Wycombe High School Centre for the History of Girls' State Education
Listed by Rachel Kneale
Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Wycombe High School Centre for the History of Girl's State Education is the most complete archive for a girls' state school in the UK
Click here to visit The Archive
The collection contains a huge variety of types of record. These include books, administrative records, such as minutes, reports and correspondence, financial records, student records, records relating to the school curriculum, records relating to extra-curricular activities, photographs, audio-visual material, articles of clothing and other artefacts. If you would like to know more about the Archive, to visit it or to help, do contact Rachel Sutcliffe, Designated Governor for the Archive, via Mrs D. Morgan or Mrs J. Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Wycombe High School moved from Benjamin Road to its current site on Marlow Hill in 1956. The 'new school' was formally opened on 14 November 1956 by Princess Marina, the Duchess of Kent. The headmistress at the time was Miss Anne Downs. You can hear a 40 minute recording of the opening ceremony here. You may be intrigued to hear the view of the Duchess of Kent on the role of young women in society; a sentiment with which we certainly do not agree. We apologise for the poor sound quality. Click here to hear the recording (30MB).
Update From the Archive February 2013
From the Archive
A refugee from the Nazis at Wycombe High School 1941-1947
Since 27 January was Holocaust Memorial Day I was reminded of items in the Archive relating to refugees who came to Wycombe High School during World War 2. I was put in touch with Traute by one of her contemporaries at WHS. She felt originally that her experience was not particularly unusual, since there were other refugee girls at WHS in the 1940s, but I persuaded her that we would be delighted to have whatever she felt able to write in the Archive, as an important part of the history of WHS. Another Guild member who lives in Wycombe was also a refugee from Nazi Germany, but I have not been able to persuade her to write about her experiences, other than to say how grateful she was to be at WHS.
This is what Traute wrote:
With the words “So you are the new Welsh girl”, a stout, rather imposing lady, but of gentle manner and voice, welcomed me to WHS at the start of the 1941 autumn term, well aware – as I was to find out later – that Wales did not come into the picture at all. Obviously, the lady – as I was soon to learn – was no other than Miss Dessin, the Headmistress of the school, who just wanted me to feel at ease. She wished to give the impression that I was Welsh from my surname which, according to the identity card we all had to carry during the war, was Morgan. Yet that very same document, besides giving my first name as Truda, also added that Truda Morgan was an alternative to Traute Morgenstern.
The explanation for this is very simple - I was a Jewish refugee, born in Vienna in 1929. Thanks to the foresight and spirit of sacrifice of my parents and, even more so, thanks to the law passed by the British parliament immediately after the dramatic events of Kristallnacht in November 1938, my little brother Peter, aged 8, and I, nearly 10, were put on the first train leaving Vienna for England in early December 1938. This was one of the so-called KinderTransport, whereby 10,000 Jewish children were allowed to flee from the Nazis (mainly from Germany, Austria and Czechslovakia), providing certain conditions were met, the most important being that there would be guardians available to care and provide for us.
As luck would have it, the guardians for Peter and me were the families of the then famous catering concern J. Lyons and Co. I say “luck” not from a financial point of view, which must have been a factor, but because of the extraordinary, never-failing kindness, attention and generosity with which they cared not only for us but for some 20 Jewish refugee children for whom they provided a home in Kentish Town in London, appropriately called “The Haven”. Our names were anglicised and we were sent to schools according to our ages. For the second time we were evacuated with these schools after the outbreak of war, with labels round our necks and also gas masks and emergency kits. Peter followed his primary school whereas I, with Parliament Hill School (which still exists today) was assigned to a family in St Albans who either would not or could not care for me, whereupon, Peter and I were reunited on the Isle of Wight until the first bombs fell there. Then we were split up once more, but after a year in Cornwall, I was kindly taken in by a family in Marlow so as to be nearer to Peter who was then in High Wycombe. It was this new family who contacted Miss Dessin and, though my entrance exam must have been a complete disaster, she agreed to give me a place at Wycombe High school, purely on humanitarian grounds.
Miss Dessin, whom I hope I have not let down, is one of the many people to whom I shall remain grateful for all of my life. She was an exceptional figure for most of us. She knew us all by name and she would often stop us in the corridor to enquire about our well-being and progress. She set very high standards and the school enjoyed an exceptionally good reputation, which I believe is still true today. The daily routine ran very smoothly, despite what must have been many additional problems owing to the war – sharing premises with Ealing High School which had been evacuated from London and consequently having to organise lessons in the school (then at Benjamin Road) and in the Baptist Church Hall.
Certainly for me, there was a special atmosphere, taking into account attitudes of those times. Firstly there was no religious discrimination and at a later date we very few Jewish girls were allowed to hold our own services in a separate classroom. However, I, not practising, soon returned to the assemblies in Main Hall. Secondly, the short piano recital by one of our Music teachers offered a very enjoyable and relaxing start to our day. Thirdly, what might appear to be unimportant, proved to be of considerable value to me –at the start, when we brought sandwiches, my family was asked not to make them too lavish, to avoid embarrassment to others!
And so, still a very quiet, shy (though that changed within the next few years) twelve and a half year old who had only attended primary schools until then, I was put into the 2nd form (Year 8 now). As was the strict principle of those times, I had to catch up with what I had missed from the first year ie Physics, Chemistry and French, not to mention English, and I had to do so on my own. I was put into the “A” stream which, though not perhaps a democratic system, was a blessing as well as a challenge for me, as I was with a particularly lively, bright group of more than 30 girls from very different backgrounds including some evacuees. I am still in touch with many of these, even after more than 60 years, whether having left WHS at the end of the 5th form (Year 11) in 1945 or the 6th form in 1947.
Some are, unfortunately, no longer with us, the most recent loss being that of Elizabeth (Betty, to us Straffy) Barrett. She was quite an outstanding public figure in High Wycombe and a former mayor. At her bedside, during the time of her last illness when I visited her, I met many other “girls” (now elderly ladies) from our form – proof that we still hold together after so many years. This strong bond can perhaps be explained partly by English team spirit, partly by war memories and partly by growing up and studying together and I think, by a certain atmosphere fostered at WHS, thanks also, to dedication to one’s House (Beck, Gray, Hampden, Milton, Penn) with much encouraged but friendly competition between them.
However, compared with today, it may sound surprising that, with the exception of two families only, none of my classmates or their families ever invited me home. No doubt all had their own serious problems because of the war, transport was difficult, but neither they nor even the staff were aware of my great need for affection. However, good or kind my guardians were, they were living in London and I saw them on special occasions only. However considerate the family in Marlow was, no-one ever put their arms around me in all my nine and a half years in England, not even during my two 6th form years living with the family of an old WHS girl. I kept in touch with her right until the end and also with her sister, Barbara Taylor, another old girl, who passed away only a short while ago and is, I am sure, remembered still by many. No need to sympathize and no need for psychological investigations – life later on made up for that most generously!
It was not only the effect of wartime. In those days, generally speaking, no allowances were made for particular, even if justified psychological problems or needs or any out of the ordinary demands. I recall months of a knee cartilage problem. It was no joke walking up and down the hill (Priory Road) to and from WHS or waiting for a bus, though the “get-on-with-it” spirit proved to be a blessing later on, because it prepared us for worse blows that then had to be faced and overcome.
Being the only (apparently promising) Maths student in the 6th form, I was granted three teachers all to myself. I fear I did not repay this extraordinary privilege when I re-joined my parents in Milan after the war. They had managed to survive in Italy but by then they had become complete strangers with whom it was difficult to communicate since I had completely forgotten German. After attending the first year of Maths at Milan University (which luckily did not demand much Italian), I was invited by my father, who had shown such foresight and generosity to part with me in 1938, to change subjects on the grounds that as a Maths graduate I would never find a husband! That was the outlook then and one simply obeyed. The influence of the suffragettes had not reached that far. Thus I switched to languages and literature, learning German and Italian. I must admit that the cultural level of my fellow students was of a much higher standard: all had studied Latin for eight years; many three years of Greek and three years of philosophy. History certainly did not start in 1066. Although miles behind in those subjects, I was at a great advantage with regard to civic matters - my “civic formation” - and current affairs. At WHS we had our Parliament (involving staff and students); we had been taught to read a newspaper; we had been sent to hear Anthony Eden speak at the Albert Hall, London. I had been made a Prefect and Head of House, which meant taking on responsibilities and learning to deal with others. The qualities acquired in these roles are essential as basic background for life in general. Culture can be learned at a later stage while behaviour is developed right from the start.
I am truly grateful for the preparation and outlook WHS gave me then. With inevitable changes and progress, perhaps improvements can and have been made. However, in addition to what many others have offered me in various fields, I consider myself very privileged to have reaped so much in my six years at WHS, becoming a well-integrated evacuated refugee. Fortunately, I also feel well-integrated here in Milan where I have spent many happy years of quite different experiences.
Rachel Sutcliffe, Designated Governor for the Archive
Update from the Archive December 2012
During the digitisation of the school log books ready for the Family and Community Historical Research Society’s school log book project, Jill Boyd drew my attention to the following inspection report of Music at WHS. The final sentence is still applicable today - we need to do all we can to support the Play Your Part campaign so that Music can continue to be “a very real joy in the life of the school and the girls”
“Report of Music Inspection
Jan: 5 1928
Board of Education
2. Chepping Wycombe – Wycombe High School
Reg: No: 5.2176 P/7
School Inspected November 26 1927
It is rare to find Music in such a satisfactory state, the only exception to the general excellence being the poor violin playing.
An admirable teacher takes the musicianship classes in which everything necessary to the musical salvation of the ordinary school girl is taught and assimilated to a remarkable degree. Classes such as these could be watched with pleasure for hours.
A well-known choir Master comes from London for the Singing, though the above mentioned Mistress teaches the small girls. Here again the work was excellent. The tone was beautiful and full of vitality. No matter what the character of the Music might be, the performance was entirely satisfying.
The violin pupils did not give a very good account of themselves: they played in a listless and uninterested manner. The piano teaching, on the other hand, appeared to be alive. It is impossible not to feel that Music is a very real joy in the life of the school and of the girls.”
Update from the Archive October 2012
The Archive volunteers have been continuing this term to sort and catalogue items from school and those donated by members of the public. Among the latter we have been fascinated by the exercise books given to the Archive by the son of Mary Gertrude Morris née Turner (1905-1989) who attended WHS from 1918 -1923. Her exercise books
include her English, History, French and Scripture (Religious Studies) notes and essays written mostly during her last year at WHS. These have now been catalogued and archived, among them the following essay (not edited) dated 9 December 1922 entitled:
The object of education is to form tastes rather than impart knowledge.
If Education fails to form taste for the beautiful it is of no true value. A man may be never so well acquainted with facts
scientific, historical and mathematical but he is in no wise educated, in the highest sense of the word, unless he is able to
discriminate between what is worthy and what is unworthy; there are certain things Education ought to teach one to hate, and certain others, to love.
The teacher who bases his teaching solely upon facts is sure to fail in this great object; the true teacher brings to his pupils something more than strings of events and dates and figures; he brings his own experience, his own discoveries, his own
ideas, his own love of his subject; he creates an atmosphere of interest, and in interest is the key to love and hate. To quote from Pope,
“Men must be taught as if you taught them not,
And things unknown proposed as if forgot.”
The first step in the formation of taste is the kindling of the spark of love; once a child has learned to love that which is good and beautiful, a certain spirit of criticism will take hold of him, and he will begin to reject that which is base and impure. This applies to all things – dress, thought, action, history, science, art, literature and music. Much depends on the atmosphere of the child’s upbringing; if the people, he is taught to admire, are not worthy of his admiration, then he will gain nothing from their instruction or society; if, on the other hand, they are possessed of sympathy and understanding, he will be attracted towards them and will profit by their example.
It is of no consequence whether a man know the clauses of the Clarendon Code or the height of the Alps or the dates of Raphael; nobody cares whether a woman dresses in blue or red; it matters not whether one is a follower of Peter or of Apollo; what does matter is whether we are possessed of a love of beauty or no; whether we dress in gentle colours, or in gaudy yellows and greens and reds all mixed together; and whether we are seeking after the right in thought.
It is useless to try to attract the child with something he cannot understand; give him Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’; he may like the sound of it, but it will be meaningless to him; but give him this:
“She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro’ the room,
She saw the waterlily born,
She saw the helmet and the plume
She looked down to Camelot.
Out flew the web, and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
‘The curse is come from me!’ cried
The Lady of Shalott.”
or give him Macaulay’s ‘Horatius’; he will like the sound of these and understand them at the same time; and he will desire to read more like them; and soon he will read Milton; and then he will prefer Conrad to Zane Grey. What more knowledge does he need than the ability to choose the better and to reject the worse? And he can only obtain this ability by having the best and the most suitable given to nhim in his youth; this is the duty of education, and its real object.
For many, education must mean the learning and remembering of many facts; they must pass their examinations; they must have knowledge to enable them to teach others; but mingled with their knowledge must be that great essential – perfect taste. It is harder to impart than knowledge, but it is of greater value; for there are many situations in life where knowledge of facts and figures is useless, and where the decision of taste is indispensable. All crime and evil emanates from ignorance; but it is not ignorance of the causes of the revolution of 1789, or of the aims of Wordsworth, or the literary importance of Burke; it is ignorance of right and wrong, of discrimination, of consideration – namely of taste. Education can have no higher object than the cultivation of this virtue – for it is, if it is so – preventive of evil.
To him, who thus receives the highest and best education is capable of giving, are opened magic casements, disclosing all the wonders and mysteries of the earth and skies, things old, yet ever new; he may be as knowing nothing, yet knowing all things.
Update from the Archive July 2012
As London 2012 approaches we thought we would investigate Wycombe High School connections, in addition to our torch-bearer, with the Olympics and Paralymics, past and present. The earliest we could find in the Archive was Miss Sheila Burnett’s account, below, of competing in the Montreal Olympics in 1976, when she was a member of the WHS staff. This was published in the 1976-1977 school magazine. Tony Merrick, former Deputy Head, remembers seeing her demonstrating rolling her canoe in the WHS swimming pool.
MONTRÉAL OLYMPICS 1976
I started canoeing about eight years ago and quickly became interested in long distance racing - the equivalent of cross country running. By 1973 I had reached the top in that field; I won the National Championships and represented Great Britain at several international events. I t was not until1974 that I tried sprint canoeing and realised that I might have a chance of being in the British Olympic Team at Montreal.
In sprint canoeing (the only type of canoeing normally held at the Olympics) women race over a 500m course and the event lasts a little over two minutes. I had become accustomed to marathon events of up to twenty miles which often lasted two hours or more.
The chance of competing at the Olympics could not be ignored, though, at that time, failure seemed more likely than success. I committed myself to two years of hard training. In the winter I concentrated on gym work and running, and in the summer I trained exclusively on the water. I had to getup at 6.00 am to fit in a session before work, and once I got home from training in the evenings there was little time to spare to do essential work before going to bed at about 9.30 pm. There can be no doubt that such training demands considerable dedication, but I found it most exhilarating -there is great satisfaction in hard work which is well rewarded.
By the end of the 1975 season, I had established myself as the top woman racing paddler in Britain. It then seemed much more likely that I would attain my goal, but, during the following twelve months, I had to strive for a higher level of attainment, as well as prepare myself for the possibility of disappointment. I felt a great sense of relief when I heard I had been selected.
Only three weeks later we were on our way to Montreal. As the canoeing did not take place until the last few days we spent the first week training at Ottawa, 120miles away, where we were insulated from some of the stresses in the Olympic village. However, we did travel to Montreal for the day of the Opening Ceremony. This was a very grand occasion marred only by the fact that we had to stand for five hours in new and rather uncomfortable shoes. I shall not forget the welcoming roar of the crowd as we marched into the stadium. In my sport I am used to competing out in the open, and I found the enclosed stadium rather claustrophobic. Only later did I realise just how large the arena was - the teams marched in six abreast for more than an hour and yet it was by no means filled.
After completing the training period at Ottawa we moved into the Olympic village itself. Though traditionally called a village, its population was that of a sizeable town- about 30,000 when included are athletes, officials, and staff. Though the security arrangements were very strict, we had complete freedom of movement providing we remembered to carry our identity cards at all times. All the facilities we needed were included within the village: shops, cinema, swimming pool, and even a small hospital! In the cafeteria a wide range of food was available at any time of day or night.
We spent two leisurely days at the canoeing course during which we prepared the boats and had them inspected to verify that they conformed to various requirements; but then the excitement of our own four days' competition took over. For my own part, I achieved all that could have been expected of me, but no more. I was eliminated in the semi-finals, and as I was the fastest paddler not to go through to the finals, I regard myself as being tenth. Great Britain qualified for the final in two of the canoeing events so we had a personal interest in the races right through to the end.
No sooner had our competition finished when the Games themselves were over. The athletes who gathered for the Closing Ceremony did not seem like the same people who had paraded in the stadium two weeks earlier. Ten thousand athletes had come from all over the world, yet each had been so wrapped up in his own hopes and fears that few lasting friendships were formed. When the competitions were over the tensions were gone but there was a dreadful anti-climax. The event for which we had all been preparing for years had passed. We had given no thought to the future and suddenly we were facing that future. We said goodbye to Montreal and were told to set our sights on the next Olympic Games in Moscow. For those of us who knew we would not be there in1980 it was a sad moment, and, for the others, it was a time of rededication to their sport. For us all there was a sense of gratitude for the experience we had shared in Montreal.
P.S. We wish to congratulate Miss Burnett on her success in Montreal - but would ask her to spare a thought for those of us who sat up until 2.00 am to catch a glimpse of her on television!
Then there is our paralympian: Clare Strange
Clare was a pupil at WHS from 1992 to 1998. In September 1997,at the age of 18, she broke her back in a freak horse-riding accident. After her accident she returned to school to take her A levels.
While in hospital she started playing wheelchair basketball and it soon became obvious that this would become her new sporting focus. In March of 1998 she started training with Milton Keynes Aces; in May she was invited to a women's wheelchair basketball development day and was then asked to train with the Great Britain women's squad.
In September 2004, Clare moved to Italy to play professionally in the Italian League for one of Europe’s toughest clubs, Sardinian Club, Sassari. She now plays for Team Mandeville and is classified as a 1.5 athlete.
London 2012 will be Clare’s fourth Paralympic Games, making her one of the more experienced players on the women’s Wheelchair Basketball team.
In addition to her Paralympic experience, Clare has also won five European Bronze medals. Her personal career highlights include winning the 2011 BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester and securing a 6th place finish at the 2010 World Wheelchair Basketball Championships in Birmingham. In addition to her sporting achievements, Clare was awarded a Bachelors Degree in Sport and Exercise Science from Loughborough University in 2003.
"People in my position have to get on with their lives. I have always been interested in sport and basketball is what I decided to concentrate on."
Next, we have our long jumper: Lorna Lee-Price
Lorna Lee-Price was a student at WHS from 1944-1947. What follows is an extract from an Evening Standard 2 July 2012 article.
“1948 was the first year that the women’s long-jump competition took place. Back then, running wasn’t seen as feminine – women weren’t even allowed to run in the 400 metres. I’d never done a long jump until I was 16. The gym mistress at Wycombe High School asked me to have a go so I ran up, took a jump and cleared the pit completely. The next year I was chosen to compete at the Olympic Games. When I opened the letter telling me, I froze. I couldn’t believe it, it was such a great honour. I was the baby of the athletics team: it was just a fortnight after my 17th birthday when the Olympic Games took place.”
Finally, we have our volunteer: Claire Davis
Claire Davis, a student at WHS from 1990-1996 and a graduate in Hispanic Studies is working as a Games Maker for London 2012 acting as personal assistant, driver and interpreter to the Mexican Olympic team. You can read more about her in the Ex-Student Profile in this edition of High Flyer