DON'T DISMISS THE WORK OF THE BEDALES OLD SCHOOL
I would like to write and correct some of misconceptions contained in Kenneth Powell's article on Walters & Cohen's work at Bedales School (AJ 20.10.05).
May I firstly say that this is a significant and magnificent project and I have no doubt that congratulations are due to all.
Jon Barnsley, who was the founding partner of our practice, Barnsley Hewett and Mallinson, died last year and is much missed. His memorial service was, quite fittingly, held at Bedales School itself. This remarkable man helped Bedales with something in the order of 60 different projects between the late '50s and the early '80s, finishing with its ADT Centre building.
There is an implication that the Arts and Crafts foundations of Bedales School were ignored by Jon. Nothing could be more inaccurate or hurtful. Jon's father was Edward Barnsley, who himself taught at Bedales. Edward, one of this country's most important furniture makers and designers, set up his workshop a short distance from Bedales School. When Edward was no longer capable of sustaining the workload required by his shop, Jon also took on the mantle of designing furniture. He did this in the twilight hours and I and my fellow partners took several years to find out that he was actually doing two jobs at once.
Jon was the 'architect of choice' for many of the most influential headmasters in this country. He worked firstly with John Ounstead at Leighton Park. Eric Anderson then fought a dramatic battle to have Jon appointed to Abingdon. Such was the school's faith in Jon that Eric's successor, Michael St John Parker, refused to consider any other for all their major buildings for his tenure as headmaster of some 27 years.
There is a tendency to judge by today's standards what we did yesterday. While we look at the magnificent new buildings at Bedales worth many millions of pounds, the independent schools sector in the 1950s was, for many, impecunious and only just beginning to deal with vast tracts of inadequate facilities. Jon responded to that challenge and it is possibly because of his extraordinary attention to the need for cheap, careful buildings that many schools are still in existence today.
Jon Barnsley was an exceptional individual whose greatest quality was, possibly, that he was never heard to criticise or be angry with anybody unless it was for prejudice or ignorance.
His reaction to the description of his work at Bedales as 'depressingly mechanical' would have attracted at the most a small shrug of the shoulders. But it would have hurt.
John Cahill, Barnsley Hewett and Mallinson