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History of the Camps at St Mary's Bay

St Mary's Bay had a number of holiday camps; they included:

The Camp at Jefferstone Lane

The Tree Estate in St Mary's Bay is located in the area bounded by Jefferstone Lane to the north and the A259 Dymchurch Road to the east (see map). It was built in the 1970s on land that had been home since the first world war to a number of camps.

The first camp was built during WW1 as a military camp, it then became a holiday camp, followed by a boys camp and finally a holiday camp again. read on...


With the arrival of the 1914-1918 War, the War Department built a camp in what was then Jesson Lane, now Jefferstone Lane. The camp covered a large area, with Jesson Lane and the A259 as its boundaries.

The camp housed the Royal Flying Corps School of Gunnery, amalgamated with No.1 (Observers) School of Aerial Gunnery. The airfield itself was further down Jesson Lane on the right just past the railway line.. The camp was intended to accommodate 1000 men, 300 NCOs, 400 officers and 400 women.  

Jesson Lane 1920s
Jesson Lane in the late 1920s, with the camp buildings on the left

1920s and 1930s

A few years before the First World War, the London Boys’ Brigade had held summer camps under canvas on William Body’s land behind Cobsden, just off Dunstall Lane. When the Royal Flying Corps’ Gunnery School was put up for sale in 1920, the Boy’s Brigade purchased all the accommodation on the New Romney side of Jesson Lane, excluding a couple of the homes.

The Camp in the 1920s
The Camp in the 1920s

After a year or two, the Boys' Brigade found the camp difficult to maintain and sold it to Joseph Allnatt, a visionary and entrepreneur who converted the old air force buildings into a residential centre for schools. During the winter months it was run a Turkey farm!
The Camp was huge, accommodating over a thousand children per week, engaged in a vast programme of outdoor activities in the extensive grounds, and visits into the surrounding countryside.

A259 with the camp on the right in the 1930s
A259 with the camp on the right in the 1930s

At about this time the Duke of York, later King George VI, had accepted the presidency of the Industrial Welfare Society. He conceived the experiment, which became famous as the Duke of York’s Camp. This brought boys of different social status together annually to spend a holiday together by the sea.

In 1927 the Duke of York visited the camp, which became popularly known as the Duke of York's Camp for Boys.

The camp flourished in the late twenties and thirties. During this period three dining halls and kitchens were in use, and all the dormitories would be fully occupied by the children and their accompanying teachers.

Duke of York visiting his camp at St Mary's Bay c 1935

                                                 Duke of York visiting his camp at St Mary's Bay c1935

Camp Hospital in the 1930s
Camp Hospital in the 1930s

1935 and 1936

The hamlet of Jesson became the village of St. Mary's Bay in 1935 and in 1936 the name of the camp was changed to the St Mary's Bay Holiday Camp. In those days the camp was the biggest employer in the area during the summer and also kept a good gang of workmen to carry out maintenance during the closed season.

Camp Dining Hall 1930s
Camp Dining Hall in the 1930s (Yorkshire Block)

In World War Two, a number of the buildings were bombed, mainly those running alongside the A259. The Berkshire and Lancashire Kitchens never opened up after the war, all the catering being done in the Yorkshire Block in the centre of the camp.

1940s, 1950s and early 1960s

In the post-war years of the forties, fifties and early sixties the camp thrived with fleets of coaches packed with children and their teachers arriving on changeover day.

Camp in the 1950s
The Camp in the 1950s

When the children’s side of the holiday camp was scaled down, the name was changed in about 1964/5 from St. Mary’s Holiday Camp to the St. Mary's Bay School Journey Centre. Most of the buildings down from the Light Railway were taken over by Romney Marsh Poultry, who were still part of the same company that owned the Camp.

The Camp in the 1960s
The Camp in the 1960s

Swinging Blue Jeans at the St Mary's Bay Holiday Camp in October 1964


In the 1970s the bulldozers moved in and demolition of the camp began. Starting near the Light Railway line the machines worked their way up to the main road. By about 1975, the first roads had been laid and William Bray started to build the bungalows along what is now Laurel Avenue. This was the start of the Tree Estate - so named because all the roads are named after trees - as we know it today.

Tree Estate Today - Eam Road
Tree Estate Today - Elm Road

The Parish Council gives its grateful thanks to local author and artist Victor Haisell who has
given permission for extracts of his books, edited by Gill Smith, to be used on this website.

History Index