The Nineteen Fifties

With the growing affluence of the nineteen-fifties a new era was beginning. The old boarding houses were an increasing problem, with their inconvenient kitchens, and general amenities were inadequate at a time when private homes were providing a very different standard. Hot water had still to be carried to washbasins in the dormitories, and kitchens were devoid of labour­saving equipment. The girls’ sitting-rooms were getting congested, for numbers were increasing: the lack of resident maids had freed space for more dormitories in each house, so in spite of the closing of Nelson the number of boarders had increased over the years. The first building operation which the governors tackled was the conversion of Nelson House basement, which was a warren of nineteenth century kitchen quarters. The whole basement was gutted, and an entirely new modern kitchen was created adjacent to a large dining­room for all the Sarums. This treed the old Sarum dining-room in the Main Building, and the library was moved into it, providing more shelf space with bays. The former library became a Sixth form room with a prefects’ room at the adjoining end, in what had at one time been called the Museum. This did not greatly help the boarding houses, but it gave a greater sense of space in the Main Building, especially for the older girls. To cope with the changing times a full-time domestic bursar was appointed and experiments were made towards more central buying of food and cleaning materials, but this was not easy: the houses were too scattered, and there was insufficient storage space in them.

Another change a little later was the Chapel. The small Prayer Room at the top of the North Staircase – regularly used for intercessions – was felt to be inadequate. With the sense of having a little more space, a Chapel was furnished at the top of the South staircase in what had until then been the Sarum House Room. This was moved to the corresponding room below, so that the Chapel could have the quieter one above. Its furnishings and equipment were almost entirely gifts, and the hassocks were embroidered by members of School staff. It was finally ready, and blessed by Bishop Moberly, who was then Dean of Salisbury and Chairman of the Governors.

The Governors had by now begun to consider ways and means by which the boarding houses could be enlarged and improved, and from their discussions arose the project for an entirely new House. There was a suggestion that the site of the old Douglas House and gardens might be used, with its lovely view over Milford Hill and the City, but it was too difficult for access, and finally it was agree that the kitchen garden behind School House was the obvious choice. It could be linked to School House by a shared kitchen, and in addition there was space for Sarum and Staff dining­rooms, catering altogether for 250 at the midday meal. This project would entail the selling of Fawcett and St. Margaret’s, and the amalgamation of these two houses in the new one. It was fortunate that these two houses were the most suitable for sale. Each had basement kitchens, making them the least easy to run, and they were moreover furthest from the main school. If in addition to this plan a new kitchen and two dining-rooms could be built between Hamilton and Methuen, with connecting covered passages, seven kitchens could be reduced to two in one fell swoop. These thoughts remained visionary for some time, pending a solution to the financial problem. This was now the main issue, and it led to the launching of the Appeal in 1957. In those days professional fund raisers were few and far between, and we took it for granted that the work must be done by ourselves. It was a tremendous undertaking, with so much at stake, but thanks to the O.G.A., the Staff and School, the organisation came into being, with an Appeal Committee of which Dolly Wilson and Miss Newsam were the secretaries. A small room in the School was set apart for their office. After a lot of hard work the money began to come in, hopes were realised, and by the following year the Governors could plan with a new assurance of achievement. The new Douglas was talked of with growing interest, and in October 1961 the foundation stone was laid by Sir Desmond Lee at the Salisbury Commem.

Another change at this time was the Governor’s decision to close Rose Villa, which took about thirty children -­all daygirls – in the 8-11 group. This was a sad break with the old order, but the economics of so small a unit made it inevitable. The population of Salisbury was increasing, and it was impossible to admit all those who wanted to come. Rose Villa was not an ideal building, and it was incapable of much improvement for school purposes. The children were gradually phased out as they passed into the Senior School. This left a gap in Salisbury, and in 1958 Miss Wenham left School House after thirteen years there, and founded the Red House, a preparatory school for children up to 12 or 13 years of age. Again we were very sorry to say good-bye, but under her direction a flourishing school grew up quickly, central to the City, and meeting a real need.

Earlier in the fifties the School suffered a great shock in the sudden death of Freda Holden. She had been Senior modern language mistress for about twenty years and was an outstanding teacher. Her vitality and absorption in her work and all sides of School Life (she had played tennis for Cambridge in her undergraduate days) made it hard at the time to realise that she had gone. A memorial fund was established – an immediate and spontaneous gesture – and the first Freda Holden prizes were awarded in 1952.

In 1953 Dolly Wilson announced her retirement. She had returned to School after her war service (she was always modest about her M.B.E.) first as Headmistress’s secretary and then soon afterwards as secretary to the Governors, taking over a good deal of the administrative work. The National Health Act and new insurance scheme came into effect in July 1948, involving a considerable amount of work. But it seems unrealistic to say that Dolly left. It is true that she was not to be seen every morning running upstairs to the gallery for Prayers, but her devotion to the School and readiness to serve it in any way she could made her still a familiar figure, especially during the organisation of the Appeal.

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