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Memories of the Dunelm School Whitstable

The Stephenson Sisters' "Little Durham"... in Whitstable?


Introduction

  

The Dunelm school was one of the last of the many small private schools to serve Whitstable in bygone days. As far as we can tell, the establishment survived into the early 1960s. 

It catered very much for local pupils and we know that many Natives passed through its ranks. With this sort of history, we would expect to be able to piece together quite a detailed story via our Visitors Book but, quite remarkably, we have been unable to do so.... yet! 

We hope that the brief description below (based on snippets collected over the years) will prompt ex-pupils to fill in the many missing details.

  

Location

  

The establishment occupied a large detached property on the high section of Tankerton Road. It was located on the south side of the roadway between the junctions with Park Avenue and Castle Road. 

Originally, the land was part of the massive Tankerton Estate. Much of that section of the estate was mapped out for development during the 1890s. As a result, the Dunelm building may well have been constructed at the end of the 19th or beginning of the twentieth century. In line with many houses of that period, it was allocated a substantial garden.

The building remains a feature of Tankerton Road to this day, albeit as an apartment block surrounded by more modern properties....

   

 

 

It now bears the name "Seasalter House"  and it seems possible that this was its original Victorian/Edwardian title. 

 

History & Ownership

     

We don't know when the building first became a school. However, we do know that the Dunelm existed at least at the time of World War II. We also know that it was run by three sisters. Former pupil, Patrick McNeile, starts us off on our delve into its history....

   

When the war ended, every student was given a large certificate, that looked better than a PHD - signed by the King and celebrating the end of the war. 

The Dunelm was an old country type house. It had a large garden or ex garden with an air raid shelter on the Tankerton side.

I am fairly certain that it was run by two elderly ladies.

Patrick McNeile
Tuross Head
NSW
Australia
February 2008

   

Patrick's remark about TWO rather than THREE elderly ladies is understandable... because one of the sisters operated behind the scenes. Another former pupil, Joyce Goldfinch, outlines the staff deployment.....

      

I am an ex-pupil - starting there in 1949 and leaving 6 years later. Dunelm, now Seasalter House, was run by three sisters. 

Miss Doris Stephenson was the headmistress. Miss Gladys taught the mixed infants. Miss Ivy was the cook. 

Joyce Goldfinch
Cliffe, Kent
March 2008

     

The titles Miss Doris, Miss Gladys and Miss Ivy were far more welcoming than some of the titles used for teachers at other establishments and they helped to give the school its friendly atmosphere. The names are well remembered by ex-pupils. 

Sally Harlow, a member of the Stephenson family, has very kindly contacted Simply Whitstable with yet more details...  

     

I was interested to read about Dunelm school which was run by my three elderly aunts, Gladys, Doris and Ivy Stephenson, all of whom have now died. 

I remember visiting them at Dunelm in 1966 although I think the school was probably closed by then. We sat and had tea and cucumber sandwiches while they chattered excitedly about the World Cup and England's chances!

Another of their cousins, Edith, was also a schoolteacher and had taught at the school attended by Bobby and Jackie Charlton back up in the north-east where they all came from.

It's lovely to read about how some of their former pupils remember the school so fondly.

Sally Harlow
Wimbledon
June 2008

   

Clearly, the family had quite a connection with education. It's also fascinating to note the enthusiasm that North Easterners had (and still have) for their football! The North East has always been one of the great nurseries of the game... producing a string of magicians of the calibre of Jackie Milburn, Bobby Charlton, Bryan Robson, Paul Gascoigne and Alan Shearer.

However, Sally's account isn't just an insight into the lovely nature of the school's proprietors and the sporting enthusiasm of the North East. It may also give us a clue as to the origins of the school name. 

   

The Dunelm Name

   

If we put the Stephenson family's involvement in education alongside its North Eastern roots, we may be able to unravel a few things. The name Dunelm is a term that is closely associated with both the City and University of Durham. According to Wikipedia, the name "Durham" was an amalgamation of the Old English word Dun (meaning hill) and the Norse word Holmer (meaning island). This gave rise to the term Dun Holm which was then translated into Latin as Dunelm. The Normans later completed the translations and caused more confusion by converting Dun Holm into Durham.

Dunelm is also an abbreviation of the Latin "Dunelmenis" and it is used to indicate a degree awarded by the University of Durham.

As yet, we do not know if the Stephenson sisters created their school from scratch or whether they simply acquired an existing school  at Seasalter House. However, I'll bet a "pound to a penny" that they gave the school its "Dunelm" title. It may even be that one or more of the sisters received their education and training in Durham.

What better way for the jolly sisters to remind themselves of their roots in the North East than to take a small piece of Whitstable and call it Durham.... without us knowing! Cheeky monkeys!

   

The School Uniform

   

Although student numbers were relatively modest by comparison to the town's major state and church establishments, Dunelm pupils were quite a familiar sight around Whitstable. Part of the reason for this was that, from 1945 until the establishment's demise in the 1960s, they wore a uniform that was quite distinct from other local schools.....

   

The uniform was introduced in 1945. I recall the school cap was green with a red circle on the top

Patrick McNeile
Tuross Head
NSW
Australia
February 2008

     

The uniform was green skirt white blouse and green blazer with badge on the pocket. In the summer, we had green and white striped dresses. We had to wear a beret in winter and panama hats for summer. 

Joyce Goldfinch
Cliffe, Kent
March 2008

Green was a clour very much associated with Dunelm clothing. In fact, one ex-pupil once pointed out that even the knickers were green... but that is probably more information than we need! ;-)

 

School Expansion... The Annex

    

We suspect that the school prospered during the early to mid-1950s as it actually acquired an annex to cope with its intake. This extra building was a couple of hundred yards away.... as Joyce Goldfinch explains

  

An extra classroom was added by the use of the old theatre  - the Lawn Pavilion on Tankerton Slopes, opposite the Tankerton Hotel. 

Joyce Goldfinch
Cliffe, Kent
March 2008

  

Of course, the Lawn Pavilion has its own place in Whitstable history. Originally an open air stage, it later became an indoor facility after the construction of a small, unassuming, single storey building. The building was used both as a theatre and cinema until the late 1940s or early 1950s..... before being taken over by the Dunelm. By then, I believe it was surrounded by a substantial hedge. In later years, The Pavilion building was demolished and the site became a picnic area. It is now little more than an extension of  the Tankerton Slopes grass.

 

   
Site of the old Lawn Pavilion.... now Lawn but no pavilion

     

The School Population

   

The Dunelm appears to have been an infants and junior school with an age range between 5 and 11.

 

It would have been the equivalent to a state Primary school leading up to the 11 plus or whatever one had to have to get into a private or public school. 

I would have been in the first class either because of age or academic ability.

Patrick McNeile
Tuross Head
NSW
Australia
February 2008

 

I don't know if it ever was a pre-school. My friend at the time had a young son there and when he left (to come to the States with his mother), he was almost eight and I have the feeling students stayed until about age ten/eleven.

Rosemary Gilbert
San Francisco
USA
February 2008

 

However, the situation may have been somewhat different for boy pupils.....

   

The boys left at 7 or 8 and went on to other schools 

Joyce Goldfinch
Cliffe, Kent
March 2008

 

Certainly, David Roberts recalls the school as being largely for girls back in 1953....

 

During the Flood in 1953, the Whitstable and Tankerton Collegiate School (Shafetsbury Road) was flooded to the roof and the boys had to go to other schools for a term or two. 

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

Even at a tender age, I think that going to a Girls School, (especially changing for musical jerks in the hall which used to be at the end of the slopes opposite the Tankerton Hotel),  had a great influence on my adolescence... for the better that is!

David Roberts
Whitstable
March 2008 

    

Of course, the Stephenson sisters reaped the benefit of locating their establishment on the high ground of Tankerton. Sadly, the WTCS (a wholly Boys School run by Mr Sanders in Shaftesbury Road) suffered rather badly in '53. 

The Dunelm didn't just help out with flood victims. We understand that it also took on extra pupils when a nearby private school closed in the late 1940s or early 1950s.  That was the PNEU (Parents National Education Union) School in Gloucester Road and it was similar in size and concept to the Dunelm.

   

School Life     

   

Whilst we have very little information about life at the Dunelm, we do have a couple of snippets regarding the views it afforded pupils from its lofty position in Tankerton Road.....

  

If one was in the back of the school looking from a window, the view would have been of the sea. 

The front of the school faced onto Tankerton Road and was opposite houses - all very residential at that time.

Rosemary Gilbert
San Francisco
USA
February 2008

     

As a large house, it would have had views of the sea. I donít remember them, but I may have been in the class taught on the ground floor.

Patrick McNeile
Tuross Head
NSW
Australia
February 2008

   

At the rear of the property, first floor windows would have provided a view westward across Whitstable Bay to the Isle of Sheppey and framed some wonderful sunsets.

Although many of the pupils lived within walking distance of Seasalter House, Miss Ivy's culinary skills were still required....

  

Seven shillings and sixpence was the price of lunch per week.

Joyce Goldfinch
Cliffe, Kent
March 2008

 

Post School Days

  

We do not know the precise date that the school closed. However, thanks to a message from Trevor Roberts, we know that the sisters made some substantial plans for their retirement....

  

I attended the school from about 1945 to 1948 when I left to go to St Edmunds in Canterbury.

Many Years later when I was running the family building company, Stroud & Roberts Ltd, I received a phone call from Miss Gladys - "would I call and see her". 

Much intrigued, I called. It was as if I had never left the school. She spoke to me like a small boy. I even called her Miss Gladys.

After tea and cakes, she asked if I would design and build a house for her and her sisters on the grass playground next door . This is how the house came to be there.
 

Trevor Roberts
Whitstable
January 2009

   

It's just a guess but it seems quite possible that the sisters relinquished ownership of the the large school building once Stroud and Roberts had completed the work.

  

Fond Memories...

   

If you can help to piece together more of the school history or exchange memories, we would be glad to hear from you. From the messages received to date, it is quite clear that days at the Dunelm were happy and fondly recalled ones....  

  

I wonder where other girls are.... Celia Gaywood, Thelma and Valerie Hunt and a particular friend, Angela Poulson. 

Joyce Goldfinch
Cliffe, Kent
March 2008

      

I am replying to Joyce Goldfinch's comments on Dunelm School and past pupils. My mother, Celia Gaywood, had very fond memories of her school days at Dunelm and often talked about them. 

Unfortunately, my Mum died on 31st October 1999. I am sure she would have loved to know that you still remember her.

Agnes Jones
Peasdown St. John
Somerset
March 2008

 

Final Words... 

  

I'll leave the final words with Sally - the niece of Miss Doris, Miss Gladys and Miss Ivy.....

    

It's lovely to read about how some of their former pupils remember the school so fondly.

Sally Harlow
Wimbledon
June 2008

   

.... and just add my own little comment.... "Ha'way the girls" 

  

Thanks To....

  

I would like to thank Sally Harlow, Joyce Goldfinch, Patrick McNeile, David Roberts, Trevor Roberts, Rosemary Gilbert, Agnes Jones and Peter Wheeler for making this short article possible