School History

Last updated: March 2023

In the Middle Ages, the Downers were a well-established family at Harrow Weald and Hatch End.  Thomas Downer was a magistrate and accountant of Harrow who died in 1502 (see Compotus Volume 9, page 2).

The school crest incorporated, directly from the Middlesex County coat-of-arms, three seaxes with upward-facing blades - reminding us that, although the English may have been busying themselves with farming, they considered themselves, at heart, fighters.

1950 - Downer Grammar School (DGS) was founded - originally temporarily co-located with Blackwell Secondary School at their newly built Headstone Lane, Hatch End site (see: the ‘Downer’s origins’ message-thread from ‘DGSEUK’).

"DGS adopted the same Houses as Blackwell: Oxhey, Priory, Dyke & Weald." ( - Tony "Sally" Salisbury, ‘early years’)

There were initially 135 pupils and 6 teachers (plus a shared Head) (see Pauline Nicholas’s "1950-1951" photo) attributed to DGS.

1951 - The complement of teachers expanded to thirteen by the time of Peter Martin’s ‘First Teachers’ photo, circa 1951.  Both photographs were on ‘DGSEUK’*.  There were now "first, second and fourth year" pupils at the school. - Tony Salisbury.

1952 - Staff and pupils were able to decant to a purpose-built site in Shaldon Road, Edgware.  The new Grammar School, the first to be built in Middlesex after the war, was notable for not adopting a school motto.  New school Houses: ‘Brockley’, ‘Canons’, ‘Grove’ and ‘Heriots’ were designated.  (Following a few indifferent years, DGS’s House system was abandoned in 1963 - through apathy. - E. B.)

DGS’s early years are documented by Mr Woosley in his retirement article in Compotus, 1970.

Possibly as part of an education experiment, selected pupils from other secondary education establishments in Harrow were assimilated into DGS. - Fran Mallet and Christine Baskerville.

1953 - 300 parents of pupils attending Downer Grammar School, submitted a petition protesting against a proposal to reorganise such Grammar School from a co-educational to a Boys’ Grammar School.  - Harrow Council Minutes, 1 January 1953

1954 - Completion of Phase II building, which afforded about six more classrooms in preparation for the increase in pupil numbers arising as a result of the late ’40s/early ’50s baby boom (babies conceived during the euphoric, post-WW II years) entering secondary school in the late ’50s.  The official school opening ceremony was held.

1959, November - Mr Douglas S. Clarke inaugurated the school’s Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme activities.  (Hence the canoe-fleet littering the main-lobby during the early ’60s … their carcasses played havoc with the ‘super-rubber’ ball evaluation programme - which, for best effect, required the full drop of the stair-well.)  Jeff Lewis has retained a plethora of D of E Scheme memorabilia.

1962 - The Shaldon Road site was augmented by a lecture theatre and a separate, single-storey physics block (comprising two laboratories).  Compulsory school-cap wearing ended.

1964 - The stage-debut of the first school-grown pop group, ‘The Triffids’ (Mike Smith - vocals, Bob Powell - drums; Bill Nial, Lee Mordecai, Paul Sorkin and Greg Heath - all guitar).  They played in assembly, the school dance and the "Open Afternoon" in 1965 - according to Marion Clancey.

1967 - 6 November - a black day for both Downer and Chandos.  Two young, teenage girls, one of them Downer’s Sue Greene, are killed when the car, in which they were passengers, driven by a Downer pupil, was involved in a head-on collision and overturned.  Harrow Observer report from Lennie Bradshaw.  Legislation making seat-belt wearing compulsory was not introduced until January 1983.

1969 - 660 pupils attended the school - The Education Authorities Directory and Annual for 1969.

1970 - Mr Woosley retires - replaced by John Becker.

There were a total of 643 pupils at the school - A History of the County of Middlesex, Volume 5 (1976).

1974 - Comprehensive Education was introduced across the whole of Harrow in September 1974.

"I was elected to the Council in 1971 as part of a parental backlash against the old grammar school and secondary modern system which was forcing quite a lot of children with reasonable abilities to go to the latter because there were inadequate spaces in the former.  I was Chair of the Governors of Downer, Camrose and Chandos at the ripe old age of 23 and it took three years to get the necessary Government permissions and funding to provide the accommodation we needed.  Memories, memories… " - David Brough, Head Boy 1965/66.

1975 (September) - Downer Grammar and Camrose Secondary complete the transition to ‘Canons High’.  Unsurprisingly, Miss Caldwell, who had felt disenchanted ever since plans for the amalgamation had been announced, departed for the Headship of a private school. - Pennie Lauezzari (from 'DGSEUK’).  Mr Peter Biggar was appointed Headmaster of the new, middle school at the Camrose site - Roger Winstanley.

"I think many of us who were there at the time could hardly believe what was happening to us…  There seemed to be thousands of people in the school suddenly and the atmosphere of Downer seemed to change overnight.  I clearly remember the hall curtains being set alight and a boy from Camrose standing on the piano in the old music room and smashing the clock.  I also remember Mr. Becker being punched by someone after an assembly quite soon after the changeover.  Things were somehow never the same!" - Gill Winstanley

Not only was an annual school magazine, Compotus, published, but the school also put on an annual musical/theatrical production.  Roger Winstanley has provided a list of those school productions held between 1954 and 1974.

There were occasional forays during the ’50s and ’60s to the Granada cinema/theatre, Harrow to appreciate school promenade concerts (Royal Philharmonic or London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Muir Mathieson).  ‘Jemima’ Jane (’69-’74) recalls first hearing ‘Fingals Cave’ and Smetana’s ‘Vltava’ there.

Whole-school reunions (on the anniversary of the move to Edgware) were held in 1992, 2002 and 2013 - and a number of ‘year’ reunions seem to have taken place during the 2000s too.

The Edgware Chrysanthemum and Dahlia Society held its annual shows, during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, on the school premises.  (Chrysanthemum societies sprang-up in UK as an expression of the liberation felt after the ending of World War II.)

* the site, ‘’, was hosted on the, now defunct, 'groups.MSN’ service.