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Canings and compulsory daily runs - welcome to my school days!

The frontage of Welington House
The frontage of Welington House
Evans Minor, now journalist NIck Evans, is in the front row, thirdfrom right, in the Wellington House photo from 1970
Evans Minor, now journalist NIck Evans, is in the front row, thirdfrom right, in the Wellington House photo from 1970

An exhibition on Wellington House, the boarding school which closed suddenly in 1970, is at Westgate Heritage Centre in St Saviour’s Church until Saturday.

Old boy and thanetextra.co.uk journalist Nick Evans recalls happy memories.

Forty years ago, at the tender age of eight, I became one of the first day boys at Wellington House, Westgate, a long established boarding school in Rowena Road.

Known as Evans Minor - another older Evans was already at the school - I have mixed memories of the following two years until its closure and certainly a regime as tough as this would not be tolerated now.

Wellington House was established in 1886 by the Bull brothers, two clergymen respected in the prep school world for moulding young boys into men who would run the British Empire.

In fact, notable old boys include actor Jon Pertwee, best known as the third Doctor Who, and John Profumo, who had to resign as War Minister in the 1960s after his liaison with Christine Keeler.

Westgate’s sea air and some vacant buildings saw the school off to a good start and it was one of as many as 50 still in the town by 1939.

A playing field directly opposite the main school building ensured the school’s 80 pupils aged between six and 13 had ample opportunity for breaks outdoors and daily games - whether they wanted to or not! For some though there was also the daily trudge up to Cliff Field at the far end of the seafront for cricket, football or rugby.

At the helm of the school was headmaster Hubert Riley, HR to all, who had arrived at Wellington in 1923 as an assistant teacher.

By 1937 he had become head and was in charge until the very end, postponing his retirement after his successor was tragically injured in a railway accident. When the school did close in July, 1970, HR retired to Pangbourne in Berkshire, but sadly died three months later, aged 72.

HR was widely liked and while a stickler for discipline - the cane and the birch were still legal in the late 1960s - he occasionally allowed a sense of fun to get the better of him. Assistance could be offered readily at break time to boys experimenting with model aeroplanes or buggies powered by petrol motors.

He would personally supervise the daily early morning run when the entire school was required to jog down to the main beach and back before chapel and lessons. The only way of avoiding the run was to be pronounced dangerously ill by a less than sympathetic matron.

In the summer term, the run would be completed minus shirts and shoes! Curiously, apples were often provided to eat en route. Cores were usually hurled by the tailenders at the front runners as they doubled round near the promenade cafe for the return stretch.

The school day was a long one. Dayboys had to arrive by 8.45am and were unlikely to be leaving before 6pm - but tea was provided for all. On Saturdays, dayboys were allowed home at lunchtime but this did slip to 4pm if they were playing in a match against another school.

Wellington’s closure came as a shock to many and parents were given barely three months notice.

Wellington House lay derelict for two or three years until built upon. The buildings and adjoining field were sold in two lots at auction in Canterbury to developers in May, 1972, for a then astonishing total of £332,000 - about £2 per shovelful said one commentator.

All the fixtures and fittings had been sold at another auction a few months after the school closed. Highest price paid was £105 for a baby grand piano while a stack of nearly new 11 Latin text books were knocked down for 7/6d, about 35p.

Westgate Heritage Centre is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10am to noon and Friday between noon and 2pm until the end of September. Curator is Dr Dawn Crouch who will be happy to hear from other Wellington old boys.

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