DARTECH AND WILMINGTONIAN - Number 3 (January 1996)
A TRIBUTE TO Mr. L.V. WALL, the School’s first Headmaster.
(Written by the late Mr. P. Black - Staff, 1947-81)
The departure of its headmaster is a milestone in the history of any School, but for us it is especially significant since it is our first. Appointed first Headmaster in 1941, Mr. Wall is retiring after twenty-two years’ service.
These have not been easy years, In fact, when the history of the School comes to be written, they will prove to have been among its most difficult and hazardous. For, when Mr. Wall took over, he found a neglected and ill-equipped school, housed in very poor quarters and existing under wartime conditions of air-raids, bomb damage and lessons in shelters underground, and with transport difficulties which would dwarf even our present ones. Despite these problems and many others, Mr. Wall, by his example, guidance and untiring efforts, had within six years raised the academic standards from nothing to university entrance. From then, the School has gone from strength to strength, and, when the completion of the new buildings - perhaps his last major aim - is in sight, it is a matter of regret that he will not be with us to enjoy it.
Born in the North Country and educated at Duke’s School, Alnwick, Northumberland, and at Durham University, Mr. Wall has spent all his teaching career in boarding and grammar schools in the South. He first came to Kent to teach at Chatham House Grammar School where he stayed for sixteen years before moving to Dartford. In the early years of his career, he continued with the sporting activities in which he had excelled at the University, and later, he served many years advising on youth work in north-west Kent and in the same connection with the B.B.C.
Written many years ago by Mr. L.V. Wall, the first Headmaster 1941-63
As no available records of the School’s history prior to 1941 exist, I have attempted in the following paragraphs to set down what I know of it before it is forgotten. Much of the fun and humour I must leave till later when, perhaps, fuller recollections may edify those in School today and refresh those who shared in them.
The School had its origin in the Technical College as a Two- Year Day Technical Course which commenced in 1920 with some twenty pupils . This was purely a Technical College group with no school organization, a limit of sixty pupils being laid down. In 1928-29, there were 38; in 1929-30 - 47; by 1933 the numbers had grown to 58. Such prospectuses as are extant are undated (even by the printer) and give no information of the small nucleus of a school which existed precariously inside the Technical College on whose roll were registered 127 day students and 483 evening students. The intake was at 13½, an entrance examination being held each June. Twenty-five percent were granted scholarships and the rest admitted in order of merit as fee-payers (£2 a term).
A Junior Commercial Class started in 1925. In one report at this time it was stated that conditions were no better than in 1914. The Commercial side was recognized in 1934 but not the Technical side.
As a comparison with today’s School, we may consider the provision made for technical instruction in 1927 namely : one six-inch lathe, one small bench drill, one seven-inch shaper, one Emery Wheel (double) with 2½ HP. motor, one bench with six vices and hand tools. A report of 1934 stated that “some laboratory work was possible, but that no other development was possible till elementary woodwork was removed”. (This was work done by pupils from what is now Dartford West County Secondary School.)
As far as I can trace, the picture is one of a slow growth of classes for both boys and girls till there were about 150 pupils, 80 in the senior year, who attended two-year courses in either Engineering or Commerce, these courses having stemmed from the Junior Commercial and Technical Day Courses for which pupils used to be freed from work. This accounts for the original nomenclature of Junior Technical School which took years to eradicate.
The earliest record of something approaching a school is the Sports’ Programme for 1937/38.
In 1939 came the war and evacuation, the latter being voluntary. The girls went to Bexleyheath Day Technical School or to Sidcup. Of the boys, only three were evacuated.
The year 1941 saw my own arrival to take over the School as a separate entity, while the war grew in intensity. There were about two hundred boys that year. In spite of staffing difficulties, inadequate accommodation, bomb damage, and lessons in shelters below ground, a School was created, which, by 1947, after the closure of the Commercial side and the lengthening of the technical course to three years, took the Matriculation Examination of London University. Of the boys who in 1947 took their Matriculation, one remembers R.L. Andrews, who got his B.Sc.(Hons.) in 1951: M.S. Stamford, B.Sc.(Hons.) Metallurgy, 1952; and R.O. Turvey, B.Sc., Engineering, 1952.
In 1948 M.E. Griffey won an Open Scholarship to Dartmouth while S.F. Dyke, B.Sc. lst Class Hons. (Lond.), 1955; D.A. Jarman B.Sc. (Biol.); G. Harwood A.R.I.C. and R. Russell B.Sc. (Lond.),1953 showed the School’s academic growth. This was pointed even more when J.C. Ball got his B.Sc.Hons. in 1954 and added his Ph.D. in 1957 after his years at Aberdeen in Applied Chemistry with Dr. Bentley.
The conditions under which the School existed during these years, and those suffered by the Staff, could only be appreciated by those who served then in Essex Road, and I forbear to give these although they might tempt the present School to count its blessings. Naturally there were amusing sides.
By 1947 the School population was 233 boys.
In 1950 (January) we first took over part of Wilmington Hall after alterations. However, we were split between the Hall, Essex Road and Lowfield Street. In part, the serious organisational difficulties caused by such splitting still exist.
The organisation of the move caused much amusement. A chain of some sixty boys was used as a kind of living hose-pipe to siphon books and materials from the top floor of Essex Road, down the stairs and directly into the big pantechnicon. They passed into its interior not only books, but any movable property they could seize and one very small boy as well, who was rescued before the books and apparatus covered him. It was a very amusing start, but more was to come, and the written account by boys themselves in old magazines is a better one than this.
At Wilmington Hall I arranged to reverse the procedure and to siphon the stock upstairs into the stock rooms. I was horrified to see the floors literally bending under the weight of books, and the foreman on the site went apoplectic. The books were as hurriedly spread around as they had been stacked.
Only once more was I destined to be so frightened of the floors collapsing, which was when unthinkingly we decided to put the School’s printing-press up there. The floor bent so far that anything thrown in would roll to the middle! The room was hurriedly evacuated and Mr. Pestell dismantled the press in a world’s record time of a number of seconds flat! I then took my second breath!
The “seizing” of property from Essex Road to start the School “off’ was a remarkable combined operation of which many stories could be told.
The School grew rapidly from 200 to 400 still in the same buildings. The wear at the Hall was such that the main staircase has had to be shored up twice, and is still shored up while the numbers have passed 500.
In 1952 there was built in the garden the combined Wood and Metal shop, which is now for metalwork only and is soon to become a wood-shop. We also had a kitchen in what is now a cloakroom, until the ceiling fell into the dinners and on top of the cooks! It was taken away in 1953, as was our groundsman, so that boys and Staff prepared their own pitches but not, fortunately, their dinners, which have been delivered ever since to the present dining-room built in 1953. This, incidentally, allowed the School to have an assembly for the first time in its history. Unfortunately, growth in numbers has meant having three morning assemblies. The part of the new building we now have was built in 1956.
From 1952 to 1955 all boys took our own S.I. internal examinations in Mathematics, Engineering Drawing, Engineering Science and Inorganic Chemistry. These examinations were moderated by the Technical College and were an invaluable link between Industry, College and School. I regret these are no longer taken and am sure that more was lost than gained by the newer regulations. Our records over those years show 50 Distinctions - 23 in Mathematics, 8 in Engineering Drawing and the rest in Sciences. Other records of examinations, including the G.C.E. since 1951, are, of course to be found in the files.
I am conscious that this kind of account omits much of the atmosphere of friendliness, the humour, the individual happenings and the changes as well as the people, who have passed some of their lives here, both boys and men.
The School is now poised for the next great stride forward when many new ventures will begin with the completion of the buildings delayed for so many years. The excitement of new and different laboratories and machines, especially electrical; the Hall for musical and dramatic work; the gymnasium at long last, and, the greatest of all gains a place of assembly for the whole School together.
BUFFET SUPPER - Dennis Wells (1954-59) O.D. & W.A. Chairman
The Buffet Supper was held on Saturday, 15th July, 1995 at the School and although the attendance was less than had been hoped for, we still had over 60 members to welcome our guest for the evening, Mrs. M. Mountjoy, who thoroughly enjoyed herself renewing old friendships and exchanging news. The less formal atmosphere of the evening encouraged some of our younger members to come along, who felt that they might feel less comfortable at the Annual Dinner.
The Raffle that was held during the evening, and the proceeds from the Licensed Bar resulted in us being able to make a donation of £303.00 towards the cost of a starter pack for a Motorised Systems for the use of School Pupils.
It was felt that holding the event in July might have discouraged many members attendance because of Holidays and other family commitments, so if you did not attend perhaps you can complete the enclosed Questionnaire to help us plan future events, and if you did attend your comments would still be appreciated.
WILMINGTON HALL - Written by Stan Stringer
Wilmington Hall, adjoining Common Lane, was built in 1743 by Edward Bathurst the son of William and Anne Bathurst of Barn End Lane. Anne Bathurst gave St. Michael’s a silver communion cup in 1697 (this was stolen in 1992 with other silver ware); her memorial is in the north wall of the sanctuary of St. Michael’s. Edward came into the inheritance of Finchcocks near Goudhurst, which he rebuilt and is still in existence to the present day, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Burnett and is now well known for its collection of pianos and like instruments. Edward sold Wilmington Hall to Thomas Motley of Beckenham who bequeathed it to his daughter on her marriage to Mr. Francis Austen of Sevenoaks. According to Edward Hasted writing about Wilmington in 1797, the son Francis Motley Austen.
During the first half of the 19th century the Hall was owned by the Russell family. George Russell was Vicar’s Warden of St. Michael’s from 1845 to 1855; he died in 1856 and the Hall passed into the hands of William Cosier. In 1889 the Hall was occupied by Mr. & Mrs. Lloyd, and in 1907 George Whitehead, son of Sir James Whitehead of Wilmington Manor took possession. On the death of Sir James in 1917 George Whitehead became the second Baronet and assumed the title of Sir George. Sir George recorded details of all the graves in the churchyard and the memorials in the church; he had three copies bound, one was kept by the Whitehead family, one was presented to St. Michael’s and the third was sent to Balliol College, Oxford where Sir George had been an undergraduate. Sir George and his family moved to Oxford and the Hall was occupied by Lord Dudley Gordon in 1920. When the Wilmington Scout Group was re-formed in 1934, Lord Dudley allowed the group to use the Gordon tartan for their scarf.
In the second world war Wilmington Hall was used mainly as a drawing office by Vickers and in 1950 became the home of Dartford Technical School. In 1971 the Hall was demolished to make way for further extensions to the school to enable it to become a comprehensive school. This did not materialise but part of the extension became Wilmington High School and the old Technical High School was redesigned as Wilmington Boys Grammar School.
R. D. PEARCE, BA 1906-66 - Written by Mr. I. M. Smith, Staff 1957-93
Although on the staff of Dartford Technical School for only nine years between 1957 and 1966, Mr. Pearce made such a deep impression on those who encountered him, that he is still spoken about by some ‘Old Boys’ of that generation.
He was described in a career reference as ‘an increasingly rare phenomenon, a Schoolmaster with a strong sense of vocation - one who is able to bring a strong influence upon the mind and spirit of the growing boy' .
There can be no argument about the opening phrase of the reference. Whatever the reaction he produced, Mr. Pearce was a remarkable survival of a different world. He was out of sympathy with modern trends and insisted on wearing his academic gown and, when the occasion demanded, a Mortarboard. Such was the aura that he exuded, that on one occasion, when the School was supposedly watching a staff v sixth form Cricket Match, his appearance in full academic dress produced an astounded reaction. As he approached from the building, all signs of inattention gradually faded and an awestruck silence descended on the event, for the rest of the afternoon the game continued in a respectful disciplined atmosphere!
Having such high standards himself, he evoked a response which ranged from admiration to ambivalence. There is no doubt, for example that his final, painful illness was alleviated by the attention of a small number of faithful ‘Disciples’, (I use the word advisedly) - One or two boys continued to visit him until just before his death in 1966.
As in all the Schools he had served he was Head of English and among other contributions, he established a library in the Old Wilmington Hall. It was there that he was always to be found surrounded by his books, his acolytes and his aura of Distinction.
Mr. Pearce was a truly memorable character!
DANCING DAYS - Janet White (neè Powell)
Wednesday afternoons during the autumn term of 1970 saw a group of short-skirted, giggling sixth form girls meeting a group of long-haired, bashful boys. The scene of these meetings was the boys school hall and the purpose was the only co-educational lesson allowed in those days - ballroom dancing.
Teachers Sheila Wakeford and Terry Moyle tried to introduce us to the finer points of the waltz and the cha-cha-cha. The lesson began with them skilfully demonstrating a dance and then the girls went to one end of the hall and the boys the other while we ran through our respective steps.
The next part of the lesson was the most embarrassing - choosing a partner. The boys slowly approached the girls who were dreading being chosen but dreading not being asked even more!
Partners chosen, we counted our way through the dances. Terry Moyle would encourage us with a few well-chosen words such as “Get closer together, you can drive a bus through that gap”!
At the end of term we tried out our new skills at a dance where the girls looked their best in long skirts while flared trousers were the order of the day for their partners. I recall a favourite dance was a country one which involved kissing your partner before moving on round the circle!
I’m now married to a teacher at the boys’ school and can enter its doors with a lot less self awareness and more confidence than in those far off days. However, when entering the hall I’m still aware of the echo of voices counting ONE - two - three, in time (or almost) to the tinny strains of Edelweiss!
WILMINGTON HALL - written by L.G. Hollingsworth - Staff
In 1950 Wilmington Hall became the home of Dartford County Technical School. Expansion in the following ten years saw the site change.
It was a tragedy that in the 1960’s the superb grass tennis courts and distinctive open-air theatre were done away with. In the early 1950’s the site was extended with the construction of a brick-built block, designed to house the group of Students now staying on at School beyond 15 or 16, and still an important part of the Grammar School. In 1961 the part of the site provided for the agricultural course was given over to the Estate Department and its use as a farm was terminated.
In 1971, as a part of the LEA’s plan to make all Secondary Schools in the area Comprehensive, a start was made on part one of a two part extension (a change in organisational intentions prevented a start being made on the second part). This extension was said to be the first Metric School in the County and unfortunately resulted in the demolition of much of the grandeur of the Hall - nevertheless it was said that the cost of necessary repairs to the Hall was prohibitive, making its demolition inevitable.
Those who remember the Hall in its glorious days - of floorboards offering unlimited hiding places, of rooms with rounded ends and, in Gerard Hoffnung’s famous words “French windows affording excellent prospects”, the Roger Luxton Memorial rose garden, the trees under which smoke from Mr. Lawson’s cigarette would languidly curl from the drivers window of his ‘1100’, the frosted glass in the staff toilet which proclaimed to the whole school his endless sedentary occupation, will find a different sort of character now.
All that remains is the old “Stables” block, complete with “dungeon”. It acts as a home to the Music Department, Business Studies, and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, the youngest people on site who attend Freckles, the Schools day nursery. In that we find a hope - a sort of promise, a continuity and future for the building. Those who need their memories refreshed and who suffer withdrawal symptoms might ask the Head for permission to look at the large photograph of the Hall in its original state, which hangs on the wall of his study.
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING AND DINNER
Saturday, 2nd March, 1996
The Committee have been active on your behalf, and are in the process of arranging this year’s Annual Dinner, which will be held on Saturday, 2nd March, 1996.
The Dinner will be preceded at 6.30p.m. by the Annual General Meeting, which we hope will only take about thirty minutes, your attendance at which would be greatly appreciated, especially as we could do with some younger members on the Committee to voice more opinions. There will be a licensed bar open from 6.00p.m. to allow for drinks to be taken with friends and acquaintenances prior to the start of the Dinner at 7.30p.m.
Wine has not been included in the price of the tickets this year, as a number of Members expressed preference for Beer or Non-Alcoholic drinks, which will be available all evening. Wine will be available by the Bottle if required.
An order form is enclosed with this Newsletter so please order your tickets at £12.50 each, as soon as possible, to help the Caterers with their organising.
THE SCHOOL'S FAMILY TREE TO 1950 (Mk II)
1840 MECHANICS INSTITUTE (A Possibility)
1888 FREE LECTURE SOCIETY AND SCIENCE AND ART CLASSES
(Established by Lord Hesketh)
1902 THE DARTFORD TECHNICAL INSTITUTE (Essex Road)
(Lectures and classes held in local halls and Schools)
1920 DARTFORD TECHNICAL COLLEGE (Change of name, but the same building in Essex Road, later to Miskin Road)
(Pupils left School at 14) (Limit of 60 pupils: 1928-29 - 38 pupils; 1929-30 - 47 pupils; 1933 - 58 pupils)
1925 JUNIOR COMMERCIAL (COMMERCE) COURSE 1920 JUNIOR TECHNICAL COURSE
Boys and Girls were freed from work to attend 2 year courses. The intake for full time attendance began at the age of 13 ½
(A small school for Boys and Girls began to develop very slowly)
GIRLS EVACUATED IN 1939 to 1937-38 The earliest record of something approaching a School
Bexleyheath Day Technical School or to Sidcup (Sports' Programme)
To Wilmington Grange in 1950's |
1941 DARTFORD JUNIOR TECHNICAL COLLEGE - 200 pupils (A seperate entity but still operating within the College)
1944 EDUCATION ACT (Technical Education Act) (Technical Education required)
1947 Closure of Commercial Course (A three year course begins)
1949 DARTFORD COUNTY TECHNICAL SCHOOL
Moved to Wilmington Hall, Common Lane in 1950