History of CCHSG
Over the next academic year this new section of the website will be developed, with the aim of sharing information about the history of the school and making some of our archive material, such as early school magazines, publicly available. If past students or their families have school memorabilia or photographs that they would be happy for CCHSG to share, Kate Stubbs would be delighted to hear from them via firstname.lastname@example.org. We are particularly looking for copies of school magazines post 1977 – can you help?
CCHSG has been educating students in Colchester since 1909 and much of the information shared here was originally collated as part of a publication to mark the schools fiftieth year and the booklet produced as part of the school’s centenary celebrations in 2009.
The Colchester parents of 200 years ago did have an option to educate their daughters, but only in the most superficial and expensive way. In 1762 a “Young Ladies Boarding School” was established on North Hill, offering English and Needlework at the then expensive fee of £14 a year. French, Music Writing and Arithmetic were available each at an additional cost. Not until the 1890s were female students in Colchester able to access an education of real value which prepared them for Matriculation and the examinations then used for university entrance. In 1900 the main employment available for Colchester’s women would have been as domestic servants, in one of the town’s two silk mills, or in the local tailoring industry. In the first printed number of the CCHSG school magazine, in 1914, a student wrote:
A girl who has a career has many more advantages than one who has not. She is far more independent and helpful to others and herself. She is dependent on no one for food and clothing, and has much wider views of life altogether……There are a great many openings now for girls. In Victorian times it was considered unladylike for a girl to do anything but stay at home or go out as companion… Nowadays everybody has far broader views, and there are innumerable careers for girls. Teachers are wanted in many branches… There are also many positions as clerks and secretaries, which women can obtain. Agriculture in many branches, bee-keeping, dairy work or poultry farming is suitable work for women… In fact, there is hardly any field of work that is not open to women today. Of course, in every case a good training is essential…. (1914, p6).
In 1892 a School Board was formed in Colchester with representatives from the churches, the Co-operative Society and the trades council. This body was responsible for setting up 6 schools, by 1895 3,910 children were attending free local schools. The 1902 Education Act abolished the School Board and replaced it with a Borough Education Committee. The founding of CCHSG came as part of the modernization and development of education in Colchester driven by this local authority at the turn of the twentieth century.
The school was originally located in the Albert Hall in the High Street (later the Co-operative Bank), under the Headship of Miss Mary Collins, until its intended premises at the top of North Hill, which is now the Sixth Form College, were completed in 1912. In 1909 there were just 67 students in four forms. By 1914 numbers had risen to 165 and many different aspects of the school community we know today were already developing. There was a uniform, of navy pleated tunic and velour hat; a red and navy blue tie was added in later years. In 1914 the Preparatory department was opened in “St. Peter’s Parish Room”, and Swedish gymnastics, Cookery, and Class Singing became definite parts of the School curriculum (1927, p6). The school magazine of 1927 presents the new school badge, which features for the first time on the front of the magazine, and was designed by a Mr Gurney Bentham. Bentham was an academic and editor of the Essex County Standard for 59 years, who was also three times Mayor of Colchester. The motto “Wisdom Giveth Life”, which we still refer to, was chosen by Headteacher Miss Crosswaite, this comes from Ecclesiastes, chapter 7, verses 11–14:
Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun.
For Wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.
At a time when many mottos were in Latin, “She particularly chose an English motto so that no girl, if asked what the words on her badge meant, would be unable to explain (1927, p4).” It was in this year that the school also thanked Miss Crosswaite and wished her well. She departed to become Head of the prestigious Wycombe Abbey School after 15 years at CCHSG.
The CCHSG ethos of striving for excellence across a wide range of extra curricular activities was also in evidence from the very start. Everyone played games, and the first Sports Day took place in 1914, before being suspended over the war years to resume in 1922. With races such as the “Girdle Race” and the “Tunnel” from the 1920s the Sports day prizes awarded to the winning Form Groups were pictures. “The two halves of Upper VA won the Flag and Cross and Tunnel Team races, thereby gaining for their form-room the “Card Players” and the “Earl de la Warr… the prize for the highest number of points gained by Lower Va was a statuette the “Seated Mercury” (1927, p13).
CCHSG’s record of sporting success also started early. In 1923 and 1924 it is recorded that netball team beat every school on the fixture list. Once activities resumed after the War students eagerly participated in Rounders, Netball, Tennis and Hockey tournaments, with permanent members of the school teams being awarded their “colours”. While this was a source of pride, the school magazine also published “criticism” of the players which might have been less positively received. Members of the 1953 netball team were variously described as “a good shooter but sometimes a little erratic” and demonstrating “some spectacular intercepting, but must be careful not to barge in her eagerness to intercept the ball.”
A Drama Group and “Story Club” were started and also a Debating Society, at which in 1914 the resolution that “Women should be granted the Parliamentary franchise” was carried by nine votes to three (1914, p9). Women over 30 were finally to get the vote in 1920. There were also exchange visits with French students, school concerts and performances such as Oliver Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer”, Open Days and parents’ evenings. In 1924 the Historical and Archeological Society (HARK) began a long and active existence and a Music Club began regular concerts and recitals. A Sixth Form was founded, from which students progressed on to Girton College, Cambridge and other universities.
Later, in 1920, when the school had grown to over 400 students, the County Council bought and adapted Grey Friars House, and a buildings next door as accommodation for the Juniors and for the boys and girls in the Preparatory School. As the 1920 School Magazine records “The Upper School has been in parties to visit the new building, and everyone envies the Juniors for being in such a delightful place” (1920, p1). For 37 years, Colchester County High School operated on a split site, linked by the High Street, with junior pupils at what is today the Grey Friars Hotel at the eastern end while senior pupils were taught in the same building as the technical school pupils at what is now the Colchester Sixth Form College off North Hill. An early commitment to broadening access was evident in the 25% of the places at the school that were reserved for scholarship students. Not unlike the school today, some students travelled considerable distances to school, using the bus and train. There were even “train prefects” to look after them. Some students even travelled in by horse, and one family came by carriage, with the eldest sister driving, and the horse being stabled during the day at the Fleece Hotel in Head Street.
The CCHSG magazine for 1946-7 features an article written by a student about the history of the Grey Friars building tracing its history back to 1714 and its various incarnations, including the period immediately preceding the occupancy by CCHSG, when it was a boarding school run by French nuns.
Information, research and recollections about the early years of the school have been included in a history section on the Grey Friars website https://www.Greyfriarscolchester.org.uk
An accompanying local history book, by Joan Gurney and Alan Skinner, outlining the history of the Grey Friars site since Roman times, was published in 2014 by Access Books. It is available from Red Lion Books, www.redlionbooks.co.uk
In 1957, Colchester County High School for Girls became united on one site when the new premises were opened at Norman Way, where the school is today. In 1956 Miss King retired after 25 years at CCHSG. She was presented with a travelling clock and a patchwork bedspread which every girl in school had helped to embroider. It was the new Headteacher Miss Katherine Vashon Baker, who, as she wrote in the 1953 School Magazine, “after many years of disappointment and hopes deferred”, was in charge of supervising the school’s move to Norman Way in 1957. The plan, originally mooted before WWII, had taken some 30 years to come to fruition.
The new, rather more functional 1950s school building took some getting used to after the elegant surroundings of Georgian Grey Friars. Miss Vashon Baker summed up the mixed feelings in her opening speech: “We cannot but feel great regret at leaving Grey Friars where the girls and staff have found peace and serenity, but we must all feel a sense of thankfulness that plans for transferring the school to new buildings and uniting it under the same roof, plans started 30 years go, are at last fulfilled.”
“…how much having a school in one building will mean to us, you all will know. And to this must be added many other things we have longed for; good laboratories, proper provision for Domestic Science, a full-sized and fully equipped gymnasium, and a hall where we can all meet…. The school will still be the same school in all the ways that matter. We shall carry with us all the rich endowment of tradition, and friendship and ideals of the past years and former generations.”
“The greatest single advantage in the new building is that each room has been designed for its special purpose”. “To our school, housed in separate buildings for so many years, the Hall in which the whole school can meet for daily assembly is one of our greatest pleasures.”
Under Miss Vashon Baker’s leadership, a House system was introduced, and a Parent-Teacher Association was formed. The students and parents added to the school facilities by raising funds to build a swimming pool – something that some of the students involved were later to come to regret, as covering the pool was not something that could be afforded and heating was not introduced until 1966, when an average of 240 girls were using the pool every day.
Even at this initial stage there was a shortage of classrooms on the site, and a number of temporary “demountable” buildings, which were much disliked as poorly insulated and noisy, were installed. Although “temporary” these demountables were not finally demolished until 2018 – and in 2021 one, used as a store, still remains.
Miss Joan Hasler, a graduate of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, became CCHSG’s next Headmistress in 1967. This was a period during which the national education system was changing, with comprehensive co-educational schools being widely introduced. CCHSG continued to pursue a selective education policy, with the school growing in popularity. At this stage there were three forms of entry, with just 96 students in each year group.
Mrs Jean Goodfellow succeeded Miss Hasler in 1976 and held the post for the next 11 years. During this time she oversaw the school’s move, as part of a national change, from centrally managed Local Education Authority funding, to devolved budgets as a “grant maintained” school. “When I arrived the budget was £30,000” she recalled. ”When I left it was more than £1.8 million. We were able to do so much more as a grant maintained school. We substantially improved our premises and we established a budget for in-service education for staff. We were able to choose what to spend our money on and when it was appropriate to spend it.”
Over time there have been series of extensions to the original building, and new buildings added to the site. The first major expansion was under the leadership of Dr Aline Black, who in 1996 was responsible for the “technology block” extension of the main building.
The Headship of Mrs Elizabeth Ward (1998- 2009) saw a modernisation and development of various aspects of the school. The new Science building (S block), new facilities for the Sixth Form and the “mSchool”, Music, Mathematics and the Mind (Creative & Critical Thinking) were built largely with funds raised by the school itself. By 2005 the school role had expanded to 767. During this time the school also became involved with the management of the Colchester SCITT (School Centred Initial Teacher Training Consortium), later to become Colchester Teacher Training Consortium (CTTC).
Under the leadership of Mrs Gillian Marshall, from 2009, the school development has not only focused on substantially improving the facilities and equipment available for students but also on developing educational networks and working in partnership with other schools. In April 2013, North East Essex Teaching School Alliance (NEETSA) was set up, with CCHSG becoming lead school. This collaborative partnership provided professional development for teachers across local schools for 9 years, prior to the subsuming of its role under that of the Alpha Teaching School Hub.
In 2017, with CCHSG as lead school, Colchester Teacher Training Consortium (CTTC) was moved in to rooms which were adapted in the S block, to form its Colchester base. CTTC works in partnership with Colchester, Tendring and Ipswich primary and secondary schools and annually trains around 100 new teachers.
CCHSG became lead school in the Alpha Multi Academy Trust in March 2018, initially working with the Gilberd School and later joined by Manningtree High School and Home Farm Primary School. The new Trinity School, which opens in September 2021, will also be part of the Alpha Trust.
Under the grammar school expansion scheme in December 2018, CCHSG, by committing to fair access and partnership working, was granted funding to increase the school’s role. From September 2020 the intake became 197 students, in 6 Forms.
In 2021 CCHSG was successful in applying to become part of a new national network of 87 Teaching School Hubs. The Alpha Teaching School Hub will provide a centre of excellence for teacher training and professional development, working in collaboration with other schools in the Babergh, Colchester, Ipswich and Tendring areas.
Alongside the development of the school’s leadership role and the wider partnership working, the improvement of the facilities and resources for students on the school site during this decade has been very extensive. While much of the funding for these projects has been gained through careful preparation of bids to central government, by Mrs Marshall and the Senior Team, school fundraising through the PTFA and parental contributions have also been significant. Funding all these projects has at times also required creative thinking. For example, the lovely patio dining area for Sixth Formers, with its heaters and rattan furniture, was funded by Mrs Marshall, Mrs Moss and Mrs Jackson providing summer holiday training for Irish teachers, preparing them to return from abroad to teach in the UK.
Site development highlights from this period include the major extension of the Sixth Form centre to provide a separate entrance atrium, lecture theatre, IT suite, and additional classrooms. A new and much needed sports hall opened in 2019 providing excellent indoor facilities. Part of this project was the rebuilding of the swimming pool, with adjoining changing rooms; which ends 60 years of students walking across the carpark wrapped in towels.
In 2020 an entire teaching block was created to provide a new and much expanded Library and three art studios, including a dedicated Sixth Form studio space.
Throughout CCHSG’s long history one thing remains consistent, its leadership by generations of talented and dedicated women and committed teaching staff who aspired, and continue to aspire, to provide the very best in education and opportunity for the students in their care.