An ideal stage for learning

THE childhood home of Sir Laurence Olivier – one of Britain s most acclaimed actors of the 20th century – has undergone a £500,000 refurbishment and last week opened its doors as a Montessori nursery. Arunwood – a Grade II listed building – is in the grou

THE childhood home of Sir Laurence Olivier - one of Britain's most acclaimed actors of the 20th century - has undergone a £500,000 refurbishment and last week opened its doors as a Montessori nursery.

Arunwood - a Grade II listed building - is in the grounds of St Christopher School on Muddy Lane in Letchworth GC, and nearly 50 two to four-year-olds - double the number that could be accommodated at the original nursery - have just started the new term there.

Olivier and his family moved to Letchworth GC from Surrey in 1918 when his father, Gerard Kerr Olivier, was appointed minister of St Mary's Church when Olivier was aged 11.

The family lived at Arunwood, which was then the Old Rectory, until his father retired from his post in Letchworth GC after six years, in 1924.

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While he went to school in Oxford, Olivier made his acting debut at St Christopher School's theatre when in December 1924 he took part in Through the Crack, written by an unknown author, as understudy and assistant stage manager. This theatre is now St Francis College's theatre, after St Christopher School relocated from the Broadway site to Barrington Road.

Renowned throughout his career for his acting in Shakespeare plays, his first role in a Shakespeare play was also in Letchworth GC when he played Lennox in a 1925 production of Macbeth, for which he was also assistant stage manager.

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Olivier went on to achieve 14 Oscar nominations during his film career. In I957 he directed and starred in The Prince and The Show Girl, with Hollywood pin-up Marilyn Monroe, and the period film used corsets supplied by Letchworth GC's own Spirella Corset Company which was based on Bridge Road.

St Christopher School used Arunwood as boarding accommodation for some of its pupils until it was closed two years ago for refurbishment.

Headteacher Richard Palmer said: "We've totally stripped the building but we've been working with Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation and English Heritage to make sure the heritage is retained."

The new nursery has a music area, a play area, a library and a Montessori room.

The Montessori curriculum - derived from a teaching programme developed by Italian Maria Montessori in the early 1900s - is designed to develop independence through activities which encourage exploration, concentration, social interaction and movement.

The five areas of the curriculum cover practical life, sensorial, culture, language and maths and the emphasis is on doing real, practical tasks.

In the nursery's grounds there are allotments and children are invited to grow their own vegetables. The vegetables will be picked, washed and freshly cooked before the children eat what they have grown for lunch.

All meals are vegetarian, and counters in the dining room are very low, encouraging children to serve themselves.

Head of nursery Lesley Edwards said: "The key phrase for Montessori is 'help me to help myself'.

"There is a strong focus on independent living. We get the children to do as much as possible for themselves. The proof will be in the pudding when we see how the children use the nursery."

The nursery's grounds have been landscaped and there is a new play area, as well as outdoor classrooms.

Mr Palmer said: "The new nursery is fantastic! It's so nice to be able to invest in little children. If you give children the right environment then they will flourish, so it's worth giving them a beautiful place."

l The First Garden City Heritage Museum, on Norton Way South in Letchworth GC, is currently staging an exhibition in which Laurence Olivier has a starring role. The exhibition, Cinema in Letchworth Garden City, explores the history of the town's cinemas, past and present, its cinematic connections, and Letchworth GC on film.

The exhibition will be on display until October 4.

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