On 16 April 1876, Vincent arrived in Ramsgate to work as an assistant teacher at a boys’ school run by William Port Stokes (c. 1832–1890). He received room and board but no salary and had been offered the job just two weeks earlier. The school housed 24 boys between the ages of 10 and 14, and they were subjected to a strict routine, rising at six every morning and going to bed at eight. Vincent taught them French and German and gave them sums, quizzes and dictation. Out of his own love of literature, he also encouraged the boys to read. He helped to look after them outside school hours, and thus he had little free time. He summed up his job in a letter to his brother Theo:
“For the time being, then, giving the lessons isn’t so difficult, but it’ll be more difficult to make the boys learn them.” Read the complete letter
Headmaster Stokes commanded respect from the boys, Vincent wrote, but he sometimes sent them to bed without bread or tea if he deemed them to have misbehaved, which outraged Vincent. Besides Stokes and Vincent, the school had one other teacher.
The small school looked out over the ocean, and to Vincent, the view was lovely enough to make up for the bedbugs. Like the other buildings around it, the house was constructed in a simple style; Vincent noticed that they all looked alike and were made of the same yellow brick. Ramsgate had a harbour, which was a good place for Vincent to walk, as he liked to do often. He frequently took the pupils to the beach, even in heavy storms. He once built a sand castle with them and was reminded of doing the same with his brother Theo in their home village of Zundert.
The school was located on Spencer Square, which had a patch of grass where the children played during breaks. Vincent’s house was also on the square. He made two drawings of the view from the school’s window, both entitled View of Royal Road, Ramsgate. Vincent wrote to Theo that he could imagine all too well how the boys felt as they stood at the window watching their parents leave after visits. For Vincent, Ramsgate evoked memories of his own boarding school days in Zevenbergen.
Vincent had been in Ramsgate just two weeks when he wrote to his brother Theo about Stokes’s plans for the school:
“Mr Stokes told me that he intends to move after the holidays – with the whole school, naturally – to a village on the Thames, around 3 hours from London. He would then furnish the school somewhat differently and perhaps expand it.” Read the complete letter
In June 1876, the school and all its pupils moved to Isleworth. Although Vincent thought about finding a new job, he decided to move with the school.