The famous old boys and girls from Norfolk Independent schools

From famous ex pupils to the role of governors and how to make school fees more affordable, take a look at our comprehensive guide to Norfolk's independent schools.

At Gresham’s, the past pupils’ list includes Benjamin Britten, whose piano is still in use in the Common Room at Farfield House. There’s also poet and novelist Sir Stephen Spender, film director Stephen Frears, the poet W H Auden, who joined the school aged 13, the inventor of the hovercraft Sir Christopher Cockerell,Sir James Dyson, the inventor of the Dual Cyclone vacuum cleaner and ball barrow, Paddy O’Connell, the BBC Radio Four presenter, Lord Reith, the first Director General of the BBC and even a potential saint!

That’s John Bradburne, who became a missionary and warden of a leper colony in what was then Rhodesia. He was shot dead by guerillas in 1979 and, in July 2001, a petition was presented to the Archbishop of Harare for an inquiry into Bradburne’s canonisation. If the organisation working to achieve this is successful, John Bradburne could be Gresham’s first saint. Also on the old boys’ list for Gresham’s is Donald Maclean, one of the Cambridge Spies who spied for the Soviet Union during the second world war.

Meanwhile, one of the well known former pupils from the Sacred Heart, at Swaffham, is Eva Braun, long term companion and, briefly, Hitler’s wife.Less notorious are former pupils Suzanne Howard, a broadcaster and journalist with Radio Two and Sasha Twining, newsreader and broadcaster with the BBC, BBC Five and Sky News.

Among the many other high-flying students, many in the fields of music, law, teaching and nursing, there are ex-pupils such as qualified commercial pilot Sandra Mayall, Jennifer Pilkington, who became a missionary in Africa and Helen Payne, who is also working with the Third World population.

Jonathan Collette became a lawyer, while Rebecca Collett also went into law and worked as judicial assistant to the Master of the Rolls at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

At Woodbridge School, famous names on the roll include actor Luke Roberts  (Holby City’s registrar Joseph Byrne) and English singer-songwriter, musician and producer Nick Lowe. Along with solo albums, he wrote hits for Elvis Costello such as Cruel to be Kind and I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass.

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At Wymondham College, past pupils range from artist Colin Self and former cabinet minister and MP Stephen Byer to England rugby players Bob Rowell and Barrie Corless.

Further prominent former pupils include Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, actors Jay Thomas, Mark Strong, Paul Greenwood (Royal Shakespeare Company) and Peter Amory (Christopher Tate in Emmerdale Farm), former Black and White Minstrel Russell Stone and actress Judy Holt, along with author and adventurer Nick Crane, musician Mark Brenner, author Ron Wilson, Commonwealth Games gold medal pistol shooter Paul Leatherdale, Anglia TV’s David Hughes and Colonel Guy Edward Wilmshurst-Smith, of the Royal Engineers.

Just outside Norwich, at Taverham Hall School, the roll call of famous pupils includes BBC sports commentator Jonathan Agnew and the BBC news reader, reporter and later politician Martin Bell.

There’s also Richard Jewson, chairman of Archant (publisher of the EDP Norfolk magazine) and Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, plus Jonathan Levien, of award winning design company Doshi Levien in London, whose work includes designing tableware and glasses for Habitat. Expect to hear more of former Taverham Hall pupil Humprey Berney – he recently joined the classical music group Blake.

Naturally, many of Norfolk’s other independent schools, from Stretton School in Norwich and Hethersett Old Hall, Beeston Hall and Town Close House Prep to Notre Dame Prep, have many high achievers and notable names among their past pupils – but we haven’t space to mention them all!  

There are some notable stars of Norfolk’s independent schools further back in history too. For instance, at Thetford Grammar School, Roger North left the school in 1666 and became Attorney General in 1688. A few years later, Thomas Paine left the school. He met Benjamin Franklin and later travelled to America where he was involved in drawing up the Declaration of Independence. He wrote Rights of Man in support of the French Revolution. Thomas was forced to flee to America to escape the Red Terror and is probably Thetford Grammar’s most famous old boy – there’s a library at the school dedicated to him.More recent Thetford Grammar old boys include Norfolk topographer and historian Francis Blomefield and Professor JWT Spinks, a renowned scientist in the world of physical chemistry. He left the school in 1925 and was later made an MBE for his work in connection with atomic bomb development.

Horatio woz 'ere


From artists and sportsmen to Hitler’s wife and a spy, former pupils at Norfolk’s independent schools have all sorts of claims to fame. We asked some of the county’s schools to tell us about their more famous old boys and girls.

What do famous landscape designer Humphry Repton, actress Claire Goose, Nelson and Olympic medallist Emma Pooley have in common? They all went to independent schools in our area!While England rugby team players Jonny Wilkinson, Matthew Tait and Lewis Moody are known for their independent school roots, Norfolk’s independent schools also have a whole host of pupils who have become well known in their field.

The most famous of all Old Norvicensians – former Norwich School pupils – is Horatio, Viscount Nelson, and there are many more pupils from that school who have gone on to great things. They include Sir Edward Coke, Humphry Repton, Lt Col Derek Seagrim VC, Major Hugh Seagrim GC, Lord Blake and Lord Ashcroft.

More recent leavers include broadcaster Becky Mantin and Beijing Olympics silver medallist cyclist Emma Pooley. Both girls were sixth formers at Norwich School and also former pupils at Norwich High School for Girls, where the list of well known former pupils is also extensive.These range from Edith Cavell, no less, to authors Pat Barr, Anne Weale and Raffaella Barker, and dress designer Ann Tyrell, sopranos Jane Manning and Elizabeth Watts and scientist Dr Jennifer Moyle.

Children’s artist and author Jane Hissey, who wrote books such as the much-loved Old Bear And Friends series, is another Norwich High School for Girls former pupil, along with the BBC’s Jenny Lane, composer Diana Burrell, author Stella Tillyard, actress Hannah Waterman and the Lord Mayor of Norwich Evelyn Collishaw.

Famous names at Wisbech Grammar, meanwhile, include actresses Claire Goose and Zara Dawson and actor Anton Rogers. Looking further back, famous old boys include abolitionist Thomas Clarkson and Thomas Herring, Archbishop of Canterbury. There’s a musical link to famous old pupils from Old Buckenham Hall School, both composer Benjamin Britten and Harry Judd, from pop band McFly, are alumni.

Langley School, near Loddon, boasts achievers such as actor Sir John Mills and Giles Mahon, who went on to join Army parachute display team the Red Devils, and there’s another sporting star at Glebe House, Hunstanton, where Herbie Hide is a former pupil.

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