About

History

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.

1894

WORSHIPFUL COMPANY OF MERCERS

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.

A design feature of the Mercers' Maid above a entrance door to the Great Hall, Main Building.

Mar 1895

BROOK GREEN

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.

A possible painting of The Grange, a building situated on the site of St Paul's before the school was built.

Oct 1896

ARCHITECT

Gerard Horsley was selected as the architect for the Company’s new girls’ school.

Drawing of main building of school.

9 Apr 1897

NAMING OF THE 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.

Bust of John Colet in the Marble.

19 Jan 1901

BUILDING BEGINS

Work began on St Paul’s Girls’ School on Brook Green.

Site of St Paul's Girls' School in Brook Green before building on the site.

1 Mar 1903

MISS FRANCES GRAY

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.

First High Mistress, Miss Frances Gray.

19 Jan 1904

FIRST STUDENTS ENROL

As the unofficial opening of the school, 54 Paulinas enrolled and began studying in Brook Green for the first time.

First students studying at their desks in a classroom in 1904.

15 Apr 1904

OFFICIAL SCHOOL OPENING

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.

A royal visit from HRH Mary, Princess of Wales accompanied by her husband (future King) HRH Geroge, Prince of Wales.

15 Apr 1904

FIELD CLUB

The first society was formed. Students travelled on botanical expeditions as part of The Field Club.

A book kept by the Archives for the first meeting of the History Society.

1905

MUSICAL DIRECTOR

Gustav Holst was appointed Composer, Chair Master and Musical Director.

Photograph of the school's first Music Director, Gustav Holst.

1 May 1907

FIRST LIBRARIAN

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”.

First photograph of the school library.

1 May 1910

THE ORGAN

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.

School organ in the Great Hall.

1 May 1911

THE SWIMMING POOL

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.

Old photograph of the school's first swimming pool.

1 Jul 1913

THE MUSIC WING

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.

Architectural design for Music Wing.

29 Sep 1918

THE PLANETS

The first performance of Gustav Holst’s The Planets was held.

Photograph of Gustav Holst.

26 Jul 1921

ROYAL VISIT

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.

Princess Mary visits the school.

1 Jun 1924

THE PAULINA

The Paulina, the school magazine (founded in 1904) continued to flourish. This cover design still epitomises many of today’s Paulinas.

A cover of the 1924 Paulina magazine.

1 Sep 1927

MISS ETHEL STRUDWICK

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.

Old High Mistress, Miss Ethel Strudwick.

27 Jun 1933

SCIENCE BLOCK

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”.

Entrance of the Science block.

1934

RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS

On the death of Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams took over as Musical Advisor.

Photograph of Ralph Vaughn Williams.

1935

GRAMOPHONE

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.

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A gramophone.

1937

NEW SOCIETIES

The Debating Society, Middle School History Club, and Literary Society were formed.

Group of Paulinas studying in the grounds of St Paul's Girls' School in the 1930s.

1 May 1939

WARTIME

Bute House under requisition by the Air Ministry and London Defences.

Old photograph of Bute House.

Sep 1939

WAR EVACUATION

With the outbreak of war in September 1939, St Paul’s evacuated to Wycombe Abbey.

Photograph of Wycombe Abbey, where staff and students evacuated during the war.

May 1940

REOPENING

After gaining the support of parents, the school reopened on Brook Green with a significantly reduced number of staff and pupils.

Front gates of St Paul's Girls' School during WWII. These were changed to heavy-duty, solid gates to protect both the school community and the buildings.

May 1942

TENNIS VICTORY

The Tennis Team won the Aberdare Cup in 1942 and again two years later.

Photograph of first St Paul's Girls' School tennis team.

Jul 1943

SPEECH DAY

Speech Day resumed for the first time since 1939.

Speech Day at the school in 1943.

1 Sep 1948

MISS MARGARET OSBORN

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.

Old High Mistress, Miss Margaret Osborn.

19 Jan 1954

GOLDEN JUBILEE BANQUET

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.

Old photograph of students gathered eating dinner in the Great Hall.

18 Mar 1954

ROYAL VISIT

HM Elizabeth, the Queen Mother visited St Paul’s Girls’ School for the Golden Jubilee.

HM Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, on her first visit to the school in 1954.

Jun 1954

‘THE MASQUE’

Gustav Holst’s ‘The Masque’, which had been first performed in 1909, was  performed at school as part of the Jubilee celebrations.

Students performing Gustav Holst's 'The Masque' in 1954.

1 Sep 1962

JOHN GARDNER

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’.

John Gardener, appointed new Director of Music in 1962.

1 Jan 1964

MRS ALISON MUNRO

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.

Old High Mistress, Mrs Alison Munro.

1 May 1966

‘CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE’

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.

Performance of Brecht’s ‘Caucasian Chalk Circle’ by students in 1966.

1971

DEVELOPMENT PROJECT

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.

Old photograph of students and staff gathered in the school.

1 Sep 1974

MRS HEATHER BRIGSTOKE

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.

Old High Mistress. Mrs Heather Brigstoke.

Sep 1975

NEW POOL

The new pool opened as part of Mrs Munro’s development.

Old photograph of new swimming pool once opened in 1975

May 1979

PARENTS’ GUILD

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.

St Paul's Girls' School Christmas Fair run by the Parents' Guild.

Apr 1980

FIRST COMPUTER

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”.

Photograph of the first computers used by students at the school in 1980.

1 Nov 1982

GALA EVENING

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.

Photograph of Jeremy Irons at St Paul's Girls' School's Gala evening in Aldwych.

23 Feb 1985

ROYAL VISIT

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.

HM The Queen Mother returned to St Paul’s to open the Celia Johnson Theatre.

23 Sep 1986

LIBRARY EXTENSION OPENED

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.

Photograph of the library extension, named the Siegmund Warburg Memorial Library.

4 Feb 1988

DESIGN AND TECHNOLOGY CENTRE

The Rosalind Franklin Design and Technology Centre was opened by Dr, and later Sir, Aaron Klug.

Design feature of Rosalind Franklin bust on exterior of Rosalind Franklin Building.

1 Sep 1989

MRS HELEN WILLIAMS

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.

Old High Mistress, Mrs Helen Williams.

1 Sep 1991

ART

Art was established as a school-directed course.

A student creating a piece of art at a desk in the art department.

1 Apr 1992

MISS JANET GOUGH

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.

Old High Mistress, Miss Janet Gough.

18 Jan 1994

SCIENCE BLOCK

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.

Art sculpture in the Science block.

Apr 1997

COLET LIBRARY

The Colet Library opened.

Spiral staircase and interior of Colet Library.

1 Sep 1998

MISS ELIZABETH DIGGORY

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.

Old High Mistress, Miss Elizabeth Diggory.

29 Jun 2000

SPORTS HALL

Construction on the Sports Hall was completed.

The Sports Hall on a sunny day.

2004

CENTENARY

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.

Students, staff and parents enjoying the school's centenary celebrations in 2004.

8 Jul 2004

ROYAL VISIT

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.

HRH Prince Charles on his visit to the school in 2004.

1 Sep 2006

MS CLARISSA FARR

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.

Old High Mistress, Clarissa Farr.

1 Sep 2007

DRAMA

Drama was established as an independent academic department.

Students performing in the theatre as part of a drama lesson.

7 Jul 2007

THEATRE REOPENED

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.

Exterior of Theatre Block.

1 Sep 2007

POET-IN-RESIDENCE

The poet-in-residence programme was started by the English department.

A stack of books in the library.

1 Jun 2010

VALEDICTION

The Valediction service for leavers was held for the first time.

Parents, students and teachers gathered outside Garden Building for a drinks reception following Valediction.

2010

BELL RESTORED

The original school bell and belfry from 1902 was restored.

Illustration of the Bell Tower and clock above the Great Hall.

9 Mar 2012

VOX RADIO

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.

Logo for student-led radio stations, Vox Radio.

1 Sep 2012

COLET FELLOWS

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.

Colet Fellows arriving at the school in 2012.

20 Sep 2012

RE-STORE

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.

Logo of the school's charity shop Re-store.

7 Feb 2014

110th ANNIVERSARY

The school celebrated its 110th anniversary with special Holst Concert and activities.

Logo of the 110th birthday edition of the school magazine, Paulina, in 2013-14.

2014

GREAT WAR COMMEMORATIONS

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.

WWI centenary memorial.

5 Jan 2015

STAINED GLASS IN THE MUSIC WING

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.

Stained glass ceiling in the Music Wing.

11 Apr 2015

OLD PAULINAS’ BOAT RACE SUCCESS

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.

Oxford boat race in 2015.

1 Sep 2017

MRS SARAH FLETCHER

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.

High Mistress, Sarah Fletcher.

6 Jul 2018

OPENING OF THE NEW PAVILLION

Our new Pavilion was formally opened by Zoe de Toledo, Olympian and OP 1998-2005.

Exterior shot of the sports Pavilion, opened in 2018.

21 Sep 2018

GARDEN BUILDING

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.

Photograph of The Lawn, with the Garden Building in the background.

18 Mar 2020

TEMPORARY CLOSURE

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.

Students returning to school after Easter Holidays 2021, entering the main doors.

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Staff and Governors

Staff and Governors