Today we had a quite astonishing day, and I’m happy to report that my dear hubby enjoyed it just as much as I did – I was a bit concerned that he’d feel like a spare part among so many women, all of whom shared something in common, about which he knew very little! However, he threw himself into it all with enthusiasm, and was interested to see where I spent so many happy years, and above all, was as enthusiastic as I was about the art the girls were producing.
This is the first of two posts. I took so many photos today that it would be impossible to include them all in a single post, so I have separated out the art photos for a separate post. Even so, I warn you that this will be quite long, with lots of photos!
Here is the main entrance to the school.
I have always absolutely loved this space, with the galleries all round, the Arts and Crafts roof, and all the beautiful oak panelling and flooring. In my day there was a raised platform at the front but there is now a simple altar for School Prayers and assemblies. Today there were tables laid up for the lunch that was provided for us.
This is the plaque in memory of the two ladies responsible for the oak panelling and flooring.
The hall, looking towards the back. You can see the portraits of former headmistresses (two more added since my day!) and the plaques listing head girls, scholars, etc. Stuck to the lower panels were photos of Mrs. Shields, who was being honoured today.
When we arrived, there was a committee meeting taking place, so we had a wander. Since my day (I left 43 years ago! Yikes. Makes me feel ancient) some new buildings have sprung up. On the right in the next picture is the magnificent new Performing Arts Centre, and on the left, the square block is the library. Since I left, the second storey has been added. Beyond that is the Ash Building, about which more later.
A helpful map of the layout of the school campus, another new addition since my day.
The new Douglas House.
I was a Douglas House girl, and the original house was across the road, accessed by a footbridge. That building, very modern when I was in residence, is now being used for other purposes, and the girls have this beautiful new house.
In my time, this was the junior house, where the new intake of 11-year-olds lived. I was there for just over a year and absolutely hated it. We were treated like babies (which we were, really!) and it wasn’t helped by my extreme homesickness in the early days. Soon after I moved up to the senior house, Brome was discontinued (a very good thing) and the building is now used for other purposes.
In recent years, a prep school has been started, and pets are allowed! Another change since my day. Here is a timid little guinea pig in the pets’ corner, whom I managed to photograph before he dashed into the tube and hid!
The plaque on the wall of the new Performing Arts Centre, commemorating its opening by the actor, Timothy West.
The circular forecourt in front of the Performing Arts Centre.
The Ash Building.
In my day, this was the science block, but in recent years it has been transformed into the art building. When I was there, we had an art room and a craft room, but now they have this magnificent centre, with its spacious rooms and lovely big windows, letting in lots of light.
We went in to have a look at the art, and met the ceramics teacher who was fascinating as he explained the work the girls do, and the very high level of achievement reached by the school. This is the subject of today’s second post.
Tile shingles on one of the new buildings.
Wandering around with one of my contemporaries, we were both highly amused to find the old gym, just as we remembered it. When we arrived at the school in 1964, we were told that this building was temporary – and it had been temporary for 30 years! Here it is, another 43 years later… still temporary?
Peering in through the window of the Geography Room, which looked exactly the same as it did when I sat unhappily under the tutelage of a sarcastic schoolmistress. Sarcasm never works with children. My contemporary told me this woman didn’t like children. Why on earth did she become a teacher, then? I was not a success at geography. Had she enjoyed children, and shared her knowledge with passion and enthusiasm, I might have passed my exam!!
Pre-lunch drinks being served outside in the sunshine. Just before this, my hubby found a champagne cork on the ground a little distance away. He said, “At my school, we had milk”!! I told him he was visiting a posh school today – the upper crust!
Today’s reunion was specifically designed for those girls who had been taught by Mrs. Shields. She arrived in 1964, the same year as me, and left a few years after I left. She taught me maths for one term before booting me down from Division 2 to Division 3, where I continued NOT to shine at maths! She was also my form mistress, and she was always very popular with the girls. Here she is after the lunch, when lots of lovely things were said about her and a presentation made.
After the main speech, it was opened to the floor, for anyone to add any special memories or thoughts about this special lady, and one person said that whenever she has to answer a security question online, “Who was my favourite teacher?” She always answered “Mrs. Shields” without hesitation! What a lovely compliment!
The Mary Douglas memorial. She was one of a long line of headmistresses, and gave her name to the house of which I was a member.
The school crest at the back of the hall, over the door. Underneath is the school motto, unfortunately not very legible in this photo because the sun was reflecting off it. It is Cornish, and reads “Franc ha leal eto ge” which means, “Frank and loyal are we.” The Godolphin family, who founded the school, hailed from Cornwall, and Godolphin House is now the property of the National Trust.
After the lunch and speeches, a group of girls took some of us on a tour of the school. They opened up several buildings that were locked on our arrival, so that we could see around. Here is the Blackledge Theatre at the heart of the Performing Arts Centre.
To one side, one of the girls was practising the piano, and very accomplished she was, too.
We went into two of the new boarding houses and were very impressed with the comfort and modernity of everything. In the common room (complete with sofas and easy chairs – no such luxury in my day!) was this interesting collage of the school main building.
They took us upstairs so we could see a dormitory, which was lovely, with lots of storage for each girl, and the opportunity for them to personalise their corner with posters etc. The older girls were able to have study bedrooms, either individual or two sharing, as we did.
We were also shown the magnificent new sports hall where the old swimming pool had been – my hubby has photos on his camera. We had an open-air, unheated swimming pool, and one of the group reminded me that in the summer term, the temperature of the pool would be taken each day, and once it maintained a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit for three successive days, it was deemed fit for swimming, and we were forced to take the plunge into its icy depths! Beside the pool was a row of rough wooden changing rooms and you were likely to get splinters if you sat down! Despite this, it was here that I learnt to swim, and learnt to love it with a passion. I told the girls giving us the tour that they didn’t know they were born, and we had to really rough it, and my friend added that it was “character building” lol!
We were extremely impressed with the poise and maturity of the girls we met. Things have changed radically at the school since I left, not just with the addition of new buildings, but with the style of education. The sixth form girls are given a lot more freedom, and are treated as adults, and given much more responsibility, including the responsibility of managing their own time and workload. This prepares them for university, and the outside world. Many field trips are provided, with visits abroad, to the great art galleries and concert venues of the world, resulting in a very broad education, with tremendous opportunities for experience. It is a very privileged education not open to many, and it certainly costs… but the maturity and charm of these young women, and their ability to speak knowledgeably and on equal terms with adults, is a small indication of the benefits of this unique experience.
I am very, very glad I had the opportunity to attend this marvellous school, and after an initial rocky start, I spent seven very happy years there. What was on offer in my day was very good for its time, but it is amazing how much more opportunity today’s girls have.
After the tour, my hubby and I went back to the art building to meet up with the ceramics teacher again, as he’d promised to show us some of the work and portfolios in the upstairs studios. Our time spent with him took us up to the end of the afternoon, when we departed, and had a nice cup of tea in the courtyard of the famous old Salisbury hotel, the Red Lion.
Then to Tesco’s for the sandwiches for our supper, and return to our bed and breakfast. Off to the Cotswolds tomorrow.