The Clare House  Schools...  and The Horley School of Whitstable

One Article... Three Schools

It is unusual for us to deal with THREE schools on one page..... but the histories of these particular establishments appear to have been so closely interwoven that it would be difficult to separate them. The schools were...

We have received a considerable amount of information from our readers in piecing together the history of these establishments and we would particularly like to thank Nick Duggan, Brian Eames, Sidney Walker, Christopher Walker, Ivan Knowles, Wendy Philpott, Ron Coleman, Dave Midson and Jock Harnett.

Origin and Progress of The Clare House Schools

The Origins of the Boys School

At the moment, our evidence suggests that The Clare House Boys School was established by a Mr E G Sargent and that it was originally located in Tankerton - at the corner of Strangford Road and Church Street Road. (NB You may find references to the school being in either of these roads. I have tended to use 'Strangford Rd" in my explanations as Church Street Road was later renamed Castle Road and this can cause confusion).

Nick Duggan has discovered some fascinating information about Mr Sargent's early life. He was born in Somerset but the national census listed him as a schoolmaster at Margate in 1901. By 1911, he had moved to Whitstable and his occupation was recorded as 'Principal of a Private School'. This was confirmed by the following entry in the local street directory for that year...

  "Clare House School, Sargent E. G. Esq. gentlemans school"

Ron Coleman's search of old street indexes confirmed that houses along Church Street Road between Strangford Road and Gloucester Road were.... "Clare House School, No 1 Kent Villas, No 2 Kent Villas, Oak Lodge and The Knoll". This places the school on the South East corner of the Castle Road/Strangford Road junction. It was prominently marked as Wendy Philpott points out below....

I have a postcard showing that the property situated at the junction of Strangford Road and Castle Road was known as the CLARE HOUSE SCHOOL according to a board erected on the front of the building.

Wendy Philpott (nee Luckhurst)

As yet, we do not know where the name Clare came from but the word does have connections with that particular locality as there is a nearby street called Clare Road. I will pose some questions about this at the very end of this article in the hope that some of our readers might be able to discover more details.

An Early Girls School Too?

Whilst Mr Sargent's Starngford Road enterprise was listed as a boys school in 1911, this is not the whole story.

Nick Duggan has discovered a report of the school's Prize Giving Ceremony in the Whitstable Times of September 1915. The article mentions that prizes were given to BOTH girls and boys.... and it named a Miss Fowles as the girls' tutor. We also know that a Miss Horley joined the Clare House staff as an Assistant Mistress during World War I and that she played a key role in the development of the girls education in later years. (NB This information is drawn from an obituary for Miss Horley that was published in a local newspaper in 1970).

Of course, there are a number of possible explanations for the mystery of the girls. The simplest is that Mr Sargent only started to accept female pupils at Strangford Road after 1911. However, it is also possible that the Clare House Girls (and Miss Fowles) were actually housed elsewhere in Whitstable.... and they linked up with the boys for certain "whole school" events. This might seem a big assumption to make and it may be wrong.... but it would certainly explain how the school  accommodated both boys and girls when the building at Strangford Road was limited in size. It would also be consistent with events that followed a few years later.

Relocation and Confirmed Boys and Girls Schools

Those 'events' were discovered by Nick Duggan when he came across two SEPARATE school adverts in the Whitstable Times of January 1924. These were worded as follows.....

Clare House School (for Boys)
For prospectus apply; Mr E G Sargent, Shirley, Virginia Road, South Street
Clare House Girls School
81a, High Street, Whitstable
For prospectus apply; Miss Horley

So, by 1924, Clare House boys and girls were plainly separate establishments operating at very different locations. Mr Sargent had moved from his Strangford Road property and was living in the rural surroundings of Virginia Road. He used his new home as a postal address for the school but taught his boys at the All Saints Church Hall in Church Street - just a few hundred yards from his old Strangford Road location.

Meanwhile, Miss Horley had progressed from Assistant Mistress to become the main tutor of the Clare House Girls and she was nicely established in the town centre. Her school address will ring a few bells if you have read our article on another local school - The Prep School of a Mrs G Phipps.

Miss Phipps ran her school at 81 High Street - probably using an annex at the rear of the property. She operated there from, at least, 1911 to1916. In fact, we suspect that she may have continued at those premises until the early 1920s when she finally relocated her establishment to The Church House in Cromwell Road. It seems likely that Clare House Girls moved into the High Street annex around the time that Miss Phipps moved out. It also seems that the annex gained its own, separate street number of 81a. We believe the earliest street entry for Clare House at no 81a is 1922.

Problems of the Girls School Name

Whitstable Natives are a perverse lot. In  "small town" Whitstable of the 1920 and 1930s, they preferred personalities to official titles. Thus, you may stumble across references to "The Horley School (or Miss Horley's School) in the High Street".... whereas it was actually The Clare House School.

This makes research quite difficult... particularly as there really was a Horley School in later years. We will come to that in due course.

The Link Between Clare House Boys and Girls

There was a clear link between the Boys School of Mr Sargent and the Girls School of Miss Horley. After all, we know that Mr Sargent had employed Miss Horley during World War I and, in 1924, she was operating under the established Clare House banner at the High Street enterprise. However, we do not know the precise agreement between them. There are many possibilities including the following...

  1. Mr Sargent may have owned both schools and merely employed Miss Horley as head mistress of the girls
  2. Miss Horley may have owned the girls school and used the Clare House title with the kind permission of Mr Sargent.
  3. Miss Horley may have operated under some financial or franchise agreement with Mr Sargent.

We may never know the full details but, logically, there must have been a degree of co-operation between the two parties.

Memories of the Clare House Boys School

We are very unlikely to collect memories of the school in 1911. However, we have been very lucky in acquiring an account of the school during the early 1930s. This lovely piece of history was penned by former pupil, Sidney Walker and kindly passed on to us by Stewart Tilley in 2008.....

Account Clare House Boys School Whitstable by Sidney Walker Page 1
Account Clare House Boys School Whitstable by Sidney Walker Page 2

Sidney's story prompted the following message from his brother, Christopher....

Clare House School

I have just come across the memories of school days at Clare House by my brother, Sid Walker, and I find his memories very similar to mine, so I don't need to repeat them.

The mention of the cane to the back of the legs was a favourite trick of Mr. Sargent's. He would have us around the blackboard and he would stand behind us. If we didn't give the correct answer to a question, he would give us a quick clip behind our bare knees.

My last memory of Mr. Sargeant was when he was about to retire. He had us all stand around his desk and he cut his cane into small pieces and gave us all a piece to throw in the stove. That was the end of the cane!

Mr. Sargeant often told us about his adventures in Borneo, where he lived as a young man.  

Christopher Walker

Sidney and Christopher's memories add a real human touch to our school history. They also help us to piece together yet more of the overall jig-saw.

Memories of the Clare House Girls School

Some years ago, Ivan Knowles kindly forwarded a photo taken circa 1930. It shows Miss Horley with her charges and we believe the location to be that of the old High Street premises.....

Clare House/Horley School pupils circa 1930

Ivan mentioned that his aunt is directly in front of Miss Horley with Margaret Maflin to her right. The two girls on the extreme right of the back row are thought to be the Perks sisters. Perhaps, our readers can come up with yet more names.

The photo suggests that Miss Horley may have changed the criteria for entry to the school. As we know, Clare House advertised itself as a "girls school" in 1924 but, here in 1930, it had several very young boys on its books. This was not uncommon for private schools run by female proprietors in that era. Boys could receive their early education alongside girls in their younger years but they were shipped out to 'all boys' schools for their senior education. I daresay some of the lads in the picturemay have been destined for Mr Sargent's Clare House Boys establishment.

There may seem to be a bit of a conflict here as Sidney Walker's description of the Clare House Boys School of the 1930s indicates that Mr Sargent catered for young boys at his All Saints Church Hall classes. He had even sectioned off part of the hall for this purpose and employed a junior school teacher (Ms Gladys Wright) who lived in nearby Ham Shade Lane. However, the Church Hall may simply have been considered a little to remote for very young town-centre children to reach on foot. Thus, the schools may have agreed to share the overall intake of infants.

End of Clare House... and Start of The Horley School

The Clare House Girls School is recorded at 81a Oxford Street until 1936 but not beyond. At that stage (or shortly after), Miss Horley appears to have set up a new establishment in a large residential property at 21 Wynn Road, Tankerton. This "new" school was clearly her own business. It became known as The Horley School and it catered for both boys and girls.

The seeds for this change may have been sewn a few years earlier. Jock Harnett has discovered an advert for the Clare House Girls School in a copy of the Whitstable Times dated August 1929. Unlike the advert of 1924, this one asked for applications to be sent to Wynn Road. We suspect that this was purely an administrative arrangement at that stage. It seems that Miss Horley was living in relatively spacious surroundings in Wynn Road and preferred to handle the paperwork at this private address rather than the school building in the High Street. This would have brought her in line with Mr Sargent who was dealing with applications for his Clare House Boys school at his home address in Virginia Road. However, one wonders if Miss Horley was already looking ahead and planning for a day when she might move the school to her home address.

When the final upheaval came in the mid-1930s, it may have been prompted by happenings at the Clare House Boys School up at All Saints Church Hall. As we know from our memories section above, Mr Sargent continued his boys school into the 1930s but retired during that decade. It seems likely that his retirement occurred around 1936 when he would almost certainly have been over 60 years old. However, age may have not have been the only reason for him burning his cane and putting his feet up. At some stage, the church hall was rebuilt and this may have left him without accommodation. This theory is merely a thought at the moment but does anyone know when that building work took place?

Irrespective of what led Mr Sargent to end his teaching career, it seems that it prompted Miss Horley to shift her girls to her Wynn Road house and start to accept boy pupils. We know that she eventually employed Mr Sargent's assistant (Gladys Wright) and it seems highly likely that she also took charge of some of his male pupils. In effect, the two Clare House Schools appear to have merged under the new title of The Horley School.

But, why did Miss Horley feel the need to relocate the school?

Well, we don't have definite answers. It could be that she was never the owner of the Clare House Girls School and her tenure at 81a High Street ended with the retirement of Mr Sargent. It could be that the High Street building was too limited to handle pupils of mixed age and gender. It could be that an expanding and upmarket Tankerton provided a much larger and more lucrative market for a "fee charging" private establishment. It could also be that running a school from home reduced costs.

 Why did she drop the well established "Clare House" title?

Again, we can only hazard a few guesses. It may be that Mr Sargent owned the Clare House name and it disappeared into retirement with him. Maybe, she wanted to make a fresh start. Maybe, she realised that, unofficially, locals were already referring to her Clare House Girls School as The Horley School and decided that this was a more appropriate title for the future.

Memories of the Horley School of Wynn Road

As yet, we have very few anecdotes relating to the school but I am sure that we will eventually pick up some more.

Dave Midson recalls his time as a pupil below.....

I attended there as a pupil circa 1948 until 1952. Miss Horley educated children there up to the 11+ age and I think had many successes. There was another teacher at the school -  a Miss Wright, who I believe lived in Ham Shades Lane.

However Miss Horley decided I was an unruly pupil and called my mother in one day to suggest it would be better if I was to attend the Whitstable Boys' School and, perhaps, Pop Newsome could instill some discipline into me.

So, there I was, virtually expelled and having to travel to the other side of the "world" from Tankerton to Whitstable.  However, I spent 4 happy years at the Whitstable Boys once I got used to commuting and the fearsome Frank Newsome.

Dave Midson

It just goes to show that small private schools suited some pupils but not all.

The Final Years

Sadly, we have no details of Mr Sargent after his retirement in the mid-1930s but we do know a little bit more about Miss Horley from an obituary unearthed by Nick Duggan in an old copy of the Whitstable Times. She had continued teaching at Wynn Road  until her retirement in 1954 but passed away in January 1970. She had served the children of the town for some 40 years.

And What of No 81A?

The school annex at the rear of No 81 High Street continued to have a life after the closure of the Clare House Girls School in 1936 as, for some years, it was used by a children's Dance Class.

It may even have been included in the mainstream education system for a short period at the end of the 1940s and/or beginning of the 1950s. We have yet to confirm this but some of our Endowed School pupils vaguely recall using an old building that they accessed from the alleyway at the rear of the High Street. This could have been the old annex at No 81A and it would certainly fit with some major happenings in education at that time.

The Butler Education Act raised the school leaving age from 14 to 15 in 1947 and made secondary education a right rather than a privilege. However, it was some years before new schools could be built to accommodate the change. (For example, The Sir William Nottidge Secondary Modern didn't open until 1952). In the meantime, The Endowed Girls and Whitstable Boys junior schools had to cope with much larger student numbers.

Surrounded by the terraced streets of central Whitstable, The Endowed had little space for extra classrooms and a number of temporary measures were necessary. One involved the use of temporary pre-fabs some distance away on the Whitstable Boys school site. These pre-fabs were known as HORSA units and gained their name from the phrase "Hutted Operations for Raising School Age". They were the familiar white-washed structures that afflicted most junior schools of that era.

However, I wouldn't rule out the possibility that The Endowed also hired the old annex at 81A High Street. After all, it already existed and could be made operational very quickly. It was far closer to the main school buildings than the pre-fabs and didn't involve children crossing roads to get to it.

Addendum - A Question With No Clare Answer?

I am still intrigued by the origins of the Clare House School in the early part of the Twentieth century. As I said right at the beginning of this article, several things bother me...

Our assumption so far is that Mr Sargent established the boys school in Strangford Road from scratch some time around 1911 (or shortly before). He called it Clare House because there was a nearby road of that name (ie Clare Road). He may have started to accept girls a few year later and employed Miss Fowles to teach them. The girls were either based at Strangford Road with the boys ... OR located at another (hitherto, unknown) location.

All this may well be correct... BUT I would very tentatively put forward another idea for investigation.

We know, from both Whitstable and other parts of the country, that roads occasionally contain a dominant house of the same name. In this case, was there a property called Clare House in Clare Road? If so, was it ever used for education and was the establishment ever called Clare House School?

If we discover such a property, it could change our thinking on the school's origins and give rise to a number of new theories. For example...

These are just idle musings at the moment... but they may give our readers something to investigate on a cold, wet evening!!!!!


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