John Wales

John Wales (1904-1981) remains a key figure in Dartington’s rich history, most notably for his role in founding of Dartington Hall School.

John and Peggy Wales (1898-1993) are shown in the image here in 1927 at their wedding reception, which was held on the Private Lawn (situated behind The White Hart).  Leonard Elmhirst, seen here with his wife Dorothy, is fourth from the right of the groom.

John and Peggy Wales' wedding reception, 1927
John and Peggy Wales’ wedding reception, 1927

John first met Peggy in Surrey, where he was temporarily working on a farm.  However, despite his agricultural training, John’s health was not suited to farming and in 1926 he came to Dartington to catalogue Leonard’s books and start a library there. Peggy trained as a dispenser and followed him, doing soil tests in the science laboratories.

With Leonard’s brother Vic (seen to the left of the nanny), John helped to start the school at Dartington, which eventually, under the headship of WB Curry, became one of the most famous schools of the progressive movement.

In 1930 John and Peggy left for London to enable John to study for a degree at the LSE.  Their young daughter Shirley, at Dorothy’s urging, was left behind for a few months in Dartington’s nursery while they got settled.  Their second daughter, Mary Bride, (Archivist/Curator at Dartington until 1991) was born in London.

In 1934 they returned and John was appointed History and Latin teacher.  In 1936 Peggy became the school’s matron until her retirement in 1958.

John’s interest in documentary films, especially educational ones, led to the formation of the Dartington Hall Film Unit, which he ran with Bill Hunter, another staff member.  He also ran the Ministry of Information Regional Film Library, based at Dartington, which distributed documentaries to schools all over the South West.

He was so good at his job that he was offered and accepted a post with Paul Rotha, jointly with John Grierson of the documentary industry. Sadly Rotha went bankrupt, but John joined the Crown Film Unit and subsequently the Educational Foundation for Visual Aids.

In 1961 he was offered an educational advisory post by UNESCO and worked in Pakistan and Nigeria until his retirement, when he returned to Dartington – rejoining Peggy at their cottage in the village of Week.

Dartington would like to thank Kate Caddy for helping compile these biographies.


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