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A SCHOOL REPORT
TO JOAN
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A HISTORY OF THE SCHOOL

All this has been researched and written by Maggie Cobbett (née Margaret Collie). Maggie has also given me much help along the way with other aspects of school life. I am very, very grateful to her. Thanks Maggie, you’re a star!


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In 1854, the Leeds Mechanics' Institution and Literary Society, having opened a school for boys some years previously, decided to do the same for girls. It was to be called The Ladies' Educational Institution.

Premises were found at 4, South Parade, a Head Governess, Miss Dorrington, was appointed at a salary of £100 a year and an advertisement for pupils was placed in the Leeds Mercury (click here to see the original advert). The new school was to open its doors on the 24th July and offered a wide curriculum.

This was made possible by the generous attitude of the directors and members of the Institution, who allowed pupils from both the schools access to their own School of Art and laboratories, equipped with microscopes and the scientific equipment then available. Boys and girls were to use these at different times, however, since the schools had been founded as, and were always intended to remain, single-sex establishments. There was to be no religious instruction as the LMI was a non-sectarian organisation, but Logic and Ethics were to be taught as well as Callisthenics, a form of gymnastics considered suitable for girls. The Institution's lectures, concerts and large library were open, free, to senior pupils and its hall provided an auditorium large enough for school parties and special occasions.

The school opened with twenty-two pupils, divided into Elementary, Middle and Upper School. Miss Dorrington, possibly disappointed by the low numbers, resigned and was replaced by Miss Bonnyman in 1855. The school grew steadily and by 1857, now under Miss MacNaughton, had seventy pupils. Miss Crowther and Miss Knowles followed in rapid succession and then Miss Ash who took over in 1864. In 1868, the name of the school was changed to the Leeds Girls' School and by 1890, the Head Governess had seven assistants.

The first Headmistress, appointed in 1894, was Miss Garbutt (see picture right). With her degree from London University, she was the first graduate to take charge of the school and refused the title of Head Governess. One of the 'houses' into which the school was later organised bore her name. (The others were Roscoe, Graham and Stowell.) Her rather stiff portrait looks intimidating but she seems to have been both well respected and well liked. One old girl wrote of happy recollections of her time at the school, including Christmas parties when Miss Garbutt would lead off the dancing with Herr Radstock, the dancing master.

It is recorded that there were three-hundred-and-thirty-two pupils by the time the move was made to Willow Terrace in 1907, the third time it had been obliged to seek larger premises. Two years later, the school was renamed Leeds Girls' Modern School. Miss Garbutt retired in 1921. She was going blind and devoted part of her retirement to learning Braille and helping others.

Miss Bellman, an Oxford M.A. in History, took over for the next seven years and is remembered particularly for the way in which she encouraged the 6th form to enlarge their ambitions and attempt entry to the older universities.

From 1928 - 1938, Miss Willey was in charge. There is a biography of Edith A. Willey (1895-1970), entitled 'So Hateth She Derknesse', by G.E.Evans in Leeds Reference Library and I have plundered the section on her time at Lawnswood for some of these notes.

By the time she took charge, fees had been raised to six guineas a term, but accolades from many of her future pupils suggest that they got their money's worth. She taught History and was untypical of headmistresses of the time in that she adopted a short modern 'shingled' hairstyle and drove to school in her own Austin Seven. Recently I have been advised the fees were 3 guineas, and 5 guineas for sixth-formers.

According to her pupils, 'Bill' was a 'strict marker', could be very stern, but was also known for her kindness to pupils with problems. In 1931, she presided over the school's move to Weetwood on the outskirts of Leeds, when once again the name of the school changed, this time to Lawnswood High School. A plaque marked the occasion. Click here to see a newspaper article of the time.

The new site, shared with the boys of Leeds Modern School, offered spacious premises, large playing fields, tennis courts and a swimming bath. In those days, the schools were on the very edge of the city with open country beyond them. The houses in the Spen Lane area and the Ireland Wood estate had not yet been built. Miss Garbutt lived to see the new buildings and presented to the school two beautiful pictures for the 6th form.

The official opening of the two schools in 1932 was performed by H.R.H Prince George, who later became the Duke of Kent. (See the original “Official Opening” programme.) He arrived, unseen by the Civic Heads who were due to welcome him and twenty minutes early, having driven himself from Harewood House where he was staying with his sister, the Princess Royal. Although somewhat taken aback when he tapped on her door, Miss Willey rose to the occasion and accompanied him, relaxed and smiling, on his tour. She later recalled that he 'had a stiff neck and seemed to need mothering'.

[For pupils’ memories of life in the early years at Lawnswood, please see “The 1930s” page. Also, click here to see the fascinating 1936 School Magazine.]

When Miss Willey left in July 1938 to take up a new post in Clapham, London, she was succeeded by Miss M. Holden M.A, who saw the school through all the upheaval of World War Two. In August 1939 the school evacuated to Ripon. (See “The Evacuation To Ripon” page).

“I was at Lawnswood in 1938 and was evacuated to Ripon with the school in 1939.” Dorothy Sclater ’38-’41

Fortunately, the evacuation did not last long and the school reassembled at Lawnswood in January 1940. As there was no provision for blackout, most extra-curricular activities were suspended, but staff and Sixth form pupils from both schools were called upon for fire watching duties. An old boy of Leeds Modern told me how delighted he and his friend were to be on duty in the girls' school as they were able to leave notes in their girlfriends' desks.

During the war years, Founder’s Day was instituted. This marked the opening of The Ladies’ Educational Institute on the 24th July 1854. On, or close to, the 24th of July each year, an Old Girl was invited to speak to the school. The Founder’s Day hymn was sung. Click here to read the words and hear the music. Click here to see a Yorkshire Post article from the 26th August 1942 which refers to the research done by staff and pupils to establish the date the school was founded.

Following the 1944 Education Act came a new era for the school. The school lost the last vestige of independence and became 'maintained'. The Kindergarten and Junior Departments were gradually phased out, fees were abolished and places were allocated on the basis of a common entrance examination for the city.

“I did my ‘11 plus’ when I was only 9 & was the youngest child in the ‘new’ grammar school.” Stephanie Dalton ’44-’57

Click here to see rules and regulations for new pupils.

[Also here to see the 1947 School Magazine - the first post-war edition after a six-year absence.]

A School Prospectus of the time indicated the aims of the school — “to prepare girls for specialist work at the University”. A letter dated June 1958 signed by Miss Holden invited parents of new girls to a meeting, and the West Riding Health Department warned of the dangers of smoking!

Miss Holden presided over the school's centenary celebrations in 1954. Miss Agnes Clayton, Head of Music, and Mrs Constance Dove, Senior Mistress, collaborated in writing The School Song especially for the centenary and a special souvenir booklet was produced. (Unfortunately, the copy in Leeds Reference Library has been stolen and I am much indebted to the old girl who has made her copy available, enabling me to fill in some of the gaps.)

Towards the end of her time at Lawnswood, Miss Holden had the unhappy task of comforting the classmates of Joan Wright (1C) who drowned in the school swimming bath on the first day of the summer term 1957 A stone birdbath was erected in her memory on the lawn near the tennis courts. A very dignified and popular figure, Miss Holden retired in 1960 and was replaced by Miss H. Longworth. Click here to see the School Magazine’s commemoration of Miss Holden’s retirement, the Scroll Signed by Old Girls, and a Scroll signed by teachers and guests.

From the beginning, the school had provided school dinners and ‘service’ in the domestic science labs. (‘Service’ was available for those who wished to bring their own lunch. For a few pence, they were supplied with a plate, knife and a glass of water.) By the late 1950s the Baby Boom generation was approaching secondary education and arrangements had to be made for increased numbers. A dining hall was built in the space between the Lawnswood High School and Leeds Modern School. The hall accommodated boys on one side and girls on the other. Meals were cooked in the on-site kitchens. The provision of ‘service’ was discontinued.

As the Baby Boomers progressed through school, more space was needed. In the early ’60s, an annexe was built on the site of the tennis courts to the east of the school buildings. It was only ever meant as a temporary structure, and a cartoon from a school magazine of the time suggests it leaked right from the beginning! It was primarily used by sixth-formers.

[Click here to see the 1966 School Magazine. The girls’ concerns about a post-nuclear age are evident in their contributions.]

Towards the end of the '60s, the four 'houses' were renamed, Bronté, Darwin, Scott and Gainsborough.

In 1970 pupils undertook a 10-mile sponsored walk to raise money for Jimmy Savile’s Marathon Fund. They collected £1,090 for the kidney unit at Leeds General Infirmary. Click here to see the newspaper report of the event.

Miss Longworth was to oversee the transition period which followed Leeds Education Committee's decision to introduce a completely different school system for the city. In 1971, the eleven plus examination was replaced by a comprehensive educational system, grouped into first, middle and upper schools, entry into the last being at thirteen. Lawnswood High School and Leeds Modern School were combined into one large, mixed upper school, Lawnswood School, which operated from 1972. At the time of the merger, the houses were renamed after the Heads of House. They were Thompson, Rowe, Webber and Simpson.

In an attempt to minimise disruption for pupils already in the school, Miss Longworth ensured that integration should be phased in gradually and the first fully comprehensive intake arrived in 1974.

Click here to see a plan of Lawnswood High School and Leeds Modern School buildings and the grounds. These buildings were demolished in Autumn 2003, having been replaced by the new school.



“I still remember standing at the door of the old school down town Leeds and seeing the Hindenberg fly right over my head. That must have been fall 1931 or spring 1932. I wonder how much aerial photography they did on that trip.” Edric Clarke ’31-’38

“I cannot remember the year this incident happened - perhaps early 1941. We girls were out on the South Drive of school - perhaps break time or lunch time. We became aware of a fighter plane flying very low over the playing fields from the West Park end of the playing fields - therefore nose on to us so we were unable to see any identification marks as to whether it was ‘one of ours’ or not. Panic Stations!!! I seem to remember Miss Wallace was the mistress in charge at the time. She screamed at us to do whatever!! - and we pupils scattered in all directions. Then the plane whizzed over the school with what seemed like inches to spare and made off in the direction of the small housing estate where I lived with my parents. When I arrived home later in the day, my Mother plus neighbour were very upset about a plane which had just skimmed the roof tops etc. Fortunately it was ‘one of ours’. Someone reported the incident and it transpired the pilot was the son of the people who lived opposite to us. He had just gained his wings and was showing off to his Mother and frightening everybody else to pieces! Needless to say he was grounded for a time - I suspect not for long - as pilots and planes were in very short supply.” Audrey Toothill ’37-’42

“I started in the Kindergarten in '43, I can't remember too much except that I hid under the sand table on the first day. We had (or we were supposed to have) a sleep in the afternoon on canvas beds.” Irene Furze ’43-’54

“I found the enclosed receipt. Prior to the 1944 Education Act, schooling had to be paid for and this has survived 60 years! Amazingly, it is dated January 1945 - maybe it didn’t come into effect until after that.” Margaret Yewdall ’44-’54

“During and immediately after the war the windows were covered with a sticky mesh-like covering to avoid the glass splintering if the building was bombed. I seem to remember people who sat by the windows used to try to peel this off in idle moments.” Irene Furze ’43-’54

“I remember when we all cheered the king and queen and the two princesses with our red, white and blue scarves as they drove past the school.” Sheila Fingret ’41-’47

“We all sat on the hall floor to hear King George V1th open the Festival of Britain in 1951.” Catherine MacDonald ’49-’54

“I remember my parents couldn’t afford to let me go to the Festival of Britain (London 1951) on a week’s school trip. The cost was two weeks wages for my Dad, who worked on the railway. It was £10, a fortune in those days! I did go to Malham & the Yorkshire Dales, fossil hunting though! Never to be forgotten simple pleasures!” Avril Escolme ’46-’51

“I remember my first visit to Lawnswood, which was to sit for the Scholarship - as the 11+ used to be called. We were all shepherded in the East wing playground, before being led in to a ground floor classroom for the exam. I was petrified as my two older sisters had both passed it and I was terrified that I might not. About five minutes before the end I realized that I’d added up all the "take-away" sums, and had to hastily scribble the correct answers (I hoped!) over the top. Then came the agonising wait of two or three months for the result!” Heather Newman ’53-’60

“I had two marvellous friends - Eileen Suthers and Anne Johnson. There was also Sheila Solly, Sheila Dalton, Midge Midgley, Brenda Wrigglesworth. On my first day at the school we sat in 1B at individual desks with lift-up lids and in alphabetical order. When our teacher had addressed us we each had to stand up and give our name. I remember poor Brenda blushing scarlet when she had to give hers.” Hilary Steeple ’44-’51

“I remember Founders’ Day. [24th July] We always sang one particular Hymn (‘Our Father, by whose Servants’).” Janet Ball ’56-’61

“I remember the Road Safety classes and tests.” Barbara Catton ’57-’62

“I can remember going to school on the old Samuel Ledgard buses. When you look back it was quite a challenge for an 11 year old to get on a bus and know to get off at the right stop. Even worse was waiting for the buses during the winter months - especially at Xmas time when they were usually full of Xmas shoppers. In my first and second year during the summer I was allowed to go to school on my bike - providing I went Farrar Lane, along The Drive, and down Spen Lane on forward journey - so as to avoid the roundabout on a morning. My parents would have had a fit if they had seen us going down Spen Lane at top speed!!” Margaret Eastwood ’59-’66

“When I was there, there were little garden plots near the Spen Lane end - they must have been a legacy of Digging For Victory. You could have one for a year at a time, and use it to grow veg and flowers.” Val Hill ’56-’61

“I think I tried to grow flowers, but I don't know which ones. I have a vague memory that Miss Gill used to wander by now and again to offer advice, but in reality there wasn't any guidance or help available. Gardening was recreation, not education! The gardening tools — hoes, forks, etc., — were kept in a tea chest just inside the North Drive door. We just helped ourselves and returned them when we’d finished.” Sandra Baker ’59-’64

“We had small allotments between a rhododendron hedge and the back of the tennis/netball courts and I distinctly remember frying the lettuce we had grown, together with raisins and dripping in a flat tin over a small fire lit in the hedge with Eileen [Suthers] and Anne [Johnson] and declaring it “delicious” at the time.” Hilary Steeple ’44-’51

“In the sixth form we went to the annexe and had our own coffee machine, and watched Wimbledon.” Pat Curtis ’59-’65

“Also remember Ernie and his mate who looked after the boilers? Used to ogle us when we ran out for games. I wonder if they were the boiler men for the Modern as well or if they had their own?” Janet Ball ’56-’61

“I remember Miss Holden giving a very moving talk on the life and death of Kathleen Ferrier the opera singer; she had very obviously been an admirer if not a friend.” Catherine MacDonald ’49-’54

“One day we had Gladys Aylward & her adopted Chinese daughter Sixpence. She talked of life from Lancashire? to being a missionary in China and the horrors of the war with the Japanese. When the Inn of the Sixth Happiness was in the cinema it was interesting to compare info.” Catherine MacDonald ’49-’54

“Does anyone remember Gladys Aylward, the Missionary from China, (whose life was filmed as "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness"), coming to talk to the school about her life and experiences?” Brenda Nichols ’55-’62

[From the dates above, it seems Miss Aylward visited the school at least twice...]

“I remember the changing rooms on the South Drive being used as Polling Stations during General Elections. During the time they were in use we weren’t allowed onto the South Drive, nor were we allowed down the stairs that ran from the corridor to the gym.” Sandra Baker ’59-’64

“The changing rooms were used as a polling station in the early ’50s but I don’t think we were banned from the South Drive. I seem to remember watching people going in to vote.” Irene Furze ’43-’54

“I can remember the whole school walking down to the Cottage Road cinema to see a film of the Coronation [1953].” Irene Furze ’43-’54

“I still have a very battered Coronation mug given by the Education Committee for the Queen’s Coronation. Actually it’s a half-pint glass beer mug with the coat-of-arms on.” Catherine MacDonald ’49-’54

“Mrs Pickering (History) was very instrumental in investigating the history of Lawnswood School at the 100th Anniversary of the girls' school. I am pretty sure she was the writer of the pamphlet about the school that was published at that time.” Margaret Bradbrook ’59-’66

“In 1972 we won the Alice Croft award for overcoming significant difficulties and still succeeding. Jane because her parents had divorced and Elisabeth because she was the eldest of 6 kids and from a poor family — my how times have changed. We were given £24 each which we used to buy towels and lab coats for college - it was very welcome!” Jane Porter & Elisabeth McGough ’65-’72