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Photographing Canford School

Roger Lane on a corner of Dorset for which he has had a lifelong affection

The shadows of an autumn morning in the avenue of trees beside Higher Park rugby field

Since my early childhood I have been aware of Canford School and its landscape. My parents’ house overlooked the fields of Little Canford and the school buildings on the banks of the Stour were always clearly visible from my bedroom window. I was christened in Canford church, nestling within the school grounds, and for more than forty years my office window overlooked the River Stour, where the cries of the Canford School rowing coach and the splashing of their oars intermingled with the sounds of everyday business activity.

One Sunday morning in winter I decided to walk across the fields in search of landscape images after a rare fall of light snow. For some weeks there had been repairs to one of the main roof sections of the school and it had been clothed in a green tarpaulin, but on this occasion the light fall of snow had disguised the temporary roof cover and made it possible to photograph the school in the wintry landscape without intrusion.

At this time I had been submitting a number of my photographs to Dorset Life and the ‘Canford School in Winter’ shot was reproduced in one of the winter issues. Since the publication of that first image, the school has invited me to photograph the magnificent parkland landscape and buildings throughout the seasons. These images have been used in commemorative books, magazines, brochures, cards and calendars.

It has been both an interesting and a satisfying project. However, with my increasing familiarity with Canford’s landscape and every nook and cranny of the estate, it has become an ever-increasing challenge to obtain a different view. In this respect I can only rely on varying times of day, lighting and weather to provide a more striking or varied image than the scene depicted last year or even the year before.

The main school building viewed from the south, with wisteria adorning the balustrade

As with any form of landscape photography, there have been moments of frustration. With such an historic building there is always a constant need to maintain its condition. This has led to the occasional crane jib, scaffolding and red plastic safety netting to contend with, not to mention the odd errant, brightly coloured towel being hung out to dry from a dormitory window!

The stone fabric of the school has a warm and slightly golden finish which in early morning winter light is most attractive, emphasising its architectural features and allowing the school to stand proudly in its parkland setting. The school was completed in the 19th century by Sir John Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament, and there are certain styles and features which are reminiscent of this London landmark. It was designed as a residence for Sir John Guest, whose family were major landowners in the area, their estate encompassing much of the heathland between Poole and Wimborne and stretching as far as the coastal chines. There was in fact a manor house here in more ancient times; Domesday records Canford as ‘Cheneford’ with a manor house and two mills owned by Edward of Salisbury in the reign of Edward the Confessor. Today, traces of the manor can be found only in the original kitchen named ‘John of Gaunt’s Kitchen’.

I have found it a privilege to have been allowed to record the landscape of Canford. It has been a most impressive yet friendly environment to photograph. Having lived and worked within sight of Canford for so many years, it remains a landscape for which I have a strong affinity and an institution for which I have a high regard.

The entrance archway is reflected in the still waters of the mill pond
Canford School in winter, photographed across the meadows from Little Canford.  This was the original landscape image which created the opportunity to photograph the school and its grounds.
Autumn beside the Stour weir
Salisbury House enjoys a splendid setting alongside the mill pond and the River Stour
The magnificent façade of the school under a threatening autumn sky
Afternoon cricket on Mountjoy with the splendid backdrop of the school and Montacute House

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