Their names will be familiar to generations of people who have grown up in the towns of Kent – but how well do we really know the stories behind our county’s schools?
We sent reporter Rhys Griffiths off in search of the founding stories, famous names and quirky facts to be found in the histories of some of Kent’s best-known educational establishments.
Brockhill Park Performing Arts College, Saltwood
Many of us may fondly remember a class rabbit or guinea pig from our school days, but who can say they took lessons on an actual farm? Situated just outside Hythe, Brockhill is set in and around a Jacobean and Georgian manor house and is home to a working farm and farm shop on its campus overlooking the English Channel.
The school is keen to teach its pupils where their food comes from, so every year 7 and year 8 student has one lesson each week called the Great Outdoors, learning first about crop production and then about livestock meat production. This can later lead to agricultural qualifications, and a chance to show animals each year at the Kent County Show.
The Charles Dickens School, Broadstairs
The school is named for the writer and social critic, regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era, who had many a link with Kent and was greatly inspired by the county. The writer first came to Broadstairs in 1837, aged 25, and returned frequently over the next two decades.
In 1850 Dickens took residence at Fort House, now known as Bleak House, and it was here, overlooking “fishing boats in the tiny harbour”, that he wrote the novel David Copperfield and the essay Our English Watering Place.
Dartford Grammar School
Rock legend and Rolling Stones front-man Mick Jagger is Dartford’s most famous son and an old boy of Dartford Grammar School.
In 2010 the star returned to give his seal of approval to a massive £900,000 facelift to the Mick Jagger Centre at the West Hill school, where new foyer and impressive dance studio with glass floor-to-celiing mirrors had been built. Jagger toured the facilities at the centre, which had opened a decade earlier, with his fashion designer partner L’Wren Scott before watching a performance by pupils.
Duke of York’s Royal Military School, Dover
In 1801 His Royal Highness Frederick Duke of York laid the foundation stone in Chelsea of what was to become The Duke of York’s Royal Military School, a school for the children of military personnel which opened in 1803. The school’s initial purpose was to educate the orphans of British servicemen killed in the Napoleonic Wars. The school relocated to its present site in Dover in 1909.
The Duke of York’s is unique among English schools in that it has the right to carry Colours – battle flags carried by military regiments to show where their troops should rally in battle. The school’s Colours were first presented in 1825 by King George IV, brother of the founder, and in 2003 for the school’s bicentenary year the Duke of Kent presented the current Colours. When not ‘on parade’ the Colours reside in the Principal’s office.
Dover Grammar School for Boys
Former pupils of the Astor Avenue school are known as Old Pharosians, inspired by the Pharos, a Roman lighthouse constructed during the reign of Emperor Claudius in AD 46 on a headland overlooking the Roman port of Dubris, which still stands today within Dover Castle. The schools motto, appropriately is Fiat Lux, meaning “Let there be light”.
The Harvey Grammar School, Folkestone
The school was founded in 1674 by the family of Dr William Harvey, who was born in Folkestone and is credited as the first physician to discover the science of the circulation of blood through the body. When first established, the school’s stated purpose was to serve “20 poor boys of Folkestone”.
One of the famous doctor’s descendants, Admiral Sir Eliab Harvey, gained great fame when at the Battle of Trafalgar he took his ship HMS Temeraire into the thick of the action, forcing the surrender of two French vessels, Redoutable and Fougueux. He took the two opposing ships’ names for his family motto, “Redoutable et Fougueux”, and those words can be found on the Harvey’s school badge, with Temeraire proudly above them.
Kent College, Canterbury
This independent school for boarding and day pupils was founded in 1885 as the Wesleyan College, Canterbury, on land made available by Edward Pillow, a local gentleman-farmer, and the foundation stone for the main building was laid in 1887.
The school’s motto is Lux tua via mea, which means “Your light is my way”, and the school crest shows the three black birds, called choughs, taken from the arms of Thomas Beckett and ‘Invicta’, the white horse of the county of Kent.
The King’s School, Canterbury
King’s is often described as the oldest school in England, with its history traced back to the earliest days of Christian education in the country when St Augustine likely established a school on his arrival in Canterbury in 597. Very little is known about the early history of the school, although in the centuries that followed there was a link with Canterbury Cathedral.
It is not until 1541 that the story of King’s becomes better documented, as following the dissolution of the monasteries the school was refounded by a Royal Charter from King Henry VIII – giving it the names by which it has been known since.
The Norton Knatchbull School, Ashford
The history of the grammar school can be traced back to the 1600s, and its founder, Sir Norton Natchbull who was born in 1569, was from a long-established Kent family from Romney Marsh and lived at Mersham-le-Hatch outside Ashford. He went on to be a Member of Parliament.
In the earliest days of the school it is said that no boy would be granted a place unless they could read both the Old and New Testaments in English, a criteria that acted to exclude the poorest in the town and make the school the preserve of the sons of the wealthier classes.
Rochester Grammar School
Known as the Rochester Grammar School for Girls until 2006, when it was renamed following the admission of boys in the sixth form, the school was established in 1888 under the powers of the Endowed School’s Act of 1869. This allowed the charitable trustees of the Bridge Wardens – the organisation which oversaw bridges across the Medway – to donate the necessary funds for a girls’ grammar school, a move considered very progressive at the time.
Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Canterbury
Boys at the school are represented in five houses, Burgess, Hardman, Mackenzie, Sharp and Young, which are named after five of the school’s former pupils who died serving in the First World War. The school hopes that by permanently remembering them, an opportunity is created to reflect on the tragedy of the loss of life brought about by war.
The school itself – and its sister grammar for girls – is named after an English medieval clergyman who served as Archdeacon of Canterbury from 1227 until his death in 1248. Langton had previously been Archbishop-elect of York, but the election was quashed by Pope Innocent III.
Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School, Rochester
Known locally simply as the Math, the school was founded in 1701 in accordance with the last will and testament of Sir Joseph Williamson, who bequeathed £5,000 towards the building and running of a school to teach the skills required for “the sea service and arts and callings leading and relating thereto”.
Sir Joseph was a leading politician and diplomat during the reign of King Charles II and was first elected as MP for Rochester in 1690. Following retirement in 1699 he settled to live at Cobham Hall, and he even receives a mention in the famed diaries of Samuel Pepys.
Sir Roger Manwood’s School, Sandwich
In 1563 Sir Roger Manwood – an English jurist and Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer – founded a Free Grammar School in Sandwich in an effort to make education accessible to the people of the town. Sir Roger served Queen Elizabeth I and was later the MP for Sandwich.
Links to the school’s founding day are still evident today, as there are four foundations which still appoint Governors: the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, Lincoln College, Oxford, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and the Diocese of Canterbury.
The Skinners’ School, Tunbridge Wells
Although only founded in 1887, Skinners’ is connected to a 14th century London Livery Company of the same name which regulated the capital’s fur trade and whose members were known to undertake hazardous voyages to Russia and Scandinavia to buy furs.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Skinners’ pupils still at school made tobacco pouches which were sent as presents to serving Old Skinners’ at the front in Flanders, and one of the letters of thanks, published in the 1915 school magazine, contained a first hand account of the famous 1914 Christmas truce.
Occupying an extensive site of about 150 acres in north Tonbridge, the school was founded in 1553 by Sir Andrew Judde, a distinguished member of the Worshipful Company of Skinners, which assumed the governance of the school after his death.
It is said that in Victorian times the headmaster of Tonbridge began to accept increasing numbers of fee-paying boarders, so squeezing out boys who lived locally, and this was one of the factors behind the founding of The Skinners’ School down the road in Tunbridge Wells.
Ursuline College, Westgate-on-Sea
The Ursuline school in Westgate was started in 1904 when a group of Ursuline Sisters fled Boulogne-sur-Mer with a number of their pupils. Their school had existed since 1624, but laws passed in France had made it impossible for the Sisters to continue their work of Christian education in France.
Like all Ursuline schools worldwide, this Catholic school’s motto is Serviam, meaning “I will serve”, which is inspired by the teachings of St Angela Merici, founder of the Ursuline Order.