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TO JOAN

The events of 1957


In 1957 Joan Wright drowned in the swimming pool that was shared by Lawnswood High School and Leeds Modern School. That much is fact.

I came to Lawnswood in 1959. By then, two years had passed and Joan’s death was no longer the day-to-day topic of conversation. However, it was certainly the case that my fellow pupils and I learnt of the event very soon after joining the school. I don’t know how we knew; it was just one of those things that everyone in the school knew about.

Over the intervening years, one would have imagined that Joan would have naturally faded from the collective consciousness of the school. Not so! On a visit to the school in April 2002, a pupil asked one of our group if it was true that the school was haunted by the ghost of a girl who had died in the swimming pool.

So, to set the record straight, and to offer some sort of commemoration to Joan, I have made a few enquiries about the circumstances of her death.


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Joan Wright started at Lawnswood as a new girl in September 1956. She was in 1C and would have been ten or eleven years old at the time.

The swimming pool was lined with white tiles. Lanes were marked out with black tiles. As in all swimming pools, this gave a “wobbly” visual effect on the surface when the water was disturbed. There were grates and “man-hole” covers on the bottom of the pool where filtered water flowed in and out. Our regulation swimsuits were dark navy blue.

On Tuesday 30th April 1957, the first day of the summer term, Joan must have got into difficulties in the pool. Sadly, she drowned. As there would have been about thirty girls thrashing about in the water at the time, it’s maybe not surprising that she wasn’t spotted immediately. It seems her body was lying across the grating, and in her navy blue swimsuit she would not have been easily visible. Miss Goodall dived in fully-clothed and fellow-pupil Jane Wynne also went to her assistance. Ambulance crews spent two hours trying to revive her.

The following day, there was a front-page article reporting the event in the Yorkshire Post. The article is reproduced below. (It was taken from a microfiche and is not of the highest quality.)

Joan was buried at Adel Church on Saturday 3rd May 1957. Joan’s parents donated a commemorative birdbath to the school, which was situated in the teachers’ garden. (For those later pupils, the teachers’ garden was the strip between the drive leading to the main door of the girls’ school and the tennis courts. It’s the bit of ground you would see if you looked out of the library window in the girls’ school {the west block}. The teachers used it on sunny days.)

The birdbath was certainly there when my year finally finished school in 1966. By about 1987, when an Old Girl revisited the school (see below) it was no longer in place. Our former school secretary (who asked not to be named) has told me that the memorial was removed when it became damaged. Apparently a chunk broke off, and after that it was thought to be unstable and liable to topple over. It was removed for safety reasons. I don’t know what caused the breakage - possibly a tree branch fell on it?

If, by any chance, Joan’s family or friends ever read this, we Old Girls would like you to know that, birdbath or not, Joan is still remembered.

And if any of the present pupils read this - no, there absolutely never was a ghost. Joan was laid to rest: end of story.

If you have any specific recollections, please e-mail lhs.alumnae@gmail.com


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Post Script — October 2003.


The school has now moved into the new buildings. Joan’s memorial has been retrieved and, for the first time in many years, is once again part of the school. The birdbath top is missing, but the inscribed plinth alone makes a simple statement in Joan’s memory. For the time being, Head Teacher Mr. Davidovic has put it in a quiet corner of the grounds. When the landscaping is complete, he hopes to place the memorial on the spot where the old swimming baths once stood.


Post Script — April 30th 2007.


We have come to the fiftieth anniversary of Joan’s death. Lawnswood School has put a lovely item in their e-magazine in remembrance of Joan.

Two Old Girls who were at Ireland Wood Junior School with Joan left flowers on her grave in Adel Churchyard.

“Pat Gibson and Joan Grey [who came over from Richmond N Yorks] went at 10.30 this a.m. {30th April 2007} and left some beautiful flowers, white, pink and blue "which a little girl would have loved" - they went to Ireland Wood School with her. They put a card with a fairy - who looked like an angel - sitting on a water lily on blue water - just saying ‘in loving memory of a dear friend’. There was a huge tub of pansies next to the grave, which presumably Mrs. Wright tends?” Janet Ball ’56-’61


On the same day, Joan’s 94-year-old Mum and Joan’s Aunt visited the school.

“Her mum and Aunt visited yesterday and we mentioned your website and that the article would be going on the school news site, they seemed happy Joan was still remembered by so many!

... “On another note - interestingly, her mum said that on her death certificate it doesn't say drowning as there's wasn't enough water in her lungs. Also, the only visible injury was a scratch on her head... Apparently it went down as accidental death...they were not really sure what happened...very sad indeed.” Selena Kervell (Member of Staff, 2007)


A letter from Joan’s Mum:

“I wish to thank all the people who were involved in the events of 1957 and the kind tributes they paid to Joan. I remember all the girls very well.

I must say a special thank you to Pat Gibson and Joan Grey for the lovely flowers they put on Joan's grave. The card that was with them is now with a photograph of Joan at home.

My sister and I have been to see the bird bath and are very moved to see how much care has been taken of it.

I thank Mrs Davidovic and the members of staff who escorted us and made us feel very welcome.

There were a few things in the report that were not quite correct but things get blurred in time and fifty years is a long time. I feel, in fairness to Miss Goodall, that I must put you right on what really happened.

Joan did not actually drown, she could swim, but the inquest made it plain that the cause of death was accidental, following a bump to her head.

It gives me great comfort to know that Joan is still remembered by her school friends.

Nora Wright.”


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“I was in the same class as Joan, 1c, and I remember her as an extremely pleasant, cheerful, very likeable and well mannered girl. I remember being in the changing rooms and the word was rapidly going round that Joan was at the bottom of the pool, then Jane Wynne dived in to help. It was a huge shock - nobody could believe what had happened - but also no one blamed Miss Goodall. In fact I personally had sympathy as to how she must have felt about the tragedy.” Joan Williams ’56-’63

“I was in the same year, but not the same class, as Joan Wright - I knew her by sight. I can remember feeling absolutely dreadful for ages after she drowned but cannot remember how the school handled it in assembly, lessons, etc. My mother told me I must not blame Miss Goodall or Miss Skellern. In this day and age there’d be FAR more of a hoo-ha than there was - pupils withdrawn, counselling, etc. Joan was an only child and is buried in the churchyard at Adel. One of my friends told me that about 15 years ago she went to LHS ref her daughters going there and noticed the birdbath wasn't there [Joan's parents donated it and my friend went to Ireland Wood with Joan]. She asked about it and said they were evasive.” Janet Ball ’56-’61

“I remember the day Joan drowned. I was in third or fourth form. There was enormous speculation when the ambulance was in the schoolyard. All of us peering out of windows and the teachers (who must have been just as curious, on reflection) trying to keep order and stop us looking out. Miss Goodall and Jane Wynne (another student) had jumped into the pool, pulled Joan out and tried artificial respiration. The sense of terrible shock and anguish was felt by the whole school. But in the midst of it all, there was, in our year at least, the typical 14-year old’s interest in details in the local papers, which said something like, "40-year-old Miss Edith Goodall jumped in fully clothed", which gave us information about her name and age - always so important to know, in those days!! Joan's family gave the birdbath in her memory and it was to be cared for in successive years by 1C, her class. What a shame that time has eroded that.” Lesley Hooper ’56-’59

“I was in the class at the time she drowned and was one of the people who noticed that she wasn't in her changing cubicle after the class. I remember Jane Wynne jumping in after her to help Miss Goodall get Joan out of the pool. It was a tragedy that changed our life at school after that. I remember Joan very well and what a sweet person she was.” Erica Sulcs ’56-’59

“The day Joan Wright died we were having RI with Miss Rowling. Someone came and summoned her so urgently that we had neither work nor supervision. It was said later that she had lifesaving qualifications and was presumably needed to give artificial respiration. I confess we were surprised but her stock went up accordingly.” Pat Thompson (Tommy) ’53-’60

“With regard to the poor girl who drowned. Yes I do remember it. As I recall I was a 4th year and our classroom at that time overlooked the swimming pool. As I remember it was early afternoon, and suddenly an ambulance rushed across.

... “Obviously we all wanted to know what was going on and trying to see from the windows without it appearing obvious to our teacher at that time. I remember her being called downstairs, and then things get hazy. I do remember chaos being left on our own, and rumours flew. We were all sent home early.

... “Apparently the girl was a non-swimmer and was found lying on the dark grating at the bottom of the pool, so no one saw her for a while by which time it was too late.

... “Obviously there was a big enquiry. Everyone was extremely shocked and yes eventually there was the little birdbath erected in the garden at the front of the school, together with an inscription to her memory. As a non-swimmer myself it really put us all off going there for some while.” Grete Wheeler ’53-’58

“I too have never forgotten the death of Joan Wright - so many, many years ago - and I'm glad that at least part of the memorial still stands.” Val Hill ’56-’61

“To my recollection, we were told about the drowning to explain why only a few girls at a time were allowed into the pool whilst the rest shivered on the side. It must have been years before the P.E. staff recovered from the shock.” Margaret Collie ’59-’66

“Does anyone remember the plaque on the wall of the swimming pool?” Carol Hazelwood ’66-’71

“My family and I knew Joan and her family very well. I was brought up in The Crescent in Adel and my mother went to Young Wives with Mrs. Wright. I was a patrol leader at Adel Church Girl Guides and Joan was in my bullfinch patrol. She was a lovely, very pleasant girl. Mr. and Mrs. Wright were devastated by Joan’s death. She had been a much wanted, late in life, only child who had been the centre of their world. I still have a photograph of Mrs. Wright with me, in my guide uniform, at the church bazaar in Adel, which appeared in The Yorkshire Evening Post.

... “I was older than Joan. My class had been swimming the lesson before Joan’s class and was back in our classroom when the ambulance arrived. It was all that was talked about on the bus on the way home from school, but nobody seemed to know who it was or what had happened. I remember waking up in the night and just knowing that it was Joan - how I don't know, maybe I had just missed her being on the bus. Some people thought that she had banged her head on the bottom of the pool, others that she had been accidentally kicked on the head. I went to Joan’s funeral and have visited her grave many times over the years, on visits back to Leeds. I visited Lawnswood School a couple of years ago and the first thing I asked about was the birdbath, of course. It is nice to know that Joan has never been forgotten.” Pat Wray ’54-’59

“I have just read your article on Joan Wright and thought you might like to know who she really was.

... “I used to live near her at Long Causeway, Adel. Only last summer, together with another ex-Lawnswood girl from Long Causeway, Rosemary Inman, I went for a nostalgic walk around Adel and we made a point of visiting Joan's grave in Adel Church yard. Neither Rosie nor I have ever forgotten her.

... “We used to play with her when we were kids, though Joan was a couple of years or so older than us. (We went to Lawnswood in 1958.) She was quite tall for her age (or she seemed tall to us younger ones), slim, with short light brown hair and a fresh freckly face.

... “The memory of her that sticks in my mind is that of her father calling her when it was time to go home. She was the only one of our group who never whinged, 'Why can't I stay out a bit longer' when called home. She would just smile and say, 'See you tomorrow' and off she would go. I always envied her patience and forbearance. She never argued or quarreled like the rest of us; she was a very serene child, which makes me think that if I believed in ghosts (which I don't) her ghost would never do anything to frighten anyone!

... “I remember the day she died very well. My mother came back from town on the bus with Mrs. Wright, who was returning from the hospital. Understandably Joan's mother was so shocked by the death of her only child that she had to be helped off the bus. I often wonder why she did not take a taxi, but perhaps she just wanted to be with people she knew at such a terrible moment. We lived on a small estate and everyone knew everyone on the bus from town.

... “Mrs. Wright told the people on the bus what the police thought had happened. Joan had a large bruise on her forehead when they pulled her out of the water. She had probably dived in and hit her head on the bottom, knocking herself unconscious. With all the other girls thrashing about in the water, no one noticed her lying there, until it was too late.

... “Joan deserves to be remembered for the happy, bright, gentle and intelligent person that she was, so please don't let her be turned into some sort of ghoul that haunts the school. If her spirit lives on in any form, I am sure it will be a protective one.” Barbara Banks ’58-’65