In 1940 Miss Phyllis Burden was approached by a mother to educate her daughter, Miss Burden suggested that the mother needed to find more pupils and on 23 September 1941, St Francis School was founded with just four pupils in the Old Pewsey Rectory. The number of pupils increased and the school moved to much larger premises in Pewsey High Street.
The school flourished and moved to Haybrook House on the current site, in 1984. A charitable trust was formed and in 1990 it acquired the adjacent property, Travancore House. The school now occupies seventeen acres of the glorious Wiltshire countryside in the Pewsey Vale, bordered to the north by the Kennet and Avon canal.
The school has developed and expanded steadily over the years, developing from a small Pre-Preparatory school, into one of Wiltshire’s leading Prep schools, taking children from 2 – 13+. When the decision to accept pupils up to thirteen years old was taken the Governors also decided to enhance the facilities. The first project was to build a new multi-purpose hall; The Hemery Hall was opened by the Princess Royal in November 1996 and named after the immediate past chairman of governors, David Hemery, who, apart from being an Olympic gold medallist, has had two boys at St Francis. The Hemery Hall has four badminton courts, five-a-side football, tennis, basketball and netball courts, a climbing wall and a sophisticated sound and light system to facilitate the production of school plays and concerts.
An Information & Communication Technology room and a Science laboratory were completed in 1999. This was followed by the addition of a new Junior Nursery for 2 – 3 year olds.
The Phyllis Burden Building was opened in 2004, (and expanded in 2011) giving the Prep Department a Design and Food Technology facility, specialist rooms for French, English, Geography and Religious Studies, as well as three further form rooms.
More recently the Cannon Centre was refurbished and now houses a brand new dedicated DT room, a Drama Studio and modern, state of the art, Science Laboratory. The new purpose built Little Saints Nursery building opened in September 2017 and the Nursery offers care to young children from 0 – 4 years for 51 weeks a year.
Phyllis Burden was a great inspiration to us all. She had a great sense of humour and was particularly good at praising success and treating each one of us as an individual. We all loved her and particularly the gold stars she gave to us. She will have been responsible for the nurturing of thousands of young minds and will have contributed greatly to their success in later life.
Tim Devlin, writing on behalf of all six Devlin children who were among her first pupils from 1945-1953. Tim is the ex-national director of I.S.IS., the Independent School’s Information Service