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.

Advertisements

Leading (Guide) Lights

Image from http://lesliesguidinghistory.webs.com

This posting continues the theme of Guiding starting in Guiding Lights, parts I and II. This, the final part, the third section of the Guide trefoil you might say, looks at some of the principal characters of the early School companies.

The very first School Company had, as its Captain, Dorothy Churcher. Her father was a ship’s steward and died at sea off the coast of Japan in 1902. Dorothy became a pupil in 1908 as eight was then the age of the youngest pupils. She left in 1917 and obtained a post as clerk in the Marine Assurance Office. Ten years later she went to work at the Headquarters of the Girl Guides Association. We are not told in what capacity but as her first post was clerical and a later post (in 1939) was as clerk to an accountant, one assumes it was similar. She was a member of the Old Masonic Girls’ Association in 1933 and possibly had been since she left school. Her continued connection with the school meant she was in situ to lead the first Guide Company. Machio 1929 carried this picture of her in her uniform.

 

There was also a 2nd company in the Lower House with Miss Grandjean as Captain. Dorothy Octavia Grandjean was a member of staff between 1928 and 1929. Trained at Northfield College, Stamford Hill, Dorothy had posts in ten schools between 1916 and 1931, of which RMIG was one. Her resumé indicates that she rarely stayed more than a year in each place. Perhaps she was building up a lot of experience as in 1942 she was appointed headmistress at a school in Dorset followed by a school in Somerset. Born in 1894, rather exotically, in the Seychelles, she was the daughter of John Grandjean, a British clergyman born in Belgium & Sarah Grandjean born, rather less exotically, in Bow, London. One of ten children, Dorothy was born, as were most of her siblings, in Mahé, Seychelles which became a British Colony in 1812 and remained so until 1976.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1963552

http://en.seyvillas.com/html/mahe-beaches/turtle-bay

But back to the more prosaic and sedentary, rainy day, grey skies Clapham 1929 [sigh], Jessie Hunter was Lieutenant of that second guide company. She was an Old Girl and then a member of staff and you can read about her in Hunter Gatherers.

Cecilia Goss and Enid Love were the joint authors of the first article about the Guides in Machio 1929. Cecilia was born in 1911 and officially left school on 13th December 1928 but was appointed as a pupil teacher in the Upper School. In 1930, she went to Bedford College on a scholarship and gained an Honours degree in Classics (Masonica 1934 [1]). She married in 1937 and Masonica records the birth of a son in 1939. She died in 2002.

Enid, also born in 1911, left School on the same day as Cecilia and was also appointed as a pupil teacher. Remarkably, she also went to Bedford College on a scholarship in 1930 but reading History. Gaining a BA Hons in History in 1933, she began teaching the following year. In 1939, she became Senior History Mistress at Honor Oak, London. Enid then taught History (1942) at St Clements Danes Boys’ School while it was in Oxford having been evacuated from London. Just two years later, she was appointed as Headmistress of Wokingham County School for Girls, the youngest headmistress in the country. But in 1949, she changed tack, joined the BBC and worked in educational broadcasting which ultimately earned her the OBE (in 1973). By 1952 she was Assistant Director of Broadcasts to Schools. She returned to teaching in 1963 and was headmistress of Sydenham Comprehensive School but when Yorkshire Television was created in 1968, it enticed Enid back to educational broadcasting. Described as a “distinguished educational programme-maker”[2] she took charge of education at the new company. In 1980 the Enid Love Educational Television Scholarship for secondary school television programmes was set up, sponsored by Yorkshire Television.

 

The Stage 15 October 1981

In 1965, Enid married Geoffrey C Whitaker, RN. She died in November 1979, an obituary appearing in The Stage 15th November 1979.

Two other pupils named in Machio articles about the early days of the School Guide Company were: Cecily Rodway (b 1914), who left School in 1930 but was retained as a pupil teacher at Weybridge (Junior School). In 1932 she became a probationer at Clapham. The Matron’s report of February 1933 requested a salary of £114 pa for her as she had demonstrated her capabilities. In 1934 she was appointed to the Matron’s staff in Rickmansworth, leaving to be married in 1935. By 1939 Mr & Mrs Mugliston were living in Mangotsfield, Gloucestershire although Cecily also lived in Belfast and West Kirby during her married life. She died in 1967 in West Kirby.

Phyllis Newnham, like Enid and Cecilia, was born in 1911. She joined the School as a Weybridge pupil in 1918, one of the first intake to the Junior School on its moving to Surrey.

 

Ten years later, by then in the Senior School which had remained in Clapham, she became the Gold medallist, leaving school in December 1928. Like Enid & Cecilia, she was appointed pupil teacher in the Upper House and then took a degree in Geography – at Bedford College. Is this beginning to sound familiar?

Bedford College was founded by Elisabeth Jesser Reid in 1849 as the first college in Great Britain for the higher education of women. In 1900, it was admitted to the University of London. Noted alumnae include novelists George Eliot, Ivy Compton-Burnett and Richmal Crompton, and Professor Helen Cam, the first female professor at Harvard. In 1912, the College appointed Margaret Benson as Professor of Botany (the first female professor in Great Britain).[3] Today the College has merged with, and is known as, Royal Holloway but the campus of Regent’s University is the site of the Bedford College RMIG pupils would have known. (It had moved there from Bedford Square in 1911.)

Image from http://www.pinsdaddy.com/regents-university-london

With her newly acquired BA Hons Geography Phyllis joined RMIG staff in September 1933 for the School’s final year in Clapham. When the whole kit and caboodle transferred to Rickmansworth in 1934, Phyllis became Head of Geography and assistant housemistress in Sussex boarding house. In 1945, she became Housemistress of Alexandra and retired in 1968 having spent her entire career at the School. After she died in 1995, OMGA made a presentation to the school in her memory of a barograph and a seat for Chapel Quad.

For those of us who haven’t a clue about these things, a barograph is an instrument that measures and records pressure.

 

This is one. Their use nowadays has mostly been superseded by digital technology.

The early Guide companies at RMSG had patrols named after birds. In 1931, the patrol leaders were identified as: Joan Williams (196-1953) – Bullfinches; Joy Sarsons (1917-1992) – Kingfishers; Kathleen Harrison (1916-1981) – Blue Tits; Freda Beckwith (b 1917) – Swallows; Mair Davies (1917-1993) – Nightingales; Joyce Morris (1916-1996) – Robins; Joan Thompson (b 1915) – Chaffinches.

In 1931, Kathleen Bareham became the Lieutenant. Born in 1913, Kathleen officially left School in 1930 as silver medallist (the medal is still in the family), with prizes for drawing and history, and was retained as a pupil teacher until old enough to train as an art teacher. In 1931, she went to Clapham High School Training Department for Teachers of Art in Secondary Schools. From there she obtained her Oxford Diploma for art teaching (design, object drawing, life and perspective) in 1933 and was appointed to the School as Art Mistress in 1935. Her niece was later to write of her:

She “… was a Renaissance woman able to make beautiful clay pots; [she] studied and won awards for her pottery glazes; upholstered in fabric and leather; had green fingers and was keeper of the family Christmas cake recipe!”

In addition to all these, she was also a skilled tailor – “I have a photo of my grandmother wearing a dress made by Aunty Kitty … which I’ve owned since she died and which fits me perfectly.” During the war, she attended Silversmiths and Goldsmiths College to study silverware – “I have a silver teapot, jug and sugar bowl she made”.

She was the youngest daughter of the family and, as was the way then, she remained at home to look after her elderly mother but bought a Cornish mine count house just outside St Agnes which became her retirement home until she died in 1988.

A Count House was the hub of the day-to-day running of the tin mine and also where the miners collected their pay. The remoteness of the tin mines is shown dramatically in the picture below (from https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wheal-coates).

 

Other girls who were Guide leaders in the 1930s were Joan Morgan Thomas, who left school in July 1934 and went to Cardiff School of Domestic Science and gained a diploma in needlework and dressmaking. She was appointed as Domestic Science mistress to Caerphilly Senior Girls’ School; Joan Addyman and Patricia Ralph both became clerks in Civil Service departments and both died in 2004; Pamela Rottersman left school in 1940 to take a commercial course at home in Brighton and, in 1942, was in the Home Guard there. No doubt her skills learned as a Guide stood her in good stead.

Of course, there were a lot more girls who joined the School Guide companies over the years but later Machio articles rarely name them. So these Leading Lights are selected to represent them all. And given that the pupils from the School came from all over the world and went all over the world, it seems appropriate to conclude with the symbol of the World Girl Guide Association.

[1] The magazine of the Old Masonic Girls’ Association (OMGA)

[2] Potter, Jeremy: Independent Television in Britain: Volume 4: Companies and Programmes, 1968–80, Macmillan 1990

[3] https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/aboutus/ourhistory

Sunday service

Religious services have been a part of the School’s history since its inception.

Rule 20: That the Matron attend the children to Church every Sunday morning and afternoon, and on Good Friday, Christmas Day, and the Anniversary, that they learn the Collect for the Day, and such as are capable to read a portion of Scripture every Sunday Evening … and on every Friday the children be taught the Catechism.

(The mention of Good Friday and Christmas Day are reminders that for a considerable period of the School’s history, there were no school holidays. At all.)

But this posting is less about religion and more about the participants in it; less spiritual and more about practicalities. It’s about getting there and sitting still during. The first three school sites did not have a place of worship attached to them. The girls were taken to a local church – twice – on Sundays. To begin with, they had their own pew. To save the mental gymnastics of trying to work out how huge numbers (current school roll 900+) fitted into one pew, in the early days the numbers were significantly fewer. In 1788, fifteen little girls and a Matron might fit fairly comfortably into a large pew, which cost £3 per annum. This cost, incidentally, can be compared with the £24 pa for ‘Books, Sope, Mops, Brooms &c’.

The first church they attended was the Bethel Chapel initially in a pew donated by Jacob Leroux. The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1813 referring to Seymour Street in Somers Town said

“In this street was formerly a chapel of ease to St. Pancras. It was a gloomy building, erected in 1787, and called Bethel Chapel; it afterwards belonged to the Baptists.”

Cited in Edward Walford, ‘Somers Town and Euston Square’, in Old and New London: Volume 5 (London, 1878), pp. 340-355. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol5/pp340-355 [accessed 16 November 2016].

There was also St. Mary’s Episcopal Chapel in the same street which may have been used too as may have the old church of St Pancras (the new one was not built until 1819 by which time the School was south of the river.)

mary Pancras
St Mary, Somers Town & Old St Pancras

Image of St Mary’s by Steve F, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11433686

Image of Old St Pancras by Stephen McKay, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13429363

 

In 1795, the School moved to St George’s Fields, Southwark and the girls would have attended the church of St George the Martyr.

George Southwark
St George the Martyr, Southwark

Image of St George by Carlos Delgado, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17840016

The School had its home in Southwark from 1795 to 1852 when it moved to Clapham. St John’s, St Mary’s, St Peter’s and St Paul’s were all used at different times by the School.

Battersea churches
St Paul, Battersea & St Mary, Battersea

Image of St Mary by Derek Harper, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6088418

Image of St Paul from http://www.southwark.anglican.org/find-a-church/battersea/battersea-st-peter-and-st-paul/battersea-st-paul

St Mary’s is the oldest church of these being finished in 1777; St John’s (there is no extant image) was described, rather unflatteringly, as “ ‘A cheap brick church erected for the workers of the factory district of York Road’ according to J.G. Taylor (Our Lady of Batersey, 1925).” www.southwark.anglican.org/downloads/lostchurches/BAT11.pdf It was consecrated in 1863 so was only marginally newer than the 3rd school site. Later amalgamated with St Paul’s, it was badly damaged during WWII and demolished in about 1950. St Peter’s was built in 1875 and St Paul’s, originally a chapel of ease for St John’s, was amalgamated with St Peter’s in 1939.

By the time the School was in Clapham (or Battersea, or Wandsworth or Putney – take your pick: all can arguably claim to be the geographical place of the School’s third site), it had a considerably enlarged school roll. Now, walking to church was not just a marshalling of 20-50 girls in a relatively straight line but manoeuvring nearly 400 girls, in twos, in Sunday best. Pity the tram driver and the hapless motorist who stopped to allow the girls to cross the road!

cartoon
Crossing the road to church

Mention of Sunday best raises that other set of items known variously by the euphemisms unmentionables, unwhisperables, indescribables and underpinnings: the underwear, usually in the form of combinations comprising bodice, drawers and slip. These garments were generally regarded with loathing. Summer ones were made of cotton but winter ones were made of wool which one former pupil recalled “had the consistency of steel wool” and which “itched and prickled” in a most uncomfortable fashion. Being forced to sit still and attend the sermon was made much more difficult by these garments, issued fresh on a Sunday morning – and therefore at their most like a coarse hair shirt – presumably on a basis of cleanliness is next to Godliness. Clearly the constant fidgeting of the girls reached the attention of the Chaplain and ultimately he came to speak to Miss Mason, the Matron, about the matter. Quite what was said, in what sort of language (given the deemed delicacy of ever mentioning such things) and with what degree of mutual embarrassment is lost to history as the conversation was, literally, behind closed doors. The outcome, however, is known. From then on, the fresh ‘linen’ was distributed on a Monday rather than Sunday so it had become slightly more comfortable by the time it was necessary to attend to the sermon again. Modern girls are at this point dissolving into horrified hysteria at the realisation that only one set of underwear was issued per week … Victorian sensibilities were indeed different!

Once the School moved to Rickmansworth in 1934, the walks to and from the local churches were no longer part of Sunday life. Services, as today, took place in the Chapel.

Chapel
The Chapel exterior & interior

The Junior girls, still at this stage in Weybridge, continued to perambulate to their local church, St James.

Weybridge church
St James, Weybridge

Image from http://www.stjamesweybridge.org.uk/

After the service, the girls would write little essays about the sermon and the vicar would award gold and silver stars for the best. Before they departed the School to reach the Church, the girls would be given a penny to put in the collection. One week, a girl put her coat button in instead so that she could put her penny in the bubble gum machine they passed en route. Something went wrong with the mechanism and her sin was rewarded not with one but several – perhaps a case of the wages of sin being not death but illicit chewing gum. Of course, her behaviour did not go unpunished but the vicar’s essays may have been a little odd that week! Even without bubble gum, attention was not always focused on the service. Although girls recall different things about their church visits – such as the choir processional, the occasional use of incense and the bell ringers – one former pupil, under the mistaken view that the memorial plaques on the walls were vertical gravestones, spent a considerable part of her time trying to puzzle out where the bodies were.

A requirement for religious services throughout the School’s history there may have been, but it is probably fair to say that it did not always guarantee the girls’ focus. Although the steel wool underwear is no longer a reason for a lack of attention …