In 1801, His Royal Highness Frederick Duke of York laid the foundation stone in Chelsea of what was to become the Duke of York's Royal Military School. Originally, it was an orphanage for children of soldiers killed in battle and was Britain's first state funded and state administered school.
The first boys entered the school in 1803 and, in 1909, it moved to its present location in Dover. In 1992 it became coeducationalThe museum on site tells part of the school's rich history, and records have been kept on every pupil who ever attended the school.
Since 1945 the school has developed into a respected coeducational boarding establishment for all service children. Many of the school buildings are listed and the whole facility has to be managed under a strict code of maintenance guidelines. In fact, the procedures have changed very little since 1909.
The school stands in 150 acres of attractive parkland, two kilometres north of Dover. Both the grounds and buildings are managed by David Walker, Site Delivery Manager for Interserve Defence Ltd (second on left) which is part of the PriDE consortia contracted to Defence Estates, who are a client agent acting on behalf of the school. Interserve, a building, services and maintenance provider, and FTSE top 250 quoted, has an annual revenue of £1.7 billion and a workforce of 50,000 people worldwide.
PriDE has held the school contract for a number of years and, in that time, have managed to retain many of the original MOD gardening and grounds staff who have worked at the school for a long time.
David employs a staff of five to look after the grounds. Bob Bedo is the longest serving with 30 years service, followed by John Willis (Head Groundsman) and Rod Otto who both have 16 years service, Terry Erskine 14 years and the newest recruit, Neil Coleman, who has just completed his first year.
The school also receives regular visits from Graham Adlem, an Interserve grounds advisor, who inspects the work being undertaken and advises on any grounds maintenance issues.
David and Graham work closely together to ensure the safe procurement of services.
The school offers a wide range of traditional outdoor sporting facilities for its pupils. The delivery of sport is fitted into three terms Spring (January- April), Summer (April-July), Autumn/Winter (September-January).
The grounds are extensive with plenty of room for further development if required. The facilities include six grass rugby pitches with training grid areas, one football pitch, eight tennis courts (six grass courts and two tarmac), two grass hockey pitches, three cricket squares and a six lane all weather Redgra athletics track.
There is also a small, six hole golf facility and a full size synthetic, sand filled all weather pitch.
As you might expect at a military school there is a large drill square, which accommodates netball courts, a rifle range and an adjacent assault course.
As well as maintaining the sports areas the staff look after all the amenity areas in and around the buildings and living quarters. These include a lot of trees and woodlands along with formal gardens and hedges.
All of the work is carried by the on-site team with the exception of specialist works such as drainage. During the past two years all the staff have become certificated and trained in the use of various pieces of equipment and machinery. Between them they have chainsaw, PA1, PA2 and PA6 spraying, tractor driving and small equipment competence certificates, along with relevant on the job skills training that has encompassed specific sports pitch maintenance training days.
Typical of a military establishment, all the work is programmed and specified in a contract that provides detailed descriptions of how the work must be undertaken.
David cannot, and does not, allow the groundstaff to deviate from the specifications of the contract, so they work to rigid guidelines although deviations can still be considered on merit and customer requirements.
The specifications for grassed areas defines the type of machinery to be used and the height of cut the grass must be kept at. Here are a few examples:
Fine turf areas: Cut grass using cylinder lawnmower fitted with not less than 5 blades, front and rear rollers and grass collection box. Arisings shall be collected and disposed of. The length of grass following cutting shall not be less than 15mm and not more than 25mm.
Short grass areas: Cut using cylinder mowers, (gang, triple, pedestrian mowers), length of grass not less than 30mm and no more than 40mm.
Medium grass areas: Cut grass using rotary mowers or approved machine, mowing the grass to maintain a height of cut of not less than 70mm and not more than 90mm.
Long grass areas: Cut grass cut using appropriate machinery, with height of cut, after mowing, being 100mm.
Fine turf aeration: Using appropriate pedestrian operated slit/solid tines as ordered to effect a minimum penetration of 100mm.
Fine turf scarifying: Using approved pedestrian operated machinery, all arisings to be collected and disposed of.
Inspections of the playing surfaces and equipment are regularly undertaken. Line marking is generally carried out on a weekly basis, using string lines and a spray jet line marker. Stadia marking fluid is the preferred choice.
Rugby and football pitches are mown using a Trimax Pegasus rotary mower. Rugby pitches are maintained at 70mm and football pitches at 40mm. Lines are mown in with a pedestrian mower and maintained at a height of 25mm. All pitches are aerated monthly between October and April at a minimum depth of 100mm at 100mm centres. They are also chain harrowed on a monthly basis.
The hockey pitches are cut to a height of 20mm and brushed prior to games.
Grass tennis courts are box mown in the growing season maintaining a height of cut between 5-10mm. They are aerated twice a year in the spring and autumn.
Cricket outfields are cut using gang cylinder mowers to 25mm. Wicket preparation begins seven days before the match. On the morning of a match, or the last working day for weekend matches, the wickets get a further cut and roll before finally marking out the creases.
The main square has twelve strips and is made up with Surrey Loam. Once the school's fixtures are completed, in July, all three squares are renovated with a programme of scarifying, topdressing and overseeding.
Maintenance of the synthetic, sand filled carpet is based on a weekly brushing regime using the Quadraplay brushes, and twice a year a more vigorous clean and sand topping-up process is carried out by an external specialist to prolong the life.
The drill square is brushed weekly during term times and kept free of algae and moss with applications of mosskillers.
The Redgra athletics track is extensively used during the summer months and, each spring, a programme of surface renovation is undertaken to restore levels, applying over twenty tonnes of Redgra material.
The golf area is maintained on a minimal input of regular cutting of the greens, tees and fairway areas. The course, a six hole par 3, was developed from the need to keep a fairly large area tidy.
The most important date in the working calendar is Grand Day which takes place each year in early July. Rich in custom, the ceremonial 'Trooping of the Colour' is the highlight of the day. This is when the Inspecting Officer, with entourage, plus parents, former students and their families, and visitors, totalling around 1,500, pay homage to the school's military heritage. The day also marks the end of the summer term, and at the close, pupils and staff take their leave.
Preparations for the day begin in April, ensuring the grass is cut, fed and groomed on a regular basis, and shrub beds, hedges and informal gardens will be at their best.
A week before Grand Day all the furniture and goal posts are removed from the rugby pitch areas. Once the grass has been mown the staff begin the task of marking out special boxes and grid areas for the marching areas and the positioning of two large marquees for the VIPs, visitors and guests.
After the event damage to the playing fields, especially the marquee areas, is repaired. This generally involves decompacting, brushing, mowing, topdressing and overseeding.
The Duke of York's Royal Military School is certainly an interesting site. The work is varied and undertaken with military precision which, to some, may seem unusual. But, judging by the quality of the facilities, it works.
All work is policed by David and his management team who liaise with school departments to ensure that all outdoor activities and games fixtures are successfully catered for.
The PriDE staff are provided with excellent working conditions, equipment and training, a situation that mirrors the high standards the school has set for the past 99 years.
Legend of the tree that marks a dark secret!
Close to the entrance of the Duke of York's Royal Military School, and located within the school grounds, stands a tree passed daily by hundreds of people. The Elm is surrounded by other trees now and is difficult to find, but, just over a century ago, it stood alone, high on a then barren hill.
It was known as the Lone tree and was marked as such on Ordnance Survey maps. Legend is that the tree grew from a staff used by a soldier who murderously attacked his comrade and then drove the staff into the ground. When, years later, he saw the tree growing he confessed his crime.
It dates back to the middle of the 18th century, there were two Scottish soldiers, companions since childhood, in the castle garrison. They fell in love with the same local girl. One evening one of them, Donald MacDonald, came upon his friend walking with the girl along the narrow and lonely road over the hills to Deal. He waited for him to return and then attacked him. He rained blows down on his head and left him for dead.
The staff was covered in blood and MacDonald feared his crime would be discovered. So he thrust it deep into the soft earth and went back to the castle. Next day the regiment sailed for service overseas - without Donald's lifelong friend, who was posted as missing.
Soon after the regiment had gone, the missing man was discovered, more dead than alive. He eventually recovered but could remember nothing of the attack and so MacDonald was never suspected.
Meanwhile, MacDonald was haunted by the memory of his cowardly attack, believing himself to be a murderer. Once a happy fellow, he became melancholy. When the regiment eventually returned to England some years later he felt compelled to return to the scene of the crime.
He climbed the hill out of Dover and walked along the road he had once known so well. When he came to the area of the attack he realised with horror the tree was growing on the very spot.
He realised the staff he had used to attack his friend had taken root and grown into the tree. He went back to Scotland but, as the years went by, he again had a morbid wish to visit the tree. Eventually he walked from Montrose to Dover to satisfy the desire.
It was springtime when he again reached the tree, which was flourishing and in full leaf. MacDonald knew there was to be no relief for his conscience so he went to the local police and confessed. Inquiries were made and it was eventually established the man MacDonald thought he had killed was alive and well.
So, the man who for years had believed himself to be a killer was allowed to go. He returned to Scotland but never sought out his one time friend.
He lived to be 95 and, just before he died, in a tiny village, told the story of the Lone Tree to his minister.