The two school principals, Margaret Frances Cross (1866–1962) and Hannah Clark (1845–1934), were open to new methods of education. Their Priory School, a small boarding school north-west of London, was accommodated in a small Dominican monastery founded by King Edward I. They practised co-education, something that was quite unusual at the time, there was vegetarian food and the pupils and teachers were jointly responsible for the housekeeping.
Margaret Cross was particularly interested in the education of Maria Montessori and regularly attended conferences where she became acquainted with the first British professor of education, Millicent Mackenzie (1863–1942). She and a number of other British teachers were invited by her to go to Dornach to hear lectures by Rudolf Steiner.
This trip did indeed come about in December 1921 and as a result she had the opportunity to attend Rudolf Steiner’s Christmas course for teachers from 23 December 1921 to 7 January 1922. In April 1922, Margaret Cross went to Stratford-upon-Avon to attend another lecture by Rudolf Steiner. During this trip, on 16 April 1922, Rudolf Steiner also visited the Priory School in Kings Langley.
Shortly afterwards, Margaret Cross and Hannah Clark decided to turn their school into a Waldorf school. Steiner himself indicated that there would be a number of difficulties to overcome. And in practice it then also turned out to be the case that the teachers of the Priory School did not stay for long, despite the educational innovations and openness towards new methods of education, because of the old-fashioned and intractable way of the principal.
The colleagues from the Stuttgart Waldorf school supported the school in its foundation phase with lengthy visits. But the school became increasingly less attractive. By 1928 the number of pupils had fallen to twenty-two; probably also because the cold in winter and the unsatisfactory living conditions were difficult to cope with.
New colleagues kept joining in the hope that they would give the school a lift. They included William Harrer (1905–1978), an engineer from Germany who did not want to lend his silent support to the Nazis and emigrated. In 1939, Margaret Cross asked Juliet Compton-Burnett (1893–1984) to join the school and teach eurythmy there. Juliet Compton-Burnett soon found she enjoyed teaching and also began to develop a small kindergarten which in 1941 led to a small combined class 1/2.
In order to keep the new impulse in Kings Langley alive, she asked her sister Vera Compton-Burnett (1891-1985) also to move to Kings Langley and take on the next class 1. True to Rudolf Steiner’s instruction to bring eurythmy to England, the sisters developed the first eurythmy school in London. They knew Rudolf and Marie Steiner and had trained since 1922 in Stuttgart with Alice Fels and in Dornach with Lucy Neuscheller and Annemarie Donath.
After a performance in Dornach in 1924, Marie Steiner commented to Vera that she still had very many gaps. Rudolf Steiner, on the other hand, was not impressed by this remark and emphasised that her return was necessary for England. “You will do it very well and will keep returning to us.” Back in Kings Langley, they taught both eurythmy and as class teachers. One class after the other opened and the school appeared to look forward to new growth with a strong college of teachers. Margaret Cross, however, could not come to terms with this new kind of collaboration.
In 1949, the foundation stone for the New School was laid on a neighbouring plot of land: the Kings Langley Rudolf Steiner School which closed in 2019. The school grew and the number of children rapidly increased. Juliet Compton-Burnett took one class to class 8, and after that took on another two along the way because their teachers left the school. Judith Brown, one of her former pupils, vividly recalls Miss Vera and Miss Judy as the defining moral authorities of the school.
Music lessons were also taught by Miss Judy. She remained at the school into old age despite going blind. At the age of 88 she will worked three full days per week and practised their linguistic expression with the children. Her younger colleagues were deeply impressed with her wisdom and courage for truth.