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Dartington Hall School

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Title: Dartington Hall School  
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Subject: Oliver Postgate, List of democratic schools, Marshall Hain, David Purley, Breon O'Casey, Sands School, Dartington College of Arts, Rabindranath Tagore, Nicolas Rea, 3rd Baron Rea, Lionel Grigson
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Dartington Hall School

The Dartington Hall Trust, near Totnes, Devon, England, is a charity specialising in the arts, social justice and sustainability.

The Trust currently runs 16 charitable programmes, including The Dartington International Summer School and Schumacher College. In addition to developing and promoting arts and educational programmes, the Trust hosts other groups and acts as a venue for retreats.

Dartington Hall estate

The Dartington Hall Trust is based on a 1,200 acres (4.9 km2) estate near Dartington in south Devon. The medieval hall was built between 1388 and 1400 for John Holand, Earl of Huntingdon, half-brother to Richard II. After John was beheaded, the Crown owned the estate until it was acquired in 1559 by Sir Arthur Champernowne, Vice-Admiral of the West under Elizabeth I. The Champernowne family lived in the Hall for 366 years.

The hall was mostly derelict by the time it was bought by Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst in 1925. They commissioned architect William Weir to renovate the buildings, restoring the magnificent hammerbeam roof on the Great Hall.[1] Inspired by a long association with Rabindranath Tagore's Shantiniketan, where Tagore was trying to introduce progressive education and rural reconstruction into a tribal community, they set out on a similar goal for the depressed agricultural economy in rural England.[2] In 1935 The Dartington Hall Trust, a registered charity, was set up in order to run the estate.

The estate comprises various schools, colleges and charitable and commercial organisations, including Schumacher College, The Arts at Dartington, the Dartington International Summer School of music, Research in Practice, Dartington School for Social Entrepreneurs and the Shops at Dartington (formerly the Cider Press Centre). In North Devon the Beaford Centre, set up as an Arts centre by the Trust in the 1960s to bring employment and culture to a rurally depressed area, continues to thrive. Until June 2010 the estate was also home to Dartington College of Arts, prior to the College's contentious merger with University College Falmouth.[3][4]

The Hall and medieval courtyard functions in part as a conference centre and wedding venue and provides bed and breakfast accommodation for people attending courses and for casual visitors. The Barn Cinema and the White Hart Bar and Restaurant are used by estate dwellers, residents from the surrounding countryside, and visitors alike.

In May 2010, Sotheby's sold a group of 12 paintings by Rabindranath Tagore, which were gifted by Tagore to his friend Leonard Elmhirst.[5] In Autumn 2011, The Trust proposed the sale of additional artworks by Ben Nicholson, Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis and others, again at Sotheby's.[6] The sale generated some criticism from local people,[7] who voiced concerns about deaccessioning of the Trust's art assets. The Trust argued that the founders went to considerable lengths to make clear that art works and other assets could, and should, be used and sold, at the discretion of the Trustees, to support the activities of the Trust.[8]

"Dartington Hall held by the MARTIN FAMILY between the early 12th and mid 14th centuries and on the death of Lord William Martin in 1326, the Barony of Martin fell in abeyance..", wrote Anthony Emery.


Dartington International Summer School

Dartington International Summer School is a department of The Dartington Hall Trust. The Summer School is both a festival and a music school. Participants, both amateur musicians and advanced students, spend the daytime studying a variety of different musical courses, and the evenings attending (or performing in) concerts. In addition to instrumental and vocal masterclasses, there are courses at various levels on subjects such as composition, opera, chamber music, conducting and improvisation. Courses include choirs, orchestras, individual masterclasses, and non classical music such as Jazz, Salsa and Gamelan. Composition teachers have included Luciano Berio, Luigi Nono, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Brian Ferneyhough, Witold Lutosławski and Elliott Carter.

The Dartington Gardens

The gardens were created by Dorothy Elmhirst with the involvement of major landscape designers Beatrix Farrand and Percy Cane and feature a tiltyard (thought actually to be the remains of an Elizabethan water garden) and major sculptures, including examples by Henry Moore, Willi Soukop and Peter Randall-Page. There is an ancient yew tree (Taxus baccata) reputed to be nearly 2000 years old and rumour has it that Knights Templar are buried in the graveyard there, although there is no evidence to substantiate this.

Former activities

Dartington Hall School

Dartington Hall School, founded in 1926, offered a progressive coeducational boarding life. When it started there was a minimum of formal classroom activity and the children learnt by involvement in estate activities. It was to have “no corporal punishment, indeed no punishment at all; no prefects; no uniforms; no Officers’ Training Corps; no segregation of the sexes; no compulsory games, compulsory religion or compulsory anything else, no more Latin, no more Greek; no competition; no jingoism.”[10]

With time more academic rigour was imposed, but it remained progressive and had mixed success educating the children, sometimes the more wayward ones, of the fee-paying intelligentsia. A noted alumnus was Lord Young, a founder of Which? and the Open University. Lucian Freud attended the school for two years, and his brother Clement Freud was also a pupil at Dartington.[11] Oliver Postgate,[12] Martin Bernal, Ivan Moffat, Matthew Huxley and Richard Leacock are also noted alumni.

W. B. Curry was headmaster of the school from 1931 to 1957, and wrote two books about it, The School, published by The Bodley Head in 1934 and Education for Sanity, published by Heinemann in 1947. [13]

At its peak the school had some 300 pupils. However, with the advent of state-based progressive education, the death of its founders, and the appointment of a new headmaster who was at odds with the school's philosophies and subsequently generated a significant amount of negative publicity, the school suffered a dramatic drop in recruitment. Despite the efforts of those who cared about the school, it finally shut its doors in 1987. After the school's closure a number of staff and students set up Sands School which still carries some of the principles that Dartington once had.

Literary editor Miriam Gross wrote an account of her time at the school for the May 2011 edition of Standpoint magazine.[14]

Dartington College of Arts

Dartington College of Arts was a specialist arts institution based at the hall from 1961 to 2008, with an international reputation for excellence, focusing mainly on the performance arts. In 2008 it merged into the University College Falmouth, relocating to Falmouth, Cornwall.



Further reading

  • Anonymous, Dartington, Webb & Bower, 1982

External links

  • The Dartington Hall Trust
  • Dartington Hall
  • The Arts at Dartington
  • Dartington International Summer School
  • Dartington Hall School alumni website
  • Charity Commission

Coordinates: 50°27′06″N 3°41′38″W / 50.4518°N 3.6938°W / 50.4518; -3.6938

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