Situated on the grounds of a 12th century Benedictine priory, Dover College benefits from an idyllic location. The Refectory, the only Norman refectory in Britain still used for its original purpose, is thought to be the planned location for the Bayeux Tapestry to be hung. The measurements are exactly correct, and historians believe that the tapestry was sewn in Canterbury rather than France.
Right from its inception as a Priory until the present day, the common thread that runs through the College is one of family and community.
In 1871 a group of local businessmen, led by the Mayor of Dover, Dr Astley, considered that it would be beneficial for the town to have its own public school and so Dover College was founded with just 15 boys. In the 150 years since then, the original principle of the College’s inception has been maintained — to be a school which caters for a broad range, both academically and socially, of local pupils, and to keep fees affordable to achieve this. Young people who have struggled in larger, more impersonal schools thrive in this warm and caring environment.
The first headmaster was Canon William Bell, a strict disciplinarian. His wife, however, cared deeply for the boys, looking after their day-to-day needs. Mrs Bell died young, and in 1892 the clock tower was added on to the chapel in her memory. In addition, her maiden name lives on in one of the boarding houses.
“A statue of Captain Wilfred ‘Billie’ Nevill now stands proudly looking across The Close, a view he would have seen every morning from his bedroom window.”
The community was deeply affected by the First World War, with 177 Old Dovorians losing their lives. The most notable of these was Captain Wilfred “Billie” Nevill who led the famous “football charge” in July 1916 at the start of the Battle of the Somme. Whilst at Dover College, Captain Nevill was an excellent sportsman, and he had completed a year at Cambridge University before joining the army. He was killed by a sniper at the Somme whilst leading his men into battle, aged only 22.
On Remembrance Day 2018, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1, the College unveiled a statue of Billie Nevill in front of his old boarding house, School House. He now stands proudly looking across The Close, a view he would have seen every morning from his bedroom window.
It is said that nobody ever truly leaves Dover College, and recently a telephone call was received from a lady in Connecticut asking for information about her father, an Old Dovorian. He had recently died after a distinguished career in medicine in the USA, but he was a modest man and although he had talked warmly of his time at the College, he had never mentioned any achievements.
His daughter was preparing the eulogy for his funeral and so was keen to find out more about his school days. Within 30 minutes of that call, the college archivist had uncovered a wealth of information about the father’s sporting achievements including cricket, hockey, boxing and Eton Fives. His daughter declared that reading about all her father’s successes had truly warmed her heart.
“In the 1950s Alec Peterson introduced an international faculty, something that was incredibly innovative at the time.”
Of course, not all of our pupils had such glowing achievements or in fact recalled their time at the college with such affection. The Wikipedia entry for Frederick Ashton, the renowned ballet dancer and choreographer, is succinct about his time with us: “Ashton’s father sent him to England in 1919 to Dover College, where he was miserable”.
In the 1950s, one of the headmasters was Alec Peterson, who went on to become the first director general of the International Baccalaureate. In his time at the college, Mr Peterson introduced an international faculty, something that was incredibly innovative at the time. This led to the wonderfully diverse and rich international community the college has nowadays, boasting an amazing 23 different nationalities apart from British.
This daily interaction with so many cultures gives pupils a real global perspective. In 1974 Dover College showed such innovation again when girls were allowed to join, making it one of the first English public schools to become fully co-educational.
In autumn 2019, our director of admissions and marketing had the great pleasure of meeting one of the first girls to enrol at Dover College, who still has many warm memories of her time with us. She has kept in touch with old school friends from around the world, and there were plans to hold a dinner in the Refectory in July 2020 to celebrate 45 years of girls at the college, but this fell victim to Covid.
“Pupils are encouraged to adopt a global outlook and a caring attitude towards members of the college community and the local community too.”
One of the most heartwarming things is when enquiries are received from Old Dovorians who would like to enrol their children. There are several such pupils in the college at the moment, and at a recent September intake day, two old school buddies met over lunch, with neither having had any idea that the other one would be there. Their reunion was touching to witness.
Whilst we enjoy this rich history of family and community, we are mindful of the need to look to the future and prepare our pupils for the challenges ahead. With that in mind, we currently have a strong focus on the use of technology in the classroom and are introducing a 1:1 iPad scheme for all pupils from Year 3 and above. These developments mean that we are offering our pupils the best of the 21st century in a glorious 12th century setting.
Dover College is a Round Square school, and enthusiastically embraces their principals of adventure, internationalism, democracy, environmentalism, leadership and service. Through these, pupils are encouraged to adopt a global outlook and a caring attitude towards members of the college community and the local community too.
The college’s aim is that no child entering should ever again feel as Frederick Ashton did about his time here. As one of our pupils recently said, “I love it at this school, and I feel privileged to be here.”