Chailey Heritage School Old Scholars Association
Heritage Chailey 1903-1948 I was very excited when a fellow old scholar lent me a copy of Heritage Chailey 1903-1948. I was aware of the book but don’t remember ever seeing a copy. I’d assumed it to be Dame Grace’s history of the Heritage and it begins that way, referring to The Guild of Brave Poor Things and Julian Horatio Ewing’s seminal book “The Story of a Short Life”. However “Heritage Chailey” is not a history but more of a historical scrapbook without a consistent narrative. In fact much of the material is not even Dame Grace’s. On the other hand nowhere does it specifically say that it is her book. The front cover title is “Heritage Chailey 1903-1948”. On the spine the title is “Heritage Chailey”. Inside the book the title is “Heritage 1903-1948 Chailey”. Why Heritage Chailey and not Chailey Heritage is a mystery. Others refer to it as the “Green Book” and David Arscott, in his definitive history “Chailey Heritage a Hundred Years”, calls it “the 1948 book”.  Dame Grace, states that the book was “planned in 1946, but publication has been delayed for two years in view of today’s difficulties of production”. The first book on the Heritage was “The Coming of Age of the Heritage Craft Schools” and recorded the first 21 years of the Heritage. But why record the first 43 (or 45) years? The answer might be that in 1946 Dame Grace offered to resign, due to dissatisfaction amongst the staff and governors, and the National Health Service was in the offing. Perhaps it was to be her testament. Bearing in mind it is not a history but a collection of fragments, what do those fragments tell us? It is to a large extent a tribute to the Heritage’s benefactors, with constant reference to the generosity of the rich and famous, and the buildings they brought about. I don’t see it as self aggrandisement on Dame Grace’s part. Her life had been devoted to creating the Heritage from nothing and it is not surprising that she should see the achievements of the Heritage in such terms. There is another side to this assessment however in that the success of the Heritage is not measured by the successes of the children who passed through it. In fact not one word within the book is uttered by an old scholar (and for that matter by the staff). They have no voice and it seems they are there primarily to populate the Heritage. We must not be too harsh on Dame Grace. She was her product of her times, and, bearing in mind she was born in 1870, Victorian times. Brave poor things were to be the subject to the generosity of the rich and to respond with appropriate gratitude. Happy smiling faces were to the order of the day. Their cheeks must have ached with devotion. In fact the children were trapped in having to radiate perpetual happiness. Anything else would be regarded as disloyal and ungrateful. Childhood is full of ups and downs, and more so for the handicapped child. To insist on perpetual happiness denied them the adult comfort and support they sorely needed. There also seems to be no understanding that the real struggles which took place were those of the children. They not only had to deal with the challenges of growing up away from home and family but also with the added burden of disability. It is unfortunate that the word cripple has taken on a pejorative meaning because that makes it difficult to see the book for what it is. However the continual reference to “crippled boys” and “crippled girls” emphasises the fact they were not primarily seen as boys or girls but as “cripples”. The Heritage was christened “The Public School of Crippledom” by Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times. Apart from some excellent buildings and a great school song, the label is debatable. The element of education seems somehow to have got distorted. In fact expectations of the children were low. It is interesting that it was felt they needed to be taught a craft, in spite of being physically disabled, rather than develop their intellectual capabilities which were less impaired, if at all. Heritage Chailey is well worth reading if you can find a copy. It must be seen in the context of a society now dead and gone. Chailey Heritage has outgrown its paternalistic past and at last become a child-focused institution. This book demonstrates how far the Heritage has come in the last fifty years. Ian Sowerby
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