The school was founded in 1930 when the joint owners-headmasters, formerly teachers at Merchiston Castle School, Richard Killick and Robert Ainslie admitted their first four boy boarders.
The depression made early growth difficult but by the time Captain Ainslie left to found Blairmore School in 1937 the roll had grown to 43, three of whom were day boys. Owned by Richard Killick and financed through fee income (£50 per term from 1930 – 1947) Clifton Hall’s early years were, by all accounts, a time when parents rarely saw their offspring during term-time and entrusted the care of their boys entirely to Richard and Mabel Killick. Rugby, Cricket and Latin featured heavily in the curriculum, and with the considerable sporting and academic successes, the school’s reputation grew.
Further development was abruptly stopped by the war when the buildings and grounds were requisitioned by the Air Ministry, who made Clifton Hall the administrative headquarters for R.A.F. Turnhouse. Apparently a decoy runway was constructed on adjacent fields to attract German bombers away from Turnhouse! The boys fled to Kinloch House in Amulree, Perthshire (home of Lord Salvesen, Mabel’s cousin). The school remained intact; both physically and in terms of pupils whose parents must have been glad of their boys’ safe haven.
After the War, the school grew rapidly to its then capacity of about 100 boarders from 8 – 13 years old. New rooms and facilities were added and the number of teachers increased. New playing fields were created. The children were taught citizenship: living together in this small community gave a unique opportunity to learn the skills of sharing and team spirit. Richard Killick retired in 1958 leaving a stable school that he had nurtured from its conception.
His successor, Walter Mitchell, continued the good work including some ambitious school trips throughout Europe in a Ford Prefect, but tragically died of leukemia shortly after his failing health forced him to retire.
A teacher from Cargilfield, George Mathewson, then developed the school from 1962 until 1984. During these years he built and modernized Clifton Hall, including the pool, games hall and science laboratory. In 1964 the school ceased to be proprietorial and became a company limited by guarantee governed by a Board of Governors, as it is today. He spotted the trends away from all boys / all boarding and introduced girls, weekly boarding, day children and lowered the entry age down to 5.
At a time of rapid roll change from all boarding, from boys to mixed, and from older to younger, David Berkley took charge for three years. He and his wife Trish travelled the world in search of boarders and, in the face of all the trends, managed to retain a healthy pupil number.
Mark Adams was appointed in 1987. The trend towards younger, day children continued: the Nursery opened in January 1989 and became one of the principal entry points to the school. Full boarding was stopped in 1994 and weekly boarding stopped in 1996. The school’s age range adjusted from 3-13 to 3-11 in 1995 and in many senses a new school had emerged.
Rod Grant became Headmaster in 2005, just as Clifton Hall celebrated its 75th Anniversary (and becoming only the sixth Headmaster in its history). In 2008, Clifton Hall merged with another small independent school, St. Serf’s. The St. Serf’s building, located in Edinburgh’s Roseburn area, was sold and the proceeds of the sale were invested in refurbishing Clifton Hall and providing, for the first time, secondary education. Over the next 5 years the school tripled in size, and the academic year 2015-16 commenced with 365 pupils.