St Clare School of Grams Road, Upper Walmer, began life
in 1857. Founded by a Mr A E Murray as a school for his
seven children at the Manor House on West Hill in Hastings,
it grew until in 1868 his eldest son, Alexander Elder Murray
- aged just 24 - became headmaster. He continued in that role
for 43 years.
Numbers increased to 28 boarders and two assistant masters
were engaged. However, by 1890 numbers were declining and
the decision was taken to move to Walmer in Kent. Their choice
of new location was an impressive mansion, originally built
by a Norwegian merchant named Andrew Gram in 1806. Classrooms
and a chapel had been added in the late 1880s but had failed
to succeed as a school. So, in August 1891, Alexander Murray
and his school moved to these more commodious premises with
30 acres of grounds, and numbers soon began to increase.
Mr Murray resigned in 1911 and the running of the school
was taken on by John Aston, an old boy, and G F White, a former
assistant master. Then came the Great War. Mr Aston remained
with the school for a year and then joined the army, serving
with the East Surrey Regiment in Flanders where he was wounded,
spending nine months in hospital. The Admiralty commandeered
the premises and the school moved to join forces with Hillside
School in Godalming, Surrey. Mr White carried on as headmaster,
though numbers fell to 11 at one time. He then joined the
RAF and Mr Aston returned in 1918.
The school returned to Walmer in 1919. Mr White retired
in 1920 and a Mr Bernard, who had joined the staff in 1900,
became joint head with Mr Aston. Numbers increased to 51 in
1925. Sadly though, ill health compelled Mr Aston to retire
in 1926. James Hitchcock, initially in partnership with Mr
Bernard, took over in 1926. An alumnus of St Johns,
Leatherhead and St Catherines College, Cambridge, Mr
Hitchcock had taught at several schools as well as serving
with the Buffs in France during the Great War.
The school continued to prosper until, after the outbreak
of World War II, it was decided in 1940 to evacuate from Walmer.
Initially accommodation was found at Glastonbury in Somerset.
Then, in 1941, came a move to a fresh location at the former
Rectory at Duntisbourne Abbotts, near Cirencester, in Gloucestershire.
Mr Bernard came out of retirement to help with teaching. The
Rectory was shared with St Peters Court School of Burgess
Hill in Sussex. Numbers fell alarmingly - possibly to as few
as 15 - and, in summer 1943, St Clare closed for good.
Leelands, a girlsschool, occupied a variety of premises
in Walmer and evacuated to Benenden School during World War
II. It took over the St Clare premises following the war.
Leelands closed in 1986. The main school building was converted
into private apartments known as Leelands House. The masters
house became a private house. Both remain on Grams Road in
St Clare old boys include authors Dornford Yates and Graham
Seton, Colonel John Duncan Grant VC,
CB, DSO and Colonel Claude Lowther MP,
founder of Lowthers Lambs.
Michael Partridge, June 2014