The Hospital in the Park

2018 sees the 70th anniversary of the NHS which started life at Park Hospital on 5 July 1948.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/manchester/content/articles/2008/07/03/nhs60_trafford_general_hospital_feature.shtml

Originally built by Barton upon Irwell Union in a corner of Davyhulme Park, Park Hospital is now Trafford General.

In 1926, at the same moment as negotiations for the sale of Rickmansworth Park were underway, the Union started building their hospital. It was opened by the Princess Royal (HRH Princess Mary) on 1 June 1929, the same person who presented the prizes at the School in 1927 when it was still at Clapham.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 Park Hospital was taken over by the War Department for use by the Armed Forces. The well-equipped School San came under close scrutiny by Rickmansworth Council at much the same time. They had it in mind to create a casualty clearing station but the School authorities resisted. You could say they repelled all boarders – except those who were female, of school age and were registered as pupils at RMIG!

Park Hospital was de-requisitioned in September 1945 by which time plans for the NHS were well underway. The world’s first universal health care system provided by government was steered to fruition by Aneurin (Nye) Bevan. He died in 1960 just ‘up the road’ from the School in Ashridge House, near Berkhamsted.

So the School Sanatorium, the ‘hospital’ in the park, has some interesting parallels with Park Hospital and the birth of the NHS.

At the time the plans for RMIG were drawn up, the NHS was unheard of and provision was therefore made for the healthcare of all the pupils. This had always been considered as part of the overall package from the moment pupils were accepted by the charity. Medical practitioners offered their services gratis for pupils and there was an awareness from the outset that a group of people living in close proximity were subject to the possibility of contagion. From 1795, all prospective pupils were required to have a certificate, signed by a medical practitioner, to say that they were safe from smallpox and had no defect in sight or limbs. If having a certificate of health pre-admission seems strange, it should be noted that by 1818 some 272 girls had been educated at the School and, of these, only five had died whilst at School. Given the rate of childhood mortality beyond the School, this is quite a remarkable success story.

The first school site being an already existing building adapted for the purpose, it is unlikely to have had a designated area for sick children. When the School moved to Southwark, the floor plans do not specify any area dedicated to treatment and care of sick pupils but there clearly was some. The matron’s duties extended to healthcare although primarily she was responsible for ensuring that the girls remained healthy rather than actually nursing them. It was her job to ensure that any contagion was dealt with swiftly so, for example, in 1821, two girls who contracted scarlet fever were removed to the Fever Hospital in Gray’s Inn Rd.

“The London Fever Hospital (LFH) was founded in 1802 at 2 Constitution Row, Gray’s Inn Lane, just north of Guilford Street … it had 15 beds, and was staffed by three nurses, a medical officer, an apothecary and a porter.” https://aim25.com

An article in The Spectator declared:

The ward fees are seven shillings a day for adults and five shillings for children.

http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/12th-january-1924/14/the-london-fever-hospital

This indication of charges, albeit later than when used by the School, underlines that healthcare could be costly but throughout the School’s pre-NHS history, there was never any question of pupils not receiving the appropriate healthcare on grounds of cost. For example, a pupil in 1921 was treated at the Yarrow Convalescent Home in Broadstairs at a cost of 25/- per week from July for a month, followed by 3 months convalescence. The costs would have been met entirely by the School.

By the time RMIG reached Clapham, there was dedicated provision with resident staff. Often referred to as ‘The San’, it was officially the Infirmary and was referred to formally as such by the Head Governess. However, the two names were clearly interchangeable. For example, a former pupil, Gertrude Craik, in 1920 ‘became the assistant to the nurse in the Sanatorium’ before moving on in 1922 to Great Ormond St Hospital. In another example, Betty Starling ‘Contracted scarlet fever in 1924 and was retained in sanatorium over school holidays, later transferring to the Joyce Green Hospital, Dartford so that the San. could be disinfected.’

The infirmary at Clapham was updated from time to time, as need arose and the school roll increased. It had its own dispensary as the picture from about 1912 below shows.

By the time the School had left the metropolis and moved to the fresh fields of Herts, it was also ready for a larger medical section. At Clapham, it had been recognised that a separate entrance to the infirmary would be a good idea as a method of keeping contagion controlled. At Ricky, it went one step further – well several steps actually – by having the Sanatorium in a separate building. Furthermore, although all the other buildings of the time were connected by underground service tunnels, the San was not (and still isn’t).

Making up the fourth side of a quadrangle, the San had a south façade with larger windows and balconies and a north façade with smaller windows.

The solaria were placed to take advantage of stronger sunlight to aid recovery. The two balconies were designed to enable patients to sit outside (whether they wanted to or not!) on the basis that ‘fresh air is Good For You’.

The architect’s plans show the several entrances, the main one of which was (and still is) flanked by a design probably based on the medical symbol the Rod of Asclepius and crafted by Joseph Cribb.

But probably the thing that most astonishes the modern pupil, for whom the NHS has always existed, is that the Sanatorium had its own operating theatre.

As a former pupil who experienced the facilities both as a patient and, later, as a probationer, said:

There was an operating theatre, consultant room, dental clinic, pharmacy, solarium, wards and single rooms, and, in 1955, even x-ray facilities.

… we were lucky to have such an efficient, highly commendable health care system, especially as [this] was before the birth of the National Health System in 1948.

There were resident nursing sisters who were assisted by school leavers known as probationers. These were girls who wanted to go into nursing but were not old enough to start their formal nursing training. Probationers, under the supervision of the Sisters, were responsible for the care of the girls and day to day cleaning.

“We learnt basic nursing skills which stood us in good stead for our later careers.”

The picture below shows two of these probationers engaged in cleaning the operating theatre.

A doctor visited daily but was not resident and there was also a dentist who treated the girls requiring fillings etc in the dental clinic in the San. (“Having teeth filled in those days was no picnic with no pain killers available,” recalled another pupil, presumably from experience) but anyone requiring orthodontic work was sent to Harley St or the Royal Masonic Hospital.

The two sisters held surgeries morning and evening for basic treatment. Those requiring treatment in the sanatorium were given a bed whilst those needing a little less intensive care were in the sanatorium as day cases. Some eligible for day care were those who needed TLC, especially new girls, which shows an understanding that for some girls being a long way from their families was an ordeal in itself.

All girls were subjected to regular eye, dental and medical examinations.

“For the less fortunate adolescent teenagers with acne, every Wednesday and Saturday, they received ultra violet treatment in the solarium, all sitting in a circle wearing darkened goggles.”

Pupils were regularly weighed and measured at the beginning of each term.

“The skinny ones were fortified by cod liver oil tablets and malt. Those deemed to be overweight were scrutinised at meal times by the House Matron.”

Judging by the numerous recollections of feeling permanently hungry (Children’s Hollow Legs Syndrome), obesity was far less of a problem than it is today.

The San was the equivalent of a 50 bed cottage hospital, quite possibly better equipped than many. For the most part, there would be 6-10 girls staying in overnight or longer but, just occasionally, if an epidemic broke out, extra space would be allocated. For example, in September 1954 a flu epidemic hit the school. The sanatorium was soon full to capacity with the nursing staff run off their feet. Girls at the recuperative stage were transported by ambulance (St John’s) to Ruspini House which served as a convalescent house whilst new cases took their beds in the sanatorium.

“This lasted nearly a month,” recalled a former pupil, “but, true to fashion, it all ran like clockwork under the eye of Sister Taylor.”

The beds in the ward were typical hospital beds.

Each girl admitted had a day basket in which to put personal clothing and in-patients wore pyjamas and pretty smocked embroidered pink and blue bed jackets. As all the uniform, including nightwear, was provided, no doubt these too were standard issue.

One who was a probationer recalled that they were paid £2.00 a month, just as the pupil teachers also received an allowance. They had one day off a week. Their uniform – of course – was provided and, in addition, when they were ready to move onto nurse training beyond the School, they were equipped with any compulsory requirements listed by the teaching hospital, such as black shoes and a watch with a second hand. Like all school leavers, they also received leaving outfits and were taken to Arding & Hobbs in Clapham where additional clothing was bought.

The healthcare the pupils received, both before and after the NHS was born, was exemplary.

“… when we left the Masonic School, we were as medically fit as possible”

Not sure if the following counts as an item to ensure medical fitness but the Head Governess in the 1890s wrote in her report:

“Miss Davis will feel obliged if the Committee will again allow one dozen pint bottles of claret for the children during that week, as she has found that the best thing for their refreshment in the midst of their work.”

Yes, I’ll have that prescribed please!

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Hidden History

Adding the words ‘hidden’ or ‘secret’ to anything always serves to attract attention. Often the reality is not hidden or secretive at all but simply not known by very many. Mind you, putting up big road signs does seem a little counterproductive for secrecy:

You can also follow a tourist trail and visit a ‘secret’ nuclear bunker! See https://hackgreen.co.uk/

The School has a number of hidden elements. The first lies in the historical existence of the School itself. That is not to say that any part of the School ever had an invisibility cloak and one might be forgiven for wondering how something currently in 300 acres of parkland could ever be hidden. However, one of the oldest girls’ schools, its existence was one of those ‘secrets’ that those in the know knew but … Educational history is a well-researched field but while much has been written about various girls’ schools, RMSG is never one that is mentioned. As an example, Alice Zimmern, writing in 1898, identified many established girls’ schools in her The Renaissance of Girls’ Education in England: a Record of Fifty Years’ Progress but not one mention, not even a sniff, of RMSG which was considerably older and more well-established than most of the examples she did use. And yet, it was ‘hidden’ in full view as searching online newspapers testifies. The search term the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls has 4,092 hits – and that’s just between 1850 and 1978 (when its name officially changed) and from one online source. There were frequent newspaper reports in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries but then, a venture that relied on charitable support did need to advertise its presence. Whilst the School was a Masonic charity, lists of subscribers show only too clearly that there were many other contributors too. So the school’s apparent invisibility was actually in full public view! An article by J R Wade in Pearson’s Weekly in 1934 declares RMIG to be ‘one of the finest schools in Europe’ but adds that ‘it forms one of the never advertised charities of Freemasonry’ which helps to explain how a very large educational establishment can be hidden from view.

Another hidden aspect in full view is the statue by E Roscoe Mullins of Ruspini, currently found in his niche on the Chapel’s eastern wall.

Nothing at first glance hidden about this you might think, and you’d be right. The ‘hidden’ bit relates to the top of the statue’s head. Originally, the statue had been placed high up on the gable end of the School when it was on the Clapham site. Somehow, intrepid girls had discovered that, by scrambling about amongst the rafters, they could reach out and pat the statue on his head. And once one set of girls had done it, another set wanted to try and then it became the ‘done thing’ before leaving the school, for the more trepidatious amongst the pupils, to pat the statue. As soon as the School authorities discovered this, it was immediately banned as a dangerous activity. Perhaps employing a reverse psychology and practically making it mandatory would have taken away the illicit pleasure. A very good example of this was the ladies’ school (not RMSG) which, concerned that their girrrls (as Miss Jean Brodie put it) were reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover illicitly, took the counterintuitive step of making it a class reader. Killed it stone dead!

Not far from where Ruspini’s statue stands today is the clock tower at the top of which can be found four sculpted Anemoi (Greek for the wind). These sculptures by Joseph Cribb are barely visible to those on the ground although the pigeons get a good view as they fly past. In mythology they were minor deities, the four chief ones being Zephyrus, Boreas, Eurus and Noter. One of ours must have gone on holiday as we have Auster, which is the Latin name, rather than Notus. Anemoi in Latin is Venti so we have 3 Anemoi and one Vento.

Images supplied by Joseph Cribb’s grandson, photos taken by Joseph Cribb himself.

It seems a great shame that the sculptures are rarely seen but here’s a closer view (below right) taken when maintenance work on the tower allowed access via scaffolding. Forty years of weathering has hardly made an impact on it.

A definitely hidden bit of the School is the service tunnels. Created to allow for maintenance of the buildings above them, they link all the 1934 buildings with the exception of the San (now Cadogan House). For infection control, the San was a stand alone building. It is possible to walk all round the school under the ground. Possible but definitely not advisable. Walking along tunnels that are all identical but with no ability to define one’s position by reference to external sources is the definition of disorientation. Not only are there no signposts to tell you where you are, there is nothing to pinpoint position or guide direction. Trying to find your way anywhere in the dark is difficult as anyone who has tried it will testify. When there is nothing at all that tells you which way is up, down, right or left, you could wander in a tight little circle whilst believing you were marching forward.

Another set of ‘tunnels’ that exist are the air raid shelters. Constructed at the same time as the School was being built, these tunnels are in a zig-zag shape so that the effect from any direct hit from an explosive device would be dissipated by a blast wall. In 1924 an Air Raid Committee established that it might be prudent to have underground shelters available. Consequently, large organisations such as the School built underground shelters well in advance of the war. For a school built for 400 pupils, plus all the resident staff, plus the Junior girls who, for the Duration, had been moved from Weybridge, this was no mean feat as the space required was rather large. The shelters were built initially as trenches and, after suitable reinforcing, the ‘lid’ of corrugated iron was overlaid and then earth piled on top.

Image on left from https://attain.news/story/network-of-wwii-tunnels-rediscovered-beneath-school-campus; image on right from Archives.

During air raids, the girls would troop down to the shelter and spend the night there on wooden benches that lined the tunnels. The shelving on which the blankets were kept still remain in places.

Images: the storage shelves for blankets; inside the tunnels on a torchlit tour; follow my leader round the corner (from Archives)

The sleeping benches, being wooden, have all now rotted away, Although the underground space was designed for the whole school, it was very quickly found to be too disruptive of exam preparation to sleep there every night. The older girls slept top to toe in the centre of the houses where they might be most protected and where there were few windows for flying glass to be a problem. Only the youngest ones slept in the shelters with any great regularity wearing their little knitted pixie hoods

Image on the left shows the girls sleeping (probably a posed photograph!) and wearing the pixie hoods, whilst the image on the right is a contemporaneous cartoon drawn by one of the girls.

There was an attempt to make the experience less frightening by giving names to different areas such as Moira Mansions or Cumberland Court. Girls who were ill and in the San slept under their beds in the event of an air raid. One girl recalled that, when she woke up one morning, she momentarily forgot where she was and tried to sit up, banging her head on the metal bed frame above her. So her chicken pox was exacerbated with a headache!

The floors of the shelters were covered in duckboards, most of which have since rotted away, like the benches, but the remains are visible in places. There were vents at various intervals to allow fresh air to circulate but the construction of the shelters, plus all the entrances, created a natural air flow. There was power supplied to the shelters and lamps could be suspended along the corridors to provide light. It was otherwise pitch black. During recent tours, conducted by modern torchlight, we were instructed to turn off torches. Immediately it became extremely dark – so much so, that girls at once put torches back on as they clearly did not like it. In fact the tunnels had been used by the local fire brigade up until 1988 as a training location to simulate working in pitch black conditions.

The original entrances and exits were closed off in the 1960s with entrances bricked up. Later, in 2011, the tunnels were sealed with 6 tons of soil and steel plates but in 2018 they were once again opened up for official guided tours for the girls and staff to give them some insight into the School’s history. During the tours, several items have been found: a bone button, a 1916 penny, a protractor (although that looked a shade too modern to be from the war era).

Image on the left, the remains of the duckboards; right, one of the bricked up entrances

There was some wartime graffiti on the walls and, as evidence that post-war the shelters had not been forgotten, some from about 1953 and later. It is a curious thing that people trespassing in places where they are not supposed to be, or doing what they not supposed to do, always seem to want to put a signature to their crime, thus allowing themselves to be readily identified!

The tours gave a fascinating glimpse into the past. Nevertheless, it was with a sense of relief that we reached the steps up to the entrance again and out into fresh air.

The experience provided an insight into a part of the School’s history that wasn’t secret, had not been forgotten but had been made inaccessible (mostly).

Hidden history indeed.

Long Hessen Elli Bedders

When the school began in 1788, girls had to be six before they could apply and no older than 10 when accepted. So the earliest pupils were primary school age – at least when they started.

The newspaper notices giving details of the first pupils in 1788.

They were at school until they were 15 which, at the time, was not the ‘norm’. If girls received any education at all – and many did not – it was generally until they were about 12. School log books are peppered with comments relating to girls leaving school: ‘Wanted at home’ was a common phrase. By the age of 11 or 12, girls were deemed perfectly capable of helping run the household, especially if Mother was still producing babies. By insisting that girls should be educated to the age of fifteen, the School was bucking the trend.

With just fifteen pupils to begin with, all pupils were taught together with the older ones helping the younger ones when required. As the school population grew, it became necessary to separate classes although the system of pupil teachers, used widely throughout the country, continued until well into the 20th century. Gradually, this segregation evolved into a system given the jazzy titles of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th classes. Unlike today when, by and large, pupils move from one year group to the next by chronology, in the 19th century pupils graduated when their educational standard was deemed right. It was possible, if rare, for a pupil to remain in the lowest class throughout her time at the School and for her contemporaries to be much younger than she. For example, a pupil (who perhaps ought to remain anonymous!) was “in consideration of her age & height placed in the 3rd class” although the headmistress rather damningly said she “has scarcely met with such deficiency of mental power”. Hmm … (from RMIG Governess’ Report GBR 1991 RMIG 1/2/2/4/2 A11944)

Almost as bad was the girl who was

particularly wanting in ability, she is only in the 4th class and that more out of consideration for her age. She was only 11 when she entered the school, knowing nothing. (ibid)

En masse, the younger girls were described as ‘The Junior School’ or the juniors. Quite which pupils were classed as Juniors and which not is impossible to establish from a century away. The people of the time knew who they meant so did not explain and, by the time anyone had realised that there might be confusion, it was too late!

 

Above, a group photo, undated but probably at Clapham. Little girls with nice bows in their hair but there’s always one that looks as if butter wouldn’t melt …

By the time the School had reached its site in Clapham, the school roll had risen substantially and adjustments to accommodation were made. The houses next door had been purchased to give more room but this was only a temporary respite given the ever-increasing roll.

By 1918, bursting point had been reached and there was need for something more drastic. That something was the purchase of another site for the younger pupils and so, in 1918, we have the beginning of the Weybridge Years.

From 1918 to 1973, the younger pupils lived and were schooled in deepest, darkest Surrey and, inevitably, became known as the Weybridge girls. During WWII, when they were ‘evacuated’ back to the main school – by then in Hertfordshire – they were still known as Weybridge girls. New pupils who joined the school during these six or so years were often confused by this as they had never known the school anywhere else but in Ricky. For them, when the juniors returned to Weybridge post-war, this was a new place whereas for the old hands it was a coming home.

Above left: Miss Harrop who took the junior school to Weybridge, and kept its spirit alive during the war and (above right) Miss Vaughan, who took over post-war.

 

Abiding memories of girls were things like the panelled dining hall with its bowls of blue delphiniums [sadly no colour pictures exist]

And the gingko tree in the grounds, planted by Dr Roper-Spyers when he had founded the boys’ school originally there. Although the school buildings have long gone, giving way to a housing estate, the tree is still to be found.

A flavour of Weybridge life is shown in the cartoons below, drawn by a former pupil.

The first captures the yawning middle-of-the-night fire drill, and the struggle into dressing gowns and coats and shoes, and resisting the temptation to snuggle back under the eiderdown.

The second relates to the cry that went up in the evenings “Long Hessen Elli Bedders”. Not as you might imagine some kind of esoteric schoolgirl language, the Weybridge version of pig Latin. In fact, it was a straightforward request for those with long hair (who needed to have it washed and dried before bedtime – long hairs) and those younger pupils whose bedtime was earlier than the others (early bedders) to come and be accounted for. Hence, long hessen elli bedders. Simple really.

The junior school was at Weybridge until 1973 when, with great reluctance but in the face of falling numbers, the decision was taken to close the site and transfer all pupils to Rickmansworth, permanently. To begin with, they were dispersed amongst the various boarding houses and attached to ‘house mothers’ who were, in reality, prefects. They had their lessons separately and, for many, any sense of continuity was focused on the figures of the Miss Gambles, known affectionately as Big Miss Gamble and Little Miss Gamble – although neither was of particular great stature.

The two ladies could be seen accompanying younger pupils after school too as they ventured around the grounds but of a ‘junior school’ there was little sign. Then, in 1980 David Curtis arrived as Headmaster and he reconvened the corporate body of the junior school by shuffling the boarding houses to provide a space for them. Not literally of course but certainly by name and purpose. Thus what was Ruspini house became Alexandra and Cumberland shuffled clockwise a couple of places; Atholl and Sussex became combined, reflecting the union between Ancient and Modern Freemasonry, led by the gentlemen of those names. What had been Cumberland became the Junior School and Ruspini, having shot across the Garth, became their boarding house. If you are confused by all of this, you are not alone. It took a good while to get used to the new positions of existing names. The Bursar’s department, working on the basis that more changes might well happen in the future (they did, but not for a good while) referred to the houses as K1-K8 on the basis that the order would remain even if the names changed. No-one knows why they chose K.

The Js (as they were nicknamed) settled in their new homes and the Seniors eventually stopped grumbling about the changes. By the time of the Bicentenary (1988), few, if any, of the pupils could remember it being any different. Of course, former pupils remembered well their houses and even now, when Old Girls visit and ask to be shown their house, they are startled to be taken by a current pupil in a completely different direction than they had expected!

At the back of the House/Junior School, an adventure playground was installed in the 90s, a recognition that younger pupils needed something to get rid of excess energy during breaktimes! The Junior School remained in the Garth for the rest of the century although an expanding school roll again put pressure on the space. This was further exacerbated in 1994 when the starting age for pupils became rising five. The Junior School was renamed the Prep Department so that the very youngest pupils could be classed as the Pre-Prep. In 2009, another new venture introduced even younger pupils as a Pre-School opened with pupils aged 2+ (and some of them of a different gender). In order to avoid confusion with nomenclature (!!), Ruspini House became the home of the teeny-tinies which left the Junior Boarding House without a name. The obvious choice was Weybridge.

In the meantime, other changes had been made (no, don’t go there) which left a large building within the grounds unoccupied. It was refurbed, had an assembly hall added and in 2011 the Prep and Pre-Prep Departments moved lock, stock and barrel and became Cadogan House.

 

The creation of a combined Prep and Pre-Prep meant eliminating the final traces of the old operating theatre which had been a part of the building when it was the Sanatorium.

 

It also meant leaving behind the adventure playground but, fear not! Another one was built.

 

This historical overview of the younger pupils one hundred years after the founding of the school at Weybridge is brief. Much more can be seen on the School website rmsforgirls.org.uk but, as punctuation perhaps, here’s a fashion parade of little misses over the years.

Bring me sunshine …

As the temperatures fall and the wind chill factor rises, our thoughts may turn to warmer climes and a longing to be there. A Caribbean cruise feels like a really good idea when it is wet and miserable outside. Spare a thought, then for three former pupils of the School who came from those very climes as children to be pupils at the School when it was in Clapham.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/caribbean/antigua-and-barbuda/

Eliza Beveridge had been born in Antigua on 7th July 1864 where her father was a Revenue Officer and a member of St John’s Lodge, Antigua. After his death, Eliza was accepted at the School in October 1871. That must have been a massive meteorological shock to the system – although, of course October is in the hurricane season so perhaps the deepening cold of darkest Surrey wasn’t quite so bad. (Well we can be optimistic, can’t we?)

Hurricane in Antigua; image from httpstormcarib.comreportscurrentantigua.shtml

In fact, records suggest that Eliza never returned to the Caribbean. In 1939, she was living in Worthing and was sharing her home with someone described as a ‘useful companion’. This probably means that said companion was in the employ of Eliza rather than being the opposite of useless, but we cannot be certain. Eliza was ‘of private means’ and, as she appeared to have no occupation in 1901 and 1911, perhaps she had inherited money from her mother in 1918. If she did, it must have been a substantial inheritance as, when Eliza herself died on 21 December 1956, her estate was valued at £33,000. Not a sum to be sniffed at.

“In the 1950s, the average cost of a house was just under £2000 and the average worker took home around £10 a week.” https://www.sunlife.co.uk/blogs-and-features/the-price-of-a-home-in-britain—then-and-now/

So Eliza was doing very nicely, thank you.

Another pupil who faced the Clapham temperature drop was Bessie Crombie. Born in 1907, she arrived in Britain in 1919 having been living in Demerara, then part of British Guiana.

Lithograph of Georgetown, Demerara, British Guiana, after a drawing by F. A. Goodall. Courtesy of David Druett, Pennymead.com

It is not certain where Bessie was born or how long she had been living in what is now Guyana. Her parents were married in Japan, her father being a member of the Rising Sun Lodge in Kobe and in 1905, Bessie’s mother travelled from Japan to San Francisco so it is possible that Bessie was born in the USA. Her mother’s father was an American Consul. Enoch Joyce Smithers, born in Delaware and first lieutenant of Company D in the First Regiment of Delaware Volunteers during the American Civil War.

“President Lincoln removed him from the ranks to serve as U.S. Consul at the newly created legation on Chios, a Turkish-occupied island in the Aegean Sea” http://archives.dickinson.edu/people/enoch-joyce-smithers-1828-1895

He served as American Consul in Asia, in Chinkiang, Shanghai and Tientsin (now called Tianjin). Then he became consul in Korea and Japan, with his last posting being Osaka. This may well explain how an American woman married someone hailing from Scotland in Japan before living in South America but it doesn’t get us any closer to knowing where Bessie was actually born!

Whatever her geographical background, Bessie was another one who settled for UK as her later domicile. She arrived as a pupil in 1919 and in 1922, she passed Junior Cambridge exam. She left school in December 1923 to become a writing assistant in the Civil Service and was appointed to the Savings Bank Department in November 1925. She was living in Mitcham, Surrey in 1936.

Mitcham Pond by Noel Foster, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9132439

In this year, she married Walter Stevens. In 1939, on the outbreak of war, she is found in Whitchurch without her husband. He was at the Society of Lloyds Register of Shipping in Wokingham along with a number of other Lloyds people so possibly Bessie had been moved because of the war. Later they moved to Newcastle upon Tyne and Walter died in 1974 at their home there. When Bessie died on 10 May 1991, also in Newcastle, her estate was worth considerably more than she had inherited from her husband in 1974. She may have just been a canny investor and, if so, she would have been a financial advisor worth having!

Another pupil hailing from Antigua who was a pupil at Clapham in the late nineteenth century was Edith Proudfoot. Born in 1877, she was present as a pupil in the 1891 census and was due to leave the School in 1892. The Head Governess, Miss Davies, wrote of her:

“[she] has always been a good girl and is a prefect. She is fairly clever, of good general ability and entered for Cambridge.”

The Cambridge reference here is not the university but the Cambridge Local Exams. Junior Cambridge was about the equivalent of GCSE/O level and Senior Cambridge was A level. As Edith was 14, it seems likely that she would have been doing Junior Cambridge at this time. Miss Davies recommended her as a pupil teacher – “she is competent to assist in either class work or music” and added that she had taken prizes for music in her school career. Clearly, the recommendation was successful as Edith was at the School as a pupil teacher until 1894 and had moved from junior teaching to take the 3rd class and assist with music.

This perhaps suggests that she had been reasonably successful as a pupil teacher. However, in October 1895, Miss Davies, in her report to the Committee, “wished to raise the matter of Miss Edith Proudfoot, one of the pupil teachers.” In the slightly veiled way these reports were worded, Miss Davies reminded the Committee that Edith had come from Antigua and said she was “anxious to return her thence fit to earn her living” which rather suggests that Miss Davies thought that Edith might be able to earn her living as a governess, just not in my school thank you. Clearly Edith’s mother was still living in Antigua and, Miss Davies declared, Edith “would like to return to the West Indies to be with her mother but has not the means to do so.” Miss Davies left it to the Committee to decide what should be done.

Whether Edith did return to the West Indies at the Committee’s expense is not known. She may have done and then returned to UK again. In 1901, however, she is in London described as ‘Lady Help’ but as a visitor to the Jay household at 11 Taviton Street, St Pancras (rather than in their employ).

Sadly, this story does not end happily. In 1911, the census records her as an inmate at London County Lunatic Asylum Hanwell, described as a clerk.

http://www.victorianlondon.org/health/hanwell.htm

In 1939, she is recorded as a patient at Epsom West Park Hospital, still given as a clerk. The hospital “was built for patients with mental health problems from the urban metropolis of London and was intended both as a place of tranquillity and confinement.” (Neil Bowdler http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-14652885) It was demolished in 2011.

An Edith L Proudfoot died in Hammersmith in 1950 although the birth year is given as 1879 so there isn’t certainty whether this is the same person. If this is her death record, it might suggest that she did not end her days in the asylum. Nor is there evidence to suggest that she required care continuously from 1911. We can only say that in both 1911 and 1939 she was receiving mental health care.

Our final Caribbean connection relates to one born in England but who went to live in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Sadie Wallis nee Mansfield, b 1903, arrived at the School from Derbyshire in 1912. She left July 1920 and became a pupil teacher in Nottinghamshire, qualifying in 1923, and obtaining a post in an elementary school in Nottingham. In 1927, she married Kenneth Wallis and in February 1929 travelled to Port of Spain with him.

In 1930, part of a letter from her written from Trinidad and describing her life there was reprinted in Machio.

“Life out here is very different. There are very few English people, mostly those in Government Service … [her husband was a government analyst and the address she wrote from was c/o Government Laboratory.]

‘Port of Spain is a wonderful town. The houses and streets very well planned; the roads, of which there are few owing to the thickly wooded, mountainous interior of the island, are first class roads kept in perfect condition with material from the famous pitch-lake. The drainage system and water supply are modern, thus it is very healthy. Cases of typhoid are rare in town, there are very few mosquitoes and no anopheles, the type which causes malaria … The sunshine is just glorious, and in the middle of the day, when it is really very hot, everyone is resting.

‘The island is very, very beautiful … At sunset we often climb one of the hills, which begin to rise quickly behind the town, and watch the exquisite colouring of the quickly-changing sky. The coastline is wonderful, in some places where the hills almost reach the seas, it is wild and rugged, in other parts … little picturesque bays of silvery sand … are fringed with palms leaning towards the very blue tropical sea. The bathing in these sandy bays is really beautiful. Just off the coast near Port of Spain are a number of tiny wooded islands … One can rent a whole island at very little cost and spend a delightful simple holiday. The swimming, fishing and boating is splendid.”

She was still there in 1933 but in 1934, she travelled to Guiana with her daughter. A son was born in 1937, probably in Guiana where they were then living. Sadly, this story, too, doesn’t have a happy ending. In 1943, the Wallises were travelling en famille across the Atlantic where Kenneth was to take up a new post in Uganda. The ship they were travelling on was torpedoed and sunk with the loss of all of the family. Sadie is commemorated in the School Chapel.

Set in Stone

Researching the past pupils of the School endlessly uncovers interesting stories – only to be expected given the large numbers we are considering from 1788 onwards. Recently, I discovered that the father of Celia Bentham (1927-1963, at school 1937-1944) was Percy George Bentham, a sculptor of renown who studied at the Royal Academy.

“In 1907 Bentham was awarded a first prize of £20 and a silver medal, for a set of four models of a figure from the life” http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php

And perhaps on the strength of this success, he married Celia’s mother in 1909 at St Matthew, Willesden. In 1911, the couple are recorded at 13 and 15 Crownhill Road Harlesden, with Ellen Bentham’s brother as Head of Household. Perhaps at this stage, Bentham’s income as an artist was not yet sufficient to run a separate household. Later, however, he worked from a studio at 8A Gunter Grove, off the Fulham Road. (information from ‘Percy George Bentham, Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011’)

Amongst other works by Bentham are a stone relief on the Leadenhall building in London on premises once occupied by the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company, usually shortened to P & O. This piece shows a godlike figure carrying a ship and the ‘Public Monuments & Sculpture Association website suggests that the sculptor was Percy George Bentham (1883-1936)’

http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/behind-the-scenes/blog

Another of his pieces is entitled the Bubble Blower, a wonderful evocation of an innocent childhood pastime. (Image courtesy of https://www.the-saleroom.com)

As well as her father being a sculptor, Celia’s brother, Philip, also became a sculptor. Born in 1913, Philip studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and also at Kennington School of Woodworking but he began his work training with his father.

One of his pieces is entitled the ‘Coventry Boy’. The description of the sculpture on the Coventry Society website tells us that ‘this boy has no name but represents all boys of all time’. Situated near the Cathedral, the statue

“is a model of a young man standing holding up a roll of paper in a heroic pose like a king or knight holding aloft a sword. But this is no ordinary piece of paper; this is his ‘Apprenticeship Certificate’. He has passed the City and Guilds Exam and now can become a member of the Coventry Freeman’s Guild; this is his ticket to a new and better way of life.

You will see on the statue he has only one shoe; this shows he came from a poor background but by … learning an engineering trade he can hold his head high. You can tell he is an engineer because in his other hand he has a spanner which is embedded in the factory. You can see on his other foot he has a shoe, again to show he has bettered himself. He has a tie because he has reached the pinnacle of respectability and if he is a ‘Tool Maker’ he is the engineer everyone looks up to because he has learned how to make the tools that make the tools that industrial engineering is based on.” http://www.coventrysociety.org.uk/public-art-in-coventry/coventry-boy-statue.html

In one of those odd twists, when Alfred Harris of the Coventry Boy Foundation, who commissioned the work, visited Philip Bentham ’s studio, he saw there the plaster sculpture entitled ‘Fisherman and Nymph’ which Percy George Bentham had exhibited in 1922 at the Royal Academy. In a sort of Gillette move [‘I liked it so much I bought the company’] Harris got the Foundry to cast it in bronze and then presented it to the City Council to be put on a small island in the lake at Coombe Abbey Country Park in 1968. Pictured below is the statue in its place in the park and (inset) a closer view.

 

So Coventry is a two Bentham city.

Another sculptor indirectly linked to the School is Charles John Collings who married a former pupil, later teacher, of the School. Glorying in the appellation Melora Fogwill Goodridge, this former pupil became Mrs Collings in 1881. Her new husband was described as a stone merchant in 1891 but as a sculptor in 1901. In 1910, when the Collingses left UK for Canada, the travel documents describe him as an artist.

It is in this category he is more widely known, producing the most exquisite watercolour paintings.

Images from http://www.artnet.com/artists/charles-john-collings/past-auction-results & http://www.maltwood.uvic.ca/k_maltwood/history/cjcollings.html

The family settled in Shuswap, British Columbia where they built their own house which still stands today. (Top is the house now; bottom, the house partly finished in the winter of 1910; Image in 1910 courtesy of the Kamloops Museum and Archives. http://shuswappassion.ca/history/shuswaps-most-famous-artist-deserves-more-recognition/%5D

 

But whereas Bentham pere et fils and Charles John Collings are sculptor/artists connected to the School by courtesy of former pupils, it is time now to turn to former pupils who themselves practised the art of sculpture. Christine Cooper nee Duncan, pupil c1912-1918, later founded the school magazine, Machio, in 1924. It is fitting, therefore, that in Machio 1958, we learn that she had exhibited a sculpture in the summer exhibition of the Society of Women Artists, Royal Institution Galleries, Piccadilly. Not a sculptor by profession but an English teacher, her artistic endeavours are perhaps the more creditable for that.

Juanita Homan, nee Page, who is a professional artist, left the school in 1948 and went to Kingston School of Art. From there, she left to study sculpture in Paris with Ossip Zadkine a Russian who lived in France from 1910. Perhaps Zadkine’s style, influenced by cubism (left), is reflected in the piece of Juanita’s work we see here (right).

On her return to UK, Juanita studied at the Camberwell School of Art, the Sir John Cass School of Art and, when her children were older, she attended Goldsmiths to read for an honours degree in Art & Design.

Sculpture as an art form is not readily practised as a school subject for obvious reasons. Manhandling a great lump of stone into the School art department for students to hack about – sorry, craft into an art form – is unlikely to be high on a priority list. However, many long-established schools have statuary of various kinds that might be studied by art students. A recent post looked at the work of Joseph Cribb that can be found at the School but the one we turn to now connects not only with the school’s history but with the time of year: Hallowe’en.

The statue of the Institutor, Ruspini, was crafted by an unknown hand. At least, it is unknown now although presumably not unknown at the time. Unfortunately, nobody at the School thought to make a note of the sculptor’s name (but see footnote).

It was originally placed on the gable of the Centenary Hall at Clapham and it became a thing of derring-do for the older girls to scramble about in the rafters and reach out and pat him on the head before they finally left the School. Naturally the School forbade such dangerous activities although if they had used a kind of reverse psychology, it might have been better to make it compulsory under supervision. That would have killed it off completely. Once something is legit., it loses all desirability as an act of (minor) rebellion.

The stone plinth under the statue’s feet today records that the figure had originally been at Clapham Junction.

Only the lodges at the two gates of the school at Clapham remain as the rest was demolished by the Peabody Trust who had bought the site after the School had moved on. However, the statue and the foundation stones of (probably) the Alexandra Wing built in 1888 were preserved and moved to Rickmansworth to be integrated into the new school. As the school had to be made ready for the girls long before the Clapham site was demolished, the items could not be fully integrated and, instead, were placed at the eastern exterior wall of the Chapel. There is little chance of the girls wanting to scramble up and pat him on the head as there is nothing to scramble up on. They would have to bring ladders and either commit the act in daylight or use torches. This kind of spoils the illicit quality especially given that originally the Headmistress and the Matron both had their living quarters with a clear view of the Chapel! Long before foot could be set upon rung, there would have been the authoritative tone of enquiry (“And just what do you think you are doing?”) that sets all schoolchildren’s hearts quailing. So Ruspini’s coiffure has remained untouched by hand since 1933.

But his face has not fared so well. Exposure to wind and rain resulted in damage to the lower part of his face requiring some genioplastic surgery. Not, in this case, by a plastic surgeon: more courtesy of a bucket of mortar. His chin had to be remodelled with some judicious concrete resulting in a somewhat larger lower jaw than he had originally – in stone as well as in life.

This composite image of the face before and after the remodelling may give an idea of the change.

In his niche, Ruspini leans on one leg with the other projecting forward. He holds a scroll perhaps representing the first rules drawn up or perhaps because the unknown sculptor liked doing them. His eighteenth century costume gives him a resplendent bearing and he looks as if he is about to step down to speak to us. (Probably to say what he thinks of the face remodelling!)

Perhaps this is what gave rise to a little story, told in darkened dorms by some little girls to frighten other little girls into squealing with horror. It was said that, if you watched the statue at midnight on Hallowe’en, he changed legs. Instead of resting on his left leg with his right leg forward, it was his left leg that projected. A daft little story, easily dismissed as every photograph of the statue shows, quite clearly, the same leading leg.

Until one image was found with the other leg leading …

Cue squeals.

Needless to say, the cause of this was the fact that the slide image of the statue being viewed was simply being viewed from the wrong side! Although it does make you wonder about the expression ‘no stone unturned’.

Footnote

Subsequent to this being written, the information was supplied that the sculptor of the Chevalier statue was Edwin Roscoe Mullins who had studied at both the Lambeth School of Art and the Royal Academy. Born in 1848, for the last decade of his life he was in poor health and died in 1907. As http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/sculpture/mullins/index.html informs us, he made his professional debut in Vienna & Munich before coming to London in 1874.

“Mullins possessed considerable powers of portraiture.”  https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Mullins,_Edwin_Roscoe_(DNB12)

“The most curious of all the artist’s work is the Circus Horse which constitutes the memorial in the Brighton Cemetery to Mr. Ginnett, a notorious circus owner …” http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/sculpture/mullins/index.html

This Ginnett is the father of Louis Ginnett whose art works also adorn the School What goes around comes around?

 

 

Watch the birdie!

This familiar phrase originated when early photographers, in an attempt to engage the attention of a child subject and enable a clear photograph to be taken, would have a prop held above the camera to focus attention. “Often, these props were toy birds that would flap their wings or warble. In a time when children’s toys were simple rag dolls or marbles, such a toy would be a marvel.” http://grammarist.com/phrase/watch-the-birdie/ Given today’s advancement in technology, the “phrase watch the birdie is now usually used for comic effect” (ibid).

 

https://www.etsy.com/market/watch_the_birdie

It is not known whether this phrase, or something similar, was used in 1909 by Ethel Cossham Park to capture the attention of her friends at school but she did succeed in capturing their images which she placed in a home-made album.

 

In later years, she passed this onto another pupil, Janet Gaylor (1941-2013) and, after Janet died, it was donated to the School by her estate. Ethel (1892-1979) and Janet were technically two generations apart and their only connection was that they had both been pupils of the School. It is a wonderfully visual way of demonstrating the history of the School through its pupils.

Ethel was not the only pupil who recorded her contemporaries and whose efforts are today held in the Archives. Alice Lilian Kent (1893-1985) was a contemporary of Ethel and she too preserved her photographs in an exercise book. Unfortunately, most of these photographs have faded badly and none are identified but they do capture scenes of the school at Clapham and some girls of the period.

 

Ethel – bless her! – had the foresight to identify all her subjects so that we now have images of girls from this period, some of whom went onto greater things within the School’s history. For example, these two girls:

 

Mildred Harrop became the first headmistress of the Junior School when it became a separate establishment in 1918. In 1910 she became a student at University College, London to study for a degree in Modern Languages on a scholarship awarded by the Drapers’ Co. In 1915 she rejoined the School as assistant mistress and just three years later became Junior School headmistress, a post she remained in until 1946. The Junior School, situated in Weybridge, Surrey, was ‘evacuated’ back to the main school at the outbreak of war in 1939 and it was Mildred who kept the spirit of the Junior School alive throughout that period. A 1941 curriculum indicates that she taught Scripture, some History, Verse speaking and Reading. The Juniors having returned to Weybridge post-war, Mildred handed over the reins to Isobel Vaughan and took retirement.

Mabel Potter (although Ethel spells it Mable) was the Gold medallist of 1906. She left in 1907 but became a pupil teacher at the School until 1909. At this point she became a salaried teacher at the School and she remained with RMSG her whole career. In 1918 she is recorded as a Form Mistress of VB and in 1929 as Form Mistress of VA. (VB and VA are not explained as whoever wrote this knew exactly what was meant. It is probably one of the more senior forms with girls of about 15-16 years of age.) By 1939 she was recorded as a resident teacher of French and Latin and she had been Second Mistress (equivalent of Deputy Headteacher) to Bertha Dean from 1932. After Bertha Dean’s retirement, and Miss Calway came and went in a short space of time, swept off her feet by the School Chaplain whom she married in 1940, Mabel – ‘Little Miss Potter’ – became the Acting Headmistress until the appointment of Miss Fryer in 1941. She finally retired in 1945, just a year before her friend Mildred, and went to live in East Sussex where she continued to live until her death in 1978.

Ethel, our intrepid photographer, not only identified most of her subjects at the time but some she must have identified much later in life as the handwriting is distinctly different. It is an example of the far-reaching memory many of our Old Girls demonstrate, being able (for example) to recall all their school numbers for many decades after they had left and such numbers ceased to have meaning.

 

As the days of the selfie were far off, Ethel must have allowed one of her friends to use the camera because we have a photo she has labelled of herself. Although it is not known exactly where in school this image was taken, we can see the cream banding on the brickwork which was a part of the design of the School at Clapham. And it rather looks as if she is modelling the same fetching hat that Iona is also wearing!

 

We have no idea what kind of camera Ethel or Alice used but it seems very likely that it was the ubiquitous Box Brownie. “The Brownie camera, introduced in February 1900, invented low-cost photography by introducing the concept of the snapshot to the masses.” (Wikipedia) This was a camera developed by Eastman Kodak, invented by Frank A. Brownell, and given its name partly for its inventor and partly for the brownies in popular Palmer Cox cartoons of the time. Palmer Cox was a Canadian illustrator and author and his Brownies were “mischievous but kindhearted [sic] fairy-like sprites” (Wikipedia) which appeared in a series of humorous verse books and comic strips.

 

Images above from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownie_(camera) and https://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/a-z-photography-collection-b-is-for-brownie/

Marketed for the mass market at $1 each in USA, in Britain “it cost just 5 shillings (25p), bringing it within the reach of practically everyone. Indeed, it was so cheap that adverts had to reinforce the fact that it wasn’t a toy.”

 

from https://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/a-z-photography-collection-b-is-for-brownie/

The handbook of instructions, incidentally, ran to 44 pages – somewhat akin to modern instruction tomes that practically require a PhD in Quantum Physics to grasp exactly what it is you have to do …

Box Brownies, as a marker in the development of photography, are regarded as so important that they make it into the BBC/British Museum’s History of the World in a 100 objects. They were particularly marketed for children possibly in the same way as Hygena QA furniture (for those of us who remember it!), the first self-assembly kitchen units deemed to be so easy to construct that a child of six could do it. “The Company’s TV advertising used a little girl to demonstrate simplicity of assembly” (Wikipedia). And there were many of us who, having started some self-assembly units, longed for a handy child armed with a screwdriver to come to our rescue! But back to the Box Brownie and its ease of operating.

 

This image, dated to 1905, showing a young girl using a Box Brownie, is from https://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/a-z-photography-collection-b-is-for-brownie/ and is probably taken, somewhat ironically, by a professional photographer with a far superior camera to a Box Brownie.

The product was marketed with “the slogan, “You press the button—we do the rest.” https://www.fi.edu/history-resources/kodak-brownie-camera. However, this is not what happened in the case of Ethel Park. Astonishingly, she developed her photographs herself. In the letter she wrote to Janet Gaylor when sending her the little album, Ethel said this:

 

“I feel sure you will enjoy seeing, or trying to see the school exercise book, year 1909, most of the photos were taken & developed by me – and without a proper dark room in which to develope [sic] them; my friends & I managed the films with me in a disused flour bin with the others sitting on the lid to prevent light penetrating through the cracks & gaps caused by old age & rats!”

Perhaps Alice Kent used the same flour bin. Indeed, she may even have been one of the friends sitting on its lid whilst Ethel got to work on her photographs. If so, it is remarkable that we have two sets of photographs not only taken by young photographers but the images developed by them too. And all this before WWI. It took nearly ninety years more for photography, in its modern format, to become established as part of the School syllabus as a Sixth Form subject.

 

Alice’s photographs in her album may be fading badly, Ethel’s slightly better preserved, but both are now secured in digital format and both are a tribute to the pioneering spirit of earlier pupils.

 

(And this used to be the word ‘prunes’ – honestly! Look it up!) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Say_cheese

 

First Day at School

Parents up and down the country are this week experiencing for the first time that rite of passage known as ‘First Day at School’. Their little darlings, clad collectively in their brand new school uniforms, clutching – some apprehensively, some in fevered excitement – their school bags, are being deposited at school gates. It might be small steps for little legs but, paraphrasing Neil Armstrong, it is one small step for a child, one giant leap for parenthood. Parents watch in astonishment as their tinies take their first steps away from them and many of the tears shed are actually those of the parents who can’t quite believe that those helpless little babies who needed them for everything are the same people now skipping gaily across the playground.

From a different perspective, there are probably a number of schools taking in pupils for the very first time this week, either because they are brand new schools or because they are taking younger children for the first time. For those establishments, it is also a time of trepidation. Will all the planning come to fruition? Will everything work as it should? Will the logistics all come together?

Wind the clock back 228 years and the very first pupils were embarking at a school in a house in Somers Place East with, in the minds of the steering Committee, many of those same worries. After a year’s intensive planning, a new school came into existence that still operates today. The Royal Cumberland Freemasons’ School officially began in 1788 but the first pupils entered the school on 5th January 1789. The Morning Herald of Thursday, January 8, 1789, stated:

It must have made an interesting spectacle for a (probably) grey January day. There must have been a goodly number of carriages. There were fifteen pupils, presumably the Matron (although she could have been waiting at the school to receive them – the records do not indicate), the gentlemen of the Committee and possibly some of the ladies and subscribers who appear to have witnessed the event.

The actual route is unknown but it is likely to have passed the area where the National Gallery was later to stand (built 1824), along past the British Museum (built 1753 so it may have been a witness) and up to what is now Euston Road but what was then known as the New Road. The gentlemen of the committee retired to dine at St Alban’s Tavern but the new pupils stayed at the school. And unlike today’s mummies and daddies waiting at the school gates at home time to hear all about the experiences, these little girls remained in the school house until they were old enough to leave school aged 15.

The School went on to have more First Days as it moved house three times. In 1795, it moved from its home in Somers Town to Southwark. It moved without any ceremony. In fact, the only reason any date is known is because the Minute Books of the Committee record that the meeting was held in ’the new School House’.

By 1852, the School had long outgrown its allocated space and so it moved again – to Clapham.

This was accompanied by a little more pomp and ceremony. £400 was put aside “so that everything might be done with grace and splendour” (G Blizard Abbot, Royal Masonic Institute for Girls from 1788 to 1900) – the equivalent today of £16,500. On August 2nd, visitor numbers were estimated to be between 3000 – 4000. Amongst other ceremonial events, one of the pupils, Caroline Rhoda Davies, recited a poem especially composed for the occasion. Nine hundred dined and, as this was presided over by the Grand Master, it can be assumed that they were all Freemasons. There was also dancing in the grounds to a quadrille band and other military bands and the last visitors left shortly before midnight. And the pupils in all this celebration? Well, sadly, they were still at Southwark because they didn’t actually move until December 9th!

For the next 80 or so years, the School remained on its third site with a variety of adjustments and expansions to accommodate the growing numbers. One of these adjustments was the Junior School disappearing into Surrey. In August 1918, the younger pupils had their next First Day when they moved to Weybridge. There were 45 pupils which included 20 pupils for whom this was same school, new site and fifteen for whom it was entirely a new school. But the Clapham site continued to be crowded and eventually it was realised that, not only was a bigger site required but that it was highly unlikely to be in London. In 1926, Rickmansworth Park was found. The new buildings were ready by 1934 and on March 24th 1934 the doors of Clapham were locked for the last time (the honour went to Eileen Hones, then the youngest member of staff) and staff and pupils went off for their Easter break. When they returned almost a month later, it was the First Day of all First Days and almost 400 pupils and all the teaching staff, domestic staff, ancillary staff and maintenance staff found themselves in grounds and buildings that were as yet unfamiliar. A pupil who was there at the time commented later on the way many staff and pupils kept getting lost. But then, as well as being a new set of buildings, it was also huge. The old school, including the playgrounds, would have fitted inside the Garth of the new one – and the Garth is approximately 1.5% of the total acreage! It is a tribute to the leadership of Bertha Dean (Headmistress) and Florence Mason (Matron) that it all went so smoothly. As a member of staff at the time commented: “We had moved house that was all: the meals were on time and the bath water was hot …” In June 1934, the site was officially opened by Queen Mary.

 

 

The weather, as it so often is in British summer time, threatened to be inclement (and it did rain earlier in the day) so the route to be taken by the Queen was considered. As the parquet floors were thought to have a risk of being slippery if wet, it was decided to lay a temporary rubber matting down over the very slight slope in the corridor between the Great Hall and the Dining Hall. Naturally, it was red in colour. And this temporary matting was still there fifty years later!

The School has now been on this site for the greatest length of time it has been anywhere – 83 years and counting. In that time, not only has it seen 83 First Days – one for each year – but it has also seen younger and younger pupils having their own First Days. Each September, there are new pupils joining the School community and when you are a Newbie and it seems as if EVERYONE else knows exactly where they are going, it can be a little daunting. In recent years, a new style First Day has been trialled. Known as Focus Days, the entire school participates in activities on a theme. As, then, it is a new experience for everyone, it has the effect of putting even the most bored teenager (hey ho, another year) on her mettle as she does not know quite what to expect. In the last decade or so there have been, to name but three, Chevalier Day (2013), Environmental Day (2012) and 1934 day (2009) as the School celebrated its being on the site for 75 years. Below are the staff on two of the Focus Days.

These are First Days to remember. But then, whatever their format, your First Day at School is always important.