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Memories of The..
Whitstable & Tankerton Collegiate School

The Whitstable 'Tom Cats"



Nowadays, private schools are a rarity in Whitstable. In fact, as I write, I can't actually think of one! However, slip back 50 years or more and there was quite a smattering around town.

Thanks to information and photos kindly supplied by Ivan Knowles, we homed in on one such school in Shaftesbury Road. It was, of course, the well known Whitstable and Tankerton Collegiate School of the 1940/1950s.... but, amongst the children of the town, it had a more down to earth title... The Tom Cat School.

After Ivan started the ball rolling, we picked up further valuable information and, slowly, managed to piece together a picture of school life. We can now take a peek behind the scenes.


The Location


Shaftesbury Road is the short thoroughfare behind the old Oxford Cinema (now The Oxford Bingo Hall) and it leads from Nelson Road to Cornwallis Circle. 

The school building comprised a house surrounded by a substantial garden. As Ivan's photo (below left) shows, the building still exists but as a residential property. The garden hasn't been quite so lucky as a substantial part of it is now occupied by a new development called Salts Close.


The School Building in modern times with Salts Close
 occupying the old school gardens on the right. 
Photos kindly supplied by Ivan Knowles

  Mr. and Mrs. Sanders....


Photo kindly supplied by Catherine Goodwin

The proprietors were Mr. Frederick Charles Sanders and his wife, Mrs. May Beatrice Sanders. Both were teachers and they lived in a house alongside the school building.

With the kind help of Catherine Goodwin, we can include a photo of Mr. Sanders in mortar board and gown (see left). 

Catherine is the great, great niece of the Sanders and we gather from her message that the couple originated from Oxford. 

The photo was not necessarily an unusual view of Mr Sanders. A former pupil, David Roberts, tells us that he 'always wore his teachers gown' while teaching. 

That gown helped to hide a significant disability.... but it wasn't one that Mr Sanders allowed to get in his way... as Ivan Knowles explains......


"I remember that he had a wooden leg but he was still pretty fit and took us for P.T."

Ivan Knowles


He wasn't unduly self conscious about the problem either - even when confronted with the curiosity of his young charges....


I seem to remember tapping his leg one day whilst at his desk and him looking down at me from over his glasses and saying, "Yes, David, it is false". 

David Roberts


In fact, Mr Sanders ability to relate to his pupils is quite fascinating as we will see a little later.


Origin of the "Tom Cat" Title


As yet, we do not know the reason why the Sanders' chose the term Collegiate. However, I can offer an explanation as to why it was prefixed with the names of both Whitstable and Tankerton despite the fact that, geographically, the school building was well and truly located in the former.

In those days, Whitstable was the poorer area of town and Tankerton the posh bit. Thus, Tankerton was likely to be a key catchment area for a fee-paying school. However, when Mr. Sanders plumped for the overall title of Whitstable and Tankerton Collegiate School, he perhaps underestimated both inter-school rivalry and the inventiveness of youngsters! 

The school badge contained the initials 'WTCS'  - set in yellow on a navy blue background. Ivan Knowles believes that the letters were quickly seized upon by pupils of the nearby Whitstable Boys School and re-interpreted as The Whitstable Tom Cat School.


The Uniform


The school had a full school uniform to go with the badge. This comprised a  navy blue jacket augmented by a tie bearing horizontal stripes of navy and yellow. The tie is clearly in evidence in Ivan Knowles' next shot...


Photo kindly supplied by Ivan Knowles


The scene shows the younger pupils in the garden.... but only two appear to be wearing a school jacket.


The Pupils and Fees... 


The school actually catered for children across a wide age range - from 6 through to 15 (the minimum school leaving age of the early 1950s). Ivan estimates that the school register totaled around 50 students and this is confirmed by another photo taken in that extensive garden.....


Photo kindly supplied by Ivan Knowles


Mr and Mrs Sanders shared the teaching and split the duties in a straightforward way....


Mr Sanders taught the senior school and his wife the juniors.

David Roberts


During Ivan's schooldays, the school fee amounted to 10 guineas per term.


School Life.... 


For a small establishment, the WTCS provided a surprisingly wide range of activities... and not all would have made it onto a modern day 'national curriculum'! David Roberts provides a fascinating insight below..... 


I was at the Tom Cats from the age of six (1951 to 1956).

Mr Sanders taught the senior school and his wife the juniors. There was a canvas screen wall running across the middle of the single storey building (which is now a house) and, one day, this got peppered with glass when one of Mr Sanders experiments in making hydrogen went wrong and the flask he was holding exploded shooting glass over our heads (luckily) and against the wall. There were a lot of screams from the juniors and I remember Mrs Sanders coming through to ask her husband what was going on! 

Mr Sanders really understood what boys wanted. In the winter, he used to put hot water down in the play ground so that it would freeze (hot water freezes quicker than cold I seem to remember) and, by the time we got to school, there would be a super slide the length of the playground on which we would take turns at launching ourselves at great speed - smashing! 

He also made all the senior boys plywood guns with his fretsaw which he kept in the classroom for break times. The guns had elastic and a trigger fitted and would shoot small squares of cardboard, which we enthusiastically cut out from cereal packets and the like. At break time, we had mock wars using our desk lids as shields, only lowering quickly to launch another attack, great fun! Unfortunately all this stopped when the school was taken over by Mrs Smethurst, perhaps the cause of the closure? 

We rewarded Mr Sanders by doing his gardening for him - not that we had a choice as he would issue mowers and assorted shears on summer afternoons and send us forth to tidy the garden which also doubled as our playground. 

There was a corrugated fence at the end of the lawn separating the School from Cornwallis Circle. There was a big indentation at one point in this fence where it was reputed an elephant had backed into during a Circus on Cornwallis Circle. Perhaps, an ageing Native can recall this. 

David Roberts


Coping with the Flood


All schools have their individual problems but I don't suppose many have encountered difficulties quite as severe as those of the WTCS on the night of 31 January 1953. That was the fateful time when Whitstable suffered its most devastating natural disaster - the Flood of '53.

The WTCS was built on the site of the old salt workings and, in the distant past, that low lying area was simply floodable marshland. It had subsequently been reclaimed, drained and given the protection of the sea defences of Island Wall. However, in the inky blackness of that January night, the sea decided to re-establish a bit of history by bursting over the wall to swamp the locality. 

Mind you, I doubt that the Sanders were tempted to use the event to provide an immediate history lesson. They had problems of water, damage.... and logistics.... 


During the Flood in 1953, the school was flooded to the roof and the boys had to go to other schools for a term or two. 

A handful of boys including me went to Dunelm, which was at the time almost exclusively a Girls School.

David Roberts


Shaftesbury Road was part of the town's lowest lying area and it suffered the worst of the flooding. Despite all this, Mr and Mrs Sanders retrieved the situation and the school continued... but only for a short time.


End of the Tom Cats...  


The flood couldn't stop the school..... but age and a desire for some well earned retirement did! A former pupil, David Newell has told us that the Sanders retired and sold the school on to a Mrs Smethurst. This is confimed by David Roberts below...


Mr and Mrs Sanders  retired whilst I was there and their successor was a Mrs Smethurst. 

However, the school only lasted until 1956 when it closed mid year and I had to go to Michelburg in Herne Bay. 

David Roberts


That abrupt end to the TCS involved yet more logistics. Whilst some of the pupils were found places in other private schools, others made the traumatic move into the state sector of education. Ian Johnson recalls some transfers that added new faces to the nearby Whitstable Boys School in Oxford Street....


I didn't go to the Tom Cats school.... but I can help a little bit. 

I can remember that, when I started in 4A (Mr London's class) in September 1957 at the Boys' School, we had a few boys in our class who had come straight from the WTCS after it closed. 

I can remember five of them: Dave Sanders, Geoff Pink, Dave Tapsell, William Pilkington and Richard Grandfield.

Ian Johnson


Our Thanks To....


We would to thank Ivan Knowles, Catherine Goodwin, David Roberts, David Newell and Ian Johnson for their help in piecing together this fascinating piece of local history.