A school has been associated with the parish of St Dunstan’s in the East as far back as 1446. As far as we can tell, this school ran, intermittingly, until the early 16th century, and provided an education for girls and boys aged 7-11, in heart of the City of London.
In the Victorian period, and amidst the opportunities of the Industrial Revolution, the church parishioners of St Dunstan’s in the East were confident that they could re-establish a school that would meet the highest educational standards of the day. It would be both a boarding and day school and would be located outside the City, whilst still accessible by the new and growing railway network. By 1854, the current Catford site was decided upon as the ideal location.
At the end of the 19th century there was an increasing emphasis on the importance of science and technology. As such, the first Governing Body of St Dunstan’s made the progressive decision that their new school should emphasise this. They chose as their first Headmaster, a chemist named Charles Maddock Stuart. Mr Stuart was a proponent of heuristic (hands on) education. St Dunstan’s College was the first school in the country to be designed with laboratories in it and the curriculum featured more than three times that normally allotted to the sciences and experimentation in order that pupils could ‘find out’ and ‘do’. Mr Stuart once said ‘it is not so much what a boy learns that is important, but how he learns it’.
From its opening in 1888, St Dunstan’s set itself apart from other independent schools, both by its innovative technical curriculum and by the determination to be an accessible school, supporting families from a range of different backgrounds and incomes.
The War Years
It was in 1898 that St Dunstan’s established its first military drill programme, in response to the Boer War. By 1910, more than half of all pupils participated in the Officer Training Corps, opening many opportunities to become an officer after their examinations.
When the call to arms came in 1914, 977 former and current St Dunstan’s pupils and staff signed up to join. By the end of the war, 237 would never return home, amongst the highest percentage of casualties of any independent school in the United Kingdom. Shortly thereafter, war memorials were established at St. George’s Church in Ypres, the battlefield at Loos, and in the Great Hall at St Dunstan’s. The College’s memorial reads ‘Albam Exornurant’ a modification of the slogan ‘Albam Exorna’, and reminding us that ‘They Adorned the White’ through their extraordinary service and commitment to school and country.
The inter-war years were filled with great challenges, as well as opportunities. Frank Forder, the second Headmaster of St Dunstan’s, introduced the importance of the outdoors and sport to the curriculum, believing that mind and body were both in need of education. Revd Forder’s impact on the College continues today, as we dedicate our co-curricular programme to his name. Following Revd Forder was John Usherwood, who took great efforts to update the College’s facilities and prepare pupils for whatever great challenges lay ahead.
During the Second World War, life was particularly hard for the pupils of St Dunstan’s. In September of 1939 they were evacuated to Reigate, where they would spend most of the war, except for a second evacuation in 1944 to Wales. The laboratory facilities that pupils were used to at St Dunstan’s gave way to makeshift chemistry sets in a converted bathroom; playing fields had to be shared with bomb shelters.
Growth and Change
The end of the Wars ushered in a time of relative prosperity. This new era of hope and forward momentum was overseen by William Hecker, who wanted to ensure a better future for pupils after such a traumatic period. 1953 - 1972 saw the most rapid growth and development at the College since its foundation. The new Swimming Pool, constructed in 1955, gave pupils access to both the new challenge of swimming, as a sport, and also the luxury of cooling off during warmer months. The Pavilion was constructed in 1958 and came about as a consequence of the increased requirement for physical education and sport in the National Curriculum. The new dining facilities demonstrated the ambition for innovation. The current Refectory, constructed in 1961, is one of only four hyperbolic paraboloid structures built in the world. New was the order of the day.
The trend for enhancement continued under Richard Pedley and Brian Dance, who between them brought about new facilities for Music and Physics in 1971 and expanded the facilities for young pupils, with the completion of the Prep Block in 1973. The rapid pace of growth saw the College roll peak in 1974, with 939 pupils. In 1981, Mr Dance chose to expand the diversity of the pupil population by accommodating families who were traditionally unable to afford private education. It was in this period that the College became increasingly anchored to its rich history with the City of London. The ceremony of the Beating of the Bounds was re-introduced in 1978, incorporating the ruins of St Dunstan’s in the East and celebrating the medieval roots of the College.
All of the expansion and development of the second half of the 20th Century created a strong platform from which St Dunstan’s could innovate. In 1994, the College expanded its roll to include a Pre-Prep school for ages 4 and above. In an even bolder leap forward, that same year, St Dunstan’s became a co-educational school, with the gradual integration of girls at all ages. The new St Dunstan’s could now take a holistic approach to the education of all pupils, of whatever age, background or gender, and prepare individuals for the challenges and opportunities of a rapidly changing world.
Under David Moore, there was an understanding that these changes necessarily called for an expansion of activities. This began in 1996 with the completion of a new Sports Hall designed to service not just rugby and cricket, but the variety of physical education required to meet the interests of a diverse and coeducational pupil body. The College took an increasingly modern and global approach to education, with an increased emphasis on trips abroad and new modern languages and computing being introduced to the curriculum. The College’s arts programme expanded, with a new performance space created above the Great Hall, and the very first Arts Festival held in 1994.
Ian Davies was deeply committed to internationalism and the importance of a rounded education, despite the national drive for increased emphasis on public examination. The International Baccalaureate was introduced in 2004.
Nearly ten years after girls were first accepted to the school, the first Headmistress was appointed. Jane Davies forged strong links across the breadth of the St Dunstan’s community, working closely with Old Dunstonian Association and the Family Society (as the Friends of St Dunstan’s was formerly known). St Dunstan’s was able to celebrate its 125th Anniversary in particular style, and the addition of the Jubilee Ground, on Catford Green, in 2012, signalled a new era for St Dunstan’s position within the local community. A College, built on its relationship with the City of London, could continue its traditions of collaboration, innovation and service.
Navigating a global pandemic
In 2020, St Dunstan’s faced its greatest disruption since the war years, as the world faced the global pandemic, Coronavirus. For the first time since the war, the College gates were closed and in late March, the entire St Dunstan’s experience went virtual. Always wanting to lead the way, St Dunstan’s was one of the first schools in the area to move its entire academic and co-curricular programme online. All lessons were delivered via remote platforms, and an ongoing commitment to virtual pastoral and cocurricular provision during the two lockdowns ensured pupils and staff felt connected and supported despite all the various challenges brought to bear through such isolating times. During the lockdown period, our Design and Engineering Team also produced more then 1,000 items of PPE for local hospitals, hospices and GP surgeries.
Headmasters and Headmistresses List
Mr Charles M. Stuart, 1888-1922
Rev Frank G. Forder, 1922-1930
Mr John F. Usherwood, 1930-1938
Mr William R. Hecker CBE, 1938-1967
Mr Richard R. Pedley, 1967-1973
Mr Brian D. Dance, 1973-1994
Mr David Moore, 1994-1998
Mr Ian Davies, 1998-2004
Mrs Jane Davies, 2005-2014
Mr Nicholas Hewlett, 2014-present