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Leven Hall - a photo taken by John Suart

Sam Milbank (Ward 1971-78) supplied this photo of Leven Hall in deep snow. The original was taken by John Suart (1974-79). The sky looks as though there's still plenty of snow to come!

On to the bedrooms, "a sort of caravan type arrangement". Beds were tested - "comfortable"- and the storage space beneath examined. The foam mattress, fitted nylon bottom sheet and "Slumberdown" quilts caused some incredulity: "What, no more `hospital corners' and being passed as a worthy bedmaker by Ruth Harwood!" The wife of an old scholar prodded the quilt doubtfully - "It doesn't feel as if there is enough on to keep out the Ayton winter". The radiator under the window and the strip of carpet between the two beds were noted appreciatively. The wardrobe unit at the foot of each bed has a leaf which can be lowered to form a work surface. Several visitors expressed the thought that the male architect had not provided enough storage space for the female student. Someone noticed the lack of tables: "There's nowhere to put anything down".

The bedrooms are small. ("Compact" was an adjective which recurred), but every inch of space is used to the full. "I bet it's the last time it's tidy". "I wonder how good they are for sound". The washbasin, complete with drip‑dry line and a mirror, hides in one corner behind a wardrobe. "Fancy having hot and cold water in your bedroom!" The walls are of bare rough brick which gives the rooms "a cell-like appearance" but brightness will be added when the occupants pin up their pictures and posters on the conte-board so thoughtfully provided. 

The white-walled corridor upstairs, with its brilliant avoidance of an institutional straight line by angling the entrance to each bedroom, drew unanimous approbation: "I love the shape of this corridor"; "It's very effective"; "Absolutely delightful". One word of warning from a practical Mum: "These walls will soon get dirty". An old scholar, the architect a few feet behind him, thought the design "not bad" but he preferred Sussex University hall of residence. He was disappointed in the finish which was "not as good as I had hoped, considering the enormous cost". A boy showing his mother round the girls' half said, "This is the first and last time I'll be in here!" The demarcation line between boys' and girls' territory is a no man's land in the centre‑a surgery, a linen room and an emergency staircase - access on each side being gained through a locked fire door. A pupil was heard to interpret it as "The boys' side is divided from the girls' side only by two doors and a minefield!"

After examining the two staff houses, "small but well designed", the crowd trickled out. Overall impressions were almost all highly favourable and superlatives were in abundance. "Absolutely super; every detail perfectly worked out". "The biggest step forward in a long time". "A brilliant design". "Impressive". "Compact yet spacious". "Incredible". "What a good idea to have noisy and quiet common rooms". "Talk about a five star luxury hotel. All it needs is a bar downstairs". "Superior physically to any university hall". "Aren't they lucky?" "Wot no colour T.V. !"

If the opinions expressed about Ann Gillie's plaque were not so enthusiastic, that was to be expected. A work in a modern art form takes time to assimilate and appreciate. It certainly brightens up what was a rather drab wall.

After all the fuss has died down, after the upper school have taken up residence in their "University College" in September, and the building starts to be taken for granted, we shall see how well Leven Hall lives up to its "revolutionary" concept. A wise parent I spoke to would not comment on the building yet; she said, "You have to live in a place first".

Sylvia Carter

The following article on Leven Hall appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on the 25th July 1970. It was written by Peter Whittle, a member of staff at Ayton.

New block at Friends' School
provides privacy and community life

Few Independent schools in England can have made such a large and radical extension to their growth as the Friends' School, Great Ayton, has done by the opening of Leven Hall recently.

The active involvement of architect, staff, pupils and parents over the past seven years has resulted in a building whose design is nearer to that of a university hall of residence than what one has come to expect of a boarding school.

Oliver Spence, the architect, was head boy of the school in 1959. His brief required him to accommodate 70 boarders, 30 day scholars, two single staff and two staff families in one self-contained unit where study and leisure activities could be successfully pursued. This he has achieved in an attractive low building of two storeys along one of the river terraces. The staff houses are at each end, as part of the main structure and linked by communicating doors at both levels, yet preserving a measure of privacy and independence.

The pupils' bedrooms in boys' and girls' wings are arranged in an entirely novel way that dispenses with a corridor. Instead there is a series of connected spaces that might be considered an extension of the social amenities, since they invite small groups to gather and talk. .Each study bedroom has its own washbasin and is most like the sort of cabin one would expect on a modestly priced sea cruise. The covers for the bedding and the gay curtains were made by two members of the school staff. Again, privacy is the keynote for the study‑bedroom.

Final responsibility for the life of the Hall must lie with the staff, but the response from the pupils to their new standard of living shows that they intend to establish a code for the hall that will not prejudice a reasonable level of individuality.

Downstairs there is no division into boys' common rooms and girls' common rooms, the division is rather into a quiet and a noisy end to the building. Seven study rooms with desks, lockers and chairs for 28 day scholars are available at the quiet end, and open on to a large, comfortably furnished area that can be used as a reading or discussion room. Leading off this, again, are two other rooms, one large, one smaller, which might be used for tutorials, library, playreading and the like, quiet activities that need to be cut off from the main open area.

The noisy end offers another open space from which lead locker rooms, hobby rooms, a television room and most important, the kitchen, which continues the comparison with an ocean liner by being labelled The Galley. This will be run by the pupils and provides facilities for making hot drinks and snacks.

How all these rooms and spaces will be used, is of course, a matter for those who live in Leven Hall, and it is that assumption that makes all the difference. 120,000 is no mean sum, in a real sense the building is public property to be enjoyed by staff and pupils who live there, used in trust by them and passed on to future generations. Such an attitude cannot be fostered by establishing a set of rules of conduct, nor by decreeing that such and such a room must be used only for this or that function.

Leven Hall offers unparalleled opportunities for a rich and balanced community life where the different demands of work, leisure and the individual may all be met in pleasant surroundings. The quality of that life will be determined by the efforts of both pupils and staff:

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