A little lump of shrapnel!

This was part of the debris from an incendiary bomb which fell on the School field in 1940. Luckily the boys had just broken up for the Christmas holidays and only a handful remained in School to sit an exam the next day. That night, on the 11th December, a line of bombs dropped across the School site. One fell just short of the Learning Support chalet on the Senior School site, smashing all the windows on that side of the school. If you look, you will notice the pock-marked wall of the building where the blast damaged the brick. More bombs fell on Big Field as seen in this photograph, and one damaged Fortfield Stables which stood where the Ferguson building in the Preparatory School now stands. The boys spent the evening around the stove in the boiler room with the Headmaster who read them P.G. Wodehouse and Mr Warr who told eerie stories and gave a short revision session for the exam. Unfortunately, not all of Cheltenham were so lucky. It is thought about 20 people were killed that night and 600 were made homeless.


Lent 2019

Foot Locker – 1920 

Last term the Archive Department purchased a ‘foot locker’ on E-bay which had belonged to a pupil at Dean Close School. On the front it has the initials E. H. P. G with a stamp inside ‘Gibbon Dean Close School Cheltenham’. Foot lockers were generally associated with military personnel to hold their belongings and so called because they were placed at the end of the bunk. We think this was probably used as a tuck box.

Gibbon, came to the school in 1920 aged 13 and left four years later in 1924. In order to find out his first name we had to look beyond the school records. As each boy was called and known by his surname, the early registers only ever give initials. We later discovered E.P.H stood for Edward Henry Parkes Gibbon and he lived in Clydach in Glamorgan. His Father, also called Edward, worked in the nickel works there as a metallurgical chemist. Unfortunately we know very little about Edward and what he went on to do in life. In 1939 he was living in Liverpool and working as a district manager, but what exactly he was manager of remains unknown. It appears he died aged 69 in 1976 having returned to Wales. If anyone knows anything about Edward, please get in touch. We would love to know more.


What makes the history of Dean Close so fascinating is the people who, like us, have passed through the school gates and have such interesting stories to tell about their time here at Dean Close and their chosen path through life.

So imagine our delight when last term we were given a postcard bought by an OD on E-bay. It was sent by a little boy called Sanders to his Mum from Dean Close in 1908, 110 years ago. It was addressed to Mrs Elizabeth Sanders at Percy House in Wellington Square Cheltenham, where the family lived at the time along with a cook and parlour maid. It paints a lovely vignette of a small boys’ life at school. In it he asks permission to go to tea with another boy called Ward on Saturday and apologises for breaking his glasses.

That little boy was John Lionel Le Page Sanders, and he arrived at Dean Close aged just 9 years old in Michaelmas 1906 and finally left in the summer of 1914, just before the First World War broke out. Born in Karachi, India, his father was The Reverend Montague Sanders, Chaplain to His Majesty’s Indian Government, Bengal. Yet they seem to have had local ties, John’s parents married at All Saints Church in March 1894. Present at the ceremony was the Rev C.L. Sanders, brother of the bridegroom and the Rev W.J. Buckland, Uncle of the Bride. It is a wonderful illustration of just how dominant the evangelical influence during the early years of Dean Close was, and, as a consequence, how popular this School was for sons of the clergy.

While John attended school here, his father served as chaplain to the Gloucester County Mental Hospitals. John won a French prize at the annual Prize Giving in 1910, yet we know very little else about his time at School and thereafter. The Gloucester Journal reports that in July 1915 he passed the preliminary medical examination in chemistry and physics, Conjoint Board of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons. It seems likely that he served in the First World War, we think in the Royal West Kent Regiment, but this remains unconfirmed. It would be lovely to find out more, and, in time, with a bit more research, we may find out what that little 11 year old boy, who broke his glasses, went on to do.

Our sincere thanks go to John Deighton OD for spotting the wonderful postcard and sending it to us.



Every year the Archive Department supports the history department in welcoming the new 4th formers and teaching them about the history of their new school. Mr Whitney takes them on historic tours around the site and Mrs Pritchard-Woods puts out displays of artefacts and documents from the Archive collection to try and illustrate changes and continuity throughout the School’s past. Featuerd within the exhibition is this declaration of health to be submitted by each boy at the beginning of the 1926 academic year. For those 4th formers reading this article, you will have a sneaky preview as to one of the exhibits in the exhibition.

This was donated to the Archive collection by a past pupil. I just hope he had two copies as it would seem from this example he did not fill in the requested form!

For those who have never heard of a Picture Palace, it was in fact a cinema. The reason it was important not to have been in such a place during the last two weeks of the holiday was the fear of the spread of disease when large groups of people came into close proximity.

In 1896 a serious outbreak of measles in Gloucester affected 21 pupils and because of this, the school shut early at the end of term. Although today the School has closed in recent years due to illness, illustrating some elements of continuity, improvements in medicine and particularly the use of antibiotics has greatly improved treatment of childhood illnesses; although issues of resistance remain a serious threat for the future. Following the end of the First World War the dramatic spread of the Spanish Flu during 1918-1919 caused over 20 million deaths world-wide with 200,000 deaths in the UK[1]. It was thought that troop movements coupled with the parades and celebrations marking the end of the War acted as a pathway for the illness to spread. Preventative medicine was therefore an important aspect in reducing illness.

So this at first rather innocuous piece of paper suddenly takes on new meaning when we consider the very real threat of illness to Society and how important this piece of paper was in the School’s own battle to maintain the health and wellbeing of those children at Dean Close during the 1920s.

[1] Glos hospitals NHS Foundation ‘Pandemic flu plan Summary document Main board may 2006’, http://www.gloshospitals.nhs.uk/SharePoint2/Board%20Papers/2007/may/item14.pdf [Accessed 15/9/15]


Portraits by Cedric Kennedy

During the Michaelmas term a catalogue from a memorial exhibition held at Cheltenham Art Gallery in 1969 was given to the School Archive collection. The exhibition was in honour of past art master, Cedric Kennedy, who painted a number of the Headmasters’ portraits that hang in the dining hall. Kennedy worked at the School from 1938-1960, with a brief hiatus during the war.

The catalogue listed an exhibit entitled ‘Boys of Dean Close School 1945-1962’. After a little research we were able to track one of these drawings to an auction two years ago, and via the auction house, able to contact the owner.

Much to our surprise it turned out that rather than just one drawing the owner had a number of them and was willing to donate them to the School. Thanks to Mr Parkinson’s generosity the archive now holds approximately 29 drawings as well as a much better understanding of Kennedy’s life and his work. We did not realise until we met Mr Parkinson that Kennedy had been a pilot during the First World War with the Royal Flying Corp and, having been reported missing in 1916, spent the remainder of the war as a POW.  During the Second World War, thanks to his artistic talents, he was involved in camouflage design.

The donation consists of a series of drawings in both pencil and red crayon. None of the drawings identify the subject; something we hope to remedy with help from the OD Community.

Our sincere thanks go to Mr Parkinson for his patience in answering our many questions and for his generosity in allowing the drawings to return to Dean Close where they were created.


 Argonauts Badge

The Argonauts were set up in Trinity of 1952 at DC Junior School the idea being to ‘develop character through adventure’. Most weekends a small trek would take place with a major expedition planned once a term; the first visiting the Black Mountains (Honddu Valley) in July of 1952.  There were three main activities according to the prospectus of c1968-1971 and they were camping, trekking and unsurprisingly, given the name, watermanship. The Lantern, an old magazine from the Junior School, reported that the boys spent the early summer of 1954 ‘laboriously scraping’ a 14ft clinker built dinghy called the Kingfisher. This was later replaced by ‘Old Nog’ an 11ft 4 inch gunter rigged sloop which in its first season alone undertook 100 sailing sessions with one capsize. The group also owned a number of canoes over the years.

The nautical element may well have been due to Ken Hollington, a science and Art Master who was the driving force behind the group and had served in the Royal Navy, although other members of staff also contributed. Michael Rowlands, who arrived at DCJS in 1958 and also ran the railway club, became a keen leader of the Argonauts and organised the purchase of a 40 seater second hand school bus, the first of many, to make transport cheaper and easier. Originally the group was split into three watches which were replaced in 1955 with four groups and renamed Cheviot, Cotswold, Pennines and Quantocks. Each of these groups was then divided again into two divisions of North and South Country. Soon after this reorganisation the badge was issued and given to boys who had completed the required terms probation period. It depicts a compass and ancient Greek style helmet, an obvious reference to the tale of Jason and the Argonauts. It was given to the Archive this year and is the only one we have in the collection.


This book appeared on e-bay in December 2015 and at first glance seemed to be just another copy of a book we already had in the collection. However, it housed hidden treasure, for inside was a handwritten letter from Dr Flecker, the first Headmaster of Dean Close Memorial School, to a Mr Winterbotham.

Mr Winterbotham may well have been part of the influential Winterbotham family from whom the original 9 ½ acres on which the School was built were purchased in 1884 for £1880 (the equivalent of £175,000 today). In the letter, Flecker thanks Mr Winterbotham for procuring the Leslie Young Scholarship, suggesting an ongoing relationship between the family and Dean Close School.

The letter is undated, but we know it must have been after 1922 and before Flecker left Dean Close in 1924. Flecker’s mention of the inclusion of James Elroy’s poems, War Song of the Saracens and Rioupéroux in the ‘Victorian Anthology’, is a reference to Arthur Quiller-Couch’s The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse, published in 1922.

By this time James Elroy, Dr Flecker’s son, had been dead for 7 years having died in Davos, Switzerland aged 30 in 1915. His body was brought back to Cheltenham for burial at Bouncers Lane Cemetery. Sarah, his mother, was said to have worn black for the rest of her life following his death. However, it has been suggested that James Elroy’s relationship with his father was problematical, as he challenged the deeply held religious beliefs of his parents. Yet, a rather tender and informal mention of his son contained within the letter perhaps suggests that while religious views differed, affection remained.


#‘The little volume which accompanies this does not contain my boy’s best poems
but I should like you to see them’


This tapestry of the school badge was completed in the early 1960s by Barbara Neate, mother of David who attended the school. It is referred to as a ‘badge’ because it is not officially recognised by the College of Arms and therefore does not constitute a coat of arms. Nevertheless, it is a fabulous pictorial representation of all the early influences at work in the formation of Dean Close Memorial School.

The open bible at the top with the flash of light around it not only represents the school motto ‘Verbum Dei Lucerna’, ‘God’s word: a guiding light’ or ‘The Word of God is a Lantern’ Psalm 119 verse 105, but also reminisces back to the evangelical ethos on which the school was founded. The pigeons originate from the Cheltenham town crest, having allegedly been observed pecking at salt deposits which led to the discovery of the spa water from which much of Cheltenham’s subsequent affluence and development sprang. Finally, the wheatsheaf at the bottom. This is from the family crest of Francis Close, Dean of Carlisle, in whose memory the school was named and who was a significant figure in the early development of Cheltenham, arriving here in 1824 and leaving in 1856 to take up a new position in Carlisle. The sheaf on the school badge is in actual fact blue in adherence to heraldic concepts.