Working with families since 1917

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1917 to The beginning

Conditions during the 1914-18 war revealed that thousands of children needed ‘nurture’ and medical care. Freda Hawtrey, Principle of Darlington Teacher Training College, saw in the nursery school one answer to the problem. She was also eager to take up the challenge to train teachers for this work.

With Mrs. Lloyd Pease and members of the Women’s United Services Club, she opened up a nursery school for children of service men. A small house in North Lodge Terrace was rented and Miss D.A. Cordukes, who had trained at Leeds under Miss Grace Owen, was appointed teacher in charge. The school was opened in October 1917, two months after the formal opening of the McMillan’s nursery school in Deptford, London.

The following report, written by a student and published in the Darlington Training College Magazine, March 1918, gives a picture of a typical day.

“One of the latest ventured of the college is the opening of a new Nursery School. A room in an ordinary dwelling house in North Lodge Terrace has been rented and equipped as a nursery. The floor is covered with linoleum and small carpets; there are small tables and chairs. Along one side of the room are rows of shelves curtained off, where children kept their toys, mugs and plates.

Only children between the ages of two and five years are taken. On the opening day, seven children were admitted. Now there are fifteen, five girls and ten boys.

The children come into the nursery school at 8.30 in the morning, take off their coats and hats in the hall, where each child has his or her own little peg, and go into the nursery to play. Lunch is at ten o’clock when the children are provided with milk and biscuits. Most of the children also remain for dinner at noon. The tinies themselves lay the tables and take great pride in placing the cloth straight and in setting flowers in the centre. Also there is great rivalry for the honour of washing up. In the afternoon little camp beds are brought out and the children rest.

There is at present no suitable garden in which the children can play, but we soon hope to possess one. On fine mornings, however, they are taken to the park, which is within easy access of the house. There, nature study is the order of the day. At present great interest is centred on the life and habits of worms. In fact the spirit of investigation is so strong that the children, on returning to the nursery, pretend to be worms themselves.

1918 - Relocation

It soon became apparent that the terrace house was too small, so when in 1918 a house with a large garden and within five minutes walk of the college became available, it was a matter of some urgency to secure it.

The story is told that while travelling to London to plead with the British and Foreign School Society for financial assistance, Miss Hawtrey confided her predicament to a fellow passenger, and on reaching London had in her pocket a cheque for £500, a loan to secure the house.

The benefactor was Joseph M.Dent, founder of the publishing house, born in Darlington in 1849. He had become a member of the Council and of the British and Foreign School Society in 1902 and took special interest in their training colleges, one of which was Darlington, so there is no doubt he already knew Freda Hawtrey. It was his help that enables the school to its premises in January 1919 and until 1926 it was known as the “Fairfield”, the name of the house.

Joseph Dent’s interest in the school continued until is death in 1926. He was also a friend of Margaret McMillan and generous in his support of both the Darlington and Deptford nursery schools.

When Joseph Dent died in 1926 the name of the school was in accordance with his wishes from “Fairfield” to “George Dent Nursery School”. George Dent (1810-1878) was Joseph’s father, a house painter and music lover, who spent his whole life living in Darlington.

The story-telling half hour is another great feature of the morning’s recreation, and the students, who go down regularly to assist Miss Cordukes, feel themselves amply repaid for their efforts in the appreciative rapture expressed on the faces of the little ones at such stories as “The Three Bears” and “The Three Little Pigs”.”

A plaque (above) was erected in the vestibule in 1926 by Hugh R. Dent, in memory of both George and Joseph Dent. Hugh Dent was Joseph’s son, and continued the family link with the school until his death in 1938.

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