Rydal Penrhos has the rare distinction of being both a new and old school.
It is new in the sense that the Rydal Penrhos was formed by the merger of Rydal and Penrhos College in the late 1990s, and continues to evolve its practices to provide an all-around education for the challenges of modernity.
Simultaneously, the school has a rich and proud history that spans over 140 years, which informs not only our practices and traditions but our identity and values.
For those of you keen to learn more about our past, we have collated a short introduction to our history, as well as information regarding some of the key individuals who helped shaped the story of Rydal Penrhos.
Rydal Mount was founded by T.G. Osborn on 19 September 1885. The School, which was to be a boys’ boarding school in the Methodist tradition, was named after the house (now called Old House) on Lansdowne Road which Osborn had acquired through the good offices of the Reverend F.W. Payne, a wealthy benefactor and Wesleyan minister who lived in Colwyn Bay.
Five years earlier, in 1880, Penrhos College had been founded as a Methodist girls’ boarding school, also as a result of the generosity of Frederick Payne. In 1887, on Pwllycrochan Avenue, Frederick Payne in addition founded St John’s Methodist Church which, from its opening in1888, was used regularly by both Rydal and Penrhos for over a hundred years. In 2016, the school once again took ownership of St John’s Church, which is used for school worship and special events.
Thomas Osborn, Rydal Mount’s first Head, was a very able and inspiring teacher. Starting with 14 pupils in 1885, the number of pupils at Rydal Mount rose to 107 by 1899 and had dropped to 58 by 1910, when TGO died. TGO’s son, George FA Osborn, took over as Headmaster but the numbers continued to fall and by 1915, only 34 pupils attended the School which was threatened with closure.
A.J. Costain accepted the Headship of Rydal Mount in 1915. Change came fast: new school houses were bought; in 1915 Rydal Mount became Rydal; by 1920 the numbers had increased to 220; in 1922 Rydal became a public school; 1923 rugby took over from football as the main sport; 1923-28 New Field was bought and developed into a first rate games’ field; 1930 saw the opening of the impressive New Buildings which accommodated a large number of classrooms; in 1931 the Junior School opened. Between 1939-1945 Rydal was evacuated to Oakwood Park near Conwy. By 1946, the tiny, failing school AJC took over had become a mainstream public school with a national reputation.
Donald Hughes arrived as Headmaster in 1946 and led Rydal into a new post-war era. In 1951, the Preparatory School moved to the Pwllycrochan Hotel which the School had bought along with some fields and woodland. Between 1953-1957 the Memorial Hall was built and provided space for School Chapel services, drama, concerts and other events. In 1964, the indoor swimming pool was opened.
Peter Watkinson was Head 1968-1991. From 1966, Rydal had begun admitting a very small number of day girls; in 1970, more day girls were admitted and the School became fully co-educational with the opening of two girls’ boarding houses, first Edenfield in 1977 and then Heathfield in 1980. In 1977, Rydal Preparatory School also began admitting day girls and in 1982, girl boarders. Further developments continued: in 1969-70 the Arts Centre and two squash courts were built and in 1984, the Technology Centre and Music School were completed. At the Rydal Centenary in 1985, there were over 500 boys and girls in the Senior and Prep Schools combined.
Nigel Thorne was Headmaster of Rydal from 1991 until 1998. In 1995, the entry age to Rydal was changed from 13 years to 11. This was the last significant change before the merger with Penrhos.
Penrhos College began in 1880 with 12 girls in a couple of three-storied houses ‘with basements’ on Colwyn Bay promenade. In 1895, the school moved into the premises of the short-lived but grand ‘Hydropathic Establishment’ purchased from the Pwllycrochan Estate. The site was a prime location near the beach with fine views. During the next 80 years a complex of buildings developed around the original Hydropathic building; there was also sufficient space, 25 acres, for a sanatorium, gardens, games fields and tennis courts.
Miss Wenn was appointed the first Principal and, after two terms was replaced by Miss MK Pope who retired in 1894. When Miss Rosa Hovey took over as Principal a period of rapid development followed. In 1897 girls’ cricket started at Penrhos and in 1898 a gymnasium and new classrooms were built. Between 1900-1917 the Dining Hall was extended twice, a Library, the Botany House, new classrooms, the Great Hall and the Science Wing were all built and Penrhos Junior was established in a fine building on Oak Drive.
Miss Elsie Wainwright was Principal from 1928-1938 during which time the buildings and facilities were outstanding.
Miss Constance Smith who was Principal 1938-1966 undertook the considerable task of evacuating the school to Chatsworth in 1939 and then moving back to Colwyn Bay in 1945. In 1948 a combined Rydal-Penrhos choir sang the Messiah. In 1957, the Chatsworth block of new classrooms was completed.
Miss Mary Waddington, Headmistress 1967-1974, oversaw the development of the Orchestra and Choir and introduced sailing and hill walking as school activities. Mr Nigel Peacock, Headmaster 1974 -1993, developed the outdoor education programme and modernised some aspects of the school. A new swimming pool was built and new sixth form centre developed. Mr Christopher Allen, Headmaster 1993 -1998, managed the School well but despite everyone’s best efforts, Penrhos found it difficult to resist the nationwide trend of decline in the popularity of girls only boarding schools and the merger with Rydal seemed the best way forward.
In 1995 Nigel Thorne, Head of Rydal and Chris Allen, Head of Penrhos, initiated the idea of bringing Rydal and Penrhos under one management. The Governors of both schools accepted the idea and created a single Governing body for Rydal Penrhos School which was officially launched in 1995. Initially, the Governors of Rydal Penrhos ran the School in three Divisions: the Girls’ Division (on the Penrhos site) the Co-educational Division (on the Rydal site) and the Preparatory School (at Pwllycrochan). This arrangement lasted until 1999 when the Governors decided to close the Penrhos site and combine the Divisions into one co-educational school called Rydal Penrhos which would be based at the Rydal site. Rydal Penrhos Preparatory School stayed at Pwllycrochan.
The merger of Rydal and Penrhos had taken place in 1995 but it was not until 1999 that the Governors of Rydal Penrhos decided the School should operate solely from the Rydal site. Michael James took up his position as Principal of the new school in April 1999 and was given the responsibility to effect the merger of both schools onto the Rydal site. The Penrhos site was closed in 1999 and the transfer of the Penrhos girls to the Rydal site took place in September 1999. Girls were offered the option of girls’ only classes.
Changes and new developments quickly followed. In September 1999, the new Library was opened, followed by the opening of a new Information Technology Suite in April 2000. In November, 2001 the sale of the Penrhos site was completed. In 2002 the new all-weather hockey pitch on what was Top Field came into use and the new Sports Hall was opened in September 2003. In September 2004, the International Baccalaureate was introduced to run alongside A Levels and the new Dining Room opened. In 2005, the boarding registrations were double the national average. 2007 saw the installation of the stained glass windows from Penrhos and the sale of a plot of land surrounding Walshaw. In April 2008, shortly after his retirement from ill-health, Michael James opened the new Sixth Form Centre and then, in May 2008, was Guest of Honour at Speech Day when he was paid warm tributes for his distinguished service to the School by the new Headmaster Patrick Lee-Browne and Chairman of the Governors The Reverend Philip Barnett. In May 2009, Michael James died after a brave fight against Motor Neurone Disease.
Patrick Lee-Browne came from Clifton College in Bristol and officially took over as Headmaster of Rydal Penrhos in April 2008. Despite the difficult economic climate as recession hit, under his leadership the school flourished, with consistently excellent academic results for a non-selective school and the introduction of a wide-ranging enrichment programme. The boarding community at Rydal Penrhos became increasingly international, with pupils recruited from across the globe – and up to 25 different nationalities in the school at any one time. A well-liked and much respected Headmaster, Patrick Lee-Browne left Rydal Penrhos in December 2015 and took up the post of Principal at Kent College Dubai soon afterwards. His successor, Simon Smith came from Haileybury College, and took up his post in January 2017 until January 2019.
John Waszek served as Executive Principal of Rydal Penrhos from February 2019 to August 2023. During this period, the school moved from a boarding school to a thriving day school, announced plans to relocate the Prep School from Pwllycrochan, and returned record A-Level examination results.
The current Principal is Tom Hutchinson.
As of late 2009, the school is now known by its full title of Rydal Penrhos School, having been known as Rydal Penrhos since the merger in 1999.
The building presently occupied by Rydal Penrhos Preparatory School was first occupied by Rydal Preparatory School in 1953. The oldest part of the building was originally the property of Lady Erskine, the owner of the Pwllycrochan estate in Colwyn Bay. The original building was sold and developed as the Pwllycrochan Hotel before being bought by Rydal for its Preparatory School.
Rydal Preparatory School merged with Penrhos Junior School in 1995 to become Rydal Penrhos Preparatory School.
In September 2003, Rydal Penrhos Preparatory School underwent a further merger, with another well-established junior school in Colwyn Bay, Lyndon School. Lyndon moved to the Rydal Penrhos Preparatory School site and initially preserved its name. However, in early 2010, the School was re-named Rydal Penrhos Preparatory School, and the School’s Library is now known as the Lyndon Library. The Preparatory School offers co-education from age 2½ to 11 years.
The Preparatory School has excellent facilities and of course benefits from the use of many of the Senior School’s facilities. Like the Senior School, the Prep School has a Christian ethos with Chapel and prayers held daily. Some members of staff work in both the Senior and Prep Schools, including the School Chaplain.
The history of Rydal Penrhos is defined by the individuals who used their time at school to bring positive change and happiness to those around them and, in doing so, forever made their mark.
To celebrate and remember these people, we have collated the names of those who served in key roles in our community: