‘Sacrilege’ claim over Petworth Boys School homes plan

  • A former Petworth Boys School pupil is campaigning against new homes development on the site
  • He claims it is sacrilege to build on the school where 29 boys were killed
  • He wants to see a memorial garden established there instead

PLANS to build on the site of the bombed Boys’ School in Petworth where 29 boys were killed in 1942 have been branded ‘sacrilege’.

Don Simpson, who was a boy at the school in 1942 when it was bombed, wants the site left as a permanent memorial to all those who died.

To build on what is virtually a cemetery would be a sacrilege

He has long campaigned to stop development there.

The site has been earmarked in the South Downs National Park Authority’s (SDNPA) strategic housing land allocation assessment for the possible development of seven new homes.

And combined with another site to the north of the former boys’ school, planning permission has already been obtained for 21 homes.

But Mr Simpson believes the permission was flawed: “The site is part of the history of Petworth and will ever remain so.

“To build on what is virtually a cemetery would be a sacrilege, rather the ground should be consecrated or some order placed that would prevent this desecration.”

Mr Simpson was clerk to Petworth Parish Council and remembers councillors tried through the 1990s to find a suitable use for the site.

“The landowners were not too co-operative and the best that could be agreed was the erection of a small memorial stone blessed by the bishop of Horsham.”

This has been placed in front of what was the entrance of the school.

The school was destroyed by the bomb, killing 29 boys, two teachers and a nearby resident.

Canadian troops moved tons of rubble searching for survivors and for many years after the war, the site remained derelict.

“We complained to the Leconfield estate and it was cleared up,” said Mr Simpson. “Over the years it became a car park area for nearby homes, but no more was done.

“My own feeling is the land should be a permanent memorial.”

Mr Simpson was 13 when the school was bombed. He had left at 10am on September 29 for a woodwork class at the evacuee school. “We lost a generation that day,” he said, “and we should not forget that.”

Ron Barber, who was at school in nearby Tillington, although he moved to Norfolk many years ago, said: “That day still lives with me, I lost several relatives.

“I am appalled to hear the site could be developed.”