During our investigation of the old schools of Whitstable, we have stumbled across some fascinating and unusual stories. However, none are more fascinating or unusual than this one. As you will see, the school is very different from any other that we have so far documented on Simply Whitstable because it was a private establishment that boasted some rather specific aims and catered for boarding pupils..
Our story started when we received a request for information from Sandford MacLean in Kentucky. Sandford was trying to trace details of his father's early life. He knew that his father had attended a private board school called the King's Leigh in Tankerton during the 1930s but knew little about the establishment. We had not encountered it either and that got us going on another trip down memory lane.... with a little help from our friends!
With Sandford's assistance and following appeals in both our Visitors Book and weekly Chat Column, we managed to piece together a picture of the school. Let's take a look.
Location of the School
After our appeals appeared on the web site, Brian Eames got to work and made some important discoveries from local street indexes of the 1930s....
That Northwood Road address is located on the east side of Northwood Road close to the junction with Tower Parade... and it has connections with some well known local characters....
History of the School Building
Apart from locating the school, Brian also pointed us to page 53 of Doug West's delightful book 'Portrait of a Seaside Town'. This contains a photo of Tower Parade (circa 1893) - looking eastward towards the junction with Northwood Road. In those days, little development had taken place in that locality and no properties had been built on the western side of the road. Thus Nos. 3-5 Northwood Road can be seen as a single, large building on the extreme right of the picture.
On the basis of Doug West's photo, we can suggest that the school building was one of the first properties to be constructed in Northwood Road. However, it doesn't appear to have had any substantial history as an educational establishment. In fact, Doug's accompanying text mentions that it was once the residence of a local doctor. That was Dr. Parris Piper who moved into the property in 1902 when he first came to Whitstable. He practiced in the town for a further 28 years.
Entries in the Visitors Book from Diana Suard have provided some extra information. The house was known as King's Leigh during occupancy of Doctor Parris Piper. Thus, it seems the school took over the site after the death of the doctor in the late 1920s and inherited the name.
I doubt that any of our readers are old enough to have been treated by Doctor Parris Piper! However, the name will ring some bells with many local people as a Mr. Parris Piper was a well known dental surgeon at No. 1 Argyle Road in the 1950s. He was known simply as Mr Piper but Diana has confirmed that he was the son of Dr. Parris Piper.
The King's Leigh building still exists and we can plot the site on one of Peter Dalrymple's recent aerial photographs....
At some stage after 1893, an extension was added to the northern wall of the house but I am not sure whether this was done to accommodate the school. In the new millennium, the whole structure has become three private properties with the original house reverting to separate numbers 3 and 5.
The building came close to disaster during World War II. By then, the western side of the road had been developed and a garage (Northwood Garage) had been located close to the junction with Tower Parade. This garage was commandeered by the army at the outset of the conflict and hit by a low flying bomb that caused a substantial fire. The garage was rebuilt in peace time before being demolished in recent years to make way for apartment block.
The School - A General View
Brian Eames continued to beaver on the problem and eventually located an advert for the school - published in the 1930s....
Although this provides a fairly brief synopsis, a lot can be gleaned from it if we examine the wording closely.
As a 'boys preparatory' school, the establishment would have catered for a relatively young age group. It also seems that it was intended for both 'board' and 'day' pupils. This makes it the first boarding school that I have come across in the Whitstable area.
The description 'one of the healthiest parts of England' is consistent with Whitstable being a base for a number of convalescent homes in the first half of the twentieth century. I doubt that the area had any magic healing powers. I suspect that it was more a case of it being one of the seaside towns closest to London.... and, above all else, cheap! However, the boast does suggest that Mr. E. Laurence Taylor was targetting families much further afield than Whitstable and the surrounding districts. He was perhaps also looking at situations in which parental contact would be limited - hence the reference to 'Complete charge taken if desired'. But what did that phrase encompass? Did it mean that some children remained at the school during holidays... or did it almost approach legal guardianship?
There is further evidence to support the idea that the school was aiming at an upmarket clientele... ie the statement that boys would be 'prepared for Public School and the Royal Navy'. The reference to Royal Navy is curious. After all, who, in modern times, would direct their child towards the armed forces at prep school age?
Well, could it be that Mr Taylor was hoping to provide a service for parents whose careers or personal circumstances meant that they were away for much of the time.... possibly abroad? In particular, could he have been targetting the offspring of servicemen or families with a strong military background? At the time, Britain's massive navy and global interests may have generated a substantial market for boarding schools. It should also be remembered that the Royal Navy had a substantial dockyard, military base and marine unit at Chatham.
Although the Kings Leigh School now appears to have been lost in the mists of time, it was sufficiently prominent in the 1930s for Mr Taylor to drop the road number from the address.
The school address is also interesting for a more general reason. Nowadays, the word 'Whitstable' would be used for properties in Northwood Road but the advert only deployed the name "Tankerton-on-Sea". Maybe that reflects the fact that Tankerton had a distinct identity of its own during the first half of the twentieth century. However, bearing in mind that the school was within spitting distance of the industrial areas of the harbour lands and only a few yards outside the boundary of Whitstable, there could be another reason.
In the past, Whitstable was very much the grubby working town based around its marine activities... and the name would carry less appeal to potential customers. Tankerton sounded better and the chance to add the term 'on-sea' might seal an extra school fee or two!
Even into the 1950s, there was quite a bit of elitism over the names.... with people desperately trying to say that they lived 'in Tankerton' rather than 'Whitstable'. Oh how things have changed now that Whitstable has become 'chic'!
There is nothing quite like a school report for information about the inner workings of a school. Sandford has very kindly forwarded a copy of his father's report for the Spring Term of 1935...
Immediately, we can get some idea of the size of the school register. John MacLean was in form III with fourteen other boys! As we know, the Kings Leigh building was a substantial house but it must have been pretty cramped bearing in mind that the accommodation needed to embrace 'dormitories' for board pupils, an office and catering facilities.
It would also have been restricted in terms of open space and this must have restricted sporting activities to 'physical' drill, some games and (probably for older boys).... boxing! Such outdoor facilities were clearly inferior to those of State Schools. (For example, by 1930, the Oxford Street Boys School had large playgrounds, a substantial garden and massive playing fields at Church Street). However, what the Kings Leigh lost in this respect it compensated for in terms of a more extensive academic curriculum.
That curriculum adhered very much to the aims in that advertisement. Subjects were designed to 'prepare pupils for public school' - including Latin, French, music and a detailed foray into specific elements of Mathematics. These would not have been available to pupils at an average State School.
We do not yet know how many teachers served the school. However, that school report provides evidence of at least three (with initials 'ELT', 'KLT' and 'VL'). There may also be evidence of a fourth (initial LT) but this may be a shortened version of ELT.
Clearly, there is evidence of the Kings Leigh being a family enterprise with much of the teaching being undertaken by Mr. E Laurence Taylor (ELT) and Kate E Taylor (KET). As yet, we do not know the relationship. It may have been husband/wife or brother/sister. However, we can have a go at putting together some tentative CVs!
Mr. Taylor appears to have provided the physical and more general subjects (eg Physical Drill, Games, Scripture and General Knowledge). Bearing in mind the school's claim to prepare pupils for the Royal Navy, one would suspect that he might have completed a significant naval career.
Kate E. Taylor picked up the more academic subjects. Bearing in mind the school's claim to prepare pupils for Public School, it seems likely that one or more of the Taylor's probably had a public school background. If that included Mr Taylor, then I would cautiously enhance the theory about a naval career.... ie "Public School + Royal Navy = Officer"
I wonder how close these theories are to reality. We may yet find out!
Sandford has very kindly supplied a photo of his father wearing the school uniform...
As you can see, the school badge simply comprised the initials 'KL'.
The photo is also interesting for another reason. Sandford's father remained in Whitstable for a while after his grandparents moved to the USA and the lady in the centre acted as his temporary guardian. That lady is Sister Ada Sharman and she will be fondly remembered by some of our older readers as a stalwart of St Heliers Nursing Home in Castle Road. As such, she would have overseen the arrival of so many of us Natives!
Sister Sharman was also one of the founders of the current day St John's Old Peoples Home in Gloucester Road. Quite a lady!
I am not sure that teachers would have taken on all the duties involved in cooking meals, cleaning classrooms, putting pupils to bed or dealing with cases of measles! So, it is likely that it employed other staff... and I wouldn't be surprised if one or two had a nursing qualifications to bolster the school prospectus.
All this raises a vague possibility. Is it conceivable that Sister Sharman had some connection with the Kings Leigh School.... and is that how she became the temporary guardian of Sandford's father back in the 1930s?
Signs and Mists of Time...
It all adds up to a fascinating piece of social history because it is all so different from the way that things operate today. I also suspect that the King's Leigh was also quite different from any of the other schools that we have discussed to date on our Days Gone By menu!
Why is the King's Leigh not better remembered by local people? Well, part of this may stem from the fact it may have existed for only a very short time. On the other hand, it could be that the majority of its pupils came from elsewhere. Now that we have started the ball rolling, a few extra memories may come to light.
So... can anyone add to the picture?
Our Thanks To....
We would like to thank Sandford MacLean, Brian Eames, Diana Suard and Peter Dalrymple for their help in making this article possible.