The First Ten Years
Chelmsford County High School had its official opening ceremony on 1 May 1907, Miss Mabel Vernon-Harcourt was the first Headmistress. There were 76 pupils on the School roll at this time, with the age range initially 12 to 18 years. School fees in 1908 were 9 guineas (£9.45 in today’s terms). The School Magazine first appeared in the autumn term of 1909.
The Old Girls’ Society was formed in 1908 by the first girls to leave the school at the end of their education. The School Hostel was opened in January 1910 at 39 Broomfield Road, which allowed pupils with long journeys between home and school to stay in Chelmsford during the week. Miss Vernon-Harcourt retired in December 1910 shortly before her marriage to Mr William Price.
Miss Edith Bancroft became the second Headmistress in January 1911, remaining at her post until 1935. In 1916, there were 178 pupils on roll, by 1919 this had risen to 302.
In 1911 the school uniform consisted of a white blouse, navy gym slip, navy knickers, black stockings, and in summer, a boater straw hat kept in place by elastic beneath the chin. During 1910-1914 the school was beset by staff and pupil absences caused by illnesses such as Scarlet Fever, Diphtheria, Typhoid Fever and Whooping Cough.
In June 1916 Winifred Pickering (later Mrs Parsons) became the school’s first University success when she gained a First Class degree at Girton, Cambridge.
The First World War
There are various accounts by Miss Bancroft and pupils of the time about how air raids affected school life. In an article entitled “Palladium”, Miss Bancroft describes how, on a sunny day in June 1917, the school’s lessons were interrupted by the passing of enemy planes on their way to and from a bombing raid in London: “Suddenly came the discordant note – hoarse and sinister – three short blasts and a long blast, and this with a menacing iteration. We all knew what it meant – the danger siren!” On other air raids, Maud Sparrow, a pupil, recalls that “when the siren sounded an air raid alert everyone filed out to the playing fields and lay flat around the hedge – not comfortable because of the thorn prickles”.
The school became directly involved with the War when it provided education for students who had fled to this country from Belgium. This led to the school opening its newly built hall (the present gym) in some style. Extensions to the school building were opened on Speech Day, 31st March 1916, which included the assembly hall, classrooms, Domestic Science rooms and other facilities. In May 1916, larger premises for the School Hostel were acquired at Maltese Lodge – by September there were 14 boarders.
Beryl Robinson, a pupil from 1915-1920, recalls:
At that time the Senior Cambridge examination was writing at our neighbouring King Edward VI Grammar School. What a terrific thrill this was! Sandwiched between the boys… we thought ourselves important and attractive.
The School Magazine which had been suspended during the war was resumed in March 1923. It reported the announcement of the School Motto, which had been chosen from a shortlist of 18 suggestions: Vitai Lampada Ferimus – We Bear the Torch of Life.
In 1921, the proceeds from the school’s production of Euripedes’ “Alcestis” went towards buying its first gramophone for music appreciation lessons. In 1925 the School House system was set up, each House named after a governor of the school: Chancellor – Hulton – Pennefather – Tancock. In 1927 it was reported that “the school now rejoices in a new and much-needed possession – the telephone”.
On 8th May 1928 a Thanksgiving Service for the school’s 21st birthday was held in the school hall. This was the inauguration of Commemoration Day intended to be held thereafter annually in the Cathedral, the anniversary of the laying of the school’s foundation stone in 1906. Later it moved to May, near to the anniversary of the school’s first day- 6th May.
In the autumn of 1931, the Reference Library moved to its new room (probably the current staffroom) and the Laboratories were built in the area where the Technology rooms are located. In 1935 a party was held for about 30 of the school’s grandchildren – sons & daughters of the “Old Girls”. Miss Bancroft retired as Headmistress in 1935 and was succeeded by the school’s third Headmistress, Miss Geraldine Cadbury until 1961. In 1936 three drinking fountains were installed following an epidemic believed to be caused by sharing of drinking cups, and also poor heating and ventilation in the school building.
In 1936, on the day of Edward VIII’s accession to the throne, the whole school was able to listen to the Proclamation via a wireless set temporarily loaned by Christy Brothers. At the end of the summer term of 1936, the Hostel at Maltese Lodge closed. The number of boarders had fallen making it financially not viable (probably due to better transport services). In 1937 an electric bell system was installed, replacing the handbell which had been used to signal changes in lessons. In 1937 the school obtained its own wireless set which was often used to listen to Royal Events. It was also the chance to listen to the School Choir performing on BBC’s Children’s Hour, once in 1937 and twice in 1938.
The school was more directly affected by this war than the First World War: school buildings were damaged (the worst being that of December 1944 “when windows were broken in nearly every room, the roof and brickwork were damaged, all doors burst open”) and long air raid alerts which often led to girls being in shelters for a number of hours, as well as disrupting lessons and exams.
Nonetheless Miss Cadbury recalled “the courage of the girls, many of whom spent their nights and much of their days in shelters or trenches, but regarded it as a point of honour to be at school on time”.
The Allotment Club was formed in 1941 in response to the “Dig for Victory” campaign. In 1944 the Butler Education Act brought with it the end of paying of fees for parents of CCHS pupils. In 1944 the school cook, Mrs Brundle, retired, and a year later her husband, the caretaker, retired (being replaced by Mr Hodge). The couple had joined the school in 1907. In 1948 the Sixth Form uniforms changed from tunic and blouse to skirt and blouse.
On 4th July 1950, Miss Bancroft´s 80th birthday, she was able to visit the Bancroft Wing which had been named in her honour. In 1951 Fifth Formers were allowed to join the Sixth Formers in a new uniform of skirt and white blouse in place of tunic and blouse. The same year, the GCE (General Certificate of Education) exam was brought into being for the first time. In 1955 a sound projector was provided for the school. In 1956 the uniform changed to skirt and blue blouse instead of white.
A number of long-serving staff retired during this decade: Miss E.M. Poulson retired in the summer of 1950 after a teaching career of 35 years at the school; Miss W.D. Peers retired in 1955 after 38 years of teaching; and in 1958 Miss Clark, teacher of Poetry and Literature, retired after 39 years. In the late 1950s nearly £137,000 was allocated for a long overdue and much needed school building enlargement programme.
By 1958, pupils on roll had risen to 584 and there was a severe lack of space: 30 girls were being crammed into classrooms designed for 18; there was a Four-Form entry instead of Three-Form entry; and morning assembly in the gym was only achieved by a very crowded platform and pupils over spilling along the corridor.
In 1961 Miss Cadbury retired as Headmistress and was replaced by the fourth Headmistress Miss Phyllis Pattison until 1979. In the same year, Miss Cramphorn (governor and long-time friend of the school) donated a new Encyclopaedia Britannica with a Yearbook for the next ten years.
New accommodation was built during 1961: the present school hall, kitchens, art room and library block, as well some extra sports facilities.
The Queen Mother visits in 1962
On Speech Day, 23rd February 1962, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother visited the school. This was a fulfilment of a promise to Miss Pattison that if she achieved her promise of becoming a Headmistress, Her Majesty would make a visit to the school.
Work Experience was introduced in 1962, in conjunction with local industry, local schools and hospitals. The caretaker’s house (118 Broomfield Road) was built at which time the old caretaker’s lodge began use as Sixth Form rooms.
Work began on the swimming pool (aided by a generous contribution by Miss Cadbury) and in 1964 it was opened by Miss Cadbury. A Parent Teachers’ Association was formed in 1964.
By March 1970 the Orchestra, now in its third year, had grown from its original 12 members to 58, with a String Quartet, Woodwind and Brass Ensembles. On her 100th birthday, Miss Bancroft was able to celebrate with the school when she attended the Old Girls’ Reunion Dinner. The Speech Day report of March 1972 mentions the disruption of school life in the form of strikes and bomb scares.
In 1975 the Upper Sixth moved into 120 Broomfield Road; much of the house was used for teaching but there was a Common Room with easy chairs and a fridge. Demountable classrooms were added to the school´s accommodation during the 1970s.
In 1979 Miss Pattison retired, while Miss Tyler took over as Acting Head for the autumn term.
Miss Anne Brooks took up her post as fifth Headmistress in January 1980. In the same year, a new Parents´ Association was formed to replace the lapsed PTA. The PA organised the Second-hand Uniform Shop (which had been done by the school during the war) and Practice University Interviews for the Sixth Form. The PA provided many items for the school, which included computers, sports equipment, Sixth Form Common Room, Sixth Form furniture, piano, hall organ, display and lighting equipment, and library shelves and books. In 1980 the school used half the money raised at the Christmas Fair to install a payphone.
On Speech Day in 1981, the school said goodbye to several members of staff, including Mr Clark who had the distinction of being the first and only male teacher at the school.
Technology in the 1980s
During the 1980s, technology and computers began to play an increasing part both in the running of the school and as a subject to be followed by the girls. In 1982 a BBC computer had been won in a competition and the purchase of a computer by the school was being planned. A new Technology Club and Woodwork Club were started by the girls. In November 1986 a Computer Week brought in borrowed computers and instructors which enabled all pupils to try out the new technology. Fundraising was now beginning to provide the school with more computing equipment. By 1988 the new computer network was in place, with word processing and desktop publishing enabling pupils to produce projects and displays with a more professional appearance.
“Work Experience” was re-introduced in 1980 allowing Fifth Form pupils to spend up to 3 weeks at various work places to gain an insight into the world of work. This was done between their O Level exams and the start of the summer holidays.
In 1986 the system of the four Houses was changed to the three House system of C – H – S. The school celebrated its 80th birthday in May 1987: Kate Driver (Mrs Luckin-Smith) was able to attend “as a sprightly 93 year old” (she was the first pupil entered on the school roll in 1907).
In 1987 Miss S.E. Tyler, deputy head, retired after 29 years of service to the school. Two CCHS pupils (Rachel Curren and Shaoni Bhadra) appeared on the TV quiz show “Blockbusters”, winning trips to Australia and Scandinavia. In 1988, Fifth Formers sat the new GCSE exams for the first time (these replaced the old GCE O Level).
Miss Brooks retired in December 1989 and Mr Stan Dixon stepped in as Acting Head for two terms until September 1990 when the sixth Headmistress, Mrs Bernice McCabe, took over her new post. In September 1992 the school was incorporated as a Grant Maintained School with responsibility and control of its own management of funds (previously the LEA’s role). The new post of School Bursar was created, carrying with it responsibility for ensuring the school’s control of its own budget and overseeing the maintenance of the school buildings. On 30th March 1992 Mrs Thatcher paid a brief visit to the school with Mr Simon Burns, the local MP and a school governor.
The new Cadbury Science Building, named after the former Headmistress, was opened in 1995 with Physics, Biology, Chemistry and General Science laboratories. In 1994 the school underwent its first full OFSTED inspection and was named an “outstandingly successful secondary school”. In June 1995 the Development Appeal Office was opened, its target to raise £635,000 for improved school facilities including an all-weather pitch, equipment for the new science block, performing arts centre and improved sixth form accommodation. In September 1996 the first year intake increased to four forms instead of three, and the House system changed to four houses, being joined by G.
Mrs Monica Curtis became the school´s seventh Headmistress in September 1997, when Mrs McCabe left CCHS to take up her new post of Headmistress in the North London School for Girls. In 1998 the School had its second Ofsted inspection and cited as ‘outstandingly successful’.
In 1999 Foundation status replaced Grant Maintained status; this led to a new Governing Body structure. That same year, the School became the first ever Sunday Times ‘Secondary School of the Year’.
In June 2000 the School became a Specialist Technology College (with Science and Mathematics); this new status provided the opportunity to improve and extend the School´s Technology facilities with the addition of computers across the school and a new workshop. In December 2004 the School acquired its second specialism and became a Music College (with English). This began the School´s planning for improved Music facilities which finally came to fruition with the completion of the Music Centre opened in January 2008 by Dame Evelyn Glennie. The School was invited to apply for its third specialism and became a Language College in 2006.
Mrs Curtis retired in April 2006. Mrs Howland, Deputy Head, became Acting Headteacher until the appointment of Mrs Nicole Chapman, the school´s eighth Headmistress, who took over her new post in April 2007.
In May 2007 the School celebrated its Centenary, with HRH Sophie, The Countess of Wessex visiting to celebrate with staff and students.
In September 2007 the School was identified by the Ofsted inspecting team as ‘outstanding in no less than 27 categories’ Sixth Form private study facilities were opened and the School was awarded ‘Investor in People’ status. In 2008 the School was awarded High Performing Specialist School status and in 2009 officially approved as a centre delivering the International Baccalaureate Programme. The new course started in September 2009.
In 2009 the Dining Hall was extended, a Cookery Room and a classroom were built on the site of the demountable classroom 25.
In 2010 the School obtained planning permission for a new Languages Centre and Dining Hall extension – the School was awarded Healthy School status. That same year Mr David Bebb retired from the Governing Body after 22 years of service to the School, 21 of which as Chairman. Mrs Mary Reeve, Head of Latin and Timetables, retired after 43 years of service – the School achieved its best GCSE results ever, with 87% A*/A.
In January 2011 the School converted to Academy status. David Bebb was awarded an MBE for Voluntary Service for Education.
In January 2015 the governors of the School voted unanimously to expand CCHS by 30 students from September 2015, increasing the intake from 120 to 150, this decision was taken in response to the ever increasing demand for places at the School and a desire to offer the opportunity to be educated in a grammar school to even more girls.
Mrs Chapman’s leadership of CCHS, 2007-2019
Extract from Mrs Chapman’s article, printed in the summer 2019 edition of the CCHS Newsletter.
“As I complete my final term at CCHS I wish to place on record that the past 12 years have been some of the most enjoyable in my 46-year career in education. I have greatly enjoyed working with and for such wonderful students whose intellectual interest and energy are second to none. It has been incredibly gratifying to watch them develop into young women who have fledged with confidence and the determination to find their place in the world. I hope they remember to make a difference and to remain true to what their school has taught them.
I have been fortunate in leading a team of dedicated teaching and support staff who have supported me in maintaining the high standards we demand of ourselves and our students. I am proud to have guided the careers of so many, always prepared to give their students great opportunities within and beyond the classroom.
I am proud of the senior leadership team who have an unwavering commitment to the students, the staff and the good name of the School; as a team they offer a range of skills and experiences which provide highly effective – because consistent – messages to our community. I am proud to have grown headteachers, and particularly pleased that Stephen Lawlor will take over from me and lead the School into the next phase of its history. The quality of our safeguarding and pastoral support is second to none, thanks to Maria French and Michael Palmer’s leadership of their teams of Year Leaders. I believe this is one of the significant improvements we have made since 2007.
Whilst people matter more than the buildings, I still feel that our students deserve the best we can afford and I am pleased to have raised nearly £10 million over the past decade to extend the dining hall, create new classrooms at the front of the school, and a languages centre with a language lab; the creation of the sixth form loft, the re-purposing of the technology rooms into a lecture theatre, a second sixth form common room and new classrooms have provided a more effective use of space.
I am proud of the changes we have made to our entrance test which have proved effective giving fair access to the education we provide has been recognised as worthy of a significant investment by DfE.
The long-awaited campus development plans are finally coming to fruition with the new teaching block and sports hall which will transform our facilities and bring sport, science, art and the library into the 21st century.
Finally, I wish to thank parents who have unfailingly supported the School in our tripartite partnership. Your daughters are amazing, not only are they focused on achieving their best, but they are also supportive of each other and are acquiring the characteristics which will help them live happy and fulfilling lives. It has been a privilege to guide them and I have every confidence in the team to continue what we have started.”
Mr Stephen Lawlor was appointed Headteacher in September 2019, and is the first male Headteacher in the history of CCHS.