A unique state boarding grammar school for girls and boys in the Kent countryside.

Cranbrook School
Cranbrook School Library Wooden Beams

Big School Library Appeal 2022

Will you help restore Big School as the heart of our learning?

Cranbrook School’s library on the first floor of Big School has been closed since October 2018 when a section of its original vaulted ceiling collapsed and the space was declared unsafe. Since then, 800 students have been locked out of a vital work and learning space and away from the wealth of books that the library has housed in Big School since 1976. Whilst education has at no point been compromised, some students’ relationship with physical books and a love of reading must certainly have been affected.  Reading for pleasure is known to improve vocabulary, spelling and even maths, and to enhance mental wellbeing three-fold. The library is central to everything that Cranbrook School stands for and aspires to achieve, and we need your help to preserve it.

You can find instructions on how to support our appeal on the donation form in the downloads panel.

How do you remember the first floor of Big School?

Big School was built in 1885. Future historians will recall the work of Headmaster Crowden to raise the £5,000 cost and that Sir Thomas Graham Jackson was the architect. Cranbrook’s archive details how the new building was referred to simply as the schoolroom until 1913 and how the use of the first floor has changed over time, but how to do remember Big School and the first floor in particular?

Did you sit through whole school assemblies on long wooden benches, staring up at the very ceiling that came crashing down? Did you perform on the Assembly Hall stage or attend socials in the hall with the girls from Benenden School? If you joined Cranbrook after 1976 then you will remember the first floor as the library. Big School is the one building that all OCs, both day and boarders, will have memories of. We would love to hear your memories and share them with other OCs via the OCA website (www.oldcranbrookians.com). Please email any stories or photos to oca@cranbrook.kent.sch.uk

Your generosity in helping to restore the library will be remembered on Big School’s oak panelling. You can confirm how you would like your name recorded using the donation form in the downloads panel.

The future cost to Cranbook students

The conservation status of Big School and the school closures during the lockdowns of 2020-2021 have delayed the completion of repairs, but their substantial cost and the availability of the necessary funds have been significant contributing factors. Remarkably, structural engineers pronounced the original Big School roof sound, limiting the repair and restoration cost to only £150,000 for the ceiling. Government funding does not account for the cost of maintaining historic buildings, so Cranbrook’s trustees have contributed £100,000 to cover structural repairs. However, we still need to raise £50,000 to restore the library space and create a resource fit for the future that will engage and stimulate students.

Any funds spent on Big School repairs will certainly impact Cranbrook’s planned future developments, and yet space is already at a premium. Our roll has expanded over recent years to accommodate students from age 11 (reversing a change made in the 1970s) and more teaching space must be found. An empty Big School first floor will be an obvious option. With suspended ceilings and partition walls, the repaired space could be used as classrooms but Cranbrook students deserve a proper library with well-loved books and the digital resources to open up a world of reading. We need your help to conserve Big School library as a space open to students now and in the future.

Your gift will help preserve a library space in Big School and equip it for 2022. You can indicate your chosen gift amount using the donation form in the downloads panel.

Christine Newman, Librarian and Old Cranbrookian, recalls the ceiling collapse

The fall of the library ceiling in October 2018 was sudden and dramatic. Prior to this, there had been small areas that had cracked and fallen but these had been regularly patched and repaired.  In October 2018 there was a huge fall of chunks of plaster causing bookshelves to buckle and dust to envelop the library; with the noise and the dust, it seemed like some sort of explosion.  Fortunately, I was at the library desk at the time away from the fall area and the 6th Form students working there were at the far end of the library.  The size of the falling plaster and the height it fell would have caused serious injury to anyone immediately beneath.  This happened just five minutes before a Year 7 class of 30 students were due in the library for a reading lesson.  It was a shocking experience and I was grateful none of the students were hurt.

It was clear that the library from then on was totally unsafe for anyone to use.  The doors were locked to students and the site manager called to assess the damage. It was hoped that repairs would be swift, as before when smaller pieces fell, but this was not to be.

Two years without the library (and counting!), it has been challenging to try and keep reading alive in the school but we have done it!  Wearing hard hats in case more plaster fell, we would collect books from the shelves, dust them off and place them on trolleys to take round to classrooms during English lessons to provide students with access to new reading material.  We also boxed up a selection of fiction and non-fiction books for each tutor group/base and delivered these to the rooms for tutorial reading – a huge job!  We then established a small pop-up library in a spare office that we continue to open every lunchtime.  It is a hugely popular place but can only really house around 15 students at a time.  They come for books, to do their homework and to take part in the reading promotions we have continued to offer.

For younger students having started here at Cranbrook in the last two years, the pop-up library – probably smaller than their junior school library – is the only experience of a Cranbrook school library that they have had. They have been very patient waiting for the ‘big’ library to open with its 12,000 books!  Students who knew the library before it fell have pushed notes under the door asking when it will be repaired.

The library is about more than just reading though. The students miss it for private study, a quiet workplace, a place to do their homework at lunchtime, browse books, read, play board games and generally chill.  Reading has remained as a priority during closure and the library, which is truly the heart of the school both physically and metaphorically, needs to be opened up to all once again as soon as possible.

Everything ‘happened’ in Big School when I was a student at Cranbrook in the 6th form; assemblies with the teaching staff sat on the stage area and prefects in the gallery keeping an eye on us minions below.  Classical music concerts, drama productions, debates but most enjoyable of all for me, contemporary music events organised by the school music society which got the suspended floor of Big School shaking and the windows rattling!  I’m not quite old enough to have witnessed Genesis playing there in their formative years but I did enjoy The Pink Fairies!  Big School has always been the heart of Cranbrook and remained so when it was converted into a study space and beautiful library after the building of the Queen’s Hall Theatre.  Working at the school now as custodian of the Library, it is hard to imagine the wooden floors bouncing along to ‘heavy rock’ but Big School remains at the heart of the school and much loved by the students and staff. I can’t wait to see its next evolution into an up-to-date library and study area for all the students to enjoy following its much-needed repair work.  Two years without the heart of the school is two years too many!

How you can help?

This is the first time that Cranbrook School has reached out to alumni to help fund repairs rather than to develop new facilities. However, the special nature and importance of Big School as the heart of Cranbrook means that not doing so risks losing a vital part of both Cranbrook’s heritage and future. Not returning Big School library to its former use would be a hugely retrograde step and diminish the school experience of future students. Please ensure that your love of reading is shared with a new generation.

A donation of any amount will be very gratefully received and will help us to achieve our goal, but on our donation form we have suggested possible gift amounts of £50, £100, £500 or £1,000. Every penny given will go towards preserving and equipping the library and enhancing the education of a new generation of OCs.

Please download the donation form from the downloads panel for further information about how to make your gift, or email me at Headmaster@cranbrook.kent.sch.uk if you would like to discuss any aspect of making a gift further.

Thank you,

Mr Will Chuter, Head & OC (WB 1991-96) 

New Cranbrook School Library
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