RUTH MARY WORDSWORTH, School House (1892-1896)

Two gables, staring red, one round tree, like a toy at the end of the drive, three rather bald grass courts, an asphalt path round them, one asphalt court (chiefly used for getting out of sight of Miss Lucy when you ought to be taking exercise on the path in shawls); surrounding the whole a series of uninteresting looking earthy spaces in which small trees and shrubs and flowering plants were trying to get acclimatised.

Four classrooms, two on each side of the hall, with no gallery, or pictures, or stained glass; but when indoors you might not be there or anywhere except in the big “dining­ room” out of school hours, till bed-time; except when you changed for high tea. In the hall, under the clock, an unwieldy Fourth Form that hadn’t found itself. What a nuisance it was, turning all their desks out into the passage by the music-rooms on drill and dancing day! How long an afternoon was when, after “prep,” you went for a crocodile walk on the London Road! How you counted the minutes for the bell to ring when you were out for recreation before school! And how you dreaded mark-reading every Tuesday morning, when the Head, with a set face, dealt with a string of delinquencies, ending in: “Come to my room at eleven”!

Yes, but the gables were good gables, the red was a good red, and those flowering plants came from a famous double border in the garden of the North Canonry. (Who remem­bers Canon Swayne’s garden on King George’s wedding day 2) The hall was, in essentials, the one we are so proud of; every enlargement followed on. Neither the Governors nor the Head Mistress, nor Mr. Harding (the architect), were building for a day.

And in the Fourth Form mistress’ chair, do you see that slip of a girl (lately taken for a new girl, low be it spoken!) that is Miss Jones! That Fourth Form were not interested in psychology, but an onlooker might have been, to watch her urging, wheedling, scolding, leading them into becoming a self-respecting form with a corporate tendency to dislike being disgraced on Tuesdays, and a sneaking interest in those glorious history lessons she gave you, with eyes shining as she lived again through “spacious days.” And sometimes in a crocodile it might be your luck to be one on each side of Miss Edwards, and then you walked, not on the London Road, but in Florence or Rome, or laughed with indiscriminating glee at the wit that has since made her house in South Africa a gathering place for the discerning. Did she ever go into her classroom without something beautiful or amusing or interesting to show us? “Recrea­tion” might be dull, but sometimes it was really no good pretending to be bored in school! What an inspiring staff it was ! and how good they were to us, each in her special way, in school and out! It is difficult to keep from writing about each one, it is fascinating to mark in the present school contributions clearly left by one and another, besides the indivisible sum of good things we owe to them as a body.

I think the goodness in the details you can see everywhere in the original building, as well as in the later work, is an inheritance from foundations well and truly laid long ago by Mrs. Godolphin and by many a quiet head mistress as she gallantly brought up her little band of “young gentle­women,” under the extraordinarily difficult conditions of girl school life before the modern era. It was probably often a “sowing in tears.” Even in the transition years (though the twinkle in Miss Lucy’s eye makes me hastily change the metaphor) looking back, I can guess some of the demands that were made on the faith and hope of Governors and staff. What stupid things we talked about! How silly we were over the mistresses! How little esprit dc corps we had! How untidy our jumble of stuff dresses and flow­ing locks under hats of every shape and hue looked! Well, dear younger sisters, with your neat shingles and House colours, what would you be like, if you had no “games”? Just think it out, and give three cheers for the girls and mistresses who went before.

A story! “Now it befell that at the time when the schools of these times began to be, there dwelt in the city of New Sarum a venerable old man who loved great moun­tains and the little flowers at their feet, wherefore methinks he was an old man that saw visions. And among his friends there was one who was very young, and whose eyes were passing large and blue and far-seeing, and she dwelt in a home with many brothers and sisters and with parents and kinsfolk that were to her great riches both then and there­after. So she went not as a child, to any school, yet when she was grown she went to a place of useful learning, and thereafter to aid a wise governess of fair repute in Worcester city. Her then was this old man minded to bring, for all her youth, to train the maidens in the school of New Sarum, whereof he was a Governor.”

The Governors! What don’t we owe them? For it wasn’t only Canon Swayne who appointed Miss Douglas at that transition time, and a building is not built without vision, devotion, kindness, and sacrifice of leisure. Most of our Governors hold their post year after year, giving ungrudgingly of their time and care, often to extreme old age. When did Lord Nelson excuse himself from attend­ance – his figure looking so frail till a turn of the head showed his face full of animation and laughter? And you people who pass brilliant examinations we never heard of, can’t sit in the King’s House worrying over Oxford Local sums, and then find them somehow getting easier because Henry Fawcett’s gentle old sister was charging the air with a gracious friendliness, more refreshing even than the pyramid of biscuits she set beside your paper!

Who will forget their first Commem.? Mine was the first of all-the anniversary of the day the new school was opened. Then, as often since, it turned a homesick stranger into a member of a school worth working for. Just a few tables with white cloths and red leaves, sur­rounded by about a hundred girls in white, and a young head mistress standing up, not to-day obliged to scold, but joyfully making you see that rather shapeless lump as a unity, with a past and a future-did she say the things that day or only look them and Miss Jones say them? I can’t remember a word, only it was good ever after to be a member of Godolphin. Plenty of room to dance – ­think of it! – and to watch with awe the Old Girls, not more than twenty of them probably, talking to the Fifth Form like ordinary mortals! Before the evening was over my cup was full. Two kind tall Fifth Form girls had danced with the likes of me ! One was Daisy Fussell, the other a still greater heroine that evening, who had just thrilled us by making the first girl’s speech at Commem., and she was indeed one of the chief builders of modern Godolphin. It was the head girl-Violet Wyld!

Of the unit (X+Y) least said soonest mended. If you have often been reluctantly caused by X to make the acquaintance of a better self when you wanted to stay down in the comfort of the usual one ; or, if you were sent out after prayers by Y to do your hair again after you were in the Sixth (you always thought the tighter you did it the better, ignoring the law of reaction) – well, you might say things you’d be sorry for! Up the steep gradient of severe discipline that it was necessary for the school to pass before it could be trusted with a measure of freedom unusual even in modern schools, and at the time involving an amazingly courageous experiment, Y was very necessary to X, and to the staff and to the girls. I could put in quite a lot of adjectives to prove this statement, but those who know Miss Lucy would resent the liberty, and those who don’t, couldn’t learn from adjectives why she is an essential factor in the making of modern Godolphin!

The Governors believed in Miss Douglas, and Miss Douglas believed in the school, the staff, and the girls, and she never sacrificed one individual to another. She knew us all intimately down to each foible, and didn’t take us very seriously as we were, but very seriously as we were to become. That is why, perhaps, the most characteristic thing in the school is Commem., and the Monday morning after it. She gave free play to the individuality of a vigorous staff, so that it has sometimes come to me as a surprise when some of the most independent of its members have said in later years when they were working away at very responsible jobs of their own: “In an emergency I always ask myself what Miss Douglas would do in this case?”

It is a joy to the Old Girls to know that as the school goes on developing, with plenty of wholesome modifications and changes, its very differences are signs of true continuity. The devotion of the present Head to the Godolphin tradition (embodied for her and for us in Miss Douglas) is abundantly realised by all who know how the former and the present Heads worked together years ago, and how they are still united in caring for all that concerns the best interest of Godolphin.

And if anyone asks what is the music which Miss Douglas hopes will always accompany the progress of the school, I think she set it down for us in remarkably simple and familiar words in the “Prayer for the School and these who have left it,” on page 55 of the 1924 Edition of the School Prayer Book.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s