Royal Air Force Memorial Fund and Alexander Duckham
In 1919 the Royal Air Force Memorial Fund (later re-named The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund - RAFBF) was founded to support the dependents of RAF personnel killed in the First World War.
In the same year, Alexander Duckham, the oil magnate, offered his house, Vanbrugh Castle at Blackheath in London, as a home for the sons of these casualties. However the trustees of the Fund were reluctant to accept the gift preferring a cash donation instead.
The School opens.
Ultimately the gift was accepted and became the Alexander Duckham Memorial School run by the RAFBF. It was specified that it was for the sons of non-commissioned officers only and opened as a boarding school in 1922.
In 1923 there were 27 boys between the ages of five (the minimum age was later raised to 7 years) and school-leaving age at the school, by 1926 the numbers had risen to thirty nine. Captain George Slimming, and his wife, Carrie, acting as Matron, ran the school. Slimming educated the youngest boys at the Castle;the older boys attended normal secondary schools in the area. From the outset the Fund hoped that Vanbrugh Castle would supply recruits for the Royal Air Force (i.e. young men who had been brought up in the traditions of the RAF).
Lord Wakefield's Gift
In 1939 Lord Wakefield, another oil magnate and the chairman of the RAFBF, bought the house next door to the Castle for £3000 and gave it to the Fund to enable the school to expand. It was named The Wakefield Wing.
The Second World War
The school closed for the duration of the Second World War. Boys were evacuated to various places with their secondary school colleagues or went back home.
The School Re-opens
When it re-opened in 1947 the younger boys aged from 7yrs to 11yrs were now educated at local primary schools and older boys up to the age of 18yrs continued to be educated at local secondary schools.
The School Controller Retires
Slimming, who had run the school since the opening in 1922, retired in 1950. Under the new headmaster, James W. Webb-Jones, the school was granted a licence to educate younger boys, up to the age of eleven, at the Castle and two more teachers/housemasters (D.R.Jones and Peter Lyons) were appointed
By 1950 there were just over 50 boys at Vanbrugh Castle. The older boys were still educated at local secondary schools.
Headmaster J W Webb-Jones Leaves and J H Corner is Appointed
Webb-Jones left in 1954 to take up an appointment at Wells Cathedral School.
Under the new headmaster, J.H.Corner, the maximum age of boys at the school was reduced to 13 yrs over the next few years. Up to this age the boys were now taught in house. More teachers were appointed to cope with the new educational arrangements and the modest increase in the number of boys.
Educational Changes Complete
By 1964 the last of the older boys who attended outside secondary schools had left Vanbrugh Castle at the end of their schooling.
So now the age range of the boys was 8 to 13 yrs. and they were all taught at the school. When a boy reached the age of 13 yrs he transferred to another school which had the support of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund.(e.g. Kingham Hill, Reeds, Wolverhampton)
The house next door to the Wakefield Wing was purchased by the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, the boys' dining room extended and a doorway knocked through to provide access to the new premises. This provided more accommodation for staff and was named Knollys' Wing after the Chairman of the RAFB at that time.
Headmaster J H Corner Retires & W.P.Jones Appointed
J.H.Corner retired in 1972 and W.P.Jones was appointed headmaster.
Later on Vanbrugh Castle was considered to be too small for needs of the school. In 1975 there were about 60 boys at the school and plans to increase the size of the school were thwarted when planning permission was refused for more buildings on the site.
The RAFBF now looked elsewhere to find another bigger site for the school.
The School Closes
By good luck rather than planning a school was found at Ewhurst in Surrey which the RAFBF bought and it was re-named The Duke of Kent School. In 1976 Vanbrugh Castle closed and the Headmaster W.P.Jones and those boys still remaining moved to Surrey. During the life of the school over 400 boys had passed through its doors.
The Castle and the Wakefield Wing were sold to the Blackheath Preservation Trust and turned into flats.