The early Days
It was a different world in spring 1882 when JS Norman took over The Beacon, which had been established as a Preparatory school in 1863 at 18 St John’s Road. Its momentum was lost, however, and numbers dwindled to zero.
His methods were successful and he attracted so many boys that larger premises were needed leading to the decision in October 1897 to build a new boarding school in Sevenoaks. Land was acquired from Lord Amherst’s Montreal Estate at Cross Keys, and construction of the New Beacon began in February 1899. At the end of the Autumn Term 1899 all was ready at the new site for the transfer of everything that had been used to run the school in St John’s.
The New Beacon is born
During the first week of the twentieth century the New Beacon opened for the (continued) education of boys in an imposing building housing up to 60 boarders. So sound was this magnificent building that it looks much the same well over 100 years later. The construction of a chapel in 1912 meant that the customary Sunday walk to Kippington was no longer necessary and it cemented the place of worship within the school routine, which is a tradition continued today.
By 1913 the school had grown to 62 pupils and the fees were £120 per year for boarding and tuition, plus £1 11s 6d for medical attendance. Other facilities included a swimming bath, a miniature rifle range, a playground and two large fields for football and cricket.
The New Beacon survives two World Wars and the Great Depression
The First World War made a great impact on society and the New Beacon was no exception. With young men called to arms the staffing was depleted and extra duties included the tending of the school’s grounds and gardens. Thirty-five former pupils lost their lives during the hostilities, some of whom were very young.
Numbers remained steady until the Great Depression, though a number of day boys were admitted to the roll. As optimism began to loom thereafter the political power shift in Europe led to the Second World War. Life changed significantly with a greater threat from bombing and the need for survival. For the duration girls were taught at the New Beacon, though the initial experiment of having integrated classes was soon shelved. Seventy-five Beaconians fell in the 1939-45 war and their sacrifice is noted on a memorial in the chapel, alongside those of the 1914-18 campaign.
Post-war changes and the increase in day boys
After the war numbers continued to grow and the roll call was over 120 pupils in 1948. The school was formed into a Private Limited Company, with Cecil Norman and his wife as directors. Cecil passed over the reins of Headmastership to Denis Pratten in 1964 with 200 pupils on the school roll. Sadly, ill-health saw his early passing and so began the reign of Cecil’s son, John Norman, in the same year.
In 1969 the directors of The New Beacon School Limited handed over control of the school to a Board of Governors to manage ‘The New Beacon Educational Trust Limited.’ A grand plan to develop the school was put in place, including the addition of a Pre-Prep department, purchase of the freehold, a building programme to add a changing room block, science laboratories and classrooms.
A new era of expansion and growth
Thus a new phase in growth began and the new intake of 56 pupils in September 1970, albeit nearly all day boys, saw the roll rise to 240. A new science, language and maths laboratory block was opened with funds raised from the Development Appeal. During this time, the New Beacon Parents’ Association was set up, also raising funds for much needed improvements. Amidst the excitements of growth and change, John Norman himself became ill and so retired as Headmaster in July 1976.
The appointment of Rowland Constantine saw the end of a long run of Norman Headmasters and thus the beginning of a new era and 32 year tenure. The New Beacon was now predominantly a day school, with 55 boarders which dropped to 35 by the end of the decade. The Pre-Prep started as a small class located in a flat and before long 100 children were being taught in Portakabins as the new junior section grew. The school’s musical tradition grew stronger as did drama and sport.
The need for further facilities meant an on-going programme of developments. 1982 saw the opening of the Junior School block and construction of a new sports hall in 1986 allowed the former gymnasium to be converted into a theatre, with an indoor swimming pool being built in 1989. A purpose-built Music and Arts Centre allowed the already strong tradition in these disciplines to evolve further. The Science block and a centre for Design and Technology combined with ICT came along in the late 1990’s.
Next came the impressive new junior block, housing Years 3 and 4, which released space for the Pre-Prep to expand its base. Numbers grew to reach 400 with excellence at Common Entrance and Scholarship examinations being maintained. To meet the demands of the modern family, Saturday school was withdrawn with a subsequent expansion in after school activities.
Modernity and tradition prevail
In 2008 Mike Piercy, an experienced prep school man himself, was appointed to take the New Beacon forward into a new era of ever-changing curriculum requirements and rapidly advancing technology. During a long-lasting global recession, numbers have held constant and an on-going review of teaching styles and the sharing of good practice has ensured that excellence in Common Entrance results and the earning of Scholarships to senior schools has continued.
Further improvements include a total refurbishment of the Pre-Prep block, an adventure playground for the youngest, together with laying down of a child friendly playing surface and the provision of a floodlit astro pitch. In 2017 the New Beacon Centre opened replacing the ageing sports hall with a new hall, acoustically designed with seating for 300, to enable PE, sports, concerts and lectures and is now widely used by the local community and schools. In addition two further computer suites were incorporated along with ‘The Studio’ looking over the all-weather pitch and playing fields.
Should JS Norman walk the corridors of the New Beacon today he would be proud to see the traditions he established: high standards and expectations; the strong rapport between boys and staff; the sense of purpose and energy which pervades The New Beacon.
Major development projects since 1980
- 1982 Junior School (now Pre-Prep) block
- 1986 Sports Hall
- 1987 Theatre
- 1989 Indoor Swimming Pool
- 1993 Music and Art Centre
- 1997 Science Centre
- 1998 Design Technology and Information Technology Centre
- 2005 Junior School Building
- 2010 Adventure Playground and Pre-Prep astro-turf play area
- 2011 Major refurbishment of Pre-Prep
- 2013 All-Weather pitch on the Lower
- 2017 The New Beacon Centre