A brief history of Dover Grammar School for Boys

by K. H. Ruffell

In 1902 an Education Act required that secondary schools should be provided by local authorities to meet the needs of able pupils in the elementary schools already established by Church and State.

In Ladywell, behind the Dover Town Hall was a School of Art and Municipal School that also served as a pupil-teacher training centre where classes of various kinds were given in the day-time and in the evening. The Headmaster was Mr. W. H. East. In this establishment the teaching staff included J. Tomlinson, G. D. Thomas, F. Smith, R. S. Standring, W. H. Darby and G. W. Coopland.

In 1903 Mr. Fred Whitehouse, M.A. of Wadham College, Oxford arrived to take an appointment as Director of Further Education and when in 1905 the Ladywell establishment became the Dover County School he was its first Headmaster and the members of staff named above served the school well for many years. Forty Years On became the school song, and there were about sixty boys to sing it, some only nine years old.

A County School for Girls began its separate existence on Priory Hill but Mr. Whitehouse held overall direction and the two schools worked together for a number of subjects.

There were entrance examinations to the schools and scholarships awarded but other students were admitted as fee – payers. Pupils took Oxford Junior and Senior exams and in 1908 Mr. Whitehouse started a co-educational sixth form. Form 6A worked toward Matriculation and after that Intermediate Arts and Science, while 6B prepared for entry to a Teacher Training College. Next year Kent Education Committee vetoed this co-educational sixth form but allowed any girl who had begun a course to complete it, the last girl leaving in 1912.

The school played games on municipal grounds and from the earliest times to the present has numbered Harvey Grammar and Simon Langton among its opponents.

In 1914 a new school building in Frith Road was begun and opened in 1916. At the end of the war there were 230 boys in the school and 77 in a junior school on Priory Hill.

The number of boys increased and their achievements multiplied. The Headmaster had considerable influence at Maidstone and in 1924 a site on Astor Avenue was selected for a new school building. The slope had to be terraced with the school at the top of Whinless Down above the playing fields. On 9th December, 1931 the new school buildings were officially opened by H. R. H. Prince George.

In 1932 an organ was installed in the Great Hall. The instrument adds greatly to the atmosphere of daily assemblies and is in use virtually from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every school day by boys learning to be organists.

Fred Whitehouse retired in 1936 and Mr. J. C. Booth, who followed him, stayed until 1959, so the school had only two Headmasters in almost the first sixty years of its life. Mr. Booth arrived at a time when enjoyment of the good life was regarded as preferable to talk or thoughts of war. September 1939 brought everyone to an awareness of reality. Boys who left school went, in some cases, straight into the forces. On Sunday, 26th May, 1940 the radio announced that France had fallen. This was the summer of the Dunkirk evacuation and the arrival of German guns and landing craft on the coast only twenty-one miles across the Straits of Dover.

On the Sunday that followed the collapse of French resistance the school assembled on the playing fields, each person being allowed one suitcase. The Headmaster carried two, his own and the bag of the smallest boy. At the railway station the boys’ school was joined by the girls’ school and we entered a train whose destination we did not know. We travelled via London suburbs and Salisbury Plain, through the Severn Tunnel to Newport, where the girls got out, the boys continuing up a Welsh valley until we arrived at the end of the line in Ebbw Vale.

The Welsh greeted us with emotion and kindness, took us into their homes and shared their school buildings. Memory is kind and the time in Ebbw Vale is spoken of with good humour and affection.

Throughout the war the school buildings on the hill above Dover were used by the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Very little damage was done and when the school returned in 1945 boys were set to clear up laboratory equipment that had been set up and left standing at the hurried departure in 1940.

By the Education Act of 1944, one of the several Acts designing a better post-war Britain, the school took its new title as the Dover Grammar School for Boys. The junior school and fee-payers had disappeared and from the primary schools a selective entry of about 20 % of the 11-year-old boy population, came into the school.

Old wine had to be accommodated in these new bottles. Masters returned from the war and games and societies regained momentum. Academically there were new developments through the use of visual aids largely introduced by the enterprise and scientific skills of Mr. W. E. Pearce, the Deputy Head and Senior Science Master.

The Old Boys’ Association, the Old Pharosians, and the Parents’ Association regathered their strength to help the school recover from war and profit from peace.

A cricket pavilion was built on the 1st XI ground as a memorial to the seventy-seven old boys who died in the war. Games flourished and G.C.E. passes increased in number and in variety of subject.

The school was reshaped in wider fields of enterprise during the eight years when Dr. Hinton was Headmaster. His powerful intellect and clear logical thinking saw the way ahead while his own driving energy awoke and motivated everyone in the place. No one who took part in or saw his dramatic productions will forget their quality.

In 1964 a scheme for comprehensive reorganisation of secondary education in the Dover area came to nothing. There were insufficient funds to do the job properly and there was no great enthusiasm among the schools for radical reform.

Dover Grammar School remains a grammar school and a good school. Good schools are those where the processes of teaching and learning flourish in an environment of good human relationships.

The present Headmaster, Mr. R. C. Colman, is just the man to create an environment of good human relationships. He has now directed the school through the past thirteen years. Numbers of boys have exceeded seven hundred, academic opportunities widen; some sports and activities give way to a range of enterprising journeys into the world beyond the gates, allowing boys valuable opportunities to test and find themselves. Dramatic productions are adventurous and school music at this time is of astonishing quality. The choir sings in Canterbury and other cathedrals. Over two hundred boys are now learning an instrument.

There are now about six hundred members of the Old Pharosians’ Association, men who hold the school in some affection. The school is fortunate in the continuing affection and support of parents, staff, boys at school and old boys who have passed through the school gates to life and work in this country and overseas.