School with a place in history books

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A couple of weekends ago I visited Arlington Church for the flower festival. It is a splendid church and it was wonderful to see all the flowers and have a guided tour.

This weekend will be a jolly good time to visit another beautiful Sussex Church full of flowers.

St Peter’s Church at East Blatchington is an interesting church with 12th century origins which is often overlooked as it is now subsumed into Seaford.

Although the church is usually a haven of quietude, the flower festival this weekend will see it full of colour; the ladies of the parish certainly don’t disappoint with their enthusiasm and skills.

This year the theme of the flowers is St Peter himself.

The adjacent Church Hall, which was once the chapel for nearby Blatchington Court School, will also be the venue for refreshments and two history displays.

Firstly, members of the Seaford Monumental Inscription Group will be showing the results of their survey of the churchyard last year. They have carefully mapped and recorded all the tombstones in the churchyard and even produced a book “As I am now, so you must be” the title being based on one of the epitaphs.

This is an interesting book for local historians and it is a pity more are not published in this way.

There are several Napoleonic military graves in the church yard and inside the church is the monument to Henry Tracy Coxwell (1819-1900) the renowned balloonist who shattered the world altitude record 150 years ago.

The second display will be about Blatchington School. The history of the school is fascinating.

It all started with William Moon (1818-1894) who lost his sight through scarlet fever.

He was obviously very talented, and after he moved to Brighton from Kent, became a teacher.

He developed a form of embossed writing called Moontype. The system was (and still is) very successful, particularly for those who had lost their sight later in life as the characters are similar to letters.

In 1861 Moon opened a school called the Brighton Asylum for the Blind (the word asylum seems strange but was used in its original sense meaning a place of refuge).

After several moves around Brighton, the school moved to Seaford in 1951 and became known as Blatchington Court School. 76, Belgrave Road, better known as Blatchington Court had previously been a girls’ school. When the school reopened there were 70 partially sighted boys.

The school doctor was Reg Sutton (1909-1994) who, as a young man, represented Great Britain as a swimmer in the 1928, 1932 an 1936 Olympics. He had been the British record holder for the 100 and 220 yard freestyle. It is not surprising that he was the guest of honour when the school opened a new swimming pool in July 1966.

Although the school was exclusively for boys, when the Barclay School for Partially sighted girls in Berkshire closed in 1970, premises in nearby St Peters Road were acquired to accommodate them.

By this time the school had seven classrooms, specialist classrooms, a gym and a library. There were also 11 acres of grounds which included four playgrounds, a football pitch and an area for camping and camp fires. The headmaster was John Wilkinson and there were 60 members of staff.

To raise funds, the school had regular summer fairs and in 1974 the fair was opened by none other than comedian Ronnie Corbett.

In 1982 one of the teachers, Derek MacGarvie, and some of the children were invited to Buckingham Palace where the Duchess of Kent presented him with the keys to a new minibus, funds for which had been raised by the readers of Woman magazine.

The school closed in 1985 and the building was demolished in 1989. 36 new houses and Seaford County Primary School were built on the site. The road that links the houses and the school to Belgrave Road has been named Wilkinson Way after the former headmaster.

The former girls’ part of the school is now known as Barclay house and is run by SeeAbility, an organisation that continues to support visually impaired young people. The RNIB continues to publish books in Moontype - William Moon would be happy!

To find out more about Blatchington House School, St Peter’s Church and its graveyard visit the school this weekend.

I will be conducting three historic guided tours this weekend. Firstly a guided tour of the ancient cinque port and town of Seaford. This departs from the Tourist information Office in Church Street at 10.30am tomorrow. At 2pm tomorrow I will be giving a tour of the beautiful downland village of Alfriston (meet at the Market Cross). On Sunday I will be providing a guided tour of the lost village of Tide Mills. This will be leaving the Buckle Car-Park in Marine Parade, Seaford at 2pm on Sunday. There is a charge of £5 for each of the tours. Come along and say hello!