The Allnatt Group, which still runs residential centres for children, have some interesting information about the early years of St Mary’s Bay Holiday Camp on their web site, reproduced below:
“The organisation was founded over 80 years ago in 1924 by Joseph Allnatt, a visionary and entrepreneur. He bought a disused aerodrome in St Mary’s Bay, Kent and converted it into a Residential Centre for Schools during the summer and ran it as a Turkey farm during the winter!
St Mary’s Bay Holiday Camp, as it was initially called, was incredibly successful right from the start. The purpose behind it was to provide a safe and enlightened venue where children from different backgrounds could be brought together to mix and make friends, and thus, break down the class structure which otherwise divided them.
The Camp was huge, accommodating over a thousand children per week engaged in a vast programme of outdoor activities, in the extensive grounds and visits into the surrounding countryside. A highlight of the week was the Campfire and Sing Song attended on occasions by the Duke of York, as pictured in the early Newsletters. Later Royalty included the Princess Royal and the Crown Prince of Norway, who with heavy bodyguard presence, managed to complete a Geography Field Trip each!
By the 1950’s the organisation had become a Limited Company, Joseph Allnatt Centres Limited, and it was time to move on and provide accommodation which was suitable all year round and not in such vast numbers in one place. The Camp was sold and over the next ten years six smaller Centres were opened around the country in accommodation ranging from Hotels to Mansion Houses to a Grammar School.” © Allnatt Group
In the 1960s and 70s, St Mary’s Bay Holiday Camp was known as the School Journey Centre, and parties of schoolchildren from around the country would stay for a week or two to explore Romney Marsh, Rye, Folkestone, Dover and the other interesting places nearby.
The camp was demolished in September 1976 [thanks to EB for the information]
the early 1980s [if anyone has a more precise date and/or photos of the demolition, please, as always, let us know!] and the site was cleared. The beach shop on the corner of Jefferstone Lane was also demolished.
A housing estate now stands on the site, although when I visited in 1999, the original (and now rather uneven) railings along the Dymchurch Road had been retained, seen below in a still from a video clip – how many people would spot them for what they were as they passed by?
Below are two original key fobs for the dormitory named “Jubilee” that were rescued by my father before the camp was demolished. Note the unorthodox spelling in the smaller one – rather unfortunate for a “school” journey centre…!
Memories of the Holiday Camp
Here are some memories of the Holiday Camp sent in by kind readers. Stories such as these and photographs of the area are always welcome and gratefully received!
The following (reproduced from the website of Springwood Primary School in Liverpool) gives a fascinating contemporary account of their trip to St Mary’s Bay in 1962. The photographs show the interior of a dormitory and the dining hall at the Holiday Camp. If anyone has better interior photos, please let us know!
“Two coaches were reserved on the 9.30 a.m. relief train from Lime Street to Euston, where we were met by three buses and taken to St. Mary’s Bay.
On the journey through London we saw Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and St. Paul’s Cathedral. For many of the children, this was their first glimpse of London and these sights were the first of many thrills that they were to experience during the week.
On the return journey the buses came through London by a different route, so the children were able to see Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
THE WEEK’S ACTIVITIES
The week’s activities were carefully planned before we went to Camp, and included visits to Canterbury and Dover. At Canterbury the party was split into groups and shown over the Cathedral by several interesting and well-informed guides.
Just before the end of term, the campers had paid a visit to our own cathedral, so they were able to make the comparison between old and new.
At Dover Castle the children spent over an hour inspecting the armour and ancient weapons in the Keep, before being conducted on an exciting tour of the earthworks. Later the children saw the famous white cliffs and the cross-Channel termini. Journeys were made on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, the smallest of its kind in the country, and on one of these occasions the children visited Dungeness Lighthouse and saw the lifeboat.
One afternoon was spent in nearby Folkestone.
Organised bathing parties, games and walks kept the children occupied for the remainder of the time.
On Sunday morning we joined many other parties at the Camp in a church service. Following tradition, we had a farewell concert in the Camp Hall on the last night, when party games and group items made the time pass all too quickly. At the close of the concert we presented awards to the outstanding campers of the week. Throughout the week, the weather was perfect and we were able to do everything that we had planned.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
The children were all accommodated in the same building, which was divided into two sections, each having washrooms and toilets at one end. At the other end were quarters for the Staff, a very convenient arrangement for supervision. The children slept on camp beds. Outside the hut was a large playing field, so full use was made of the sports equipment that we had taken with us.
The food was satisfactory, but far from good. Adequate packed lunches were provided on the days that we went to Dover and Canterbury.”
Peter writes of his memories in the 1950s and sends a photo:
“I stayed at St Mary’s Bay Camp for two weeks in July 1955. My school at the time was Cooper’s Companys in Bow London E3. I along with other school kids had been paying in to go to Kirkcudbright in Scotland for two weeks. As the time to go drew nearer however, we learnt that the teacher who had been arranging the trip and collecting the money had completely disappeared along with all the money. We were offered at short notice the alternative of St Mary’s Bay and although somewhat disappointed, most accepted and had a pretty great time there, meeting up with some French children also staying there.
From what I can remember we were given a pretty free reign to do much what we wanted and were trusted to go out and about on our own. The attached photo is all that I can find with me on the left with two of my school chums within the confines of the camp.”