Found Errol's school “South – West London College”

08 Apr

Errol's – South – West London College found!

A handful of sparkling stardust from the glamor of old Hollywood fell on an obscure corner of South West London this week with the solution of an enduring mystery of the film actor Errol Flynn`s early life in this district.

Flynn was the biggest star in Hollywood in the late 1930s and early 1940s, achieving fame through films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Charge of the Light Brigade and The Sea Hawk, which made him the heroic swashbuckling buccaneer of Hollywood`s golden age. However 10 years before his arrival in Hollywood he had been Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn, a wayward 14 year old from the other side of the world in Australia who had shipped over to London with his father dragging him along to the capital on some business that he had to conduct there, wondering what he was to do with the boy who found himself being transported from the exotic surroundings of his childhood years on the shore of Tasmania, with the roar of the sea where the Indian and Pacific Oceans meet coming off of the South Pole, to board in a small shambolic boys` private school in the Putney district, which he described as drab, grey and grim looking. It has been known for a number of years since the publication of his autobiography My Wicked Wicked Ways, shortly before his early death from exhaustion in 1959, that the silver screen star had spent a part of his youth in a school in the locality which he called ‘South-West London College’, but its actual location was obscured by his siting it ‘off Putney Common`, with the vague location as ‘somewhere between Putney & Hammersmith.’

The puzzle as to its location has defied writers and historians studying the screen actor`s origins before he tore a blaze across the Hollywood firmament, leading some to speculate as to whether it existed at all as Flynn described it, but it has now been solved by a dusty half-forgotten old trade directory from the mid 1920s stored at the Wandsworth Borough Archive on Lavender Hill during research into the star`s early years. In the frail pages of an obscure small business circular called the ‘Wandsworth Directory 1925’, listed in between ‘Sanitary Engineers’ and ‘Servants` Registry Offices’ under ‘Scholastic’ was found an entry for ‘South West London College (Mr. E.H. Burbidge, Principal), No. 99-101 Castelnau’, confirming the veracity of Flynn`s account and locating the long gone school amidst a line of regency villas on the road leading up on to Hammersmith Bridge.

I made a Map Quest on the address and it is all there!  Errol was not fibbing!  He most likely spoke the truth much, much more often than he received credit for!  

Driving directions to Putney Common, London SW15, UK

1.4 miabout 4 mins

Suggested routes

101 Castlnau

London SW 13



Head south on A306/Castelnau toward Washington Rd

Continue to follow A306

0.9 mi


Turn left at B349/Mill Hill Rd

Continue to follow B349

0.4 mi


Turn right at Putney Common

Destination will be on the left

174 ft

Putney Common

London SW15, UK



This is the school on  99 – 101 Castelnau

Although expressing no other feelings in retrospect than the misery of his time at the school which he said were two of the most dismal years of his life, he devoted several pages of his autobiography to provide a carefully drawn portrait of it, describing how its cheerlessness was indicated by window-ledges lined with empty flowerpots and matched by the meager fare at meal times, and how the boys were crammed into the dormitories for want of space. He also left vivid portraits of the staff such as the Headmaster, Mr. Burbidge: … old, fat and terrifying and glaring at you like a toad; and another teacher who had: sloppy clothes and a kipper-footed gait and spent most of his time stalking the school`s better looking boys (who were in turn anxious to stay one step ahead of him) with an ominous intent and a lecherous smile, who would leave the school`s employment under a cloud after having shown an unhealthy interest in the boys in the school`s cricket team for reasons other than cricket. Flynn further described parading from Barnes across the bleak wasteland of Barnes Common into Putney and through its streets as the boys went off to church each Sunday in a 2 by 2 column, creating a colorful sight in their uniforms of striped trousers and blazer, with straw boaters for the Summer months being replaced with top hats in the Winter; and also the subsequent loneliness that he experienced in a strange place far from home when finding himself discarded by his parents and left in the school alone with all of the other boys having departed for the holidays, and he found himself with nothing to do but wander around its empty class-rooms; and how this abandonment and the resentment that it caused would mark his character in his future passage through the world.

He left the school after 2 years in 1925, and headed back to Australia and a subsequent meteoric future that awaited him of fame and wealth at the summit of Hollywood before he would burn out in a self-destructive pursuance of sensual excess; but the building, which today makes two private houses, that encompassed South West London College remains with its own memory of its role in the life of one of cinema`s icons.

Ajax Bardrick,
London, 14.Oct.2008

— Tina


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  1. Anonymous

    April 8, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    Tina- excellent find! What a bad deal he got as a kid. Very good work! Kevin Kiernan

  2. Anonymous

    April 8, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Hi Kevin;
    You are right Errol got one raw deal after another in particular as a child and youth! Not surprising that he had quite a few psychological problems.

  3. Anonymous

    April 9, 2010 at 12:26 am

    This is, indeed, a remarkable and rare bit of sleuthing … right down to a modern day location.
    Kudos to you!

  4. Anonymous

    April 9, 2010 at 4:50 am

    This is the original page from 2008 by “sleuth” Ajax Bardrick:

    Errol Flynn’s Barnes Period

  5. Anonymous

    April 9, 2010 at 8:57 am

    Yes I am saying so – but maybe you could help me to relocate the picture of 99 – 101 Castelnau?

  6. Anonymous

    April 9, 2010 at 9:14 am

    Hi Karl;
    Thank you – I was happy to find the article and on top of it the picture to clear up that mystery. Why is it that people are always so fast to accuse Errol of untruthfulness?

  7. Anonymous

    April 9, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Try this:…
    4th photo down

  8. Anonymous

    April 9, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Hi Karl and daveboz;
    Thanks Karl and here is the link where you can go right to the gate pillar of “101” Castelnau when you click and operate the street view !…

  9. Anonymous

    April 10, 2010 at 3:05 am

    Another great find!! I never doubted what he said about his teen years spent at that dreary place. What I could never understand was why didn't his parents believe him. Does any one know if there are any school chums of his still alive that could shed light on what went on there, that really would be interesting. Great work guys!!

  10. Anonymous

    April 10, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Hi Tskidmore;
    I am happy to have had the luck to find this article one the Internet, but finding school chums, which are still alive that is reaching a little far, as they would be like Errol 100+!
    In regards to his parents, I only can offer my personal opinion, father Flynn maybe did his best, but with a big question mark. He was a man under the wife's thumb! When it comes to Errol's mother, she certainly was everything and anything else except a mother!

  11. Anonymous

    April 10, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Tina- To repeat, absolutely great find in locating Errol's school! I think that is a big addition to Errol's history and our understanding of him. As to Errol's parents, I tend to agree albeit with the caveats that: one, as poorly as they did , his parents may have been doing their best; two, possibly some of Errol's troubles may have been genetic (alcohol, other substance abuse, depression, possibly attention deficit disorder; and three, I think you may have let the father off too easy- if Errol could have hung out a lot more with his father and shared many experiences, I think he would have been a lot more confident. At any rate, great work on your part. Kevin Kiernan

  12. Anonymous

    April 10, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    Thank you Kevin!
    When it comes to Errol's parents I could say a lot, but we all know anyway that he was abused by his mother already at a very early age. He was a thorn in her eye from the day he was born. Both his parents never provided a stable healthy home they where a most dysfuncional family and the result was clearly visible in Errol's often unusual behavior. Typical behavior of an abandoned, neglected and abused child!

  13. Anonymous

    April 11, 2010 at 3:08 am

    True that, I guess what I meant to say is it's ashame no one from that awful school ever came forward to collaborate Errol's story when his WWW's book came out so that the media/public wouldn't of ever doubted him.I came across something interesting. I was watching a you tube video of nora and errol, I think it was when they were filming his Cruise of the Zaca short, but anyway, I just happened to pay close attention to nora and I thought I saw an ugly bruise on her arm, it really stunned me.Any way, I think there is a you tube web site for errol videos, look at it if you can and let me know what you think. I know that we all have heard of his “wicked ways” but it still startled me just the same.Keep up the good work!

  14. Anonymous

    April 11, 2010 at 4:00 am

    Hi Tskidmore;
    You are right, but sometimes people do not come readily forward. On top of it all one has to consider – Errol was an actor he suppose to have imagination – what kind of actor would he be without imagination. Furthermore he has such a colorful, adventures past that people assumed he was putting it on, but little did they know that things were quite true and on top of it he was a great story teller so he had everybody in a spell!
    About the video that is interesting – but could you go back to the YouTube video and click on SHARE to get the link and then copy and paste the link into your reply so we all can see it!
    Take care!

  15. Anonymous

    April 11, 2010 at 2:48 pm…
    Hi Tina, Here is the video, it's a tribute to all of his wives and there are some pictures in it that you might of not of seen. The one of Nora is the one where she is wearing shorts sitting on something in Jamaica, it looks like a bruise on her left arm or it could be a shadow. If it is a bruise I'm not implying that he gave it to her because in his book and in her's they both say the trip was a rocky one and that they were happy to be on land,any way enjoy it there are some great pics of all of them!

  16. Anonymous

    April 11, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Hi Tskidmore;
    Nora does tell in her book about the problems she had suffered, but then it could be a shadow as you say!