KEVIN GORDON - Schoolboys who nearly toppled Kitchener

St Peter's School in Seaford
St Peter's School in Seaford

I was told recently that the current Archbishop of Canterbury went to school in Seaford.

I checked and found that indeed the Right Reverend Justin Welby attended St Peters School, Seaford. However, he was just one in a long line of famous and infamous pupils who attended the school, among them being the hero of the Falklands, Colonel “H” Jones VC, the great Donald Campbell who lost his life while attempting to break the world speed record on Lake Coniston and (Sir) Anthony Blunt, the Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures who was discovered to be a communist spy and stripped of his titles after having been exposed by Margaret Thatcher.

St Peter’s has an interesting history. A boys school was established in the early twentieth century by Miss Maude Taylor who moved the school to Seaford from Broadstairs in Kent.

Miss Taylor was the daughter of a clergyman and grand-daughter of the Victorian educationalist, Rev Thomas Arnold of Rugby School fame.

Originally the school occupied Seaford House in Crouch Lane but within three years Miss Taylor had enough funds to approach Morlings the local builders to build a purpose built school in land to the east of the Alfriston Road near a large house called ‘Blue Haze.’ (which was later to be taken over by the school.)

A planning application was approved by Seaford Council in 1906 and the building was ready for occupation the following year.

Miss Taylor passed the headmastership on to two male teachers but remained on as matron but it is clear that, despite her self demotion, she was still firmly in charge. She appears to have been something of a character being tall, mannish with ‘nordic features’ and a ‘firm chin’. She dressed in a ‘manly style’ and had an intolerant and severe manner; she once said that she was unable to be civil towards the wife of one of the teachers because she did not like her shoes!

She had clear ideas about boys names, she once admonished a parent saying “Your child’s name is Augustus, please don’t call him Gussie!” and also told parents that “Douglas, Percy, Stanley and Sidney are all good aristocratic surnames but are quite unsuitable as Christian names - its like calling your house Balmoral or Sandringham”.

She discouraged parents from visiting their boys at the school telling them they would only be welcome during the school holidays.

The boys wore old fashioned and uncomfortable ‘Eton suits’ with high collars and when they marched down Sutton Road to St Leonard’s Church for Sunday service, each wore a shining top hat.

The school became renowned for sport especially cricket, football and hockey and not many private schools in Seaford or Eastbourne were able to beat them.

However on one traumatic occasion they lost a hockey match to a GIRLS team! The girls of the nearby Downs School (now the Wave Leisure Centre) narrowly beat the indignant St Peter’s boys who demanded an early rematch to recover their honour. This match was described as a ‘bloodbath’ but the boys managed to get a narrow win.

Those girls from the Downs School must have been pretty tough and I can’t help thinking that they must have been similar to the St Trinian’s girls. The school records later show “We had a dance against the girls of the Downs School” – a strange term of phase, I wonder if the dance was as violent as the hockey!

In 1913 the school opened a rifle range and a local man, Bob Willis was employed to provide boxing lessons. Bouts were held in a makeshift ring formed of school desks. Bob Willis was an ex naval man and in 1914 he was a recruiting officer for the Royal Sussex Regiment.

It was just before the war that one of the two headmasters suddenly announced he was to get married.

Miss Taylor was not happy. Although she could live in the same house as two men she would certainly not share with another woman, and promptly resigned.

The school however survived and indeed flourished without her matronly input. It survived the First World War when several masters were called up and the school had to rely on the help of retired teachers, one of whom, Robert Moyle had been a pupil of Lewis Carroll. Another teacher a Miss Gibson was such a strict disciplinarian that the boys suspected her to be a German spy!

During the war the boys got used to seeing the hundreds of Canadian and West Indian soldiers who were encamped around the area and when Lord Kitchener visited Seaford to review the troops on 20th July 1915 the parade was in the school grounds. The excited boys, given time off to witness this special event, gave such a patriotic but high-pitched cheer as the great man passed that they caused his horse to rear and he was nearly unsaddled. St Peters school continued to provide a fine education for boys until it eventually closed in 1982.