Exploring St Swithun's

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Exploring St. Swithun’s.


Introduction Welcome to the ‘Exploring St. Swithun’s’ tour which has been hosted by the school for the Winchester Heritage Open Days. St. Swithun’s started in 1884 when our founder Anna Bramston formed a Council of leading educationalists and reformers to establish a girl’s school in Winchester. The aim of the school was to provide an education that developed the full the capacity of every girl and enabled her to become a woman of independent thought. Originally located in the city centre the school was formally known as Winchester High School for Girls and was at the forefront in the development of female education in the nineteenth century. Its pioneering headmistresses and the unfailing determination of the school founders made St. Swithun’s internationally recognisable and a model that other girls’ schools emulated. The school moved to its current site in 1929 and our purpose at St. Swithun’s is to continue to develop strong, independent women whose behaviour and values reflect the school’s founding virtues: caritas, humilitas and sinceritas.


Notice in the Hampshire Chronicle about the opening of the school, 1884.

Winchester High School for Girls in 1904.


Bust of Anna Bramston.

Anna Bramston is the school’s official founder. She was the daughter of the Revd John Bramston, Dean of Winchester and was inspired to found a girls’ school after hearing a lecture on the benefits of educational establishments for women from the writer Elizbeth Missing Sewell.

With her lifelong friend Amélie LeRoy, Anna Bramston formed a committee of notable people in Winchester in 1883, which included: Dr. Fearon (Headmaster of Winchester College), Charlotte Yonge and W.C. Streatfield. The purpose of the committee was to provide a secondary education based on Christian principles for girls in Winchester. They started a subscription fund to raise money for the establishment of the school and opened Winchester High School for Girls on 5th May 1884 with 17 pupils. This bust made by a Mr Burton, was donated to the school by Amélie LeRoy shortly after Anna’s death in 1932.


Portrait of Charlotte Yonge by Sir W B Richmond. Charlotte Mary Yonge was a nineteenth century writer known mainly for her novel The Heir of Redclyffe. She was an original member of the School Council and our founders were close acquaintances of the novelist. Anna Bramston and Amélie LeRoy were members of her Gosling society, which was an intellectual essay society for young Victorian women. They also worked on The Monthly Packet, a religious magazine created by the Oxford movement of which Charlotte was the editor of. She presented this portrait to the school of herself at aged 19, by the artist Sir William Blake Richmond in 1900.


Charlotte Yonge scholarship address. In recognition of Charlotte Yonge’s contributions to the school and her advancement of religious education through her published works, the school founded a scholarship in Charlotte Yonge’s name which enabled pupils to attend university. Amélie LeRoy spearheaded the fundraising efforts which proved to be extremely successful. It gained support from high profile members of society such as: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Duchess of Wellington and even Queen Alexandra, the wife of King Edward VII who was Prince of Wales at the time. Charlotte was presented with this illuminated address from the school at a ceremony for the induction of the new scholarship. After her death the family gave the address back to the school.


Portrait of Amy Locke by A. M. Ducker. Amy Locke was the first pupil to receive the Charlotte Yonge scholarship. She was awarded a scholarship by Somerville College, Oxford where she read history. She became a professional historian working for most of her life on the Victoria County History publication. Amy entered Winchester High School for Girls in 1893 and became the U6 Librarian and editor of the school chronicle.


Portraits of Headmistresses.

Miss Margaret Mowbray 1884-1916.

Miss Ethel Finlay 1916-1940.

Miss Grace Watt 1941-1952.


Miss Phyllis Evans 1953-1973.

Miss Olwen Davies 1973-1986.

Lady Joan Appleyard 1986-1994.

Dr. Helen Harvey 1995-2010.


Armorial bearings of the school.

The school was granted a coat of arms on 9th June 1936. It was paid for and presented by Dr and Mrs Simpson in memory of their daughter Puck Simpson who died from typhoid soon after leaving school. She was a boarder in High House from 1926-1935.

On the shield, St. Swithun carries a book which is meant to symbolise his learning and tutelage of King Alfred. The keys on each side of St. Swithun come from the arms of the See of Winchester, and represent the keys of knowledge. The lion symbolises the connection with the city of Winchester which features two lions on the city’s coat of arms. The hurt (blue roundlet underneath the lions raised foot) is a heraldic representation of a whortleberry and references the area of the South Downs near to the school, where whortleberries supposedly thrive.


Main entrance hall.

This statue of St. Swithun was gifted to the school in 1929 by the parents of Anne Hagedorn, a pupil who had passed away that year. They commissioned sculptor Captain Basil Gotto to carve a statue of St. Swithun and presented it to the school in memory of their daughter. The Bishop of Winchester officially dedicated the statue on Thursday 26th June 1930. It was originally intended for the school chapel, but, plans for a chapel at the school during that period never materialised. 11

Statues of St. Swithun.

The statue that currently resides in the alcove was donated by the parent teacher association (PTA) in 2007 and sculpted by Peter Ball. The School Council chose St. Swithun as its patron saint following a longstanding battle with the Board of Education over the school’s name. ‘Winchester High School for Girls’ was causing administrative confusion with the county school, ‘Winchester County School for Girls’ and the Board of Education implored the school to amend its name. Despite the fact we predated the county school and stood resolute in not changing our name for some time, the school finally relented in 1927 and explored options for a new name. The Council wanted a name that still resonated with Winchester and before long they chose ‘St. Swithun’s’. In her speech to Old Girls at the July reunion Miss Finlay declared: ‘You have every reason to be proud of this Saint with whom is associated, first the crown of all virtues - humility – then kindness and sincerity, and one whose life was distinguished by service to his King and people…Could we choose better than the words which express his chief virtues – Caritas, Humilitas, Sinceritas?’


Architect’s impression of St. Swithun’s school by D. L. Bridgwater.

The site of St. Swithun’s was designed by architects Mitchell & Bridgwater in 1929. The original plan for the school consisted of a large range of buildings round a quadrangle with all the buildings facing inwards, as shown on the following page of this booklet. It was designed to provide accommodation for 240 boarders and 60 days girls. The architects incorporated space for a chapel, swimming bath, gymnasium and other ancillary buildings. Construction started late in 1929, however, due to financial constraints the school could only afford to bring the main school building and two boarding houses to fruition with the interconnecting cloister joining them together. The initial cost of the build was £50,000 which was raised from the sale of the original school building and through donations. Great interest was taken in the modern heating system which involved panel heating that came from the ceiling, although sceptics of this new invention spread false rumours that it was causing subsidence to the building! 13

Artist’s impression of the new school site.


Floor plan of the new school, 1930.


Plaque commemorating the opening of the school by Princess Mary.

This plaque commemorates the official opening of the school by Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood (1897-1965) in 1932. Princess Mary was presented with a gilt key to unlock the front doors and was then escorted by the headmistress Ethel Finlay to Bramston Hall where pupils were eagerly waiting to hear the various speeches thanking the princess for her visit. After the national anthem was sung, Princess Mary stood and officially declared the school open and requested that four days holiday be granted in remembrance of her visit. According to our school chronicle this ‘called forth renewed applause.’ Before leaving she signed the school’s visitor’s book which is now kept in our school archive.


Portrait of Princess Mary.

The portrait of Princess Mary that hangs near the front entrance was given to the school at Christmas by the Princess Royal, accompanied by a commemorative message about her visit.



Bramston Hall. Our current school library didn’t exist until 2009. Before then it was the school hall which was known as Bramston Hall. It was named in honour of our founder Anna Bramston. This is where all major school events were conducted including performances, assemblies and music lessons. It also doubled up as the gymnasium.


Whole school photographs.

Almost all of our whole school photographs are displayed along the first and second floor corridors of the school. The oldest on display dates from 1919 but we can trace the first official school photograph back to approximately 1889 which is featured above. These photographs illustrate the changes in our school over time whether it be changes in uniform, pupil numbers or staff and they are a helpful resource for historical enquiries.


The original school library. When St. Swithun’s was built, the school library was originally located where the staff room currently resides. The library is and was an integral part of the school. When it started in 1887 girls lent their own books to one another. The establishment of a library committee increased the collection when they introduced a new process of subscribing to a library membership which cost 3 shillings a month. This enabled the committee to purchase more books and donations of works from parents, visitors and alumnae expanded the collection further. In 1916 the school council decided to provide a grant each year for the purpose of keeping the library up-to-date. In the school library are a number of first edition and illustrated works from authors such as: Charlotte Yonge, Amélie LeRoy, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and Lewis Carroll. We also have a collection of biographical works donated by Amy Locke which she collected as a student at Oxford university and donated to the school. The new school library opened in 2008 and was opened by Chris Pines the Mayor of Winchester and the Very Revd James Atwell, Dean of Winchester.


The school library at St. Swithun’s c.1940.

The school library at St. Swithun’s c.1940.


The school library in the original school, 1912.

Girls studying in the original school library.


Front entrance.


Front entrance.

This stone panel featuring the head of St. Swithun was sculpted by Miss F. L. Sayers. It stands above the main entrance to the school.

The bell tower with the accompanying clock and spire, has a mellow-toned bell with a mechanism for quarter chimes. It was a gift from alumnae and staff to the school in memory of Anna Bramston.


Laying of the school foundation stone plaque.

This plaque marks the laying of the foundation stone for our school which took place on 31st October 1930. Some weeks prior, Anna Bramston had cut the first piece of turf but at this ceremony, the foundation stone was laid by Bishop Woods. The whole school were invited to watch the event and a short service was conducted where the stone was lowered into place, and in a cavity behind it was placed a bottle containing a copy of the Articles of Association of the School, the front page of the current issue of The Times and some coins. Sadly, this was the last public occasion Anna Bramston attended as she died a few moths later on 23rd January 1931. Laying of the foundation stone ceremony, 1930.


Gilded pipework.


Gilded pipework

One of the unusual features of St. Swithun’s is the gilded leadwork on the rainwater pipes. On closer inspection you will see that each pipe head has the previous school emblem and the date of establishment ‘1931’ carved into the leadwork. The letters ‘S SWITHUN’ have also been imprinted onto the length of the pipe. Originally the gilding was gold so would have been an impressive feature when the school first opened. Although the sheen has slightly worn off it is a testament to the meticulous attention the architects and school paid to the design of the school.


High House boarding house.

High House was the first boarding house the school opened. High House started in April 1889 and was located on St. Giles Hill. The building is still there today. Initially it only had four boarders but grew to be one of the larger senior boarding houses. The housemistresses were Miss Lewis and Miss Tothill. High House was always full and had many successes in inter-house competitions. As one of the largest boarding houses, High House moved into the new boarding premises on Alresford Road in 1933 when the new boarding houses opened.


Hyde Abbey Hyde Abbey opened as boarding house for Winchester High School for Girls in 1902 and was located on Worthy Road. Named after the original Saxon church, the house used to be a boys’ school called Hyde Abbey School and amongst its alumni were people like Henry Sewell and George Canning. Initially Hyde Abbey started with only eight boarders but by 1910 was at full capacity. This was the first boarding house to receive overseas scholar and was run by Miss Towers Thompson. Like High House, Hyde Abbey moved into the new boarding houses on Alresford Road in 1933.


Swimming pool. Originally the swimming pool was located where the prep school is currently situated. It was an open-air swimming pool and there are many memoirs in our archive from alumnae, talking about how cold the pool was even during the summer. The school diving team used to practise in the pool owned by Winchester College. The swimming pool now on the school site was built in 1993.


Hillcroft boarding house. Hillcroft was originally located on Bereweeke Road on Andover Hill and opened in 1895. Hillcroft was a small house with a garden and tennis court and hockey field adjoining it. At first it held only eight girls but then in 1918 moved to a new building on St. Giles Hill which had greater capacity. The original house wasn’t sold until 2002 and the girls moved to the new Hillcroft boarding house on the main school site.


Earlsdown boarding house. Earlsdown was one of the original boarding houses and opened in 1896. It was situated on St. Giles Hill. The name was chosen in reference to Earl Waltheof although it is not clear why. Other memoirs suggest it was in refence to the Earle family who owned the land the boarding house was built on. The school are fortunate that all of the boarding house diaries for Earlsdown have survived. They date from 1896 and contain a wealth of information about the boarding house activities throughout the year. Including, a story about an opportunistic thief who stole 19 silver spoons, 2 candlesticks and a box stamps from the boarding house whilst everyone was sleeping; and a lacrosse match against Canadian officers from the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry regiment during the First World War.


Earlsdown boarding house. The new Earlsdown was built with conservation of energy in mind. It was based on a Swedish method of building and most of the materials were shipped from Sweden as pre-fabricated units so that the house could be rapidly erected. The house accommodated 46 girls and a small chapel was built in the house overlooking the playing fields which was used for general use by the school. The new Earlsdown was officially opened by Lady Trend on 9th May 1982.


LeRoy boarding house. LeRoy was first known as North Hill House and opened in the Autumn Term of 1919 on Andover Road. The housemistresses were a Miss Guyer and Miss Downes. LeRoy was originally a senior girl boarding house but in 1926 when need demanded, it changed to a junior house. North Hill House was renamed LeRoy in 1934 in memory of Amélie LeRoy’s contributions to the school. Amélie died shortly after 1934 but lived long enough to know about the renaming of the house. LeRoy was one of the last boarding houses to move from the city centre to the new site. When the prep school was being rebuilt following a fire in 1974, the decision was also made to move LeRoy to the main school site and it opened in 1975.


Sports Hall. 1984 marked the school’s centenary and a variety of celebrations took place to mark the momentous occasion. The most significant being the opening of the new sports hall by H.R.H the Princess Royal on 5th May 1984. Princess Anne was escorted to the main entrance by the headmistress where she signed the visitor’s book and then watched a review of the school’s first 100 years. Each scene depicted a different aspect of school life between 1884-1984. She then watched the Centenary Concert which consisted of a series of songs and instrumental pieces played by the school orchestra. After the concert she was given a tour of the school and then treated to gymnastics display in the new sports hall which she officially declared open.



School playing fields. The first sport played at our school was tennis and it was introduced as early as 1886. However, the school also wanted a winter sport and created a games club in 1894 to manage the sporting activities at the school. Miss Jameson joined the staff in 1895 and immediately introduced a hockey club. Hockey was substituted for lacrosse in 1905 and we have been playing it as our winter sport ever since. For some year’s hockey was played on the field at Wolvesey Palace, the use of which the school had three days a week. However, when the Winchester Pageant was introduced in 1908 the field at Wolvesey was no longer available to the school so the Council rented 10 acres of land on Magdalen Hill for sport practise and matches. Four tennis courts were laid down and two lacrosse pitches. A sports pavilion was built and by 1932 there were six more tennis courts.

Lacrosse practise at the new playing fields on Magdalen Hill, 1912.


A compulsory purchase order for the Spitfire Link bypass adjacent to the M3 meant the fields could no longer be used by the school. The school have used the back fields that we see today for sport from then on.

Sports pavilion and lacrosse pitches on the playing fields at Magdalen Hill.


Finlay boarding house. Finlay is the only boarding house that originated at the new school site on Alresford Road. It was named after the school’s second headmistress Ethel Finlay who opened the house on 5th February 1972. When Finlay opened it consisted of 24 bedrooms, a common room and a study space for the whole sixth form. Finlay was funded by a bequest to the school in 1961 as well as money gained from the sale of the some of the boarding accommodation on St. Giles Hill, which was growing uneconomic with increasing maintenance costs. The motto of Finlay is ‘Fortis in Arduis’ and the house was presented with a shield on its opening day which was hung near the entrance.


Harvey Hall – Performing Arts Centre. Over time the Bramston Hall wasn’t sufficient to meet the needs of the drama department and the school required a much larger space for performances and recitals. The Performing Arts Centre was built in 2002 and was officially opened by the Mayor of Winchester on 24th October 2003. The main performance space Harvey Hall was named after Dr. Helen Harvey the school’s headmistress who oversaw the creation of the centre. The first performance held in the centre was a choral and orchestral concert of Joseph Haydn’s music. The first full scale production was ‘The Snow Queen’ which was performed in March 2004 with a cast of 64 pupils. It was a huge team effort and paved the way for large productions in the future.


School chapel Since the school’s inception, pupils always attended Sunday services in Winchester as opposed to the school because it never had a chapel big enough to accommodate everyone. The junior houses would either go to St. John’s (their nearest parish church) or Winchester Cathedral. The senior houses were allowed a free choice on where to attend. The school operated a system where in addition to the termly school fees, a sum of money called 'Church Dues' Proposed plan for a new chapel at the Alresford Road site, 1937. were paid on top. These dues would cover the Sunday church collection for each girl and contribute to the upkeep and maintenance of the churches they attended for Sunday Service. There was a small chapel in the original school, but this was largely used for confirmation lessons and private worship. Similarly, plans were drawn up for a purpose-built chapel on the new site in 1937 and there was even a chapel fund appeal to raise money for the building. However, plans were put on hold by the school council and by 1950 it was finally decided not to build a school chapel. 42

The school’s connection with Winchester Cathedral has also been an integral part of the school’s legacy. It was through Dean Stephens that the school confirmations were conducted in the cathedral. The first confirmation was held on November 28th 1896 and was always arranged for the Saturday before advent Sunday. For many years, Old Girls and present girls gathered in the cathedral to celebrate alumnae reunions.

The school chapel at the original school in St. Peter’s Street.

Our new chapel was opened by the Rt. Revd Timothy Dakin, Bishop of Winchester, on 14th September 2013.