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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.