondering if he/she really was a terrible person. At the end of the day if people don’t want kids then they shouldn’t be giving birth to them in the first place.

    1. Hi Marc

      Thanks for your reply. It’s interesting to have a different viewpoint, as most of the feedback I get here is from people who had a positive experience. Susan’s Brother had a very negative experience there and attempted suicide.

      Best wishes

  21. I went to Epping House 1979-82, long after Howard and Mary Case had retired. Alan Hood was the headteacher and from what I have seen (BBC documentary 1967) and Howard Case book ‘Loving Us’, the philosophy of community and therapeutic living were still very much in practice. Epping House became home for me and I am grateful for the time I spent there; they were good times and staff that worked and lived with us were truly wonderful. I look back with fondness, and only wish there were more schools like this…if only to help today’s troubled children navigate their way in a weary world.

  22. Thanks for all the comments. It seems that many of you have positive memories, even success stories. Unfortunately Susan’s Brother had a near-fatal time there.

  23. I was a pupil (63 to 66) – I remember Howard, Mary and I remember the art teacher – we called the teachers by their first names and rarely remembered their surnames 🙂

    I believe the BBC did a documentary in 1967 the year after I left – but it is probably lost now.

    We had very few formal lesson time so when I went to secondary school I was bottom in all subjects. But Epping House taught me to value myself and have strong self esteem. That enabled me to use my drive and logic to get my A levels and degree – then to have a very enjoyable career. For me Epping House School and it’s staff were the best thing to happen to me – I am so grateful

    1. hi all I don’t know what made me look this up I was at epping house from 1960 to 1965 and was the first boy to be isolated in the extra special group I cant remember what for now I remember the meeting everyday and having to run round naked also building camps out corrugated iron in the field all I was told at the time was it was a special school for special people I remember if you talked at night they would make you sit in the corridor under the fire bucket all night I would love to know if anyone remembers me it was a long time ago I still remember some names and did keep in touch with some till my late teens

      1. Hello Timothy. Do you remember that, in an effort to restrict individuality, all the boys had numbers ? You were No. 6. I was No.16. I guess you must have arrived about 1962, after Stuart Ryall (previous No.6 ) left. So you may recall when Case decreed that all lessons apart from sex were banned. Do you remember me carrying you out of the separate yellow brick classroom when you were 6 years old ? Mel bloody Perkins scooped us both up and deposited us back in the sex class !! Brilliant ! That place ruined my life. As someone else has said here, it was evil !

  24. I was at Epping House from the mid sixty’s for about 4 or 5 years and was forever put on a ‘controls group’ and not allowed to wander free. I was bullied at ‘normal’ school and it was felt I had learning difficulties. I would be very interested to hear more from you about this school as I believe we were there at the same time.

  25. Hi Sandra

    We were at EHS together would love to get back in touch. I have different memories of my stay at the school.

    1. Hi Dianne,
      I was at Epping house school the same time as you and rember you. I don’t have such happy memories. it would be nice to hear from you.

  26. my mum and dad were teachers there in the late 50s/early 1960s and I was born while my dad was still working there. My parents always had wonderful tales to tell of Howard and the children. I can vaguely remember visiting when I was 5 (so 1965). Dad was an art teacher and has the most fantastic photographs of things he made with the kids – six foot long Santa in a plane etc. Hope one day someone makes a documentary about a truly remarkable school. My parents NEVER referred to the children as ‘patients’ but just as troubled kids.

  27. I myself was a pupil at Epping house school. Attended this school for eight years from the mid sixties untill the early seventies . Although most of the children were there because of problems at home or sometimes behavioural . I was the first girl to join Epping house, and my brother was already attending the school . I never heard of any of the children being referred to as patients , but maybe it was different before my time there . It was certainly not like any kind of mental institution . I fact it was home to me for the eight years that I lived in that wonderful old house . It was full of love and warmth and I still have very warm memories of my time there. We were taught very important life skills and how relate to other people and actually care about others . I had my own cat from a kitten whom I named Twinkle a fluffy tabby that was born in the bottom of Howard and Mary’s piano in their bungalow in the grounds. We learned to trust , and how to become caring responsible human beings. And when we got things right we received much praise. But when we were abusive or disruptive to others or deliberately destructive the matter would be raised in the meeting and would be discussed by the whole school which was usually around 36people . We would have a large canvas carpet unrolled to put all the chairs around in an oval , with a desk one side this was where the chairman would sit being one of the girls or boys . We took turns in alphabetical order . And on the other side there was a large chalk board where another child would be writer . And write down names in turn after people had raised their hands to comment on whatever was being discussed . Then we would all take a vote and the decision would be final . We could write the the meeting for extra privileges too and sometimes these requests would be granted but if you were considered not ready or too immature . It would not be granted . I could go on forever as I learned so much from this school it was my family and to this day I still miss it . I remember the BBC came to make a documentary about our school and I had my cat in the meeting on my lap as I often did and he was on the telly and I was so proud of him . I think I could possibly write a book about my years at Epping house as I loved it so much . Maybe not everyone felt the same as me but it’s what I needed at that point in my life .oh and the food all health food was delicious. And nary even sent me the recipe for her savoury pie after I was married. It’s still my comfort food . Thankyou Howard and Mary. I love you both you were like my second mum and dad. God bless you both.x

    1. Hi Sandra,
      we were at Epping House School at about the same time. I
      remember you. It would be nice to hear from you.

    2. Hi sandra
      Its lesley martindale we were at Epping House together.
      I shared a bedroom with you on the top floor (Eccles i think).
      I came to stay at yours and we went to see Stray at the Hermitage Ballroom.
      email: [removed by admin under privacy policy]

    3. I was also at Epping House from the age of 6-9 years. I am now nearly 36. It was a good school. I also remember the meeting taking place with One pupil chairing it and another writing on the board. I also remember Thursdays collecting kinderling from the woods to the right of the school and then on Fridays I think we would collect our own box of kinderling, go to the woods and build our own little fire and cook sausages and beans. I love that!!!! I also remember every Thursday or Friday they had a like cinema screening with the film and projector 📽 we used to watch Blake 7, supper was at 9pm where we would have real large loaf of bread 🍞 the crusty loaf you cut yourself (obviously teacher cut it) we had real butter land marmite or peanut butter, the head teacher when I was there was a man with a beard called Alan, my teacher was Mr Clifford, there was another teacher called Hartley he’s said he name was like Hartley Jam. Another teacher was called Gill, We always called the teacher by their first names not not surnames.
      We used to have to clean the yard and polish our shoes and do other chores. It was a really good school. I would love to see photos of the school inside and out as well and it’s grounds,
      I would love to go back and visit.

      1. Hi Kelvin, I believe you were leaving just as I was arriving in 1966. I have a copy of Howard’s book “Loving us” and am digitalising it. be happy to send it to anyone who wants. I’ve tried to track down the school photo album, the one that always had pride of place in the library.
        The documentary has iluded me, until now and be really grateful I you’d send me a copy.
        Having had a career in mental health, I’m now retired. One of the many things on my bucket list is to write a paper/book about Epping House and Howard’s philosophy on children, something that’s more reliant than ever.
        email: [removed by admin under privacy policy]

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