From the 'Reading Mercury', 31st January 1920:
New Home for Seamen’s Children
Bear Wood and 500 acres of the estate at Wokingham, Berks, which were recently sold by Mr John Walter, chairman of “The Times” Publishing Co., have recently been presented to the Royal Merchant Seamen’s Orphanage as the future home of the institution. The donors are Sir Thomas Lane Devitt, senior partner of the firm of Devitt & Moore, shipowners, and Sir Alfred Yarrow, head of the Clyde engineering and shipbuilding firm.
The present situation of the orphanage and college is at Snaresbrook, Essex, where close on 300 boys and girls, orphans of merchant seamen, are being educated and trained.
Bear Wood, an outlying part of Windsor Forest, was originally purchased from the Crown by John Walter, son of the founder of “The Times”, about the beginning of the last [19th] century. The present house was built in the early ‘sixties by his son John Walter, the third of the name, who as chief proprietor controlled “The Times” from 1847 till his death in 1894, and was for over 30 years MP for Berkshire.
The mansion is in the late Tudor style, and is exceedingly well built in red brick and stone. Mr Walter was his own builder. The bricks used in the building were made on the estate, and the whole of the woodwork for the interior was turned out at the private workshops across the lake. The grounds are of great beauty, and remarkable for their wealth of flowering shrubs, rhododendrons, azaleas, and the like. The park, including the lake, extends to some 500 acres, and being situated in a beautiful and healthy part of the country, the estate forms an ideal home for the children.
From the house the lawn slopes down to the lake, which is about 45 acres in extent. On one of the islands stands a monument to the eldest son of the third John Walter – a young man intended to succeed his father at Printing House Square – who died, as an epitaph in Bear Wood Church records, ‘rescuing his brother and cousin from the frozen lake at Bear Wood, Christmas Eve, 1870.’
The main building at Bear Wood will provide accommodation for the children, but certain alterations and additions will be required to make it fit to meet the special needs of an institution. In due course the board of management will appeal to the public for assistance in defraying the cost of these alterations. The scheme is such a good one and the gift made by the donors of such a generous nature that they are confident there will be a ready response to any request for assistance to complete the good work.
(end of article).
The Orphanage was duly opened on Saturday May 27th 1922, as reported in the 'Reading Mercury' on June 3rd 1922.
The Bearwood Estate Today
The Orphanage later became the 'Royal Merchant Navy School', and is now known as Bearwood College. There have been many additions over the years, not least the Chapel and accommodation for boarders and staff. Unlike Arborfield Hall and 'Newlands', both of which have vanished, Bearwood Mansion and most of its outbuildings have survived, though the redundant private Gas-Works has long since gone. Some of the extensive grounds have had to earn their keep, having been converted to Bearwood Golf Course, on Mole Road, and Bearwood Lakes Golf Course, on the Bearwood Road. Remember that the College grounds are private property.
Click on these thumb-nail pictures to enlarge them:
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