As early as the seventeenth century it had been declared that there should be ‘one free Grammar School of King Charles at Bradford for the teaching, instructing, and better bringing up of children and youth in Grammar and other good learning and literature. Despite the fine intentions of that noble statement however, there were still no secondary schools for girls in the city of Bradford by the mid 19th century.
The passing of the 1869 Endowed Schools Act opened the way to establish just such a school and it was down to the generous efforts of a dedicated group of citizens, including W. E. Forster, the MP for Bradford, Mrs Byles and the Ladies’ Educational Association, that the sum of £5000 was raised.
Consequently on September 29th 1875 the Girls’ Grammar School, Bradford was formally opened by Lady Frederick Cavendish in the already cramped Hallfield Road School, a soot-blackened, converted building, attached to Busby’s.
Bradford Girls’ Grammar School’s first students were mainly the daughters of professional men and the merchant families of the Manningham area who paid the sum of 4 guineas a term; twelve guineas per annum; no extras… Through the generosity of Sir Titus Salt and Mr Henry Brown, scholarships were made available for girls from less well off families to aspire to the newly opening colleges in Oxford, Cambridge and London.
The school was, from the beginning, innovative and successful in its curriculum. The founding headmistress, Miss Porter, wanted pupils to be able to think for themselves and not to be crammed with a mere smattering of knowledge, although she did not go as far as the local newspaper who envisaged the school training up girls fit to be intelligent companions for intelligent men.
The school was one of the first in the country to include Physical Education in the curriculum.
The Bradford Girl’s Grammar School Chronicles of those early years provide not only a rich record of life at BGGS but also a history of girls’ education in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The many battles against prejudice to bring about change are certainly there but so are the gentle reminders that some things never do change-and that we should avoid the trap of thinking back to a golden age of well behaved pupils and strict teachers!
The founding headmistress, Miss Porter, wanted pupils to be able to think for themselves and not to be crammed with a mere smattering of knowledge
These extracts are from the 1890s.
In those days we began each morning with four order marks and lost one every time we broke a rule. Of course if we lost four during the first lesson, we felt we could behave as we liked for the remainder of the day.
Then there were the terrible Tuesday afternoons with Lower English Grammar followed by Macaulay’s essay on the younger Pitt…Janet Allen waving a defiant plait and May Wheat fixing me with an uncompromising eye saying ‘That is not how Miss Clement did it.”
In the Jubilee Celebrations of 1925, the school had much to be proud of and many tributes to pay to the headmistresses, staff, governors and old girls, who had, in the face of much prejudice, shown what girls’ education could achieve. In particular the debt was acknowledged for the inspirational leadership of its three headmistresses: Miss Porter, second to none as both teacher and organiser; Miss Stocker, awe inspiring and original in thought; and Miss Roberts, headmistress from 1894 to 1927 who inspired deep love and reverence, amongst staff and pupils alike.
Tribute was also paid to two of the original Board of Governors, Lady Byles and Mrs Titus Salt as well as to Mr Duncan Law, the first chair of Governors, whose daughter Margaret Law was present during the celebrations and who worked tirelessly for the school.
For the pupils themselves, a new world was opening up. Letters from Old Girls studying at the women’s colleges of Oxford, Cambridge and London, provide an inspiring insight into the career opportunities for women in the first part of the twentieth century as well as to some of the doors that remained firmly closed:
All the triposes or honour examinations of the university are open to us, with the exception, I believe, of the medical examinations.
Bradford Girls’ Grammar School alumni were also venturing out into the world, travelling widely in America, South Africa, Europe and Japan. They went as teachers, sometimes as missionaries, and were always prepared to write back to the school with their experiences to inspire others.
Despite these pioneers however in 1916 Miss Roberts was to make a special plea to parents to encourage their daughters to look beyond the home as a career.
The School Honours Board pays tribute to the generations of girls who pioneered careers for women before the First World War, entering the medical professions, becoming lawyers, headmistresses of other girls’ schools and university lecturers.
Prominent in those early years was one girl who fought in the school mock election of 1929 as a Labour candidate, winning just 29 votes! In the spirit of the school, the rebel Barbara Betts was made Head Girl and went on to St Hugh’s College, Oxford and eventually become the prominent Labour politician Barbara Castle.
On a memorable visit to the school in the late 1990’s she was still able to inspire sixth form students with her fiery enthusiasm, and informative talk.
In her memory the Old Girls have donated a statuette, aptly called the Red Queen, to be awarded annually to a girl who displays particular independence of spirit and mind.
The effects of the two world wars were certainly felt by the school, the First World War being a turning point for women. For the first time they became part of a mobilized force and many Old Girls served as doctors and nurses at home and on the front lines in France, Egypt and Palestine. School life continued as normally as possible with the addition of knitting socks for servicemen, making sandbags, collecting moss for dressings, and sending parcels to prisoners of war. The school also took in and supported Belgian refugees.
It was obvious almost from the very beginning that the buildings could not match the school’s growing success.
In 1925 Margaret Law had said;
We all love the old school building but it really will not do. Sometimes if we did not laugh we would have to cry when we think of how the school’s activities are curtailed by lack of suitable premises.
After an appeal was launched in 1927 by the new headmistress, Miss Hooke, to raise money in 1929 the Preparatory Department moved into the newly purchased estate of Lady Royd, and plans were drawn up for a purpose built school in its 17 acre grounds. It was 1936 before the new building could be opened by the Princess Royal. Instead of the ‘dark and gloomy classrooms’ of the old building, pupils now had airy and spacious rooms and corridors, a library with Thompson ’mouse furniture’ tables and chairs, a gymnasium, a hall, art rooms, science laboratories and so much space.
In the Second World War part of the school was evacuated to Settle until 1940 and as, in 1914-18 pupils and staff were actively involved in charity work, whilst many Old Girls were serving in the armed forces. The junior school, housed in the Lady Royd Estate since 1929, became a rest centre for evacuated women and children from the south.
In the years leading up to the centenary celebrations in 1975 the school went from strength to strength under the leadership of Miss Hooke, (1927 – 1955) to whom ‘we look with pride and affection’, and Miss Black, (1955 – 1975) who was known as ‘fierce but approachable when you got to know her,’. In her introduction to the Centenary Chronicle, Miss Black wrote:
The first century of the school has coincided with the movement to establish first the rights of women to be educated as men, and then their right to equal opportunities to use their education in work. Women from this school have always been at the forefront of this struggle. We have no need to apologise for the values and educational standards we maintain. Sometimes we must lean against the wind.
In the years following the centenary, under the leadership of Miss Gleave (1975-1986), Mrs Warrington (1986 – April 2009 and currently Mrs Matthews, the school has continued to maintain the principles of the founders and to build upon the high educational standards achieved, providing breadth and excellence in its academic curriculum, and offering a wealth of extra-curricular activities in sport, drama, art, music and engineering.
The decision by many of the boys’ schools to take in girls has perhaps been one of the greatest challenges of recent times, but the school has remained convinced of the benefits of single sex education for girls, and the high position it has maintained in the school league tables has more than justified that belief it has also remained true to the ethos observed by Miss Black in 1975:
What emerges is that the changes in the outward fashions of living do not conceal the continuity of the spirit of the school, its independence, social concern, intellectual vigour, and capacity to adapt.
“My experience of Girls’ Schools is not wide, but Bradford’s easily bears the palm and if I compare it with the Boys’ Schools in the subjects done in common-Elementary Mathematics, Geography, History and English Literature-Bradford girls more than hold their own......The intelligence and sharpness of the girls seemed to me to be decidedly above the average. ”
Schools Examination Board. 1887