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Since St Paul’s first opened its doors in 1904, the school has provided an ambitious, progressive education for generations of talented young women. At all stages throughout its history, the school has combined the best elements of a classical education with a commitment to innovation and a forward-looking approach.
The Company had been contemplating the foundation of a school for girls ‘of the highest type, splendidly endowed and equipped’ since February 1872. In that month, Lord Lyttelton, Commissioner for Endowed Schools, approached the Company and asked them to divert some of John Colet’s endowment towards the project. Around 1509, John Colet, the Dean of St Paul’s, had used part of his fortune towards the foundation of the boys’ school.
Brook Green was selected as the site for the Mercers’ new school, previously occupied by The Grange (purportedly featured in the above painting). Other sites in Hampstead and Kensington had also been considered.
Gerard Horsley was selected as the architect for the Company’s new girls’ school.
St Paul’s Girls’ School was formally adopted as the name for the school. In previous documents, it had been referred to as Dean Colet’s Girls’ School.
Work began on St Paul’s Girls’ School on Brook Green.
Miss Frances Ralph Gray was appointed Head Mistress (1903–1910) and then High Mistress (1910–1927). Frances Gray had read Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge, had been a Classical Lecturer at Westfield College, London and Head Mistress at St Katherines, Fife.
As the unofficial opening of the school, 54 Paulinas enrolled and began studying in Brook Green for the first time.
The official opening of St Paul’s on 15 April 1904 by HRH Mary, Princess of Wales, accompanied by her husband (and future King) HRH George, Prince of Wales. Original school fees were £7 per term.
The first society was formed. Students travelled on botanical expeditions as part of The Field Club.
Gustav Holst was appointed Composer, Chair Master and Musical Director.
Miss Noakes served as the first librarian at St Paul’s. She was credited for organising the books in her own hybrid system, called “modified Dewey”.
In the summer of 1910, the harmonium in the Great Hall was replaced with an organ from JW Walker & Sons. The inaugural concert was given by Sir Frederick Bridge, who also played at Westminster Abbey for HRH Queen Victoria’s Jubilee and HRH Edward VII’s Coronation.
St Paul’s was praised for being the only girls’ school to have a “private swimming bath” by Sarah Burstall in Public Schools for Girls. Novice swimmers wore red costumes, while the more experienced swimmers wore navy blue.
The Music Wing was opened by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, the Principal of the Royal Academy of Music. Holst’s ‘St Paul’s Suite’ is played for the first time.
The first performance of Gustav Holst’s The Planets was held.
The second royal visit to St Paul’s Girls’ School. Princess Mary (the future Princess Royal, Countess of Harewood) was the guest of honour at Prizegiving.
The Paulina, the school magazine (founded in 1904) continued to flourish. This cover design still epitomises many of today’s Paulinas.
Miss Ethel Strudwick was appointed High Mistress. She had read Classics at Bedford College, London and been Headmistress of the City of London School for Girls since 1913. During her time as High Mistress she continued to teach, as much as half a timetable. She is remembered for leading the school through the great challenges of the Second World War.
HRH Princess Alice (Countess of Athlone) opened the science block. Her daughter, Princess May, was a Paulina (1921-23). The West London Observer called the building “splendidly equipped with excellent lighting and ventilation”.
On the death of Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams took over as Musical Advisor.
Miss Strudwick requested that the Governors authorise the purchase of the school’s first gramophone. She did so begrudgingly; she had concerns about its impact on family life and the education of children.
The Debating Society, Middle School History Club, and Literary Society were formed.
Bute House under requisition by the Air Ministry and London Defences.
With the outbreak of war in September 1939, St Paul’s evacuated to Wycombe Abbey.
After gaining the support of parents, the school reopened on Brook Green with a significantly reduced number of staff and pupils.
The Tennis Team won the Aberdare Cup in 1942 and again two years later.
Speech Day resumed for the first time since 1939.
Miss Margaret Osborn was appointed High Mistress. After having read Greats at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, she taught at St Mary and St Anne, Abbot’s Bromley and King Edward VI High School for Girls, Birmingham and then had been Head at St George’s School for Girls in Edinburgh. Miss Osborn planned the celebrations for the Golden Jubilee.
On the Saturday before the school’s birthday on 19 January, there was a service at St Paul’s Cathedral attended by over 2,000. It was followed by a banquet at the Connaught Rooms which more than 800 Old Paulinas attended.
HM Elizabeth, the Queen Mother visited St Paul’s Girls’ School for the Golden Jubilee.
Gustav Holst’s ‘The Masque’, which had been first performed in 1909, was performed at school as part of the Jubilee celebrations.
John Gardner was appointed as the new Director of Music. He composed the settings of well-loved carols ‘Tomorrow Is My Dancing Day’ and ‘The Holly and the Ivy’.
Mrs Alison Munro was appointed as High Mistress. She is the first Old Paulina to hold this post. She read PPE at St Hilda’s College, Oxford and then pursued a career in the civil service, culminating in being Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation by 1958. Under her leadership, a substantial programme of development began in 1971. She was appointed CBE in 1964 and DBE in 1985.
Brecht’s ‘Caucasian Chalk Circle’ was performed. The play was directed by Gloria Bax, an inspirational Head of Drama who was ambitious in her choice of productions.
Mrs Munro’s development project was launched. The development included refurbishments and improvements to many parts of school, including a common room for the Senior School, a new geography wing, language laboratory, art studios, another dining room, an improved staff room and a new swimming pool.
Mrs Heather Brigstocke, made Baroness in 1990, was appointed High Mistress. After reading Classics at Girton College, Cambridge and teaching in London and Washington, she was Headmistress of Francis Holland, Regent’s Park, before becoming High Mistress. Her long term in office saw many innovations, including the Friday lectures, Economics A level, the Head Girl Team and the first new building (the Theatre block in 1985) since 1933.
The new pool opened as part of Mrs Munro’s development.
Mrs Brigstocke established the Parents’ Guild in 1979. The first tasks of the Parents’ Guild included working in the book room, library and the theatre. In addition, the Parents’ Guild played a vital role in fundraising and providing flower displays on the Marble, traditions that continue today.
Mr Mark Weinburg, a St Paul’s parent, gave the school its first computer. It was described as a “small microcomputer which goes easily on a desk top”.
The school hosted a Gala Evening in Aldwych to fundraise for Mrs Brigstocke’s ambitious building plans, which included a new theatre, a computer centre and an engineering workshop. The evening involved entertainment from Jeremy Irons, John Dankworth, Cleo Laine and Richard Briers.
HM The Queen Mother returned to St Paul’s to open the Celia Johnson Theatre. The audience watched two student performances: a play about Gustav Holst by John Mortimer and a staged production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.
The library extension was opened on 23 September as the Siegmund Warburg Memorial Library. Sir Siegmund Warburg’s daughter Anna (a former Paulina) donated his vast collection of history books to the school after his death in 1982.
The Rosalind Franklin Design and Technology Centre was opened by Dr, and later Sir, Aaron Klug.
Mrs Helen Williams was appointed High Mistress. She had read English at Girton College, Cambridge, taught for a year at St Paul’s and then lectured at Edinburgh University. She then became Headmistress of Blackheath High School before taking the role of High Mistress.
Art was established as a school-directed course.
Miss Janet Gough was appointed High Mistress. Miss Gough studied English at Cambridge and is best known for being the only High Mistress to have started as a teacher at St Paul’s. A gifted teacher, she had taught a generation of Paulinas and served as the school’s first Director of Studies and the second Surmistress (the Deputy Head’s previous title) before her appointment. Developments during her time included the Bursary Scheme and the opening of the Mercers’ Building in January 1994. Each morning she would greet students on the Marble.
The expansion of the science block was completed on 18 January. In order to improve science facilities, the laboratories were refurbished and a third storey added to the building. The structure reopened as the Mercers’ Building.
The Colet Library opened.
Miss Elizabeth Diggory was appointed High Mistress. After studying History at Westfield College, London, Miss Diggory became headmistress of St Albans High School for Girls and of Manchester High School for Girls. During her calm and orderly years at St Paul’s, she orchestrated an extraordinary building programme where the theatre block doubled in size, the Sports Hall was completed, the art department extended and the old gym turned into a Senior School centre. Miss Diggory also presided over the great celebrations of the Centenary in 2004.
Construction on the Sports Hall was completed.
St Paul’s Centenary saw a host of celebrations. The hundredth anniversary on 19 January 2004 included a lecture from the school’s historian and the opening of the archive display and the Old Paulina art exhibition. Parents were able to attend all lessons and the day ended with a party for Paulinas in the Sports Hall, enlivened by acrobats and with teachers acting as waiters. A Community Open Day on 1 July was held between two splendid summer parties, one for Old Paulinas and one for parents. There were also concerts in St John’s Smith Square and the Sports Hall. The summer concert marked by the premiere of Julian Grant’s opera The Prevailing Tree and the royal visit the next day added a touch of glamour to a memorable year.
HRH Prince Charles visited St Paul’s Girls’ School on this day. He toured the school, met with students and staff and looked at the archive exhibition.
Ms Clarissa Farr was appointed High Mistress. Studying English at Exeter University, Ms Farr soon became Headmistress of Queenswood School before her appointment at St Paul’s. Amongst the achievements of her eleven years were the introduction of A level Drama and, for the departing VIII (Year 13), Valediction. A gifted public speaker and lover of the theatre, Ms Farr added a touch of drama to her assemblies, and she was the first High Mistress to direct her own play; Aphra Behn’s The Rover. Ms Farr undertook ambitious building projects; including the enhancement of the entrance of the school (in accordance with the original 1904 designs) and the Garden Building.
Drama was established as an independent academic department.
Sir Peter Hall, father of OP Emma Hall, was the guest of honour for the re-opening of the Celia Johnson Theatre, doubled in size compared with its 1985 original.
The poet-in-residence programme was started by the English department.
The Valediction service for leavers was held for the first time.
The original school bell and belfry from 1902 was restored.
The student-initiated Vox radio station launched their first show. The radio station now plays in the Forum, the Great Hall, and the Dining Hall.
The inaugural Colet Fellows came to St Paul’s Girls’ School to assist with American university applications as well as various lessons, sports, societies, and the creation of the new school website.
St Paul’s opened its very own charity shop, Re-Store. A team of Senior School students began collecting lightly worn clothes to be sold for charity.
The school celebrated its 110th anniversary with special Holst Concert and activities.
Commemorations marked the outbreak of the First World War, including displays of artifacts and documents and a visit by Richard Dunning, owner of Lochnager Crater.
Completion of the stained glass ceiling in the Music Wing foyer. The design, by Maria Cristina White-da Cruz, includes symbolic references to Holst, Rosalind Franklin and other staff and alumnae.
Both the men’s and women’s Oxford and Cambridge Boat Races were held on the same day and course for the first time since the event’s inception. Former Paulinas Maxie Scheske (rower and Oxford Women’s Boat Club President) and Jennifer Ehr (coxswain) were on the winning Oxford team on this historic occasion.
Mrs Sarah Fletcher was appointed High Mistress, a leading educationalist committed to high academic achievement, diversity and inclusion. After reading History at New College, Oxford, Mrs Fletcher taught in a wide range of schools – state, maintained, single-sex and co-educational. Before her appointment as High Mistress she served as head of Kingston Grammar School and the City of London School for Boys. Since 2017, she has overseen the opening of the Garden Building and the new Pavilion, established a partnership scheme with other schools, guided St Paul’s through the great crisis of the COVID pandemic and begun a major development of the Colet Library and the Rosalind Franklin Design and Technology Centre.
Our new Pavilion was formally opened by Zoe de Toledo, Olympian and OP 1998-2005.
The new Garden Building was officially opened by Dame Carol Black, Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge. The Garden Building houses the Senior School as well as the geography and history departments.
The school closed for the second time in its history, owing to the COVID-19 outbreak. The first such closure was on 3 September 1939 to escape wartime London. The school reopened in September 2020 with new health and safety measures.
St Paul’s Girls’ School named The Sunday Times Independent Secondary School of the Year 2022.