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Paul Holland spoof school St. Cretien’s College fictional school St. Cretian’s imaginary Paul Holland spoof school St. Cretien’s College fictional school St. Cretian’s imaginary Paul Holland spoof school St. Cretien’s College fictional school St. Cretian’s imaginary Paul Holland spoof school St. Cretien’s College fictional school St. Cretian’s imaginary

A Short History

The grand story of a grand place   

Original plans for St. Cretien’s College : Pencil drawing by the Victorian artist Edmund Derrywherry RA

“Ah, could there not be no finer a school than that which one day might not perchance rise amongst the verdant hills of these Sussex Lanes!” So wrote Sir Guthry Buncombe, later Lord Buncombe of Blithery, after having, so the legend goes, fallen off his horse whilst out riding one March morning in 1842. The inability of the locals to help him in his pain so moved him that he resolved in the coming months to “build an edifice of education for the native poor, which might, by its very renown, entice their family folk to send the little ones out into the world via this institutio mirabilis.

Thus was born the idea of St. Cretien’s, a school with a mission, a school with a purpose, a higher purpose, one that would elevate it above the norm. Named after the legendary Saint Cretien, so called Patron of the Pitchforkers, this idea remained, however, on the drawing board for the next fifteen years, until the then Lord Buncombe had amassed the wealth he needed for his grand plans.

No expense would be spared; plans were drawn up from the very finest architects of the time, but the winner was the little known Sir Herbert Garden, acclaimed for his recent work on the new seafront in Douglas on the Isle of Man. His first designs were ambitious, to say the least, and very much in line with what the school’s founder was looking for, but they had to be reduced in scale once it was realised that the land that Lord Monkton had bought was too boggy.

By the time the first building work was getting underway, Lord Buncombe had had to accept that the plans for a school to “rival even the greatest in the land” would end up being more modest. Gone was the 70ft. tower modelled on the campanile of Florence, and gone too were the 17 tonne bells intended for it. Instead of the envisaged racecourse, there would now be a small sports field. But the new design had elements of grandeur too; St. Cretien’s drains are still a marvel of mid-victorian engineering, and many visitors even today are shown down to the network of working sewers which criss-cross under the school, and which are used as a way of getting the school dinners from the kitchens to the Dining Hall when the weather is inclement!

Over the course of its long and productive history, St. Cretien’s has seen all manner of changes to its original character. In WWII, the whole school site, including the pupils, was given over to the army for shooting practice, and it was this challenging experience which many see as an expression of St. Cretien’s particular resilience. It was said afterwards that Montgomery himself, when he visited the school to oversee the training of soldiers for D-Day, remarked that he had “never experienced young people like these Cretians,” and wished he could take some away with him there and then.

During the 60’s St. Cretien’s became known throughout the world of the London literati as a hotbed of bright young playwrights, the so-called Battersea Group, whose most famous member, Derek Dillio, put on the notorious 1968 performance of Downtown Orgy. In 1975, the school was rocked by a scandal involving the cast members being invited back by Dillio and squatting unnoticed for three months in the attics.

Since the 1980’s St. Cretien’s has embarked on a programme of modernisation and refurbishment, which is still ongoing, and expected to be complete by 2043, by which time the school will have been “dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th Century,” as W.D. Forte once said.

St. Cretien’s College


Photographs of the original site where St. Cretien’s was to be built

Click here to find out more about some of St. Cretien’s most famous alumni!

Old Cretians

The Head Master’s House in 1867, the first building to be completed

Even seeds of greatness must sometimes pass first through an animal’s rear end