A brief history of Nonington College of Physical Education

Mrs. Ina Hammond, the widow of Captain Egerton Hammond, put the St. Alban’s Court estate up for sale in late 1937, the estate was divided into more than eighty individual lots to be sold by auction by John D. Wood and Co. of 23, Berkely Square, London, who published a catalogue of the property and land to be sold.

Miss Gladys Wright, founder and first principal of Nonington College.
Early students at the college.

The new St. Alban’s Court house built in the 1870’s plus two “Tudor cottages” that had previously been the old St. Alban’s Court house and some fifty acres of the surrounding land was purchased by the English Gymnastic Society (EGS) for use as both head-quarters and a training centre for women who wished to teach gymnastics. The EGS had been founded by Miss Gladys Wright, who had trained in Denmark and Sweden, and taught a modernized style of gymnastics evolved from the pioneering work in the early 19th century of Per Henrik Ling.

The college which was opened on 23rd July, 1938 by Cosmo Gordon Lang, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, with Miss Wright as Principal and Stena Kreuger, a Swede, as Vice-Principal. The links with Scandinavia were strengthened through the activities of the English and Scandinavian Summer School of Physical Education with Miss Wright visiting Scandinavia before and after the Second World War.

The Duke of Kent on a tour of the college in June, 1939, accompanied by Miss Wright and her deputy. The flag carrier was the senior student, Miss Jessie Bennett.

In the June of 1939 the Duke of Kent visited Nonington, Snowdown Colliery and Aylesham. He was shown around Nonington College by the Principal and Vice-Principal and watched some displays by the students.

During the War the establishment was evacuated to Bromsgrove in Worcestershire and the buildings were taken over to aid the war effort. During Miss Wright’s tenure a Swedish Gymnasium, later known as the Swedish Dance Theatre, was built. The theatre is now listed

The Swedish Dance Theatre.

Miss Wright retired as Principal in 1952, and the college was taken over by the Kent County Council’s (KCC) Education Department with Winnifred Whiting as principal. The college became one of the principle teacher training colleges in the U.K. providing training for students from all over the world to become physical education teachers. Until 1966 the college was a women only establishment and the students were easily recognizable by their blue capes with the college badge embroidered on it. Many of them were “in digs” in Nonington and the surrounding villages and this close relationship with the local population often led to marriage.

The KCC invested a lot of money in the college during Winnifred Whiting’s tenure as Principal and during that of her successor Miss Eleonor Hinks. A new gymnasium was opened in 1959 and a swimming pool was built soon afterwards. Many local children from the schools in the villages surrounding Nonington, including myself and my sisters, learnt to swim here under the guidance of Mr. Rogers.

The main building and the early student hostels seen from the Sandwich Road, 1964
The main entrance to the college on Sandwich Road, there was a letter-box just inside the gate.

Old Court House and St. Michael’s in Easole were used as annexes and some small hostel blocks had been built to the east of the main house during the early 1960’s but due to the demand for P.E. teachers in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the number of students increased and on site and off-site accommodation proved inadequate and additional residential hostels (now converted into privately owned flats). A sports hall; performing arts centre and new kitchen and dining room facilities were also built and another forty plus acres of land adjoining the grounds to the west were purchased to provide additional playing fields.

This demand for PE teachers was short lived, apparently the then falling birth-rate meant that less PE teachers would be needed,  and in the late 1970’s teacher training came to an end and the college’s then principal Stanley Beaumont diversified the colleges activities into none teaching qualifications in partnership with Christ Church College. Sadly further cuts in Government spending saw the closure of the college in 1986 (along with the sale at premium prices of many school sports grounds for re-development).


1985, the Country Life advert for the sale of the college estate.
A 1985 Country Life advert for the sale of the college estate.

However, to the everlasting shame of KCC, the college estate was left empty for nearly a decade at a time when property and land prices were booming (although for some reason the road lights were still turned on every night) with some occasional use for the training of the police and other services. Various alternative uses for the premises were put forward over the years, some more credible than others (at the time it seemed to the local population that the less credible the scheme, the more credence the KCC gave it) until it was sold very cheaply to property developers who re-developed the various buildings and sold them for a substantial profit. Several of the old college’s sports facilities have now been demolished and replaced by industrial units, something that the KCC had previously said was not possible.

They also frequently stated that the estate was not suitable for housing development, even in part, as the local infrastructure (ie. sewage and water) could not cope with an increase in population. In conjunction with the industrial units, the 1870’s mansion and other nearby buildings (those that have not been demolished) now usually house two hundred or so people of all ages, with frequent requests to the local authorities for more accommodation to be allowed.


41 Replies to “A brief history of Nonington College of Physical Education”

  1. I was a student at Nonington from1958_61.The best 3 years of my life.Great colleagues and wonderful surroundings.We were in Kent 8 years ago and took a memory trip into the village and drove past the college was very upset at the state of “The Dell”.It was my quiet place for thinking.I still think fondly of my time at Nonington.

  2. My good friend, Audrey Pearce, and I (Betty Waterman), maiden names, were at Nonington from 1947-1950 and are still good friends.We have wonderful memories of our time at college and especially our trip to Stockholm as part of the British gymnastic team.
    We would love to hear news about others of our time. It would be good to hear news of our friends Joan Lee and Paddy Gardner as we sadly lost touch after we left.
    Betty Dell

  3. I visited what was Nonington College yesterday evening and had a meal with the Bruderhof Community people as they open up Saturday evenings to visitors.
    I had never been before but was very impressed by what they do making furniture mainly for children’s bedrooms.
    I knew a lecturer called Miss Smythe in the 1960’s at the college. She was probably in her fifties then when I was about 24. Quite a character and a member of the Plymouth Brethren. I was as well at that time.
    The Bruderhof folk are very similar to the Brethren who keep themselves to themselves.
    By the way it is now called Beech Grove. Also the gymnasium has gone but the swimming pool is still there and actively used.

  4. This is for Tony Hall. Can you please let me have your email details it would be great to get back in touch after all these years. I don’t do Facebook or any of those accounts. Look forward to hearing from you perhaps??

  5. I went to Nonington 1967-70. I’m holding a 50th reunion next year at The Leam Hotel, Weymouth. Have a look on Facebook as we have our own site and you may find someone from your years.

  6. Gosh! I’ve just found this as I was looking for the College badge.
    I went 1967 – 1970, the second set of 24 men – wonderful times. I’m running a reunion and 22 ex-students are coming to The Leam Hotel, Weymouth from Tuesday 15 March to Friday 18 March. we are all retired now so we usually meet up before Easter when its much cheaper to stay in a hotel.
    Check out my email.

  7. I was a student at Nonington 1975-1978 and they were very happy days. I kept in touch with a few students particularly Pam Peters. I still visit Nonington and kept in touch with the retired couple in the village who provided ‘ digs’ in my 2nd year until they died in 2004. The old house still remains and the Swedish dance studio, but sadly the playing fields have been put to allotments and small holdings.
    Going to Nonington completely transformed my life and those happy times will always stay with me. The Royal Oak is still open and serves great meals. I was there last week!! Happy Days.

    1. Hi Lesley I do remember you, you prob don’t remember me. Fraser Thomson. I know Pam well and as she lived around here I saw her a few times to do some aerobics with my rugby squad.

  8. My mother, Dorothy Newell , was at the college from 1945 to 1948. It is even possible she is in the dance photo. She thinks it is a Greek dancing class. She had the honour in her first year of holding the college flag and finished with the highest marks for gymnastics in the college history.

    1. Hello!
      Does your mother happen to remember the sauna on the premises or maybe she even bathed in it?


  9. I am Gladys Wright’s great niece. My father, Leslie Wright, was her nephew. My mother, Thea May, was a student at the college from 1947-1950 and she met my father when he came to visit Gladys once. He was in the Royal Navy. They married and I was born in 1961. I remember Gladys, and visited her in her flat in Canterbury when she retired. My father died in 2007, but my mother is still going strong. After she graduated she taught PE in Plymouth all her life.

    1. Hello Jenny! My great-grandfather donated a Finnish sauna to The Gymnastics School in 1939. He had quite a lot of correspondence with Gladys Wright and I have all those letters. It would be interesting to talk to you more. Could we be in e-mail contact, the admin has my e-mail? I’d love to hear more about her!

      1. Hi, Susanna, that would be great. I’d love to chat more. The admin have my email too, how do we proceed?

  10. I was at the college in the late 1970s. I often wonder what happened to all those folks I knew all those years ago. I can remember the facilities for P.E. were superb. Happy days well most of the time anyway as far as I remember.

    1. Hiya Geord (Mark),

      Many of us are still going. It would be good to catch up. How do we do this? Happy if admin can facilitate this.

  11. My mother was at Nonington from 1949-1952. She has great memories of it. Thank you for this. I was delighted to be able yo show it to her.

    1. I wonder if our mothers remember each other. My mother was there at the same time. She was called Thea May then. She married Gladys’s nephew Leslie Wright.

  12. Thank you, very interesting. Is the Swedish Dance Theatre -building still there or is it also one of the demolished ones?

  13. I was luckily enough to attend Nonington during the 70s and am so grateful for all the friends I made and still have.The best years of my life !
    If you’d like to get in touch I’d like to hear from you,
    Happy days indeed!!!

  14. I was at Nonongton college 1980-1983. Sorry to hear that the facilities came to a sad end. I did visit in 1985 for the final gym display and have good memories of being a student there.

  15. I was very interested to find this site of information regarding Nonington College. I would like to receive further information -thanks. I was at Nonington from 1972-75 and I had a long career teaching PE.

    1. Hi Lynda,
      Maggie (Lawes) here, in Surrey. Remember me?

      Great times, great friends still with Bonny (Atherton) Keep in touch with Mary (Barton) and one or two others.

    2. Do you remember Miss Smythe who was a teacher there in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.
      I often wondered what became of her?

  16. On behalf of the England Hockey Museum at Woking Surrey, I am undertaking research into the influence of Women’s P.E. colleges on the development of women’s Hockey. I would be very interested to hear from anybody who has any information.

    Thank you

    1. Thanks for the enquiry. You could try looking on Friends Reunited or Facebook, I believe there are some old Nonington students on them.

  17. Very pleased to have found this information and web site. I was at Nonington college 1971 to 1975. Back then I was not very interested in the history but I did love the place. Now 40 years on and almost retired the history of Nonington is so interesting and reawakening long lost memories. Thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *