It was for centuries the home of the prominent Catholic Nevill family and belonged to the Cunard family between 1876 and 1912. Sir Bache Cunard, who devoted his time to hunting and metalwork rather than the family shipping line, is one of the models for Lord Bonkers whom I discovered long after I started writing his diaries, while his daughter Nancy Cunard was quite a girl.
But for most of the 20th century Nevill Holt was known as a boys' prep school which had strong connections with the public school at Uppingham. Wikipedia will tell you that the school closed in 1998 "because of falling rolls", but it doesn't tell you why those rolls were falling.
Because Nevill Holt school was the scene of a child abuse scandal. An article from the Birmingham Post dated 23 June 1998 tells the story:
A second master who faced charges took his own life, but that story seems to have disappeared from the net. (Later. I have now found the story. Note that coroner was a Symington - presumbaly one of the local soup and corset dynasty.)
A former preparatory school teacher who subjected six schoolboys in his care to a catalogue of "degrading and perverted" sexual abuse was yesterday jailed for 10 years.
Edmund Clements (59) abused the boys, then aged between eight and 12, from 1974 to 1984, Leicester Crown Court was told.
The abuse took place while he was a geography master at the Nevill Holt Prep School, near Market Harborough, Leicestershire.
Passing sentence, Judge Peter De Mille told Clements, a married man, of Hove, Sussex, that he had committed a "gross breach of trust" and selected at least two of his victims because they were particularly vulnerable.
The judge added that Clements, who admitted 33 sex offences against the six boys, had subjected his victims to "what any right-minded person would regard as degrading and perverted behaviour".
There is, however, a posting (#115) on a Facebook group devoted to "Your Boarding School's Best Scandal" which describes events at Nevill Holt (perhaps a little colourfully):
1. Police storm the school one morning with cars, vans and even helicopters.All very remarkable, but my real reason for writing this post is another recent discovery. Because for most of its history the school was owned and run by the Phillips family.
2. Teacher jumps out the window of breakfast when he's told they have arrived.
3. Hangs himself in the school grounds.
4. School shuts down the following and the manager of the Carphone Warehouse buys it.
5. Coffins found behind the panelling in the girls' dormitories.
This was obviously the biggest scandal, but there were hundreds of others.
Which makes this 2003 article from the Times Educational Supplement intriguing:
And Phillips' daughter
A headteacher who faked his name, age and qualifications to run a boarding school in Leicestershire for 40 years has been exposed as a fraud by his son.
Frederick Phillips cheated parents, pupils and his bank manager into believing he was a qualified French teacher and aristocrat with military honours in order to buy and run Nevill Holt preparatory school in Market Harborough. He died in 1982 ...
Swansea-born Frederick Phillips changed his accent and pretended he was a graduate from the Sorbonne to get a job teaching French at Nevill Holt.
He had, in fact, only attended summer school at Besancon university, France.
In 1927 he adopted the double-barrelled name Serille-Phillips and claimed he was the son of a gentleman (his father was a wheelwright) to secure a bank loan of £12,000 to buy the Grade I listed 13th century school building.
He said he was 30, to substantiate a lie that he was a former squadron leader, secret service agent and medal-winner in the First World War. In fact, he had only just completed his military training at Uxbridge.
Bonkers Hall has enjoyed a colourful history, but it is not a patch on the real thing.
recalls her father giving her the answers in advance of a scholarship entrance exam for a girls' school in Oxford.
She said: "I have no proof but I wonder if he did this for other pupils.