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What the class of 1946 did next

RED MAIDS CLASS OF 1946, AT SCHOOL 1946-1951 and what has happened since

In the autumn of 1946, a year after the end of the Second World War, Red Maids’ had some 210 pupils of whom 80, as usual, were Foundation Boarders. The school had not evacuated: it had remained throughout the war at ‘Burfield’, the gracious old house in Westbury-on-Trym to which it had moved from the city centre in 1911. Little academic change had been feasible since 1939. Bristol was heavily bombed. In September 1939, fifth-formers taking their School Certificate in the 1934 ‘New Building’ had to retreat, midexam, to reinforced cellars under the original ‘Old Building’. In November 1940, much of the city centre was destroyed — including St Nicholas’ Church, two days after the girls had been there for Founder’s Day. The bombing continued. Younger boarders slept in the cellars, older ones in bomb-shelters near the New Building. A daygirl was killed, families lost homes. Incendiary bombs fell on the school playing-fields. In November 1941, nonetheless, the traditional Founder’s Day service was held, although this time in the little St Nicholas’ crypt, where John Whitson’s tomb and memorial had survived.

And five years later, though the city was still bomb-damaged and shortages persisted, Red Maids’ School was back on course. In the week leading up to Founder’s Day 1946, there was singing practice, marching practice and inspection of black stockings. On November 19th, the service was again held in St Nicholas’ crypt. For the traditional procession from the city centre, every boarder was straw-bonneted, every girl was in full red. Plaits were tidily tied with black ribbon. Miss Walpole, Headmistress since 1935, had steered the school safely through the war years. In the first postwar school photograph, she sits calmly in front of the Old Building, flanked by governors, staff, and all the boarders in bonnets, tippets and aprons. The daygirls, in gingham dresses, are around the edge. Several of the new girls in the photo have an elder sister there too.

The new girls were the Class of 1946, and there were a lot of them. For the first time since 1941, the school had doubled its annual intake to 60, introducing a ‘parallel’ class. A quarter of these 1946ers were boarders; the rest were daygirls, some of them fee-paying. Their classrooms, 30 girls in each, were initially in the Old Building, with Miss Worrall (resident French teacher) in charge of Form I, Miss Scruse (resident English teacher) in charge of Form I Parallel. The Central Hall of the Old Building, with its great Whitson chimney-piece, was where Morning Prayers and Assembly were held. The two classrooms opened directly onto this. So did the Dining Room (boarders) and Domestic-Science Room (daygirls, lunchtime). The whole country still had food-rationing. The school’s menu list for winter 1946 cited stew and semolina repeatedly for lunch, little at night except soup, biscuits and milk. ‘Sloppy semolina, Sloppy semolina!’ sang boarders to the tune of Frère Jacques. ‘No wonder the boarders were HUNGRY!’ wrote one ’46er daygirl to another, years later. In 1948, both classes were moved, to their delight, down to the airier New Building: one classroom on each side of its ground-floor library, facing the main playing-field and right by the gym and a netball court. Gym and Games — hockey, netball, cricket, tennis — were highly rated. Red Maids were even ballboying each summer for the West of England Tennis Championships. After lunch, the lower forms also had ‘Section Drill’, 10 minutes of compulsory outdoor exercise taken by sixth-formers.

More popular were singing lessons with Miss Balmond. In June 1948, the choir sang in a BBC broadcast of a newlydiscovered West Country folksong, The Prickety Bush.The whole school loved it, kept singing it thereafter. – 1 – Earlier in 1948, classicist Miss Hedley had replaced Miss Walpole as Headmistress, and soon introduced Greek as an optional subject. ‘Know thyself,’ wrote Classics teacher Miss Lowe in Greek in girls’ autograph-books in 1949, and half a dozen ’46ers signed up to studying it. However, three of the school’s signature prewar staff — Miss Humphreys (Maths), Miss Stoker (History) and Miss Price (Games, Secretary, Daygirls’ Guardian) — retired or left that same year, and more fundamental change was on the way. The school was ‘very full’ with more applicants than ever, but not many of its girls were feepaying. A Scheme of Reorganization was advertised in the local Press. ‘The gist of it,’ wrote Miss Hedley in the 1949 Report of the Red Maids’ School Old Girls’ Society, ‘is that the number of Foundation Boarders is being reduced; there is nothing in the original Will which fixes the number at 80… In order not to waste beds, etc., we are going to have a few fee-paying boarders’.

And then, for 1951, a new national General Certificate of Education was announced. This GCE would replace the current ‘School Cert’ and ‘Highers’ exams with ‘Ordinary-levels’ and ‘Advanced-levels’ — and every O-level candidate would have to be at least 16 years old. Unwelcome news: ’46ers were due to take their first public exams in summer 1951. This age restriction meant that 20 of them would be too young; some might even leave without taking any O levels. Whatever the reason, half of the 60 original ’46ers left school in 1951. ‘I should like more to stay,’ lamented Miss Hedley in the Society’s 1952 Report. ‘It is especially disappointing when girls who could profitably pursue a sixth-form course, leave from Form V.’ These postwar Reports of the Society — solid red covers, no pictures, up to 36 pages long — contained an informative letter from the school Head and could be as much about school activities as about former pupils. They always opened, though, by naming the Society’s voluntary committee (including a Games Secretary) and closed with its Accounts (including ‘Flowers and Wreath on Founder’s Day’), preceded by ‘Marriages, Engagements and News of leaving girls’.

Since 1951

’46ers who left from, or before, Form V One of the boarders who left Red Maids’ in 1951 worked in admin at Imperial College, London — where, ‘through playing mixed hockey’, she met her scientist future husband. Part-time for over a decade, she then taught English as a Foreign Language. In 1969, the Open University was launched. She signed on (‘Back then, you had to get up and listen to the radio at 6a.m.’) and got a degree in History. Years later, in retirement in Edinburgh, she helped replicate a huge silk embroidery by Mary, Queen of Scots, to hang in Edinburgh Castle. ‘That,’ she remarked, ‘would have pleased Miss Laquer!’ Lucie Laquer was the stern Domestic Science teacher who had strived to make good seamstresses out of postwar Red Maids. (Whitson’s Will, after all, required that girls ‘be taught to read English and to sowe’.)

A daygirl ’46er who left school in 1951 then won ‘Best teenage entry’ in a Bristol Evening Post dressmaking competition. That too might have pleased Miss Laquer. Another boarder who left that year qualified as a nursery nurse, trained as a primary-school teacher and taught infants. Returning to teaching in the late 1960s, she taught juniors and was appointed Head Teacher at a Bedminster junior school. On retiring in 1992, she became involved with (and at one point chaired) Bristol’s Family History Society. She developed a database of the pauper children sent to Canada from the city by the Victorians, ‘helped descendants discover their families,’ and wrote a book about it. That word ‘data’ had been applied to computer information for the first time in 1946.

Thirty years later, a ’46er who had had to leave school early because of illness, joined the Civil Service in Bristol as a ‘data processor’. Governments and major companies were installing huge mainframes (centralized computer systems that could occupy a whole room), assigning staff to program them and transfer information electronically to/through them from elsewhere. ‘The data was mainly from box-ticked forms that we transferred onto a large tape,’ this early data processor recalled. ‘A male colleague processed the information and the tape was kept for a period as a backup. All we did was key in the data as fast as we could to a format set by the Computer Programmer. There was a rate at which we were supposed to key, which was monitored — and if you fell below, you’d get a little pep talk!’

Another daygirl left school early for a quite different reason: she knew exactly the career she wanted and, anyway, was too young for that new O-level exam. She left Red Maids’ at 15, to train fulltime at a respected Bristol dance school. As a student, she once danced with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet and ballerina Margot Fonteyn when they were appearing at the Hippodrome. On qualifying with the Royal Academy of Dancing, she taught ballet at the school, ‘and also basic ballroom dancing to hundreds of undergraduates, in the days when you had to learn to dance properly to get on in the world!’ In the Home Counties, she later ran her own ballet school.

Several ’46ers, on leaving in 1951, went into nursing. One, after starting to train at the Middlesex in London, returned to Bristol as a medical secretary at one of the city’s big hospitals. ‘I loved that,’ she said. ‘And I gained some knowledge of Anatomy, which I’d missed out on at Red Maids’ having given up Biology to do Greek!’ In 1963, by then married and with a daughter, she was asked by a consultant gynaecologist to help with her private patients. This she did, part-time, for the next 18 years. ‘Interesting era,’ she said. ‘The Pill was introduced.’

Six daygirls enrolled at Bristol College of Commerce. One of them was later Secretary at a Bedminster primary school where another former Red Maid was Head. She also acted as Returning Officer for some local elections and recalled one 1990s polling day when she arrived at dawn with the ballot boxes to find that she couldn’t get into the polling station: some activist had superglued all the locks. Voters on their way to work had to cast their votes in the boot of her car. Other ’46ers went directly into clerical work — Civil Service (one later did an OU degree), NHS, commercial.

Two daygirls joined banks and one of these discovered, with glee, that she had an 18th-century ancestor called Mary Whitson, from the same Gloucestershire village as John Whitson. ‘I’d have walked 10 feet tall and told those mistresses something, had I known this when I was still at school!’ she told her local Family History Society. Her own daughter for years led the Founder’s Day procession through central Bristol — not as a Red Maid or Whitson descendant, but as a Bristol police officer.

Two of the office-workers eventually swopped city life for country life: a onetime daygirl helped her husband to run his market-garden in the Mendips; a onetime boarder moved with her husband and young sons to Devon, to run a boatyard on the River Dart. ‘We saw it advertised in Yachts & Yachting. My husband had a background in sailing and seamanship, he’d spent two years at Gordonstoun, had been in the Merchant Navy… People thought we were either brave or foolish, and it was quite tough in the beginning, but we always loved the life.’

Two daygirl ’46ers went straight to the West of England College of Art. One, no known interest in clothes when at school, chose to study fashion. She then got a job in the Netherlands — where she became lingerie designer and buyer for a Dutch department store, taking her designs to the Far East for manufacture and being made a director. She married a Dutch doctor, made an elegant summer home on Italy’s Isle of Elba, and became a longtime Friend of its international music festival.

The career of the other art student was equally unexpected. From art college, she went to Bristol Royal Infirmary as a student nurse; married, had children; then, ‘because of nuclear testing in Europe,’ emigrated with her husband and three sons to New Zealand. There, in the North Island, she did a degree in clinical psychology and helped run a meditation centre before settling in the south of the island, sending back cards of her artwork to her old classmates.

These two weren’t the only ’46ers to go abroad and stay abroad. Two boarder friends did the same. One sailed to Australia in 1952 with her parents and siblings, and worked for ten years at the University of Adelaide, six of them as secretary to the Vice-Chancellor. The other later joined her, having first been one of only some 25 women police officers in all Bristol. ‘We patrolled the streets on our own until 10p.m,’ she reflected. ‘We were in uniform and our only protection was a whistle on a chain and a key to those blue Police Telephone boxes.’ In that uniform, invited by Miss Hedley, she returned to school in 1957 to talk to the upper forms about a career in the force. The next year, she sailed ‘as a ten-pound Pom’ to join her friend in Adelaide, and retrained for the police there. ‘A completely different experience. We were in plain clothes, which meant dressed to the nines: high heels, stockings, hat, gloves, smart outfits — all to patrol the jetties and beaches, sometimes in 40-degree heat.’ When she married a police officer, she had to leave the force: female government employees of the time had to be single. But she went on working: in the 1970s as an interviewer for Australia’s Bureau of Statistics; then, for 20 years, running the Adelaide
branch-office of a German engineering company. When she finally retired in 2001, she was a grandmother. The Red Maid she had followed to Australia eventually left it. After a dash-around van tour of Europe and Britain, she sailed on Cunard’s Carmania to the Bahamas in 1965 — and stayed there, working first for the government and then at the British High Commission. In private life, often travelling with her husband, she became interested in flowering tropical plants, developed a bromeliad garden and in 2005 had a bromeliad named after her as ‘a well-known Bahamian bromeliad collector’. ‘

46ers who left from Lower VI or V Remove Most of the ‘too young’ fifth-formers had stayed on at school to take that new 0-levels exam in 1952 — from Lower VI alongside their slightly-older classmates or from a special V Remove. Altogether, some 20 girls out of the original intake of 60 went into Lower VI. Their classroom was up the stairs of the old, unconverted Stable Block, with a stove for winter warmth. A black-andwhite photo shows some of them, happily grouped around English teacher Joan Scruse, in front of the big stable door. Caption: ‘After book-mending on last day but one, Summer 1952’. Bookmending! The school was still facing shortages. Two of those in the photo were daygirl friends who, after a Lower-VI year, became student teachers. One went on to teacher training college, and then taught in East Bristol primary schools for over 40 years, specializing in remedial reading. The other gained local fame by living, as a bride, in one of Somerset’s most picturesque dwellings: a tiny, hexagonal thatched cottage, once an 18th-century toll-house, now Grade II Listed. ‘Our rent,’ she smiled, ‘was 15 shillings a week, which went up to £1 when electricity was installed.’ In the 1960s, back in the city, she began running local playgroups. ‘Groups of mums getting together to organize play facilities for their young children: it was a new phenomenon.’ She became a co-ordinator for Bristol Playgroups Association, funded by Social Services. Years later, she qualified in reflexology and holistic massage, ‘wishing I’d opted for Biology for Olevels instead of Greek!

I don’t remember any careers advice before leaving school. No discussion of options open to us, or visiting speakers. No work experience in those days, no TV to give a view of the wider world…’ Another ’46er daygirl from Lower VI, committing herself firmly to early-years education, qualified and then taught at nursery, infant and special schools, becoming Head Teacher of two. In the 1980s, adding a B.Ed. and M.Ed. on special educational needs and early childhood intervention to an earlier B.A., she held Senior Lecturer posts in Cheltenham and Bristol. In 1988, in Redland, she and her husband opened an innovative Children’s Centre. Having been rated one of the best in the country, the centre was in 2020 commended by the government for its philosophy, and she was invited to a Mansion House reception. Both teaching and nursing continued to be favoured Red Maid careers. From V Remove, one daygirl qualified and became a primary-school teacher in Bristol and Berkshire — also an official Weather Watcher, holding forth about ‘funnel clouds’. She adopted two children. On leaving Lower VI in 1952, a boarder and a daygirl were student nurses in Somerset hospitals, then took up physiotherapy. Another daygirl, who trained at the BRI and became a midwife, also adopted two children. Years later, when her husband became Mayor of Bath, she was Mayoress.

One keen ’46er passed the Library Association’s entrance exam and worked at the Central Library on College Green. As this was next to Bristol Cathedral, she could easily meet former classmates at the main Founder’s Day service after it was moved there in 1953. By contrast, a daygirl who had trained in Oxford as an occupational therapist, was out of the country so much — lived at one time in Central Africa; explored Russia, Arctic, Antarctic — that those classmates would lose track of her. In the Arctic, she went husky-sledding. In Devon, in retirement, she looked after guide dogs. But, for major ’46er reunions, she too turned up enthusiastically. Another ex-daygirl occupational therapist went permanently abroad, to Bermuda. And an ex-boarder, after doing that extra year in V Remove, spoke of ‘wanderlust’. She went to Paris, to London, then to the Bahamas managing a boutique. From there to New York, where she met and married the owner of two famous nightclubs and proceeded to live the high life with the era’s movers and shakers. London, the south of France, United States, Mexico, South America, ‘summers in Montecarlo and all around the Mediterranean on our yacht — a dream I look back on and think how fortunate I was.’ Widowed, she sold the yacht but continued to travel, eventually remarrying (an Olympic Silver Medallist) and settling on Miami’s Fisher Island. ‘When I mentioned Red Maids to the Fisher Island Club, I was asked if we were “some sort of Communist group”.’

A daygirl in V Remove had more specific travel in mind. From school, she went to the College of Commerce — ‘but all I dreamt of,’ she said later, ‘was going to France and, when an offer came to go there as an au pair, I leapt at the opportunity.’ She spent a year in Versailles, living with a French family, teaching its little girls English and improving her own French. On returning to Bristol, she joined the university’s Chemistry Department, ‘typing, marking and dealing with exam papers. My French-language skills came in handy with foreign students.’ This same Red Maid married an Old Elizabethan (former QEH boy).

Three other ’46ers had been at the College of Commerce with her in 1952. Two of them also married Old
Elizabethans; and the third, much later, married an artist who had taught at QEH. Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital, founded 50 years before Red Maids’, was considered its brother foundation, though the relationship between the two schools and their societies varied greatly from one generation to the next. In the early 1950s, the schools played each other at tennis, and in 1951 a combined choir of Red Maids and QEH boys gave a concert. In 1951 too, the QEH Old Boys’ Society added a dance at the Grand Hotel to its Annual Reunion with the RMS Old Girls’ Society. ‘This dance was such a success socially,’ said the RMS Report, ‘that QEH invited our Society to run a combined dance with them on February 14th, 1952.’ One of the other ’46ers marrying an Old Elizabethan lived from 1960 near Oxford, when he was given a Lecturership in Arabic there. But 30 years later, she volunteered, they were still returning frequently to Bristol ‘for his Old Boys’ events. In fact, I know more about what old QEH boys are doing than I do about Red Maids!’

’46ers left from Upper VI In September 1952, nine ’46ers moved on from Lower VI into Upper VI, preparing for Alevels. Their classroom was now in the Old Building, with French doors that they could open straight onto the front drive in summer, and heavy old radiators that they would perch on for warmth in winter. One of the nine was Head Girl — always a boarder of course, though there was by then also a ‘senior daygirl prefect’. Through school thus far, the 1946 boarders and daygirls had stayed quite separate. No animosity: they simply didn’t mix much, in class or out. Boarders wore different uniforms, sat together in class, ate elsewhere, had their own (stricter) duties. But in the sixth forms — fewer girls, fewer rules — there was more bonding, new friendships were made. In summer 1953, the ’46er Head Girl went cycling in France with three classmates of whom two were daygirls. That same summer, the senior daygirl prefect ‘crowned a very satisfactory school career,’ reported Miss Hedley, ‘by winning an Entrance Scholarship to the London School of Occupational Therapy’. Her daygirl elder sister had already won a Classics Exhibition, also to London.

One of the Upper VI boarders qualified at a local teacher training college, and was appointed Head Teacher in 1977 at a primary school in a deprived area of South Bristol. This, she ran for 15 years until taking early retirement on health grounds. ‘Many hundreds of children,’ said a Red Maids’ governor who had been at school with her and then worked with her, ‘owe her a debt of gratitude for all her hard work and faith in their abilities.’ Another boarder became a trainee librarian and quietly worked fulltime in Bristol libraries until, in 1967, she married an academic she had met in one of them. After a four-day honeymoon, the newly-weds flew to California where he was on a Fellowship. ‘We survived a full-scale emergency landing in Los Angeles, with ambulances and crash wagons racing alongside the plane — and then, within weeks,’ she reminisced, ‘I was lunching with Nobel Prize winners in Pasadena!’ From 1968, the couple lived in London, where he taught at Imperial College for 40 years and she worked in the same reference library for nearly 30.

The Head Girl and five daygirls went on from Upper VI to get degrees from Bristol, Exeter and London universities: in History (two), English Language & Literature (two), Biology (two). A more limited choice of subject in those days — and ‘personal computers’ not yet even coined as a term, let alone available for studying. In 1954, while a History undergraduate in Bristol, the former Head Girl (who was also a former regional junior chess champion) was made, for her A-level successes, first recipient of Red Maids’ new Isabel Gaylard Memorial Prize. On graduating, she became an inspector of taxes. Five children later, she gained a Master’s at the London School of Economics and became a researcher for the controversial new Campaign for Freedom of Information. The other History graduate (Exeter) worked in education in Cornwall for over 40 years. Teaching at a girls’ grammar school to begin with, she retired as Head of Student Services at a further education college, having on the way been Head of History at a mixed grammar school and Senior Tutor at a sixth-form college. ‘In practice,’ she laughed, ‘I moved 100 yards down the road and worked in four very different establishments!’ She covered the 20th-century history of the grammar schools in a book published in 2006.

The two ’46ers who studied English got their degrees in London and then worked abroad. One of them taught in Turkey and Barbados before returning to England to marry a senior TV production designer. The couple moved to Manchester from London when the TV company did, and she became Head of English at a major girls’ high school in the city. In 1980, she moved to deepest Cornwall to convert an old cottage into a stylish country home, for her family and visitors from the entertainment world. The other English graduate went into journalism — Bristol, London, New York, Far East. In the 1970s, she crossed to educational publishing and became a managing editor and writer for international publishers in Hong Kong. Fifty years later, she was still getting royalties on adaptations of classics for English-language students. In ‘retirement’, she taught English to the Gurkhas for the British Army.

Of the two ’46ers intent on Biology, one applauded Miss Hedley’s persuading her parents to send her to university. On graduating in 1956, she moved to Hertfordshire, to join Rothamsted Experimental Station, one of the world’s oldest agricultural research stations. There, as a mycologist in the Plant Pathology department, she worked on cereal diseases. The other, finding little support yet for careers in science (‘there was a fall-back position of teachers, nurses and secretaries!’), left school to work as a Wills’ lab technician, analysing insecticide residue in what would one day become Bristol’s renowned Tobacco Factory Theatre. After a couple of years, she joined Long Ashton Research Station, later gaining a degree in Biochemistry by day release. ‘I then transferred to plant tissue culture and ended up in plant molecular biology.’ She stayed at LARS until 2000, involved over the years in projects that ranged from reducing the size of Bramley apple trees to investigating phosphate transport in plants.

All change: climate to computers, plant life, our planet’s life. Stark warnings by the end of the 20th-century about loss of biodiversity, pollution, global warming, climate change… In 1992, nearly 200 nations signed up to a United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, aimed at sustainable development. The 1946er who had married an artist was a convert. Once the buyer for some big toyshops, she changed direction and became director of a company turning toxic industrial waste into a new range of building materials. ‘When it is demonstrated that there is a profitable use for such substances,’ she wrote in 1994, ‘then there is a real incentive to clean up power-stations, etc., and this provides an alternative to dumping hazardous waste into oceans…’ Public awareness of such issues was, by the 1990s, increasing fast — largely because of computers, notably personal computers. The ’46er journalist had just been allocated a heavy, manual typewriter when she joined Bristol’s Western Daily Press as a reporter in 1958: news stories had to be typed up in the newsroom. Although computers were commercially available from the 1950s, it was the 1970s before governments and business began to make widespread use of them.

The ’46er who joined the Civil Service as a data processor in Bristol did so in the mid 1970s. The ’46er who
interviewed for Australia’s Bureau of Statistics encountered her first computer in Adelaide in the late 1970s. ‘They had an enormous mainframe with large reels of tape, housed in an air-conditioned room where no unauthorized person was allowed to venture… At that stage, computers were a novelty in Australia. Everyone was on a steep learning curve, a lot of the data entry was trial and error!’

Then, in the 1980s, portable and home computers came on the scene. A 10-kilo laptop described as ‘the first true mobile computer’ was followed by ‘the first successful mass-market, all-in-one, desktop personal computer’. The ’46er who would in 1988 open a children’s centre in Bristol, was quick off the mark: ‘We had a very early Apple Mac at home from the mid 1980s,’ she recalled. ‘In the late 1980s,’ said the LARS biologist, ‘we started using email in a very basic form.’ A computer of one’s own had become both affordable and worth having. In 1993, a publishinghouse wrote to the ’46er ex-journalist: ‘We are trying to compile a list of editors who have access to a computer. Please let us know if you have one, the type and software, and if you would be willing to edit on screen.’ And in retirement in the 1990s, the ’46er compiling a database of Victorian pauper children, was able to do it using first her own desktop, then her own laptop. Other ’46ers pursuing new interests, or just wanting toy email, were following suit. Half a century after entering the market, computers had also entered the home, become part of daily life.

The ’46er who had worked at Bristol’s Central Library, highlighted the extent of the change when in 1994, now living in the Chilterns, she was trying to trace all her former classmates. Phone directories and phone-calls, electoral registers and letters, those blue aerograms… She was doing it all, she wrote by hand to one of them, ‘without ever having had any hands-on experience of computers. Can you believe that such folk exist?!’

Celebrating Gold

In 1946, the school had welcomed 60 new girls. Half a century later, they were scattered around Britain and the world. But some had kept in touch through the Red Maids’ Society (no more ‘Old Girls’: the name was shortened in 1965, the same year that the school became ‘Independent’) and personal friendships had survived across the world. The bromeliad collector in the Bahamas visited the ex-policewoman in Adelaide; the Netherlands lingerie designer met up with the editor in Hong Kong; the travel-prone occupational therapist, on her way to the Antarctic, stayed with the artist in New Zealand.

In autumn 1996, it would be half a century since those 60 girls had started at Red Maids’. A celebration was discussed. Half-a-dozen ’46ers in England began to plan a Golden Anniversary luncheon. Hence, the retired librarian’s lengthy hunt for names and addresses. Hence, a ‘Where are they now?’ headline in the Bristol Evening Post, contacted by another ’46er. Come September 1996, all but one of the original 60 had been traced.

On Saturday, 12 October 1996, at a hotel by Clifton Suspension Bridge, an astonishing 50 of these ’46ers came together, from the UK, Italy, United States, Bahamas, Australia, New Zealand… Four of their teachers at Red Maids’ 50 years before — Miss Scruse and Miss Monro (English), Miss Balmond (Singing) and Mrs Chermside (Chairman of the Board of Governors, formerly Games teacher Miss Tribe) — were guests of honour at the lunch. ‘The waiters,’ commented Miss Balmond, ‘looked faintly bemused when up came the Latin Grace!’ Everyone’s menu featured a lively water-colour of red-coated boarders on their way to church. It was by a former Head Girl, elder sister of one of the ’46ers present. The Evening Post ran a photo-story: ‘Years’ search for pupils pays off. OLD GIRLS STAGE CLASSY REUNION!’ That afternoon, they all went back to school, for a guided tour of its buildings and facilities, old and new. A sundial they had donated was pointed out. ‘A lovely gift to the school,’ Mrs Chermside wrote courteously afterwards, ‘ and I thought how suitable, in front of the waterfall!’ ‘Sad demise of our beloved Weeping ash, the old Judas tree and the Walnut,’ reflected one of the travelling ’46ers in the next Society newsletter. ‘But reassuring to find that Red Maids’ traditions and principles are being articulated through the new Red Maids, and have not moved so far from our Founder’s intent.’

Platinum plus

Fifteen years later, on Founder’s Day 2011, two dozen of the same ’46ers reassembled on College Green. They watched the long red crocodile of a school that now had juniors but no boarders. They went into the cathedral for the familiar service. Then they had another reunion lunch, collecting £400 towards renovation of the great Whitson chimney-piece in the centre of the Old Building (now ‘Burfield House’). Next day, at the Society’s Whitson Lunch, the money was presented to the school by a ’46er, the ex-LARS biologist, who was now keeping her old classmates in touch, emailing them her own Founder’s Day photos, arranging occasional lunches.

Accordingly, on Founder’s Day 2016, a full 70 years after starting at Red Maids’, a similar group of ’46ers met again, including the former daygirl now living on Elba and the former boarder still living in the Bahamas. This time it was for a Platinum Anniversary lunch. This time, only the ’46ers with tickets could go first to the cathedral, which was as packed — the school now had so many girls — as the little St Nicholas’ crypt had been in their day. It had suddenly been announced, earlier that year, that Redland High School was ‘to merge with Red Maids’ and move fully, in September 2017, onto the Red Maids’ site at Westbury-on-Trym. Both schools already had Independent status. ‘This proposed merger,’ explained the Red Maids’ Chairman of Governors, ‘creates a one-off opportunity to build a bigger, stronger and ultimately more sustainable school with outstanding facilities for the girls of Bristol and beyond.’ The school was to be called Redmaids’ High. Founder’s Day would become Founders’ Commemoration Day, in recognition of the founders of both schools. There would be a new Redmaids’ High Alumnae Association… The ’46ers at the 2016 service heard, with relief, John Whitson’s Will still being read out, the Te Deum being sung… Five
years later, that was still happening every November. And the school still had its four ‘houses’ named after

Whitson’s ships. PKM, July 2022

Posted on 21 April 2023

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