The entrance to Charterhouse is rather understated, so much so that yours truly missed it at the first attempt! Here, there are no triumphal wrought iron gates or large signs shouting its existence; rather surprising, perhaps, for an establishment that is rated in the top six public schools in the UK.
Famous former pupils include the founder of the scout movement, Lord Baden Powell, whose move to leafy Surrey prompted his love of all things countryside; playwright Ben Travers, whom the school's theatre is named after; England cricket captain, Peter May, who once famously, as legend has it, hit a six over the imposing school building, such was his talent; and the original line-up of prog rock band, Genesis, including Peter Gabriel, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, who began their career in music whilst still pupils.
The school accommodates 795 pupils aged between fourteen and eighteen, of which 135 are girls.
This summer, Charterhouse celebrates its 400th anniversary. Founded by Thomas Sutton in London in 1611, on the site of an old Carthusian monastery in Charterhouse Square, Smithfield, it is one of the original nine English public schools as defined by the Public Schools Act 1868. It moved to its present site just outside Godalming in 1872, after completion of the buildings from stone and sand quarried from the site.
In 1927, the building of the Memorial Chapel was completed to honour the 700 former pupils who had died in action during World War 1. The architect was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who is best known as the designer of the red telephone box.
The original eighty acre site has, over the years, expanded to close to 250 acres comprising eighty acres of woodland, fifty-five acres of lawns and formal gardens and thirty acres occupied by a nine-hole golf course. The remaining acreage is given over to a stunning array of sports pitches set out in defined areas - Under Green, Lessington, Wilderness, Big Ground, Green, Broom & Lees and Northbrook being the main ones.
Northbrook is the most recent addition (1970s) and here are sited the artificial hockey pitch, the Queen's Sports Centre and the Sir Greville Spratt Athletics Stadium, along with space for three cricket squares, seven football pitches, one lacrosse pitch, two training grids and one rugby pitch.
Perhaps surprisingly, there is only one rugby pitch, as Charterhouse is very much a football school. Some of the original rules of association football were drawn up here, and the school continues to produce fine players who often progress to the highest level. They are recent winners of the Boodles ISFA Cup [Independent Schools Football Association], beating arch rivals Eton 2-0 in front of a crowd of 2,000 at the MK Dons Stadium; Harry Lineker, son of Gary, opening the scoring.
The year is split into three 'quarters' - the Oration Quarter from early September to mid December, the Long Quarter from mid January to late March which, traditionally, has the distinction of being the shortest third of the school year, despite its name, and the Cricket Quarter from late April to late June or early July. During the summer holidays the facilities are let out to American schools for summer camps and English Lacrosse.
Overseeing the grounds maintenance team is Dave Roberts, the former Grounds Manager at Southampton Football Club. A native of Staffordshire, Dave began his career on the YOP scheme at Staffordshire County Council, returning to college to complete a National Certificate in Horticulture before becoming a self employed landscape gardener.
"My timing wasn't the best," says Dave, "as it coincided with the beginning of the last recession. After spending some time looking for work, a friend and colleague suggested that I 'come down south' to continue my search. Whilst in the Midlands, I had been looking every day for something in turf maintenance. There was nothing on offer. When I came south, I was amazed how many positions were being advertised."
Within a few days, Dave had landed a job with Hampshire County Council, before moving on to work for Tonrin Contractors for seven years. Part time work supplemented his income, tending the gardens of former Saints manager, Lawrie McMenemy, so he was in the right place at the right time when a vacancy for a groundsman at the club became available.
After spending thirteen happy years at Southampton - six at The Dell and seven at St Mary's - Dave moved to his current position as Grounds Manager at Charterhouse when the then head man, Dale Gleed, suggested he applied for the position.
"This time, the timing was right for me," says Dave. "My personal circumstances had changed, and the position was offered with accommodation. Also, having overseen the construction of the new pitch at St. Mary's, I was ready for a new challenge. The two lads under me were champing at the bit to progress, so I suggested to the Chief Executive that they were both promoted to Head Groundsman, one at the training ground and the other at the stadium, and that they brought in a youngster to train up, thereby saving half my salary in, what were, difficult financial times for the club. He agreed with my suggestion, and Andy Gray and Graeme Mills are still doing fine work at the club. I'm pleased to see the club doing so well this season."
Dave oversees a team of fifteen. His deputy is Adrian Beagley, who has been at the school for forty-three years. Heading up the administration is Jo Janssenswillen who looks after the day-today tasks, whilst the grounds maintenance is split into four sections - golf, gardens, cricket and winter pitches.
The Head Greenkeeper is assisted by Lukasz Moskal. Head Gardener is Graham Sykes who has a team of five to assist him - Bob Berry (Level 2), Mariusz Franciszkowski, Andrew Barbet, Simon Jones and James Greenshields (all Level 1).
Lead Groundsman Cricket is James Bourgeois and Lead Groundsman Winter Pitches, Jason Hunter. Both can call on the assistance of Adam Bellman, Jo Rawlinson and Ben Brown as the seasons dictate. More of the team leaders later.
The machinery list, as you might expect on such a large site, is extensive, and Dave is given a healthy annual maintenance budget, along with a capital budget, although the latter may get cut this year, following the 400th anniversary celebrations. "I'm keen for that not to happen," says Dave, as it may set a precedent in years to come. Fortunately, both our Headmaster, Rev. John Witheridge, and our Bursar, David Williams, fully understand the huge benefits of the grounds facilities here and just how important presentation is. They are our shop window to the parents and visiting public. So, whilst I will be fighting our corner, I do have their full support."
The Toro equipment is purchased from, and maintained by, JSM (John Shaw Machinery) and the John Deere equipment from Winchester Garden Machinery. "We can also call on the services of Ted Corner, a local agricultural and grounds machinery fitter, who has been dealing with the school for over thirty years, who will often find ways to repair machines for less than the two main dealers"
Ongoing servicing and "machinery first aid" is undertaken by James, and the team are responsible for day-to-day checks.
All staff are up-to-date with all industry certification - tractors, utility vehicles, spraying etc. - and ongoing training is carried out to ensure that remains the case.
The native soil is very sandy, in places well over a metre deep, so drainage is not usually an issue, even in winter, but thatch is an ongoing battle, one that the latest aeration techniques are combating.
A new football pitch, constructed by Speedcut Contractors, is currently growing in, with the irrigation system installed by Osprey Irrigation. Two additional sand dressed, all weather surfaces (under the guidance of David Rhodes) and six hard surface acrylic tennis courts are also in the pipeline, with work due to start in August of this year. These will require the resiting of the rugby pitch and the loss of one hole on the golf course, with a new hole being constructed at the same time.
"It's a case of ongoing improvement," says Dave enthusiastically. "When I came here, I was aware of the excellent work that Dale Gleed had undertaken during his tenure by bringing the facilities and working methods into the 20th century. Now, I want to bring it into the 21st century. There's still much that can be done."
Dave has already introduced a green waste composting system which will benefit all areas of the site and help reduce costs. In addition, coppicing of the woods is being undertaken to open up some of the views that had become hidden over the years. This work is being undertaken with the blessing of the Forestry Commission and Natural England, the latter being responsible for the SSSIs within the woodland. The school's hilltop position provides some stunning views over the local countryside.
With the woodland work now being carried out, a logging scheme for staff and residents has been introduced, with the additional income used for purchasing new tree planting.
One fine example of Dave's attention to detail is the new gate to the headmaster's garden. His idea was to mirror the brick archway and create a portal into the beautifully maintained garden. The gate was built by the estates department.
I ask if Dave still gets involved with the day-to-day cutting? "When I can, or when needed," he replies. "I've got a very good team, and they all have pride in what they do here, but I do like to keep my hand in."
Adrian Beagley - Deputy Head Groundsman
Adrian Beagley has worked at Charterhouse 'man and boy'.
"I had decided that, after dossing around for the previous summer holidays, I would try and get a job to earn some money. This was in 1968, and I would have been sixteen years old. I was lucky enough to get six weeks work here at Charterhouse. I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought, I'm cut out for this. I went back to school in September, but only lasted a few days and just quit, which you could sort of do back in the sixties. Charterhouse took me on, and here I am forty-three years later."
Adrian has seen huge changes in that time, with the advancement of machinery and maintenance techniques, but maintains that the basics remain the same. "It's all about attention to detail. Groundsmen and women must have pride in what they are doing. That's the bottom line. I have instilled that in all the staff here during my time, and it's great to know that Dave shares my views."
As well as mentoring the younger members of the team, Adrian remains involved in the day-to-day workload, undertaking much of the 'accurate' work, such as fertiliser spraying and marking out, as well as mowing outfields and pitches.
Having worked across all areas of the site Adrian is able to mentor the younger members of staff. I suggest he is like the 'uncle' of the groundscare team. "I suppose I am," he says with a smile. However, one wag suggested that he was more like a fussy auntie!
Jason Hunter - Lead Groundsman Winter Pitches
At the age of fifteen, Jason Hunter was already running his own landscaping business back in his native South Africa, whilst still at school. "I lived on a six acre property in Port Elizabeth, and the work I did on the grounds saw me gain a runners-up spot in a national landscaping competition."
"I then moved on to landscaping commercial properties, whilst taking a Bachelor of Commerce correspondence degree at Oxford Brookes in Information Technology, which was paid for by the landscaping work."
"I moved to the UK in 2003, working, for a short while, at the University of Surrey and for Glendales, before coming to Charterhouse."
It was whilst undertaking an FA Winter Sports Maintenance course at Southampton Football Club, that Jason first met Dave Roberts, who was the tutor for the day.
Jason has also completed Level 2 Cricket and Artificial Surface Maintenance courses.
"I am responsible for all the winter pitches, the athletics track, all hard surface tennis courts, lacrosse, summer lettings and marking out. In addition, I manage the green waste project. We now have an ongoing relationship with a few local tree surgeons and contractors who bring their waste material here for us to compost down."
The football pitches are spread across the whole site. Northbrook accommodates seven pitches and two training grids, Broom & Lees six pitches and three training grids and Lessington one pitch and one training grid. The main pitch is situated on Big Ground where some of the original rules of Association Football were drawn up.
During the cricket quarter nineteen grass hockey pitches are provided, along with lacrosse.
Jason is currently writing an IT program, under the working name of G-Man. It is intended to offer a comprehensive, yet user friendly database system which will cover all aspects of grounds management at Charterhouse.
The machinery section has already been developed and is due to be implemented soon. It will allow the team to accurately keep maintenance records, i.e. costs, parts used, repairs etc.
"We will be able to do queries, and pull reports from the database, for example, how many hours has a particular machine done, what were its annual servicing and repair costs; right down to how many puncture repairs have been carried in a year," says Jason
"With this information we will be able to make informed decisions about each machine in the fleet and show, at a glance, whether it is cost effective to keep repairing or to replace."
"The intention is to roll the program out to other sections in the department, e,g. chemicals, fertilising, scheduling tasks etc. and, once we are satisfied with its efficacy, to commercially market it."
James Bourgeois - Lead Groundsman Cricket
Prior to studying for a degree in Real Estate Management and Chartered Surveying at Bristol University, James Bourgeois spent a year working at Clandon Regis Golf Club near Guildford. So, despite his newly gained qualifications, he decided to return to Clandon Regis where he renewed his love of the outdoors. One year later he was on a landscaping and construction course at Merrist Wood!
This was followed by a year working as a gardener at Charterhouse before coming under the wing of the legendary Bill Clutterbuck at Guildford Cricket Club under the mentoring scheme.
"Bill was a great mentor," says James, "and I learned one hell of a lot from him. He always used to say that young people don't understand the soil, just the theory, and he instilled in me the need to test the soil to see what I was working with."
"When I came to Charterhouse, that theory was carried on by Adrian, who has been another fantastic mentor."
"I think we still suffer the 'just grass cutters' image, with a few of the staff here. So, when I show them one of my core samples and explain how I can tell moisture content, root growth, thatch content etc. to help me with my maintenance, they usually respond by saying something along the lines of 'you can tell all that just by looking at that? Wow!' Slowly but surely we are breaking down the preconceptions."
James looks after eight squares in total, the 1st XI square on Upper Green, more commonly referred to as Green, one on Wilderness, aka Maniacs (don't ask), where the Under 18s play, three on Under Green and three on Northbrook.
Over the past five years, with the guidance of ECB Pitches Consultant, Chris Wood, and CH Binders' Phil Furner, he has changed all the squares to Ongar Loam with the assistance of, at various times, Graden and Vertidrain machines.
"With the Surrey CCC academy regularly using the facilities, plus their representative squads at all age levels, I needed to improve the squares to make them more consistent," explains James.
"Certainly our Master in Charge of Cricket, the former Surrey and England seam bowler, Martin Bicknell, has commented favourably on the improvements made."
James is working with Soil Harmony, trialing a mixture of their Bios products and wetting agents. "I have been acting as their guinea pig," says James. Mark Atkins often pops in to see what I'm up to. It's taken two years to trial, but, I can't tell you what the formula is, it's a secret!"
During the winter months James is involved in the coppicing. "It's an area that I have become really interested in and, in time, I'd like to move into that field."
James met his now fiancée, Jo Miller, at the school whilst she was working as a gardener. Now, four years later, they have two children and Jo is returning to work on a part-time basis.
The Golf Course - The Halford Hewitt
The Halford Hewitt Golf Course, named after a former pupil, is a nine hole par 34 course, comprising seven par 4s and two par 3s. It was designed by Donald Steel and opened in 1987. Total length is 2,644 yards.
All greens are built to USGA specification and, along with the tees, they receive regular aeration. Graden sand injection is carried out on the greens in late spring, and tees are scarified once or twice a year depending on requirements.
The par 3 4th, known as Quarry, requires an accurate shot over a hollow, which, as the name suggests, is evidence of the removal of material for the building of the school chapel.
As well as a splendid facility for the pupils, the course has 350 members who are able to play golf when the course is not being used by the school.
Ride On Cylinder Mowers
Toro 2000D Reelmaster
Toro 5500 Outfield Mower x 2
Toro Sidewinder 3100D
John Deere greens mower
John Deere 2653a
John Deere 3100
John Deere 4720
John Deere 400CX loader attachment
John Deere 300CX loader attachment
John Deere 3520
Kubota L 4200
Three Point Machinery
Lloyds Giant Gangs
Lloyds Hydraulic Giant Gangs
Snow ex Salt Spreader
Sisis Z Brush
Ryco Aero Seeder
Graden 1200 Deep scarifier
Trilo BL960 Blower
Charterhouse disc seeder
Vikon fertiliser spreader
Soil Reliever aerator
Major 8000 roller mower
Dennis 34" Cricket Square Mower
Lloyds Paladin 18" wicket mower
Lloyds Paladin 21" wicket mower
Ransomes Mastiff 36"
Toro Flexi 21"wicket mower
Dennis FT 510 cassette system x 2
Toro pedestrian rotary
Honda pedestrian rotary x 2
John Deere R54RKB rotary roller mower x 2
Allen hover mower
Dennis Simplex 510
Royer Compost screener
Howard Gem rotavator
Sisis Roto Rake
Hardi shroud sprayer
Tanaka lawn edger
Techneat SPPS sprayer
Water Bowser x 2
Toro Pro Core pedestrian aerator
Karcher high pressure cleaner
Billy Goat pedestrian vacuum x 2
Dakota Top Dresser
Various line markers spreaders and sprinklers
Viper Combi System
Stihl Top Handle chainsaw
Sthil Combi KM130R x 2
Stihl Hedgetrimmer HS 86R
Stihl Hedgetrimmer HS 86T
Stihl MS 260 Chainsaw
Husqvarna 375 XP
Husqvarna 346 xp
Stihl Hedgetrimmer HS 86T
Stihl BP Blower BR600 x 2
Stihl BP Blower BR380 x 2
Stihl HH Blower BG 66C
Stihl Brushcutter FS 480 x 2
Sthil FS 100 Strimmer
Sthil Chainsaw MS260 x 3
Stihl Chain Pruner
Echo Petrol Long Reach Pole Pruner
AW Trailer 3 tonne
Wooden Trailer 2 tonne
Wessex trailer ½ tonne
TFM Trailer x 2
Hose Pipe Trailer