The Red Maids Society

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Life at school in 1891

The range of subjects available at school today may seem rather wonderful to many readers, but just imagine what the girls living in Denmark Street in Victorian times might think if they could come back today!

In an age when teaching or nursing were two of the few careers on offer, the curriculum included arithmetic, algebra, Euclid, history, geography, botany from books (there were rarely specimens to examine and a “nature walk” was never even thought of), Shakespeare, Scripture, English and French grammar, domestic economy, freehand and model drawing, geometry and perspective drawing, singing, plus shorthand and typing.

That list was written by Kate Mees, at school from 1891-5, who joined the newly founded Old Girls’ Society in 1906 and was its mainstay all her life.  Her vivid memories of Denmark Street were written in the 1940s, and you can read the full account at in the 1961 school magazine, one of dozens now available in the online archives.

Life must have been hard in 1891; eighty girls were accommodated in two dormitories with little privacy or free time, as they seem to have done most of the housework and laundry, besides helping to make their own dresses, tippets and aprons. There were only four live-in teachers plus the Headmistress, Miss Bowen.

Girls rose at 6.30 am and attended prayers in the only school room, which was divided into four by curtains. Breakfast was at 8.00, with household duties both before and afterwards.  Lessons were from 9.00 until noon and from 2.00 until 5.00. Homework from 6.30 to 7.30 and bedtime was at 8.00 pm for the entire household.  Breakfast and tea consisted of bread and butter and tea, with cake as a treat only on Founder’s Day and the Head’s birthday!! The main meal of the day was either a hot meal and no pudding or cold meat followed by a pudding.

Kate ends her account rather touchingly by saying:

“We had a school library, but it did not contain many books, and we had not much time for reading anyway. I hope I have not given the impression that we pupils felt crushed or repressed in any way; on the whole we were very happy on the principle of ‘what you never had you never missed’. I am very proud of the fact that I was educated at the oldest Girls’ School in the country and the finest Girls’ School in Bristol.”


Posted on 15 October 2018

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