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A BRIEF HISTORY: 
THE MISSING GIRLS & INFANTS

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The Riddle of the Lost Girls and Infants!

   

If you have read our brief history of the school, you will know that the Oxford Street premises were built by the Whitstable and Seasalter School Board and originally housed three schools - a Boys Board School, a Girls Board School and an Infants Board school. 

That was back in 1877. By the late 1920s/early 1930s, the Boys School had consumed the whole site and the Girls and Infants had disappeared. We need to know when that exodus occurred and where the pupils were relocated. 

Let me explain what we know at the moment.....

  

The Problems of Overcrowding

   

From the very start, it seems that the Boys School suffered problems of overcrowding at Oxford Street. This is confirmed in a number of remarks made in the school centenary booklet Bell, Book and Boys published in 1977....

 

  • The Boys school was over-subscribed within weeks of its opening in 1877. At that stage, 114 pupils occupied buildings with a capacity of just 102.
     

  • In 1878, some boys were housed in the Infants School block
     

  • In 1893, the boys took over the block formerly occupied by the girls

  

The situation did not go unnoticed by school inspectors and the Whitstable and Seasalter School Board were under pressure to resolve the situation. All this suggests that the girls and infants may have made an early move away from Oxford Street. However, this was NOT the case. Read on.....

 

Last Sighting of Girls and Infants...

 

Despite the problems, it seems that the girls and infants retained a presence at Oxford Street until at least the end of the 19th century. This is confirmed by two snippets sent to us recently by Diana Suard (Paris). The first is an extract from the Oxford Street entry of the Blue Book Directory of 1894.....

   

"Board School, boys', Kirkby, George; girls', Lepingwell, Miss H.; infants', George, Mrs." 

 

The second is a similar entry in Kelly's Directory for 1899....

 

"Board Schools, Oxford Street, built in 1876, enlarged in 1893 and 1896, for 350 boys, 100 girls, 195 infants; average attendance, 227 boys, 100 girls, 120 infants; Geo. Kirby, master; Miss H. Lepingwell, mistress, Mrs. Mary George, infants' mistress."

 

Building work appears to have saved the day! Apart from those extensions to Oxford Street in 1893 and 1896, we know that the School Board opened a new and quite separate Infants School in Albert Street in 1879. That extra Infants School survived until 1904 when the pupils transferred to larger premises in Cromwell Road - the present Day Westmeads Infants School.

   

Drawing a Blank - 1904-1922

 

To date, we have unearthed no information about the Oxford Street Girls and Infants schools for the period 1904-1922. They had either disappeared... or they were very, very quiet!

One of the problems is that Bell, Book and Boys traces the history of the Boys School and only mentions the Girls and Infants schools in passing. School records of the girls and infants were probably maintained separately and probably disappeared when the pupils were relocated.

However, we do know that the Education Act of 1902 abolished local school boards and replaced them with larger authorities at county and borough level. In the case of Whitstable, that meant the Kent Education Authority and it seems logical that such a body would have been keen to take stock of the situation and make some changes. For example, the new Westmeads Infants School was probably a KEA initiative designed to overcome overcrowding at Albert Street.

The 1902 Act also opened up other opportunities as it allowed state grants to be paid to Anglican Church schools. That may have forced greater co-operation between state and church establishments and paved the way for pupil transfers between the two sectors.

Unfortunately, we have yet to discover exactly what changes the KEA actually introduced at Oxford Street. 

 

A Brief Mention in 1923...

 

Bell, Book & Boys outlines major changes at Oxford Street in 1923 and the upheaval involved the nearby Anglican Endowed school. The Oxford Street Boys were sub-divided into senior and junior sections under separate headmasters. The junior section is said to have been housed in the blocks "formerly occupied" by the girls and infants. The junior section was made up of younger boys from both Oxford Street AND the Endowed.... and the former head of the Endowed became the junior headmaster at Oxford Street.

Everything suggest that Oxford Street was now a wholly Boys establishment and it is tempting to suggest that the changes of 1923 involved a major exchange of pupils with the Oxford Street girls and infants being transferred to Anglican church schools (ie the Endowed and St Alphege respectively).

Such a theory is neat because it would suggest that Oxford Street concentrated on Boys while the Endowed became the town's premier "girls only" school.... and that is how most of us recall the situation from the 1930s to the 1970s. 

Unfortunately, we have yet to discover hard evidence that the 1923 revamp was indeed a Dunkirk style evacuation! We may yet find that the girls and infants left Oxford Street much earlier.

 

Possible Theories... for The Infants 

 

The Infants may have evacuated Oxford Street at any time between 1900 and 1923. However, there are certain periods that may be more likely than others. Here is a summary of the possibilities....

 

1900-1903 The pupils could have been relocated to Albert Street Infants as one of the final acts of the doomed Whitstable & Seasalter School Board.

Administratively, this would have been easy, as both were Board Schools. Furthermore, the move would have led to overcrowding at Albert Street and explained why the new Kent Education Authority built Westmeads School in 1904.

However, this theory is unlikely as the premises at Albert Street were tiny and the move would have solved very little. 

1904 The infants could have joined the Albert Street pupils in a move to the Kent Education Authority's new Westmeads school in 1904.

This is logical but there is a problem. Books on local history suggest that the opening of Westmeads involved quite a ceremony - with Albert Street Infants marching in a procession to their new school. There are NO similar stories of pupils joining them from Oxford Street!

1923 As explained earlier, the infants may have transferred to the Anglican St. Alphege Infants School in that major revamp of education in the Oxford Street area during 1923.

   

Possible Theories for the Girls

   

The exodus of girls may prove a little easier to explain than that of the infants. I suspect that that the only school capable of handling such a transfer would have been the Endowed School in Oxford Street. Furthermore, during the mid-twentieth century, many of us remember Whitstable's education system being based on an "all boys" Oxford Street school and an "all girls" Endowed School. 

Thus, it seems logical that the two schools agreed to swap pupils at some stage in their history in order to create that "single sex" education system. It is just a case of when. Here are some possibilities....

    

1902-1906 (approx) This was the time that the Education Act of 1902 created the Kent Education Authority. The new authority inherited problems of overcrowding from the old Whitstable & Seasalter School Board and would have been keen to resolve these issues.

The 1902 Act allowed grants to be paid to Anglican church schools and this may have paved the way for a transfer of girls to the Endowed. 

Bell Book & Boys makes no mention of girls at Oxford Street after 1893. The book also details changes to the premises that were aimed specifically at boys in the early years of the twentieth century. This includes the development of vocational training facilities such as a woodwork and metalwork shop. All this suggests that the girls may have made an early exit from Oxford Street.

1923 The major revamp of 1923 definitely involved a move of boys from the Endowed to Oxford Street. Was there a corresponding relocation of girls to the Endowed? Was it all part of a scheme to establish two major single sex schools for the Whitstable area.

It certainly seems logical.... but is it true?

   

All Yours....

 

So, it's now over to you. If you can help solve the riddle, we would love to hear from you! 

  


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