Upper Chine School at Shanklin – an outsider’s view

As far as I knew, there were only two schools in 20th century Shanklin – the C of E (Church of England), that I attended from the age of five to eleven, and Upper Chine, the posh school for girls.

027 Original Shanklin C of E School

The C of E was in Albert Road, named no doubt for Queen Victoria’s husband. It was a mixed school, boys and girls in the same class although in separate playgrounds as no doubt, little boys were deemed rougher than their female counterparts. We had school dinners, free milk and went home each night.


Upper Chine sat among trees along Church Road, the church being St Blasius, although the school had its own chapel.  It was well named as it stood above Shanklin’s best-known beauty spot, the Chine.  Only girls attended, wearing unflattering mid blue uniforms – with hats – and they didn’t go home at night.  This was the stuff of Mallory Towers, midnight adventures in the dorm.

We C of E girls hated the posh lot. I never bothered to find out what the boys thought although now, it would be interesting to know.   Hate is too strong a word but the Upper Chine girls were alien, living in a world that we hadn’t experienced. When I was about eleven and horse mad, hanging around the local stables, they came for riding lessons, wearing jodhpurs and ankle boots, articulating their thoughts in clear, well projected English. Some of them were foreign. I began to suspect that I had missed out somewhere.

Recently, I purchased a postcard of Upper Chine, partly because it was going cheap but I’m  glad that I did because the message on the back got me thinking.  In 1935, ‘Ada’ wrote home to Miss D Langley of Hampstead, to tell her about her fabulous holiday.  She described Upper Chine with the following words: The grounds are wonderful…I realy thinck [sic] its the best YWCA camp in England.  I haven’t found another mention of the YWCA using the grounds and building, but clearly, they did.

This got me thinking that it couldn’t have always been a school. When you are young, whatever was there before you were born has always been there and you expect that it will continue to be so.

Shanklin Chine April
Shanklin Chine, unchanging beauty.

Upper Chine House seems to have started life as the home of Dutch diamond merchant Guillaume Frederick Foster. He died in 1909 and in 1913, the Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate and Cheriton Herald(phew), announced that Upper Chine House will shortly be opened as a SELECT FINISHING SCHOOL for girls of 14-19 (boarders only). English, Modern Languages, Excellent Music, Drawing, Painting, Physical Culture, Special Games Mistress, Cycling, Riding. All for £100 per annum, A similar school already existed in Folkestone.

War soon intervened and in December 1915 the Army and Navy Gazette announced that at Upper Chine, “The Daughters of Officers,  Military, and Naval, received at greatly reduced fees.”

The students were soon involved in local activities, in December 1914 putting on a performance of a Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shanklin Town Hall in aid of the Belgian Relief Fund. In 1922 a performance of the ballet Wooing of the Rose, produced by Miss Muriel Miles supported the Waifs and Strays Society.  The school also raised money for St Saviour’s Church where the girls danced and sang, while in 1926, a school fete, featuring a sale of work, dancing and solos by the misses Barbara Crusoe, Margaret Saul and Joyce Moss-Mundell, raised £120 for the new chapel.


During World War Two, the school relocated to the mainland while the building was commandeered as the headquarters for the R M Commandos.  In the Chine below, secret work went ahead to supply oil under the sea to France. Memorials to their work stand in the Chine.

Singer and Actress Jane Birkin

Among noted students, were Miss Diana Dill, married name Douglas, wife of Kirk and mother of Michael.  She felt that her experience at Upper  Chine gave her an “English reticence.”   Jane Birken also attended, finding the experience “horrid,” while Judith Okely felt that she had been scarred for life, comparing it unfavourably to Alcatraz. An hour after learning that her father had died, she was reprimanded for crying and warned that any noise was forbidden after lights out at 7.0.  It makes you think.

In May 1929 Miss Damon, the headmistress, received some very unwelcome attention. Miss Mollie Hunt, a pupil from Guernsey was reprimanded for being too familiar with Matron Miss Widdowson and then lending her gramophone to the domestic staff, the upshot being that Molly was expelled. Clearly, she was a feisty girl and in return, she prosecuted the school for a breach of duty and accused Miss Damon of sending malicious letters. The case went to court and it was decided that the letters were not malicious but that Molly had been expelled without reasonable cause. Damages of one farthing were awarded. Molly announced that she had had a “ripping time.”

Clearly, for others, the experience must have been happier and some six hundred old girls are part of an Upper Chine reunion group.

Did I miss out by having a state-funded education?  A study of Islands and Britishness convinced Jodie Matthews that: “The girls’ school prepared its inmates for relative powerless within male-dominated privilege.”  Perhaps Shanklin C of E School wasn’t such a bad deal, after all.

IN 1995 Upper Chine merged with Ryde School and the premises are now holiday apartments.








8 thoughts on “Upper Chine School at Shanklin – an outsider’s view

  1. I didn’t know the history of Upper Chine, although I’d heard of it. Interesting article, Jan, and interesting photo you unearthed.

  2. Are you interested in ‘piggybacking’ to have OLD SCHOOL HOUSE BUILDING, Upper Chine Girls School for young Ladies ‘LISTED’ as a Building of Historic Interest, to obviate/reduce the continual planning Applications being submitted for alterations to existing building/roofing structures to form additional flat space following removal of existing roofing? Same question being asked asked of Old Girls reunion club and 40th Marine Commando Veterans Group???

  3. I did indeed see it as Alcatraz. Recently an American born academic who has lived in the UK for years shouted at me that I was SO LUCKY to go to Upper chine claiming I would never have got to Oxford. she claimed to have read my articles on that school. People do NOT understand the ‘traditional ‘ class system where women judged of a certain class were NOT to be intellectuals, not to attend university but make a good marriage. My fees were paid for by the RAF then the local authority as my father , who had died of polio when I was 9, taught at Cranwell college. No matter that the headmistress summoned me,with 13 O levels and sitting 4 A levels .that I would be ‘selfish to go to university’ ,,I would be’ depriving a more worthy person of a place’.
    I escaped to the Sorbonne lived in a cheap hostel and a year later took the Oxford entrance on my own. The Upper Chine teaching had ensured I FAILED my french A level but due to MY later defiance, I gained a place at Oxford after the entrance exam to read french..My articles have been cited by a psycho analyst who invented the concept “Boarding School Syndrome” i.e. a trauma,,, I even had to change my handwriting arriving aged nine because it was ‘like that of a maid’. So don’t judge a person by her accent and later achievements. It was living with the Gypsies which offered an escape from that ‘lucky’ life the american lady claimed I had lived in the boarding school,games obsessed anti-intellectual prison

  4. Very interesting history about Upper Chine. I went to this school in 1971 till 1978.
    I thought it was a beautiful place.
    The school head mistress was a mean woman. The teachers were ok.
    I was not happy there.
    The rules were strict.
    I stayed there for many years and I felt sad.

  5. I was an Upper Chine girl for 5 years during the 1970’s as my parents worked abroad. The grounds around the chine were beautiful and Shanklin was a lovely little town (although we were only allowed out once a week in groups!). Rules were strict and a lot of what went on wouldn’t be tolerated nowadays (although quite likely the same in all types of schools). However, lasting friendships were made and now, over 40 years later and thanks to social media, many of us are still in regular touch with our old classmates … despite many living overseas. Whether you loved it or hated it, Upper Chine was a memorable part of all our lives.

    1. Dear Caroline, interesting to hear from you. One can’t underestimate the importance of schooling. Happily, I really benefitted from a sixth form in Sandown Grammar School. Still grateful for those two years. All good wishes.

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