The Move to Surbiton

Hillcroft Students studying in the room now known as the Phoebe Walters room

Hillcroft moves to Surbiton

In 1923 the search began for a larger freehold property close to central London. In July 1925 the Council heard that a house then known as 'The Gables' apposite Surbiton Station was for sale. The asking sum for the freehold of the property was £14,000, including a large house to accommodate 28 students, nearly six acres of land and a theatre. On Thomas Wall's advice an offer of £10,000 was made and accepted, the finance being raised through generous benefactors. The move which took place in November 1926 and was the point to which the college became known as Hillcroft College.

Many students were at first daunted on meeting Miss Street finding her something of a cross between Julius Caesar and Queen Victoria, but found her to be both kind and humorous when they got to know her. Students spoke fondly of the piano performances given by Miss Street and Miss Powell on Sunday evenings, at which coffee, cigarettes and sweets were on hand.

Miss Ashby took the post of Principal in 1933, at which time the majority of students entering the college were aged 21-42 and came mostly from the following three sectors: clerical, factory or mill and household. Many returned to their former work on leaving the college and some gained promotion after their studies. A very large number shouldered higher responsibilities in the voluntary sector, i.e. Trade Unions, Local Government, Clubs, Guide Companies, Churches, etc.

However, it was not all plain sailing, as the college grew additional staff were required and running repair costs were ever-increasing. A decision was made to sell the Theatre which was sited on the valuable frontage to the station. Some of the proceeds of the sale were used to pull down the old Winter Garden and construct a new college hall. This was to be the first of many changes and additions to the property over the ensuing years.

The college closed temporarily at the end of the summer term in 1939, as student supply dwindled and there was danger of war-damage to such a large building sited near London. The property was let to the International Bank of Australasia and The Eastern Bank, who proved to be excellent tenants. Hillcroft was offered accommodation by the Bourneville Trust in Selly Oak which agreement that tuition could be carried out at Fircroft College in Birmingham, where it remained in operation (supported by correspondence courses) until the end of 1943.

In 1944 enrolments rose alarmingly due to advertising campaigns carried out by the college, attracting members of Women's Institutes and the Women's Land Army. The greatest increase in student numbers came from the Forces until a steady decline occurred in the 1950's.

The new Education Act which came into force in 1944 did much to strengthen the case for provision of adult education, resulting in block grants being made by the Ministry of Education. Local Education Authorities also made more generous grants available for students, enabling recruitment from a wider area of society. Miss Ashby deservedly retired in 1945 to her country home, having been a most resourceful Principal in coping with the changes brought about by the evacuation to Selly Oak, Correspondence Courses and the subsequent move back and re-opening the college at the earliest opportunity at the end of the war. Miss Ashby had steered the college through an extremely difficult time with great courage and determination.

  • Reference to Miss Phoebe Walters, she was the Secretary of the National Education Committee of the YWCA in 1918 - 1919, was instrumental in the founding of the Residential College for Working Women (later known as Hillcroft College).