Old Girls Of The Central Foundation School
Writer Linda Wilkinson, ex-School Captain and celebrated author of two books about Columbia Rd, went along with Contributing Photographer Patricia Niven to this year’s Central Foundation School for Girls Reunion to do these interviews and portraits of the Old Girls.
Millie Rich, 1929-1934
I left in 1934 to go to St Martins School of Art. I loved the school, it was very different then to the attitudes that prevail now. You were very respectful of the teachers, you always stood up when they entered the room. We did Latin with Miss Green who married one of the governors. Many of the girls were from the East End and were first generation English, so you inhabited two cultures and, in order to survive, you spoke in one way at the school and in another way at home. Life was a lot less socially comfortable for us than it is today.
Shula Rich (known as Ruth at school), Millie Rich’s daughter
I always wanted to go to the Central Foundation School because my mother and my father both went there (the boy’s school is in Cowper St). In addition, it closed at 3pm whereas every other school closed at 4pm, so I could go home like a City worker. I would sit on the train back to Balham reading my Evening Standard.
Later we moved to Ilford. On public transport you had to wear your beret, but I had a great big bee-hive and was part of a girl gang – we folded our berets in half and pinned them with two clips behind our hair. Whenever a teacher caught us on the tube and told us we weren’t wearing our berets, we could say “Oh yes we are,” and we’d show them the back of our heads. After school, we could either go and talk to the market men – which was a great treat – or somehow go into Dirty Dick’s to do some pulling.
Patsy Butt (née Felt), 1963-1968
We had a fabulous uniform – gaberdine macs with red lining in the hood, so that everyone knew you were a Spital Sq girl. I loved the friends, loved the teachers. The fact that, having grown up in an area where you didn’t realise you could own your own home and that bathrooms were inside the house, to be tutored into a world where you could join in with anybody and anything – What can you say about an education that does that for you? Fabulous!
Nadjie Butler (née Huseyin), 1971-1977
There are so many memories it is hard to pick a special one, but the most fun I had was doing the sports and the sports days, and going down to the playing fields at Buckhurst Hill. I remember laughing a lot and making some really good friends and enjoying my education here. It gave me the ability to look forward in life. Not only giving me the foundation to have a long and successful employment, but also it taught me a really good lot of manners and morals that I have taken through my life.
Sandra Smith (née Foster), 1971-1977
My main claim to fame was that I did a solo performance in a concert for the late Richard Beckinsdale. One of the girls we were at school with was the daughter of his manager, so he came along to the school to hear us. We had a very good day. The school was a great place – what a great education we had! A lot of the friends I made then I have kept in touch with over the years.
Carol Salmon (née Foster), 1973-1979
I remember as a first year doing cross country running at Buckhurst Hill, and I remember falling into a ditch and being completely covered in mud. I ended up having to go home wearing another girl’s knickers as I didn’t have a spare pair. God I was so embarrassed! The school certainly gave me the tools for life – in the end I became a Police Officer.
Doreen Golding (née Jackson), 1953
Doreen returned to the East End having moved to Redbridge during WWII where she briefly attended Beale Grammar School. After her father died in an accident, her mother and their family came back to the East End. As Central Foundation School was the local grammar school, Doreen’s mother came knocking assuming that her daughter would just get in.
I had been out of education for six months because, when my father died, mum had pulled us all out of school whilst she decided what to do next. Also the standard here (at Central Foundation School) was so much higher than my school in Redbridge. I was told if I wanted to get in, I would have to sit another exam. That is my first recollection of this school, of sitting in the sixth form taking an exam with all the big girls standing around me. I started here in 1953 and it was a wonderful school. My old grammar school had a brown uniform and the headmistress here at the time was very kind. She told me and mum that, as my uniform was virtually new, I could wear it until it wore out. So there I sat, a splodge of brown in a sea of bottle green.
Lydia Shine (née Andrews), 1953-1959
I was not terribly academic but I enjoyed my time here, I found it very stimulating. The teaching we had was above excellent, and it has left me wanting to seek knowledge and made me interested in life, in things, people, history and literature – all the things that somehow get missed these days. After school, I started teacher training but I found it wasn’t for me. Then I went into the Civil Service and worked in the Law Courts for a while. I got married, had a family and then worked in office jobs etc. I also went into care work and have found a lot of fulfilment in that. In retrospect, I think I should have been a nurse.
In latter life, I found a big interest in music which I think probably stemmed from Central Foundation School. I have sung in various choirs, some of them quite prestigious so that has really become a big part of my life.
Christine Beesley (née Andrews), 1957-1964
Maureen Modica (née Franks), 1953-1959
It was like ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,’ very much so. If you weren’t going to be university fodder, forget it. To get married and have a family, or anything mundane like that, was for the lower echelons.
I didn’t go to university but exploited being a linguist and the only way that I could do that was on the continental telephone exchange and then in various foreign banks. The languages I speak are French, German and Italian. I can get by in Spanish. If you were in the A form – as I was – Latin was obligatory and French for almost everybody, but because I wanted to do German I had to wait until I was in the sixth form and do a crash course.
I never had a cookery lesson. When I got married ,I had no idea why potatoes, meat and veg all put on at the same time didn’t work. At first, I used to say to my husband, “Can’t we go out?” He said, “Not forever!”
Sandra Dryer (née McKay), 1954
I was a terrible teenager, I did nothing at school. I wasted my time there but, when I was forty, I went to study. I did a degree, went on to do a Masters, and I tutored at a Sixth Form College where I became the Head of the Department of Theatre Arts.
Elspeth Parris, 1967-1972
The school was a very good place for me to have gone to. I really did need the Headmistress, especially Mrs Dunford’s attitude to people, but educationally – in terms of academic stuff – it wasn’t actually that good for me. I was very much science-based and in those days it was assumed that if you were going to a good university, and I had the scholarship to go to a good university, that you had Latin. You had to have Latin to get into Oxford or Cambridge. Latin was a direct clash in the timetable with Physics, so I couldn’t do Physics. I eventually did Physics totally from scratch at university as a mature student.
However, the attitude to us as people – for a child as troubled as I was – was really what I needed. It gave me the chance at some kind of self-esteem. But academically, it really didn’t work for me. I eventually got to university much, much later and did Maths when I was thirty but my health collapsed and I wasn’t able to finish it. But the school’s ethos, that people matter, brought me back and I went on and did Social Work at university. Then, about four years ago, I trained for the church to be a Lay Minister within the Church in Wales. I eventually got a degree from the Open University. Currently, due to ill health I am unable to work, so have decided to lead a very simply life which gives me time to reflect on how I may serve the world, something I have always wanted to do.
Lesley Young (née Pratt), 1969-1974, wearing her school scarf, beret and badges
Pat Baker (née Vanderstenn), 1952-1958
I loved school but I hated my junior school in East Ham because the teacher wouldn’t mark my work as I didn’t have very nice handwriting. At Central Foundation School, nobody took any notice of that. I stayed on and went into the secretarial sixth form with Miss Heath, the first year she was at the school. She was good, she got us all jobs. She sent us to an employment agency off Moorgate where she knew the lady who owned it. We all got a job from that. Eventually, I worked at BP and I loved it there.
Gillian Weinberg (née Taler)
Jacky Chase (née Francom), 1971-1978
The things I remember most are the things they took us out to do – all the extracurricular activities, like the sport. I remember getting on the coach to go out to Buckhurst Hill for athletics and to the pool for swimming. The fact that, even though we were in the middle of a big city, they made provision for you was amazing.
Then the school trips – I remember going to Switzerland skiing and that was the first time I had ever been out of the country. To go with school friends, and teachers, and the have such a fabulous time was wonderful. To be able to experience other cultures and to be able to use some of our French, which we never thought we would have been able to do.
It was just everything that went with it, an all-round education – it wasn’t just academic stuff, it was everything else that we had the chance to see and do. We were taken to ballets, theatre and the opera. The chance to experience all that was just brilliant.
Joanne Veness, 1971-1976
I left just before my fifteenth birthday having taken my O levels and thinking that I had everything I needed to know about the world. I realise that I was very privileged to have had the education that I did. I didn’t make the most of it though. I remember most the camaraderie that we girls had, which continues on to this day. We still meet every three months or so and all the memories come out. If you’ve forgotten, there is someone who reminds you. Things like the big green knickers we wore for sports and being sick at the end of having tried to run the 800 metres. I am delighted and privileged to have gone to the school.
Miss Audrey Leary (Teacher of French, Spanish and a little bit of History for Nellie Holt)
I came to London from Ipswich in the early sixties. My History wasn’t very good, but I decided to do the Norman period and thought it would be a wonderful idea if the girls did a newspaper about the landing of the Normans. It was an absolutely awful idea but Nellie the Head of History let me do it – this would have been in 1961.
I went with the school when it went it moved in 1975. Elaine (Dunford) did a fabulous job of combining the two schools and we, the staff, got on so well together that it was a good experience all around. I was very apprehensive about coming today. I thought nobody would remember me and I wouldn’t recognise anybody, but one girl said, “Come over here and sit with us.” You were a lovely bunch of girls.
(Note: Miss Nellie Holt was a beloved Head of History, she was clever, funny and – true to say – a little eccentric.)
Reunion of 2014
In the Prefect’s Room , Christmas 1958
16th September, 1966
In the Prefect’s Room, Christmas 1958
Letter from Headmistress Elaine Dunford to a pupil upon the death of their mother
Bev, Sue & George in the Prefect’s Room, Christmas, 1958
Photo taken on the day of the closing of Central Foundation School in Spital Sq 1975
Photographs copyright © Patricia Niven
The Bishopsgate Institute is collecting a digital archive of memorabilia from Central Foundation School for Girls. If you have photographs, reports, magazines or any other material that the Institute can copy for the archive, please contact the Archivist Stefan.Dickers@bishopsgate.org.uk
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