The Marble

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Our entrance hall, in its marmoreal beauty, bustles with all manner of activity during the school day: students striding purposefully to lessons, theatre tickets on sale, visitors coming and going, the upper fourth in their perspectival lessons. The Marble was not always thus. Miss Gray, from the start, imposed a draconian rule of silence there  and in the corridors to boot. Miss Gladys Murray (Classics, 1945-78) recalled that ‘In September 1945 I was initiated into the school rules, which were very few, and of which I remember only ‘Silence on the Marble’….’.  This convention long endured, but (if my memory serves) lapsed during Mrs Williams’ time as High Mistress (1989-92), never to be revived. For many years, too, one would have seen Paulinas there greeting teachers on their way to lessons and offering to carry class books. Mrs Munro (1964-74) sought to suppress this tradition. It encouraged favouritism, she believed, and wasted time. By the late seventies, only a few girls, perhaps those whose mothers were Paulinas, were meeting teachers.

In his exquisite Indian ink floor plans, Gerald Horsley identified the vaulted space simply as ‘the Corridor’, doubtless because of its rôle in  linking the wings (library and ‘museum’ on the west, laboratories and lecture hall on the east), the entrance offices, the Great Hall and its classrooms. Just by the left-hand door to the Great Hall was the cord pull running up to the lofty belfry. At some point –when exactly I have been unable to establish – the ‘Corridor’ gave way to the Marble. As the studio photograph for The Architectural Review suggests, the entrance was initially rather austere and perhaps the stone was more slippery than it is now. The Prince of Wales at the official opening, joshing a bit, worried Miss Gray by telling her that the glossy surface could easily cause a fall and a  broken limb. At the grand fundraising gala of 1982, Richard Briers (father of Lucy, 1978-85) caused near-hysterics  by appearing as mother in high heels and elegant hat, skeetering deftly across an imaginary marble as he (virtually) curtseyed to Mrs Brigstocke, also on stage…..  Gradually, various adornments arrived. Our copy of Pietro Torrigiano’s  bust of John Colet, originally intended for the external (and empty) niche on the façade, occupies the one outside the library. The opposing niche at what is now the staff room end  holds a fine George III mahogany clock, the recent (2010) gift of generous parents who wish to remain anonymous. Soon after the school opened, an honours board was created, edged with polychromatic tessellations in true Arts and Crafts style. The name of Mary Mackenzie, head girl of 1906-08 and later to be the Royal Archivist, was the first to be engraved there. As room ran out on the stone hemi-circle, the names have been carved onto the oak below and on the facing wall.  Now we also have exhibitions of artistic curiosities and  the daily delight of the parents’ flower display. From gilt honours board to electronic notice board; past and present are linked by our wonderful eighty feet of Italian and Devonshire marble.