Grace's place: 100 years of Chailey

24th October 2003 at 01:00
1903 Grace Kimmins (above) founded the Heritage as a Sussex boarding school for "crippled" boys, a successor to her previous charity, the Guild of the Poor Brave Things. Girls followed five years later and the sexes were kept apart. The main conditions were TB and rickets. Self-pity was discouraged; the school motto was laetus sorte mea, or happy in my lot.

1912 School chapel was founded and Chailey Heritage became known as "the public school of crippledom". The school choir, officially called the Singing Cripples, was popular for local weddings. The emphasis was on learning a useful craft, such as bootmaking or printing. A sign over the craftshop door (still there today) reads Men Made Here.

1914-1918 Twenty-eight Chailey Heritage boys were killed in the First World War. Their Dulce et decorum monument stands in the grounds. The school's medical services were offered to wounded soldiers, some of whom would come round after a leg amputation to find waiting by their bed a boy who had never had a leg - Dame Grace's idea of therapy for both parties.

Between the wars, open-air health treatment came into vogue and everyone at Chailey, including babies, slept outside.

1940s A new building was opened to care for children whose homes had been bombed and who were suffering from bronchitis, pneumonia or the effects of stress. The school had its own air-raid shelter (right).

Medical advances had dealt with rickets and TB, but polio remained. In 1948, the Heritage was taken over by the NHS and the school became a separate unit, a non-maintained special school not faring well as the outside world began to emphasise education over training.

1950s and 1960s Led by Dr Philip Quidell (right), Chailey became renowned for its treatment of children with multiple disabilities. The curriculum was modernised in time to receive the thalidomide wave, children who had major limb deformities caused by the morning sickness drug. The first day-pupils started attending Chailey.

1980s Increasingly, Chailey children had major disabilities and little means of communication when they arrived. They had spina bifida, muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy.

1995 The enterprise centre at Chailey opened, producing marketable clocks and badges made by pupils. When they left at 19, many of them faced a bleak future until the age limit of the centre was raised to 25. Today, it is an independent charity with no age limit and its work includes T-shirt printing and vinyl signs as well as embroidered products.

2000 to present day Nearly all Chailey Heritage school pupils have cerebral palsy. Not for the first time, the school finds itself at the heart of a major educational shift as local authorities continue their drive towards inclusion.

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