Caldecott Community at Charlton Court

(This article is a précis of selected information from the 6th to 10th Annual Reports; it outlines the continued progress of the Boarding School during the five years at Charlton Court.)


With the move to Charlton Court, and its increased space compared to Cartwright Gardens, the Directors realized the opportunity for expansion. New children would not necessarily come from the same environment as found in London, and parents would probably come from a different 'working class' – more likely agricultural rather than manufacturing. It seemed prudent to introduce a set of rules that prospective parents would have to comply with, in order that their children would be considered for entry into the Community.

Here we see, not only rules that were probably in existence in early years, albeit not formally written down, but such things as the need to subscribe to the Clothing Club to assist in the provision of clothes, with the Community making up any shortfall in funds. Insurance against parents losing wages through such things as sickness was also a requirement, and strangely, the children needed to be insured (but against what was not specified).

The first Annual Report after the move explained the reasons for leaving London; gave a description of Charlton Court and its environment, several pages supporting the Community principals of non-collective education and how it would manifest itself at Caldecott, and even a detailed description of a typical daily timetable.

By the end of the first full year at Charlton, WW1 printing restrictions reduced the information contained in annual reports, so readers were referred back to the 6th annual report for information regarding the Caldecott process. Numbers of children had risen to 42, together with a rise in running costs. A shortage of material due to war had increased costs, and in spite of having a satisfactory survey of drainage, this was found to be inadequate for the large numbers of inhabitants, so required some costly attention. Here the contacts of the Directors came useful, and a Mrs Ellis offered the use of her house at 66 Redington Road, Hampstead, as a school. So for two months the staff and children moved back to London. Those not able to stay at overnight at the school were sent home each night.

Education remained a non-collective process, and on return to Charlton the school developed some handicraft options with carpentry and weaving being introduced and great progress made by the children in these new skills.

The Farm had expanded to include Pigs, Hens, Rabbits, Ducks, a cow, and some sheep, with the children taking on much of the responsibility for care and cleaning work. A dis-used coach house was converted to a Chapel and non-denominational weekly services became the norm. The philosophy being 'The Spirit of the Chapel is the religion of the Community'.

Parents' attitudes were seen to change with an increased interest in their children at the school; an increase in the number of parents visiting the school and, with a rise in general wages, voluntary increases in fees began. However, running costs remained at about twice the subscription income.

The Directors realized that closer contact was required with 'workers' whose children may one day benefit from the Community, and a Miss Mason (who had experience with Trade Unions and Co-operative Societies) joined the Council to develop these links with a view to increasing regular funds – quite a success as future accounts began to show.

With peace now declared things eased for a while, and the farm, still with the considerable help from the children, began to make a profit. Providing £62 worth of goods to the school in its first full year, hatching 70 chicks and ducklings, and still donating £30 of profit to the school account. All vegetables and fruit were self-grown and the farm provided all the eggs and most of the milk needed by the school.

It is recorded that Chapel collections to the value of £10 were distributed to about 14 charities.

By the middle of the lease term (circa 1920) it was being recognised that the house was not really suitable or adequate to become a permanent home for the Community, and it would be unlikely that the Community would wish the 5 year lease to be renewed. Thus a 'Removal Fund' was put in place and appeals made to support the new venture (The Community was seeking a sum of about £15,000 to fund the move).

The Community remained at the maximum of 40 children with new applications received almost daily. An annual report reminded parents that applications for places should be for children of the 'working classes' and not dependants of wealthy patrons (suggesting that even the 'upper classes' had their problem children!).

Fundraising developed with the first showing of a play by the children “The Quest of the Holy Grail” being performed in Maidstone and in London. A Bazaar/Christmas Fair was held in London and it is reported that a Banana crate bed, made and decorated by Community children, was exhibited and purchased by Queen Mary.

Some children were now old enough to move on to Secondary education, and two were awarded free places, Doreen Bartrop age 13 in Bristol, and John Dietl age 13 went to King Alfred's School in Hampstead.

Even the farm did well, contributing £100 to the Caldecott coffers.

In spite of all seeming to be going well, 1921 and 1922 failed to produce annual reports. This was due to lack of Community funds, mainly caused by a £1000 debt that the Community had failed to clear in earlier years. It was feared that the Community would have to close after the 1922 school year, but serious effort by the many personal subscribers, businesses and institutions managed, at last, to clear the crippling debt.

In 1923 the first reunion of old scholars took place, and became a regular repeating event.

Ten children over the age of fourteen left the school, but new entries kept the numbers at forty children.

Interesting to note that one of the leavers was George Wheatley who started in 1911 and left to join Owen's School in Islington. The book 'George' by Briony Webb was written in his memory and a copy is in the PETT library.

The 10th annual report, published in 1924, carried some history of the Community as well as a few pages on its aspirations for the future. There were still forty children but staff had risen to fifteen, although later this reduced as reorganisation made many of the cleaning and domestic duties the responsibility of staff assisted by the children.

New entries were restricted to children under seven years old in order that 'boys and girls could grow up together naturally from their earlier years'.

Montessori teaching methods had made a short appearance in the youngest group of children (3y to 6y) and a Miss Roma Easton led this group. Later well know for many years as 'Miss E'.

The next group (Junior Department) were recognised as having a strong 'place' instinct, and they spent many day hours in a hut (donated to the school for this purpose), and thus became a little society of its own within the larger society of the Community. They were, in a friendly way, known as 'the Hut people', managed by a Committee of four children and one adult.

When matured sufficiently, Hut people moved up to 'The Study' where more was expected of them. The organisation of work was left to the children who created their own timetables, had their work checked and corrected weekly, and were tested in each of their subjects every month.

Games were, by now, organised on a 'House' system, with competitions in matches, sports events and cross-country running.

Mention is made of the floating of a 'Partial Adoption Scheme' whereby Caldecott retained the responsibility for care and control of children, but patrons could pay for the upkeep of a particular child – thereafter taking as much, or as little, interest as they wished in the future life of the child. It was thought that this would be particularly suitable for children who were orphaned, illegitimate, or deserted.

No mention is made of the success of otherwise of this scheme.

As the time at Charlton came to an end the Community was looking to purchase a permanent home, and to this end created a 'Building Fund' with the usual appeals for support hoping to raise some £8000. In support of this, included in the 10th Annual Report, was a loose leaf 'flyer' indicating that the Community had received 'Notice to Quit', giving the impression that the school was being forced out at the end of the lease. Some may think that this was an attempt to play on the emotions of Community supporters, as the decision not to renew the lease had already been made in earlier years.

Transcribed and prepared by Bob Lawton, 2016