Early days at St Leonards
By Betty Bushnell
|Queen Mary's, St Leonards School Library |
by Malcom Patterson
By the mid-1860s St Andrews had lost the last of its small private schools for the education of “gentlemen’s daughters”. In any case, the whole status of women was to undergo an enormous change within the next few decades (The American Suffrage Association predates the British, dating back to the 1860s and must have led to stirrings in Europe).
St Andrews’ Professors had wives and daughters who, if they had not themselves been among the pioneers at the College at Hitchin which was the forerunner of Girton College, Cambridge, they would have had friends and relatives there. In fact, Rachel Cook, daughter of the St Andrews’ Professor of Hebrew was one of the first six students at Hitchin, where she would have met the Aberdonian, Louisa Lumsden.
These Professors – and other professional men – were eager to give their daughters a Public School education equal to that which they gave their sons, rather than the very limited education previously thought appropriate to them.
And so began “St Andrews School for Girls”, launched by a School Council formed of like-minded members of both sexes and a capital of £900 with shares owned by ninety one individuals. They purchased the lease on two houses at the southern end of Queen Street (now Queens Gardens). There was a long ‘playground’ stretching parallel to Queen Street, up to the garden of the Principal of St Mary’s which must have covered the present back gardens of most of the houses in the street – perhaps those houses initially only had the front gardens across the road.
This ‘playground’ was not intended as somewhere for the young women to stroll, “taking the air”, but as a serious games area where rounders and cricket could be played! The word ‘playground’ in this sense was still in use in the 1930s – and even later, the games pullovers were still called ‘playground jerseys’ in the 1980s.
Originally intended as Day School, the Council was persuaded by enquiries from Professors in Edinburgh and Aberdeen to house a few boarders or ‘House Girls’ as they were originally called.
On October 2nd 1877, Julia Mary Grant, daughter of the Principal of Edinburgh University, was the first of 10 boarders to arrive. She herself has described the journey she and her parents made that day. Taking a cab from their house in Edinburgh to the station, they alighted at Granton, where they travelled by ferry across the Forth to Burntisland. From there they took the train to Leuchars, changing to the St Andrews train (they may also have had to change at Thornton). They eventually arrived at St Andrews Station (where the Jigger Inn now is). They must have then taken the Cross Keys bus (horse-drawn) to the two houses in Queen Street – nowadays known as St Regulus, a University residence; a rather more difficult journey than in the 21st Century!
Next day, the ten House Girls and six mistresses were joined by thirty-four day girls. There was of course no central heating or electricity. They seem to have taken it in turns to have a coal fire in their dormitories. She herself writes, “The towel in my turret cubicle was sometimes frozen stiff!”
There was no school uniform as such, but her trunk was full of the garments required by the list sent to her parents. It is worth recording: “Dark woollen stockings and cotton ones. Thick woollen combinations with high neck and long sleeves; this item repeated in cotton. Thick long-sleeved nightdresses, flannel petticoats, woollen petticoats, starched white petticoats. Serge frocks for school and cashmere for Sunday, velveteen ones for evening, silky alpaca ones for parties. Lace boots, button boots. Long grey Ulster (raincoat) for weekday, camel hair coat for best. Hair ribbons, thick kid gloves, coloured silk mittens to match party frocks. Stiff linen collars and cuffs, and “yards of scratchy filling to sew into the necks and wrists of gym suits”.
By the time Julia left school in 1881 she had become Head of School. The rapid increase in numbers had led the Council to make a big decision. They were too cramped in their existing quarters and in much need of more room, particularly on the ‘playground’ side.
The decision was made to buy the property of St Leonards near the Cathedral, being the site of the University’s College of St Leonard and some of the College’s buildings. Only the chapel (then without a roof) was left in University hands. The school moved there and took the name of “St Leonards” in 1883, under Miss Dove, Miss Lumsden’s successor – they had been at Hitchin together.
Fifteen years later, Julia Mary Grant became the third headmistress, after previously having been an Assistant Mistress. Under her and her predecessor, Miss Dove, the school rapidly increased in both numbers and in buildings. The main teaching block was greatly extended with the addition first of a hall and gymnasium and a new wing which incorporated the clock tower, the Boarding House of St Rule (divided into east and west) next to the existing House of Bishophall, which had originally been built in the 1860s as a University residence, later becoming the residence of Bishop Wordsworth, a nephew, I think, of the poet. Also built during this period, a little further down the Pends, was the School Hospice, on the site of the New Inns or “Novum Hospitium”. This building was vastly expanded a few years ago to become the present Sixth Form Boys’ House (Ollerenshaw).
Finally, in the procession of building down The Pends, came the School Sanitorium (for infectious diseases; mumps, measles, chickenpox, scarlet fever – all spread rapidly through boarding schools until the last years of the 20th century). The Sanitorium became, much later, St Katherine’s House and is now part of St Leonards New Park, the Junior school of St Leonards. (During this period also, Tom Morris designed in the grounds a nine hole golf course. Archives give no details of exactly where it was – we continue to speculate.
Miss Grant retired in 1906, by which time there were 255 girls in the School and the younger ones had been siphoned off to North Street and The Scores where they had their own premises as St Katherines, the junior School of St Leonards.
Thirty years later when I was a pupil at St Leonards, a frail old lady dressed in black appeared one day on the platform at Prayers beside the then Headmistress; this was Miss Julia M. Grant, third Headmistress, whose portrait hung in the Hall. I did not at that time realise that she had been the first girl to enter the school in 1877. Much later, when I returned to teach, I began reading the history of the school and felt that I had a link with the very beginnings, having met (or at least seen) the very first pupil!