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SPEECH DAY

Speech Day happened once a year; it was held in the autumn term.

For weeks beforehand there were rehearsals: our school was noted for its music and everything had to be just so. The whole school learned certain songs to be sung on the day; the choir learned additional, more difficult songs. How I yearned to be in the choir, but it was not to be!

We even rehearsed the National Anthem. When we got to the line, “Send her victorious,” Miss Clayton always stopped us. “No, no girls! Victorious, not Victoria’s! We are not sending The Queen plums!”

And so we enunciated clearly through the School Song, the chosen pieces, and the National Anthem with Miss Clayton at the piano.

Originally, Speech Day was held in the school assembly hall, but by the 1960’s it had become too big an occasion for the school hall, and Speech Day as I knew it always took place in Leeds Town Hall.

“When I first went to Lawnswood there were two Speech Days! One in the Summer for the First to Third forms and one in the Winter for the Fourth to Sixth Forms — obviously the latter was to present those who had gained GCE O-levels and A-Levels during the past year as well a the honorary and proficiency prizes. They were both held in the School Hall.

...“I remember one summer Speech Day all the girls in a multitude of candy-striped dressed — red, blue, yellow and green and one of the girls giving a rendition about Lady Catherine de Burgh from Pride and Prejudice. The Speech day I remember in the Town Hall was the autumn after I had left going back to receive my A levels.” Brenda Nichols ’55-’62

On the day, there was an afternoon rehearsal in the Town Hall, and then Speech Day proper took place there in the evening. How did we get back and forth? Were there coaches or buses? Did we go by public transport? I don’t remember.

We practiced every part of the evening’s performance; even how to sit down and stand up. This was to be done decorously with no clattering about. At the end of a song, we remained standing, awaiting Miss Clayton’s signal. Then, as the down-turned palms lowered by an inch, we simultaneously sat down and sat still. No wriggling, no shuffling. It was as though the whole school was one body. When it was time to stand for the next song, we watched, eagle-eyed, for the upturned palms to rise an inch. We rose as one and sang our little hearts out!

In the evening, the girls entered by the Calverley Street door. We had to leave our pullovers in a little room, and we appeared on the huge riser-seating behind the stage, wearing our white blouses. The teachers wore their gowns and hoods. We were arranged by voices rather than by classes; choir at the front, the rest behind. The teachers were on the stage. The girls who were to receive prizes were specially placed so that they could come onstage in the correct order.

In the audience, the parents - hundreds and hundreds of ’em, each searching through the massed ranks for their daughters. No waving, no signalling to the parents. We sat still.

Speech Day progressed along its pre-determined lines. There were Honour and Proficiency prizes for good work; there were sports cups and House awards; there were scholarships and other academic successes to be lauded. We sang to the accompaniment of the huge Town Hall organ, played I think by the resident organist. This always seemed strange to me; I was used to Miss Clayton’s phrasing and intonation.

Afterwards we filed out and, in the mêlée that ensued, attempted to find our pullovers and coats. Then we set off home. How did we get home? I seem to recall that on one occasion my parents picked me up at the side door. Was this the norm?

I don’t know all the songs we sang, what prizes were given out, or what else happened. I have a sort of rolled-together memory of every speech day I ever took part in. They left a lasting impression, but I don’t know what of!

Speech Day was a retrospective on the previous year; so, the girls who are shown in the programme as first-formers were in the second form by the time that speech day took place. The second-formers were in the third form, etc., and the sixth form girls had left.

Click here to see an original 1961 school Speech Day programme. Special thanks to Barbara Thornhill for this. (Miss Holden had retired in 1960; Miss Longworth took over as Headmistress in September that year. The programme refers to “Headmistress’s Report”, and later, “Address By Miss Holden”. I assume Miss Holden must have been there as some sort of guest speaker.)

Click here to see an original 1966 Speech Day programme. Many thanks to Jeannie Carr for this one.



“I remember how, as a pupil, I was in awe of any visitors on the platform.... But the best part of all was when the guest ended their speech by asking Miss Holden for a half day for the school. Speech Days were held in the [school] hall in my day and there was always either the Chair of Governors or someone from the Education department or committee as guest speaker. We thought it was a spur of the moment thing when they asked for a half-day as it was a deliberate turn towards Miss Holden as the request was made. She appeared to hesitate and think about the request before agreeing. The girls then cheered extremely loudly needless to say.” Joan Whitaker ’46-’51

“I remember probably(?) my last [Speech Day]. It was in the evening and someone's mum in the National Anthem sang ‘God Save The QUEEEEEEEEEN’ as if it was as long a word as that Welsh station name! Being 16 we were staggering with laughter and Miss Gill had the temerity to tell me off for laughing on the way out.” Janet Ball ’56-’61

“Agnes Clayton was an outstanding teacher of singing. I’ll never forget Speech Day in the Town Hall and singing Britten’s Missa Brevis.” Gail Scoffin ’59-’66

“I remember rows of green double decker buses to take us to Leeds Town Hall for Speech Day. Non nobis domine! And the occasional plop of another girl passing out!” Miriam Lewis ’66-’71

“I remember a rousing chorus of something called NON NOBIS DOMINE - very dramatic ending with everyone trying to sing that little bit louder (even if we couldn't sing).” Carol Hazelwood ’66-’71

“We never had it [Speech Day] in the Town Hall; always in the assembly hall.” Janet Ball ’56-’61

“I can still visualise Miss Clayton exhorting us to sing, "With a Voice of Singing" in the Town Hall, but can't recall any of the other songs.” Jeannie Carr ’59-’66

“I remember we had to learn the Speech Day song for several months before. One of ours was "With A Voice Of Singing". Another, "Turn Back O Man, Forswear Thy Foolish Ways".” Janet China ’65-’70

“Can you remember her at school speech days in the Town Hall doing her birdie gesture with two fingers, which was meant to say, 'Open your mouths wider!' Oh, the memories!” Gill Crossley ’59-’66

“I also remember one or two Speech Days in the Town Hall - we used to have to wait in the little rooms at the back and then we used to sit on the rows of seats behind the stage under bright lights for the whole evening.” Sarah Sharp ’64-’71

“I think you got an Honours prize if your examination average was 75% or over and a Proficiency prize if it was 70%-74%.” Margaret Collie ’59-’66

“Prizes: - I still have my two Proficiency prizes: - a Concise Oxford Dictionary (fifth edition, price 25 shillings) from 5th form, and a Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable (price 42 shillings) from Upper 6th. Both have stickers penned by Miss Longworth, with the school crest and motto (Nunquam non Paratus, as I'm sure you'll remember).” Elizabeth Stephenson ’59-’66

“Unfortunately my singing wouldn't get me in the choir and my sporting ability wouldn't get me noticed either so I was never considered to be a great credit to the school.” Veronica Skirrow ’59-’64

“Susan Cain and I got a detention from Miss Wightman for tittering at the sixth formers getting their prizes, and for writing "ship" (ironic) on a board in a dressing room.” Janet China ’65-’70

“I have photos, my school report book, a school prize (cookery book, presented by Lady Ogilvie) and various other souvenirs (even my prefects badge I think!)” Jane Baxendale ’62-’69

“Most parents would arrange a place to meet you on the Town Hall front steps (‘near the third lion with the squinty eyes’).” Janet China ’65-’70

Does anyone else remember any details of Speech Day? Do you still have a school prize? If so, please e-mail lhs.alumnae@gmail.com