Written by Abigail Wharne, Archivist
Saturday, 03 October 2015

Rev. Canon William Dawson remains Brighton College’s longest serving Headmaster, having lead the school between 1906 and 1933. He supported the College through the First World War and instigated a significant rise in pupil numbers – so significant that we were apparently bursting at the seams! It was a great pleasure to welcome Rosemary Sidwell and her husband Richard back to the College

Dawson's legacy is still visible today: the Great Hall, the swimming pool, the extension to the Chapel, and the College’s official coat of arms, were all created under his leadership. A renowned character, with dazzling white hair and blue eyes, Dawson had a reputation for recruiting pupils by handing out photographs of himself, signed ‘The Chief’. This charisma obviously rubbed off on me, as – eager to discover more about the man – I recently paid a trip to The King’s School, Grantham, where he had formerly been Head Master. I was surprised to be greeted by photographs of a much younger man, with darker hair but the same bright eyes. The Archivists kindly showed me around and informed me that the school was not impressed when Dawson left them, taking a group of pupils with him. In the next few months, I hope to discover who these boys were (watch this space for an update …).

Having been captivated by this character, it was a great pleasure to hear that Rosemary Sidwell was planning to visit the College. Rosemary’s father, George Shallow, was House Master of Walpole House throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. George Shallow married Phyllis Dawson, Canon Dawson’s daughter, in the College Chapel in 1921. Although Rosemary was born at the school, her recollections are hazy, having left as a very small child.

Walking around the College with Rosemary and her husband, Richard, felt like a real honour – especially showing her the remaining traces of her ancestors. Rather aptly we met in the Dawson Building, where Rosemary took an opportunity to be photographed alongside a painting of her Grandfather. We then chatted over tea and headed to the chapel, where Dawson had, in 1914, called on every boy present to stand ready to sacrifice his life in defence of his country. This being the time of the Great War’s centenary, it seems fitting that Dawson’s descendent should step into this place, and see the subsequent memorial to those who gave up so much.

Abigail Wharne


Abigail joined the Development team in April 2015, having previously worked for the University of Sussex Special Collections, East Sussex Record Office and Towner Art Gallery. She regularly answers historical enquiries and catalogues archive material, so that it can be accessed by College staff and the public.

Abigail also manages the school’s heritage collections, including rare books and a wide range of artefacts. As a qualified teacher, she enjoys using archives to inspire and educate Brighton College pupils.

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