After the half-term break, schoolchildren across the country will be looking forward to the summer holidays. The end of the summer term always marks a conclusion of sorts – the last days before moving up a class or moving on to a new school.
Fifty years ago, pupils at Farnham Girls’ Grammar School were contemplating an even more fundamental change. It was the end of an era. When they returned in September it would not just be to a new building but to a new system of education.
The old grammar, secondary modern and technical school divisions would no longer exist and in their place would be the new comprehensive system. Farnham Girls’ Grammar School (and, indeed, the boys’ grammar too) would be replaced by the town’s first sixth form college.
As we approach the anniversary of their demise, Peeps is looking back at the history of the girls’ grammar school, which played a part in Farnham’s story for more than 70 years.
The school was founded by Reverend T Gardiner at 74 Castle Street in 1901 and underwent several incarnations and relocations over the decades.
First among these was a move to West Street (to buildings previously occupied by the boys’ grammar school – pictured below right) in 1906, two years after the school had been taken over by Surrey County Council, so becoming the first in the county to be integrated into the new state system.
Pictures of the building suggest a country house-type environment where the girls had their own sixth form room, decorated with vases of flowers, and a small, wooden-beamed library with the appearance of a cosy parlour.
Apart from academic subjects, pupils enjoyed activities traditionally deemed acceptable for the female sex such as drawing and needlework, which saw girls being entered and achieving success in examinations run by the Royal Drawing Society and the London Institute of Plain Needlework, in 1904.
But the girls were also encouraged to take part in pursuits once considered to be more suitable for males. In 1909 the school held its first sports day and swimming competition – even though, it seems from a report in the Aldershot News, that they were hampered by customary clothing: “The high jump for girls over 15 was a splendid exhibition of what girls handicapped by skirts can do,” enthused their reporter.
In 1908, there was a change of name – from Farnham Grammar School for Girls to Farnham Girls’ Grammar School, because the headmaster of Farnham Grammar School (the boys’ school) feared the name of the girls’ establishment was too similar and (heaven forbid) people might think the schools were linked, which was not the case.
Thirty years later, permission was given for a new girls’ grammar school to be built in Farnham and work began in April 1938 on the structure designed by architects Jarvis and Richards.
The £50,000 new building in Menin Way, which could accommodate 330 girls, was opened the following July by the Duchess of Gloucester.
In 1940, with the blitz under way in London, Farnham Girls’ Grammar School played host to the girls of Grey Coat Hospital School who were evacuated to the premises for three years before returning to their school in Westminster.
Another major change came following the 1944 Education Act, which was brought in with the aim of removing inequalities in the system that saw poor children unable to take up places at grammar schools because of the costs involved.
Entrance to Farnham Girls’ Grammar School, like all grammars in the country, would now be through academic prowess – by passing the 11-plus exam – and the school would no longer take fees or offer scholarships.
A further revolution in 1973 saw Farnham’s grammar schools close for good. The girls’ grammar school would merge with the boys’ grammar and move to their site at Morley Road to become Farnham College.