In the last 150-plus years there have been many local private schools, but one that particularly caught my eye was Kingsfield in Eastbury Road, Oxhey, formerly New Bushey.

Kingsfield House was originally built in the 1880s for retired wholesale stationer and bookkeeper Charles King Smith and his family with the proceeds of a third share of his married, though childless uncle Jonathan King’s will.

His mother Sophia was Jonathan King’s sister, former owner of Watford Place in King Street before his move as a widower to the Wiggenhall estate. Charles’ father was James Smith of the Hamper Mill papermaking family.

Watford Observer: Eastbury Road, Kingsfield School in the distance, 1915. Image: Kingsway Real Photo SeriesEastbury Road, Kingsfield School in the distance, 1915. Image: Kingsway Real Photo Series

Kingsfield House was a large detached residence facing Oxhey Park, between the Kingsfield Road and Oxhey Road junctions. Charles and Mary Smith’s neighbours for some years were the Rev Newton Price and his family in Oxhey Vicarage. Several years before, Charles’ uncle, Jonathan King, donated the one-and-a-half acres on which the vicarage and St Matthew’s Church were built.

Charles and his wife Mary spent at least 25 years in Kingsfield House before moving to Southampton where Charles passed away in 1911; Mary in 1917.

Kingsfield’s role as a day and boarding co-educational school and kindergarten for girls and boys began in the autumn term of 1910. Twenty-four-year-old Californian Ellinor Josephine D’Esterre Hughes purchased the 17-room property and converted it to educational usage, including the large drawing room and various ‘handsome’ front rooms. The grounds comprised six acres of lawns; gardens, part of which were tended by the pupils; and a playing field on which boys and girls played cricket and other games together.

Watford Observer: Ellinor Josephine D'Esterre Hughes, 1919. Sources: NARA, familysearch.orgEllinor Josephine D'Esterre Hughes, 1919. Sources: NARA,

Ellinor was born in 1885 in Oakland, California, one of four children of Irish Master Mariner Samuel Hughes, a naturalised U.S. citizen, and his American wife Eleanora.

When Ellinor was six, her father committed suicide. Soon afterwards, his widow and her children left for Kensington, London, to join her late husband’s family. Whilst there, she was persuaded to invest in a mining property which failed thus, without funds and ‘by force of circumstances’, she and her children remained in London.

When Ellinor opened Kingsfield in 1910, she provided accommodation within the house for her mother and 33-year-old sister Catherine, who was secretary of the Ladies’ Automobile Club. At the outset, she employed two resident teachers for the 11 boys and girls: Daisy Hodge, a Scot, and Fernande Touillart, a young Frenchman. An Irish brother and sister, Edmund and Bridgette Tremayne, were amongst her early child boarders. Ellinor looked on Kingsfield as ‘an ideal home in which brothers and sisters were no more separated than under their parents’ roof’.

By early 1915, pupil numbers had risen to 50 and boarders were being increased from the previous dozen.

There were four resident college-trained teachers and three visiting teachers who taught boys and girls together.

Classes were limited to a maximum of 14 pupils and, according to Ellinor, their classrooms were ‘unsurpassed’. Senior girls left at 17 or 18 and boys at 14. On a site 240 feet above sea level and with views across the valley of the Colne overlooking rural Watford, ‘a healthier situation could not be found’, she proclaimed.

Watford Observer: Freelands School, 1929. Image: Watford, The Official GuideFreelands School, 1929. Image: Watford, The Official Guide

In the school’s ‘thoroughly domesticated’ system, dressmaking, ‘plain sewing’ and French formed important features of the girls’ curriculum. Dancing and ‘other accomplishments’ were also taught, whilst carpentry and basket making were optional subjects for boys and girls.

The school’s facilities included a library and gymnasium. Ellinor was ‘not a stickler for conventional [teaching] methods’ and had her own ideas for the ‘perfect way in education’. Indeed, when she entered her pupils for the Royal Drawing Society’s examination in 1914, she had no failures and 18 honours. She welcomed inspection of her school at any time.

Curiously, NFU appears after Ellinor’s name. She joined the National Farmers Union soon after it was established and, no doubt, brought her knowledge of farming and food production, likely garnered via the NFU’s educational arm, to the school.

By January 1919, Ellinor’s sister Catherine was diagnosed with ‘disseminated sclerosis’ (MS) and required prolonged rest, so Ellinor accompanied her on a month-long sea voyage to New York, leaving her frail mother in the care of a doctor and assistant teachers in charge of her school. On the sisters’ return, Ellinor took up the reins of the school and the care of her mother, who became seriously ill. But their return to Oxhey was short-lived and the family departed permanently for America in July 1920. In November, Ellinor married Scot John P. O’Hara in California.

Kingsfield continued as a school, albeit for boys and in 1928 was renamed Freelands by L.O.G. Whitfield, Principal alongside E.C. Austin, both of University College Oxford.

Watford Observer: W. H. Sobey, member of the British Lions rugby union team. Image: Crown Studios Ltd: Negatives and prints. Ref: 1/1-030502-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22305659W. H. Sobey, member of the British Lions rugby union team. Image: Crown Studios Ltd: Negatives and prints. Ref: 1/1-030502-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22305659

The school prepared boys of seven and upwards for public schools and the Royal Navy, whilst bringing out their individuality and character. ‘Drawing, singing and handwork (sic)’ were in the curriculum, alongside cricket, football and swimming. Hobbies were encouraged.

Five years later, Rev. R.E. Newton became Principal and reverted to the school’s original name, Kingsfield.

By 1940 Wilfred H. Sobey, maths and French teacher and former British Lions rugby player, became Principal. His 30 years in the role proved highly successful but, on his retirement in 1970, Kingsfield School closed and the house was demolished to make way for flats.

With thanks to Martha Burgin of Monticello, Illinois and Simon Rennie.

  • Lesley Dunlop is the daughter of the late Ted Parrish, a well-known local historian and documentary filmmaker. He wrote 96 nostalgic articles for the ‘Evening Post-Echo’ in 1982-83 which have since been published in ‘Echoes of Old Watford, Bushey & Oxhey’, available at and Bushey Museum. Lesley is currently working on ‘Two Lives, Two World Wars’, a companion volume that explores her father’s and grandfather’s lives and war experiences, in which Watford, Bushey and Oxhey’s history will take to the stage once again.