The Caldecott Community: A pioneering 20th Century Children's Community

The Caldecott Community was founded in 1911 by Leila Rendel and Phyllis Potter. Originally a day nursery in St. Pancras, London, providing care for low income families, it was among the most adaptable and geographically mobile of the 20th Century's pioneering children's communities, at one time even being an 'approved school', and making four significant geographical moves before the final move to Mersham-le-Hatch, Kent, following the end of World War II. As well as providing residential care for vulnerable children - with changing definitions over time - it explored a variety of provision including an experimental reception centre and a group home, as well as providing primary education until the age of eleven.  Today it has evolved into the Caldecott Foundation. Its co-founder, Miss Leila, was a creative, innovative, socially well-connected person who believed that creating the right environment could help children, and showed how for more than 50 years. She led the Community until her death in 1969.

Caldecott Community Timeline - Places of Community

Cartwright Gardens (1911-1917)

In the year nineteen hundred and eleven a small Nursery School had a room on the second floor of an eighteenth century terraced London house in a street off the Euston Road; this was Cartwright Gardens, in the Borough of St.Pancras. Number twenty-six is still there and the old crescent, although shabby and decayed, probably looks much as it did when the twelve small children first went there in the Autumn of that year: they were the nucleus of what was to become the Caldecott Community.
Read more 1911-1917

Charlton Court (1917-1924)


Charlton Court was Elizabethan; a beautiful house with great distinctive Tudor chimneys. It had fine grounds, a farm, stable-block, kitchen garden and a paddock. It stood on high ground above the Kentish Weald surrounded by cultivated country with hop gardens, fields and oak copses that were messed each year with spring flowers: here was space and air and light undreamed of by those young Londoners.

At the start there were forty children, the oldest about twelve, and the youngest eighteen months.
Read more 1917-1924

Goff's Oak (1924-1932)


Another great change was now ahead of the Community. Charlton Court was itself part of a larger property and when the owner died the whole estate, including Charlton, was sold up by the new owners and the Community had to leave.

Again, then, the problem arose, where were they to go and would the Community have to end.

Leila Rendel must then have gone off on the second of her treks in looking for a new home for the Community. One was eventually found at Cuffley, a village in Hertfordshire. The house had the rather curious name of Goff's Oak: it was reasonably spacious and had grounds and a kitchen garden and farm buildings. This was the first of many moves to be experienced by Roma Easton and she remembers it as a “dreary place, exchanging as it did, the green fields of Kent for cinder paths, glasshouses and smuts, but it was better than having no Community and we were thankful."

Read more 1924-1932

The Mote (1932-1940)

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I first arrived one wintry February afternoon in 1936. The Community was then housed in The Mote; a huge imposing late Georgian mansion standing firmly and solidly in the middle of many acres of park-land, whose western boundaries touched the outskirts of Maidstone. There was a fine view to the south, open park and magnificent trees to a distant lake. I was not to know then that every blade of grass, speck of gravel on the drives, and shape and size of every tree and bush would become as familiar to me as the shoes I walked in.
Read more 1932-1940

St. Peter's Hall, Oxford (December 1940 - January 1941)

This refuge had been found at such incredibly short notice, through the good offices of Mary Stocks, who was a cousin of Miss Leila, and of course knew her very well. Mary Stock's daughter, Helen, was at the time too, on the staff of the Community. It was fortunately still the vacation, so St. Peter's Hall was empty.
Read more 1940-1941

Hyde House (1941-1947)

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Imagine yourself one black January night in 1941 driving a small car packed to the roof with luggage and possessions across what appeared to be a wild desolate heath with the wind screaming and moaning like some terrible lost spirit rocking the oar backwards and forwards and the rain lashing the windows. Helen Stocks and I were on our way to Hyde House in the middle of Egdon Heath, in Dorset.

Undaunted and indomitable, Miss Leila, driving yet again up and down England with her Secretary, had at last found a resting-place for the Community.

Read more 1941-1947

Mersham-le-Hatch (1947-2000)


The move from Dorset back to Kent took place in August of 1947 and the Christmas Term of that year was a momentous one; the first in yet another new house - the Community's fourth.

Mersham-le-Hatch was beautiful: built in 1760 by Robert Adam in the small Georgian bricks which had weathered to that inimitable warm terra-cotta. It was spacious with two long wings on either side of the main building. It was originally two-storied but in late Victorian times the top attics had been opened up, windows put in and the rooms were presumably used for the huge number of servants who kept the house going: I believe at one time there were thirty in all. They were no doubt necessary as there was no water upstairs and all the coal for the fires had to be carried up over sixty stairs.

Read more 1947-2000