Old girls take a trip down memory lane

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Thank you to Penny Rabak (OG62) for the following report on the recent OGC London branch meeting, Lancaster Hotel, 14 October 2017, to Jackie Chalmers (OG65) for organising and chairing the meeting and John Davies, school archivist.

London Branch held their Autumn event at the Lancaster Hall Hotel, when Jackie welcomed 23 members and guests, with a special mention to those from further afield who had made the effort to be present; also Thelma Ruby Frye who was currently starring in the ITV comedy Bad Move with Jack Dee (hilarious, and making those OGs living in London homesick for Yorkshire)

After Jackie’s introduction, our speaker, John Davies, the archivist for GSAL, LGHS and LGS, first gave an update on school activities over the summer and autumn before launching into his talk. This was an exciting ‘Trip through the Leeds Girls High School archives’ that had everyone reminiscing, disagreeing and comparing experiences – John appreciated and encouraged the audience participation!

John and his colleague Neil Hargreaves spend their days in a room hidden in the depths of GSAL, full of antiquarian books and documentation that traces Leeds Grammar School back to 1650 and the High School back to 1876. The archive holds letters going back to Mrs Edison, minutes of the governing body, hundreds of photographs of OGs through the ages – many sadly unnamed – and all the records of generations of school lives at Leeds Girls’ High School. Everyone was thrilled to learn that London Branch of LGHS Old Girls dates back to 1892 – astonishing!

The oldest 15th and 16th Century books and documents in the archive identify benefactors and acquisitions from the Thoresby and Lawson libraries – the oldest in Leeds. The beginnings of the ‘Leeds Girls High School Company’ date from 1875. £1 bought a £5 share in the company, and handwritten curricula from Miss Kennedy the 24 year old first headmistress, are all in the archive, showing a heady mix of French, Latin, German, Mathematics, English and Natural Sciences, and that was just the mornings!

John mentioned that the school motto was adopted in 1881 and the school song soon afterwards. Pictures and details of the old Headingley buildings through the years became more and more familiar to some of those present, and the audience was surprised to learn that LGHS was the first girls’ school in the country to have a swimming pool of its own! John showed a picture of the opening in 1921 – surely those were the same curtains some of us remembered in the 50’s and 60’s!

Pictures and records from the archives about the magnificent Robert Thompson library given by anonymous donation in 1929 and the acquisition of Ford House, completed the School. More pictures accompanied the next phases of history, the 75th anniversary of 1951, sporting and dramatic events, and enthralling details of the school through the decades, accompanied by lots of pictures and more and more squeaks from the audience of “I remember wearing those hats/summer dresses/shorts”.  John closed his talk by showing us the furnishings and clocks from the Headingley site, which are now established in the new building.

After presenting John with a thank you gift of wine, Jackie reported that the Club finances were healthy thanks to members’ generosity, and it was agreed that London Branch could donate at least £100** towards a new Bursary student’s travel costs to and from school. Details of the spring meeting on 24th March at Lady Solti’s North London home were given out and everyone was invited to attend.

Over tea there were fierce debates about exactly when the ‘new’ dining room was built (some of those present remembered ‘crushed space’) and what DID happen to the statue of Venus de Milo in the hall?

But the overall feeling – reflected in the vote of thanks – was how hard some of those early founding men and women and headmistresses through the decades had fought for girls’ education.

** Later increased to £200

Penny Rappak (OG62) October 2017

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