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Final Years

Dom Christopher Jenkins had been serving as University Chaplain at Cambridge when he was appointed Headmaster in 1989. As Kemble housemaster for 12 years, and teacher of English and Drama, his reputation preceded him. On his appointment, the editor of the Belmont Magazine wrote "It is easy to disagree with Fr Christopher, difficult, though sometimes necessary to argue with him. No one has ever doubted his integrity, his absolute commitment to what he believes or his effectiveness in achieving his aims. So we look forward to a future which may be uncertain in many respects, but which will be fired with life and energy" Fr Christopher's period as Headmaster was indeed lively. He was known to be a man who revelled in controversy. But his tenure also turned out to be a time of great uncertainty.
This uncertainty stemmed from the slow but steady decline in numbers that had occurred during the 1980s and 1990s. It was a preoccupation not only for the Headmaster but also the Abbot and monastic community as a whole.


 
 
Various changes and sacrifices needed to be made to keep the school economically viable. All concerned looked for ways to ensure the future of the school against trends in education that had made boarding schools out of favour.
Fr Christopher's first aim was the maintenance and improvement of Belmont's examination results. He made staff and timetable changes to help bring this about, adding "late-night-work-periods." In this goal he was successful: in his time the boys achieved the best A Level and O Level results in the school's history.
He also sought to deepen the boy's faith. He drew on his experience as University Chaplain that convinced him that the young lapsed from the practice of their faith when they left school because they associated religion with school compulsion. So he made religion "voluntary" apart from Sunday Mass and morning and night prayers in the houses, while making sure there were plenty of religious activities boys could opt into.
But even his love and zeal for a school which he first came to know as a lay-master, was not able halt the decline in numbers. He worked to encourage new entrants to the school and constantly monitored the numbers entering and leaving, looking for signs of hope that there would be a turn in the tide. It was proving increasingly difficult to ensure the numbers needed to keep the school financially viable, and the monastery just did not have the economic resources to support it indefinitely.
 
 

Despite the best efforts of monks and lay-staff, and the good will of parents and boys, the painful decision to close the School had to be faced. On the 21st February 1994, the Belmont Community gathered in Chapter took the hard decision and the School closed the following summer.
Tribute has to be paid to the many monks who with vigour and enthusiasm from its earliest years sought to offer at Belmont a broad and humane Christian education and thanks given to the many members of staff that worked alongside them with care and dedication.
Finally for all those boys and girls who passed through the school gates, it is hoped that they look back upon their days at Belmont with a certain fondness, and agree with the final words of Dom Christopher as Headmaster that "it has all been very worthwhile".

Vale: Belmont Abbey School 1926-1994