Hidden Histories: The Beginnings of Philanthropy at Kent

It was late Spring in 1959.  A feeling of hope for the future was in the air. The number of young people staying on in education in Britain had recently risen dramatically. Continued economic growth was regarded as crucial… and increasingly dependent upon the quality of education of the new, post-war generation.

At the same time, the idea of putting in a bid for a local University was forming among members of the Education Committee for the county of Kent.

Correspondence from the Kent Further Education Sub-Committee, 1960.

At this point, the University could have been sited anywhere in Kent. Thanet Technical College, a small further education institution in Broadstairs, Kent, wrote a letter to Commander Thompson, then Chairman of the Kent Education Committee. In it, they proposed the formation of a ‘University of Thanet’. The detailed proposal for the institution included a siting of the University at Ramsgate Airport, a small 90 acre site in East Kent.

Ramsgate Airport Site, image courtesy of www.ramsgateremembered.com
Ramsgate Airport Site, image courtesy of www.ramsgatehistory.com

This proposal was one of the very first instances where philanthropy (or, the lack of it) became a point of contention for the prospective University of Kent. Committee members argued that, in addition to the airport site being “too small” and “costs underestimated”, the proposal could not go ahead because the body of potential sponsors simply “lacked influential people.” At that time, a requirement of the British University Grants Committee was for a University bid to show “ample evidence of strong local support”, translating to 10% of capital funds being contributed by donation to the University’s coffers. Without this support (both fiscally, and through endorsement), the University Grants Committee would not accept the proposal.

The future of the University of Kent was set: it would not be sited in Thanet. There was a place in Kent, however, that fit the requirements for affluent, and eminent, individuals…