The founding of the school

King Edward VI Handsworth School opened on the 14 th September 1911 with 450 girls. It was formed by the merger of three schools: Aston (about 250 girls), Summer Hill (80) and Bath Row (50). The Headmistress was Miss Nimmo, who was in post from 1883, when the girls’ school at Aston opened, until she retired in 1915.

The school at Aston

The girls’ and boys’ schools at Aston were separated by a wall twelve feet (about 4m) high and boys and girls were not allowed to mix socially. Girls were not permitted to eat in the street and had to wear gloves on the journey to and from school. Many of the teachers taught more than one subject and were not specialists as they are today. There was no science, only nature study, PE consisted of drill in the corridors and girls went to the High School, then on New Street, for cookery. Lunch cost 8d (equivalent to about 2p in 2005) but many girls went home to lunch, often walking long distances.

The new building at Handsworth

The school at Handsworth cost £50 000 to build, a lot of money at the beginning of the twentieth century. The architect was PB Chatwin. The building design was very modern with a number of specialist areas including the library and the playroom, a whole school common-room. The gymnasium was located in the room used for music in 2005. The Hall had wooden panelling at the bottom (now pale green) and was cream at the top (now blue) with none of the ornate plasterwork picked out. Despite central heating, the school was very cold until the 1950’s when a new system was installed and girls wore their coats and carried hot water bottles when they did examinations in the library.

THE HEADMISTRESSES

Miss Nimmo

Miss Nimmo was in her thirties when she became Headmistress at Aston in 1883 was in her sixties when she became Headmistress of the new school at Handsworth. Miss Nimmo was greatly respected by all and also loved.

She placed great emphasis on duty and discipline. She could be heard approaching because of the rattle of her watch and chain to which her keys were attached and because her long silk dresses rustled as she walked.

Miss Brew

Miss Brew, the second Headmistress, arrived in the middle of the First World War and retired in the middle of the Second. She was short and plump and rather old-fashioned in her dress style. She was awe-inspiring and was feared by the younger girls and many of the older ones.

She was very strict and dignified. Miscreants, kept waiting outside her door, were dealt with firmly and made to feel they were letting down the school. She put the sweet shop around the corner out of bounds. Girls were still not allowed to speak to boys.

She had a phenomenal memory for names and faces and could remember girls for years after they had left. Despite her severity, she was a tower of strength when girls had problems. She was very supportive in the Second World War when girls were evacuated.

She built up the Sixth Form and it was the first in the city to have an advanced course in Modern Studies recognised by the Board of Education so that girls could remain at the school to take their Higher School Certificate. The Jubilee Loan and Gift Fund was established under Miss Brew in 1933 to enable poor girls to remain in school. She may have terrorised the girls but they loved her and she symbolised the school.

Miss Bamforth

Miss Bamforth joined the school in 1942 and remained for twenty years. She had a degree from Oxford and had been Headmistress of Wisbech High School for the previous four and a half years.

She made a number of changes, in themselves small, but which changed life in the school: fawn lisle stockings instead of black ones; briefcases as an alternative to satchels; election of prefects by senior girls as well as staff; inauguration of a School Council; the appointment of House committees; parents’ evenings (At Homes); open days. Education became free for all in 1944. The Sixth Form grew.

The need for school meals led to the completion of the Dining Block in 1957 and the expansion of the school to over 800 girls necessitated the gymnasium and the science block, both opened in 1962 just before her retirement. Two national changes also impacted on Handsworth; married women were allowed to teach and equal pay was awarded to women teachers.

The Parents’ Peace Fund was set up in 1946 to commemorate peace at the end of the war. Managed to this day by a committee of parents, it originally assisted girls with the financial burden of going to university. Nowadays, its funds are used to help poorer families with school visit costs and uniform among other things. Peace in Europe brought the opportunity to travel and school exchanges with St Die in France and Soest and Gelsenkirchen in Germany took place.

Miss Bamforth also encouraged links between the Foundation schools; Sixth Form Conferences were inaugurated in 1943 and the Foundation Service in 1950.. Miss Bamforth is remembered for her strictness and dignity; she had an excellent memory for names. The collection of pictures along the main corridor was mainly assembled in her time.

Miss Fox

Miss Fox was Headmistress from 1963 to 1966, having taught French at Handsworth from 1946 to 1956. Her time saw major changes to uniform, broadening of the curriculum and expansion of the school day.

The buildings also changed: a new floor was laid in the hall and it was decorated; the former gym became a music room and a second domestic science room was equipped. She also forged stronger links with Aston. She married in December 1964 and became Mrs Barlow. She is remembered for her friendliness and justice.

Miss Reid

Miss Reid was in post from 1966 to 1971. Her time saw a rise in academic standards and a broadening of the curriculum including the addition of the General Studies course in the Sixth Form.

She founded the Parents’ Association, saw the conversion of an art stock cupboard to a prefects’ common room (the Brew Room) (now the Language lab) and encouraged a number of charity fund-raising efforts. She left to become Headmistress of Bromley High School GDST.

Miss Sargeant

Miss Sargeant provided a welcome period of stable headship again for she was in post from 1971 to 1989. The Centenary of the grammar schools was celebrated in her time and a Foundation lunch with Princess Anne in attendance was held at Handsworth.

The Centenary Building was erected during her time with subscriptions from past and former pupils and staff and funds from the Foundation. Playing fields were also created on site and the Island Road property sold for housing. She brought the school through the closure threats of 1975 and 1981. A very astute and kind lady, she is remembered with great affection by ‘her’ girls.

Miss Insch

Miss Insch came in 1989. Since then the school has grown to over nine hundred girls including a Sixth Form of around two hundred and fifty. Both the teaching and non-teaching staff numbers have grown too.

The school site has developed in this time by the addition of extra science laboratories, a Sixth Form Centre and, in 2004, a Sports Hall. In 2003 the Foundation purchased Villa Road Methodist Church which will be converted to a Music Centre in 2006.

A number of subject areas have been moved and facilities improved, notably in science, technology and ICT. A rigorous system of school inspections has seen the school gain three ‘outstanding’ OFSTED reports, one of a very few schools in the country and the first in Birmingham to do so. During the 1990s the school became Grant Maintained, which bought it some freedom from city control.

In 2003 the school became a specialist school for the Performing Arts; this has enabled it to retain its strong academic tradition while developing its curriculum in music, drama and dance and provide a range of extra-curricular areas. The school has also opened up to the local community, in particular through sport.

The school has staved off both local and national closure threats and Miss Insch was very actively involved in fighting these with many appearances on television and quotations in the press. The school has had a strong media profile. During her time in the school Miss Insch has been a committee member of the National Grammar Schools Association, President of the Association of Maintained Girls’ Schools, Vice President of the Royal Geographical Society and a member of the Council of Aston University. Miss Insch was awarded the OBE for Services to Education in 1998.

The staff in the early years – and some later

Staff in those early days seem to have been real characters.

Miss Jacot was a Swiss émigré who taught French who was regarded as terrifying by the younger girls. She knitted socks on five needles while she taught – what would OFSTED have made of that? In the First World War, she is reputed to have knitted a sock a day and to have taught her pupils how to knit. Every so often she would stop and pull out a large watch on a chain from inside her blouse to check the time.

Miss Bragge taught geography and is remembered for her sense of fun. She was reprimanded for playing tennis with the girls without wearing her hat. With Miss Harris she fought a mock duel with umbrellas on a trip to Kenilworth Castle!

Mr Halford taught singing and composed the music for a school song, ‘Cone, sing the song of Handsworth School’ which was sung until the 1940’s. He was always accompanied by a chaperone.

Miss Flood wore long dresses into the 1920’s when they had ceased to be fashionable, along with men’s boots. She was a fierce disciplinarian in her mathematics and Latin lessons and carried unpleasant-tasting menthol and eucalyptus lozenges to cure any coughs. She was keen on sport, ran a music society and played in the second orchestra and she is remembered for her kindness and sense of humour.

Miss Hadley taught English literature but is particularly remembered for teaching Scripture. Girls were expected to be able to recite verses from the Bible. She was not a good disciplinarian and handed out lots of order marks. One of the most colourful mistresses was

Miss Hazel. She was a suffragette and wore green, white and violet, the colours of the movement. One Monday morning she arrived late having been in gaol overnight; she departed rather suddenly.

One of the best-loved teachers was Miss Davis who is still remembered in the school’s Esther Davis Scholarships. An old girl of Handsworth, she took an MA from Birmingham university in 1911 and then, rather remarkably, went to Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, USA, to study Education and Psychology. She is remembered as ‘small and perky’, a great story-teller and a really generous person who gave her time and money to those in need in the school. Her lessons in Latin were great fun and she also wrote a number of amusing articles for The Beacon. The geography teacher, Miss Fitchew, was very well travelled and brought her subject to life. At the school from 1911 to 1946, she is remembered for making costumes for school plays and organising hop-picking camps in the war. The first school secretary, Miss Jenkins, was not appointed until 1910; this contrasts starkly with the present day Administration Department which has seven members.

Miss Thompson, who joined the school in 1917 and remained for twenty years, is vividly remembered. She taught PE and terrorised girls with bad deportment. She took a party of girls on a cruise a to Portugal and Gibraltar in 1932.

Miss Isaac taught at Handsworth from 1917 to 1950. Regarded a ‘rather stiff’ by some girls, she was loved by the senior mathematicians. She was greatly involved in school plays.

Miss Jeffrey had an Eton crop hairdo and, with Miss Brett, has the honour of longest service (1918-1958). She had a first class science degree. Tall, dark and slim, she was a devout Christian who organised the League of Nations in school.

Miss Wright (1918-1949) taught English and had a keen interest in drama and produced many school plays including a very memorable Romeo and Juliet in 1922.

Miss Goodrich shared a flat with Miss Wright. She joined the school in 1934 and taught History for fifteen year. Her major contribution is the founding of Parliament but she also organised play reading and religious discussion groups. When she left in 1949, she became a lecturer at the Department of Education at Oxford University.

Miss Humphrey-Williams (nicknamed Humpy-Bill) was a geography teacher who wore tweed plus-fours (knee length trousers), woollen socks and brogues and rode a motorbike, quite sensational in 1924.

Miss James (art, 1927-1934) exhibited at the Royal Academy.

Winifred Davis was the only ‘Mrs’ throughout her time at Handsworth (she was widowed) from 1920 to 1947. A Welsh lady, she is remembered for her kindness and motherliness. Mrs Davis taught French and would allow no English to be spoken in her room and brought the language to life by games and plays. She is remembered by a prize endowed in her name.

Miss Stewart (1921-1956) taught mathematics and physics and is remembered as a very stern disciplinarian. She insisted on high standards and total effort. After her retirement she spent a number of years in Africa teaching in a mission school.

Miss Evans taught at Handsworth from1929 to 1963 and is remembered with great affection by all. She was an inspirational teacher and kept her subject, French, alive through her many contacts with France. She became Second Mistress in1936 and ran the school for a term in 1956 while Miss Bamforth was ill.

Miss Pritchard (1931-1959) taught music and organised a great variety of music groups and musical events. She is remembered for her mannish style of dress but also with great affection and gratitude.

Miss Millar taught at Handsworth for a comparatively short time (1945-1954) and became Second Mistress. She left to become Headmistress of Plymouth High School but came back to Birmingham to become Head of Camphill Girls and returned, after her retirement, to Handsworth as Chairman of Governors. Two members of staff are remembered each year at speech day as there are prizes endowed in their names.

Miss Tolley (Head of English1949-1969) is remembered for her high standards, love of literature, sense of humour and for the range of subject activities which flourished in her time.

Miss Hood, a former pupil, joined the staff in 1951 to teach mathematics and left after a long illness in 1972. She was a brisk, kindly and sensible person. Three backbones of the school all retired in 1980.

Miss Boggis (1964-1980) came to teach classics and became Deputy Head where she is remembered for her wise and kindly leadership.

Miss Naish joined the school in 1946 and taught mathematics and religious education; she organised a number of extra-curricular activities of a religious kind. Both Miss Boggis and Miss Naish regularly attend Old Girls.

Miss Beechill also came to Handsworth in 1946. She taught biology and became Head of Science. A strong character, she very much had the well-being of the girls and the school at heart and she made a major contribution to the charitable activities of the school. Generous bequests assist A Level biology students with the cost of field-work and helped the school meet the cost of building the Sports Hall.

School organisation in the early days

In the early days the forms were numbered in reverse with the first year being VII and the Upper Sixth I but this was changed in 1917. Until the 1960’s the girls were in four ability streams but this was dropped as it led to intellectual snobbery. By the early 1970s the forms were labelled ABCD, EFGH etc. and by the 1990s the only setting left was in mathematics. Following the introduction of the National Curriculum in the 1980s the years were renamed so that a girl enters into Year 7. The first year had been Year III and two years later a girl could be in the third year, Upper Fourth or Year 9which was very confusing. The forms in the early days were about the same size as today but the Sixth Form very small – about six girls in each year. Transfer to the High School was not unusual.

School fees of thirty shillings a term (£1.50) had to be paid in 1911 but about a quarter of the girls won scholarships and others received Local Authority awards for intending teachers. These girls also received assistance with buying text books; text books could also be rented from school. Text books only became free after the 1944 Education Act although exercise books had become free by the 1920’s.

The school day originally began at nine o’clock and there was a long lunch break from one to two-thirty to enable girls to go home for lunch. There were five lessons in the morning and two in the afternoon which were mainly practical or science lessons or private study; older girls were allowed to study at home. Girls who were not strong were allowed half days and others were kept at home in the afternoon to help their mothers in the house. By the 1930’s the school day had become more as we know it but Thursday afternoon remained free until about 1963.

The curriculum a hundred years ago was not too dissimilar to today although practical subjects were only offered to girls not deemed capable of following a full academic curriculum and there was an emphasis on arts subjects. Relatively little science or creative/practical teaching took place. One skill area we should perhaps revive is handwriting!

Lessons were more formal than nowadays. Girls sat alphabetically in rows, were expected to absorb masses of factual information, and received little support if they did not understand. Lessons were taught in form rooms with mistresses, not girls, moving and the gong (still in the entrance hall) was rung when lesson changes took place. Bells were installed in the 1930’s. In the early days the form teacher would teach a variety of subjects to her own class.

Of course there were few visual aids in the early days, no videos, audio tapes or computers. Teacher input was paramount and there was a lot of note-taking. The girls also learned long passages from Shakespeare and the Bible by heart. The atmosphere in the school was highly academic and competitive. Form lists in merit order were compiled each week and read out to each class by Miss Nimmo. Merit marks based on the previous week’s marks were read out in Monday assembly.

There were school examinations at the end of each term. Lists were displayed in each form room and form positions read out to the assembled school in the hall by Miss Nimmo, which must have been terrifying for the less able or lazy. Later, marginally more humanely, Miss Brew read the lists to each form.. Girls could move up a year in January if they did well but weaker girls would remain down and repeat the work. Nowadays we have examinations at the end of the year in Years 7-10, mock GCSE in January in Year 11 and thereafter public examinations dominate the school year.

Public examinations were taken from the early days. Prior to 1918 girls took an examination called Junior Cambridge. The Birmingham University Matriculation Examinations were taken after either one or two additional years. In those days the few girls who went to university tended to go to their local one. In 1918, School Certificate was introduced. To get this, girls had to pass at least five subjects from at least three different groups (to keep the curriculum broad) and gain a credit in at least one. Most girls took at least eight subjects and if one was failed, they all had to be retaken the following year. Five or six credits were needed for university entrance. In 1921 Higher School Certificate was introduced and three main subjects and one subsidiary one were taken. In 1951 the General Certificate of Education was introduced which was less restrictive. It remained in place at Ordinary and Advance Levels until the 1980s when O Levels were replaced by GCSE. Nowadays, girls in the school take at least ten GCSE subjects, some of them a year early and some of them taught after the main school day. League tables place the school as one of the foremost in the country.

Speech Day

The culmination of the academic year was Speech Day. When the school was at Aston, Speech Day was held in the Midland Institute. At Handsworth all girls attended and wore white dresses with red bows until the 1930’s. The school song, ‘Come, sing the song of Handsworth School’ was sung until the present anthem was suggested by Miss Bamforth (Headmistress) in 1942. Speech Day is still held in the hall each October and remains a grand and formal occasion.

The arts

In the early days art lessons were very formal and photographs show a classroom with rows of easels and Old Masters on the walls. By the Second World War there was greater freedom of activity.

Drama has been a long-standing tradition. The earliest play on record is Iphigenia in 1913 followed by Henry V a year later. It may be that the first joint production with Aston was Samson Agonistes in March 1924. Pupils were also taken to see plays including a visit to Stratford to see Romeo and Juliet in 1934. In 1917, an entertainment, which included scenes from Nicholas Nickleby and David Copperfield and nursery rhymes, raised £80 for the Lady Mayoress’ fund in aid of the war effort; a repeat performance was given to wounded soldiers stationed at Highbury Hall. A memorable staff play was also performed in 1917 to raise funds for St Dunstan’s Home for blinded soldiers and sailors. The House dramatic competition began in 1936 and continued into the 1960’s. The first opera to be performed was Orpheus and Eurydice in 1961 and the pantomime, Aladdin, in 1975, was the first of a series produced by Mrs Geoghegan,

In the early days, music really meant singing and it was taught by Mr Halford. Each year he composed a cantata for speech day. In the mornings, girls who could play the piano well were called upon to play the hymn in assembly and a suitable tune, not a march, while the girls left the hall. In the early days the piano was on the platform. The school orchestra began in about 1926. One of the earliest members was Dorothy Heath who played the violin and whose endowed prize is still awarded at speech day. The original orchestra had two flutes, a cello and seven violins (two of them teachers). Miss Rhodes gave violin lessons and charged 6d (2 ½ p). The orchestra declined during the 1930’s but has since revived and it is now a major strength of the school. Through the 1960’s and 1970’s additional instrumental teachers were appointed and we now have a range of orchestra, ensembles and choirs. In 1931 or 1932 the inter-house music competition began. From 1941 girls participated in the Secondary Schools Music Festival and had an opportunity to sing major choral and orchestral works. It continued until the city grammar schools were closed in 1974. In the 1970s the choir performed at the Alderley Edge Music Festival and the Llangollen Eisteddfod. In 1973 and1977 records were made and in 1981 the choir gave a half-hour radio concert.

Country dancing was greatly enjoyed in the early days in the playroom and girls also organised ballroom dancing there on wet days. Modern (creative) dance was not introduced until 1945 when the teachers were Miss Hyde and Miss Seagrief; the pianist, Miss Hooper, played for dance lessons from1944 to1981 at the school. The Evening of Dance which we still hold annually, has a long history and originally raised money for charity.

Sport

In the early days at Aston, exercise consisted of drill in the corridors and so the gym at Handsworth (the Music Room in later years) seemed wonderful. One of the girls who particularly enjoyed gymnastics was Elaine Stagg (1914-1917) who persuaded her father to present the cup still awarded at speech day. Girls were expected to climb ropes, walk along bars etc. At the end of term ‘shipwreck’ was played – a form of ‘tig’. Originally gym tunics were worn but by the 1930s blouses and knickers became the uniform. Talented gymnasts were invited to join the ‘badge division’, which met after school on Mondays. They wore a large badge on the left shoulder of their gym tunics. In September 1962 the new gymnasium was opened, a light and pleasant building with an excellent sprung floor.

Games activities were (and are) an important aspect of school life. In the early days the heroes of the schools were those who showed greatest prowess on the games field. Until the 1950s, reports on individual school team members appeared in the Beacon as did a sports report until the 1970s. Tudor Roses are awarded for outstanding contribution to school sport (in the early days they were real silver). When the school was at Aston, games were optional and an additional fee was charged. On site facilities are relatively recent. At first girls had to go to Grosvenor Road and then to Island Road. During the Second World War, the fields were taken over by the RAF as a barrage balloon site and games had to be played elsewhere. Hockey and netball were played in winter and tennis in summer. Rounders began in the 1920s, cricket was introduced in 1945 and badminton in the 1960s. On-site fields were constructed in the 1980s and now provide an excellent facility thanks to the efforts of our grounds staff. The annual tennis competition between Handsworth, Camphill and the High School, the Fry Cup, was inaugurated by Miss SM Fry to commemorate her term as Bailiff in 1912-1913; she was the first woman governor of the Foundation.

Sports Day is a tradition going back to the earliest days of the school. It began with a gymnastics or dance display. In the First World War a military band played and tickets were sold to raise funds for the war effort – but only to female relatives! Various fun races were held in addition to the serious athletic events. During one of the events while the school was at Aston, Mr Jones, accidentally shot himself in the hand with the starting pistol. By the 1930s the event had become more serious.

Swimming galaswere held in the early days at Grove Lane Baths and later at Woodcock Street (we now use the High School). The school swimming team was very successful and a number of girls have competed at national and international standard.

Charity and Community

In the early years of the school, money collections seem to have dominated the school’s outreach work. The Missionary Society raised money for missions in China and India by the sales of sweets and needlework. In the First World War, money was collected for Belgian refugees and the Red Cross. Some needlework classes made garments for Middlemore Orphanage. In the early 1920s toys were taken to a working men’s club in a poor area of Bordesley Green. In 1925 parties of girls began to visit the Children’s Hospital and there was a collection for the cot fund which maintained a bed; on Monday morning each girl contributed a penny (less than ½ p today). During the Second World War the girls ran a nursery in Hockley in the school holidays. Harvest parcels for the elderly have been distributed for over a quarter of a century and today are sent out via the Wesleyan Holiness Church in Handsworth. Girls have sponsored children in the Third World, sung carols for Mencap and raised funds for a guide dog called, of course, Edward. Nowadays charitable giving through a range of activities is a major aspect of school life with annual donations approaching £10 000 being given to local, national and international organisations.

School visits

Opportunities for the girls have expanded over the years. In the early days school visits were fairly local, botany trips to Sutton Park being some of the first remembered. By 1920 there had been trips to Kenilworth and Lichfield and in 1924 a party paid a three-day visit to the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley. Through the 1920s opportunities expanded and old girls remember trips to Stratford, London and Dudley Zoo. The first trip abroad seems to have been in 1932 when Miss Thompson and Miss Wright took a party on a ‘Scholars’ Wonder Cruise’ to the western Mediterranean for the princely sum of £10! In 1937, school parties visited Paris and Coblenz. Only two years after the end of the Second World War, Miss Bamforth and Miss Evans took a party to St Die, which had suffered badly during the fighting, and a year later they went to Paris. Since then most countries in Western Europe have been visited by school groups. In the last two years visits have been made to Russia, The USA (New York), Namibia and Honduras as well as France and Germany. The school has very close links with the Mariangymnasium in Kaufbeuren in the south of Germany.

School Houses

School Houses were introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century to facilitate mixing across the years. They were named after famous women and each had its own colour – Nightingale mauve, Kingsley green, Fry pale blue and Browning brown. By 1913 there were house awards for netball, hockey, sport and tennis. There were House notice boards in the playroom and a conduct system was operated in Houses. There were also House Christmas parties. In 1939 the system was changed as the school had grown and eight Houses named after the royal Houses were formed. House Music and House Drama competitions were held in alternate years and there was even a wild flower competition. In 1952 a Flower Show began and, in the 1950s, an Art Competition. In 1976 the Houses were again rearranged to coincide with the forms and named after semi-precious stones because of the school’s proximity to the Jewellery Quarter – Amethyst, Coral, Garnet and Topaz. In the 1990s the houses were renamed after famous women – Bronte, Pankhurst, Curie and Nightingale and the main competitive events are still sports.

Uniform

In the early days at Aston there was no uniform and girls wore white blouses and dark skirts. Then Miss Nimmo introduced uniform. Uniform has, of course, always been something girls love to hate! By the end of the First World war, gym tunics had become the standard uniform worn with black woollen stockings and navy or black woollen knickers, summer or winter. Black felt hats were worn in winter and straw boaters in summer. Originally the hat bands were red and white but in about 1909 the colour was changed to wine red and blue – Miss Nimmo did not realise these were the colours of Aston Villa! – and to blue and green in about 1922. Gloves were always worn. Girls at this time usually wore their hair long, plaited or tied with a bow at the back. Blazers with badges were introduced in the 1920’s in response to pupil demand. By the 1930’s gym tunics were replaced by tunics with a square neck, fitted bodice and flared skirt. Summer dresses in a suitable style in any print were allowed – with the hated black stockings. In 1938 fawn lisle stockings or short socks were allowed, a major victory for the girls. After the Second World War, square-necked blouses were replaced by shirts and ties. Hats became optional and then disappeared and the requirement to change into indoor shoes has ended. Today girls in Key Stage 3 wear a kilt, shirt and tie and a blazer but may wear a cardigan instead in Key Stage 4.

The journey to school

In the early days many of the girls walked to school, sometimes long distances. Others travelled on a four-horse bus. Until World War Two, girls came from Six Ways along Lozells Road on the tram (the terminus was at the end of Rose Hill Road) or from town along Constitution Hill ( the terminus was near the West Bromwich Albion ground. Many girls cycled to school which was much safer in those days as there was relatively little traffic; the cycle shed was eventually converted into a Sixth Form Common Room and is now the ground floor of the library. Girls also travelled by train, mainly from Sutton Coldfield, but in those days they were able to change trains at Aston and take a second one which dropped them at Handsworth Station (in a cutting in the park). Harborne girls got the train to Soho Road Station. Car journeys in those early days were exceptional. Miss Jeffrey (1918-1958) was the first member of staff to own a car – a bull-nosed Morris Cowley. Most of the staff lived nearby in lodgings. Nowadays most girls come to school by bus although some still come on the train to Aston Station. To ease congestion on the roads we discourage pupils travelling to school by car.

School Clubs

By 1914 there was a debating society, missionary society, musical society and swimming club. The debating society met in what is now the resistant materials technology room but political or religious topics were banned. Amazingly, girls were reluctant to speak. The swimming club met at Grove Lane Baths (now converted to flats). An unusual club was the Kyrle Society which raised money to buy pictures for the school. Its annual dance was the highlight of the school year even though boys were not invited. It had ceased by World War Two. After World War One, a history society was formed and an arts and crafts club (1926) and puppet club (1937). The League of Nations Society was founded in 1932 and had over a hundred members. An interesting society was parliament; founded in 1934; membership was initially limited to the UV (Year 11) and Sixth Form. Girls each represented a constituency and debated issues of the day e.g. fox-hunting and euthanasia. A Guide Company flourished from 1939-1959 under Miss Pritchard (Music). In 1946 an art club was founded and in 1951 a geography society. Other pages in this website list the many clubs which exist nowadays.

The First World War

The First World War was a worrying time for the school as many girls and staff had relatives fighting in the trenches or other war zones. The Beacons of that period contain a number of patriotic poems. A savings scheme to generate money for the war effort was introduced, girls made charity collections, left school to go into war work (sometimes with very distinguished service), swimming was cancelled as Grove Lane Baths were used as a billet for soldiers and the value of prizes at Speech Day was reduced. Cookery classes were reduced, school dinners became more frugal, the school became colder due to fuel shortages and uniform regulations were relaxed. The global influenza epidemic of 1918 caused the school to close a fortnight early for Christmas, speech day was postponed and two girls died. Peace was celebrated with a fancy dress party in September 1919. A collection raised £25 (a large sum in those days) to fund the Peace Memorial Prize, which is still awarded at speech day.

The Jubilee

The celebration of fifty years of existence took place in May 1933. The main event was a pageant presented in the school hall in which 250 girls presented scenes form the earliest days of education in Birmingham to the present time. Following the first performance, mistresses past and present gave a reception to former pupils. The Jubilee Loan and Gift Fund ‘ to provide a means of help for former or present pupils or members of staff of the Schools’ was begun. A church service was held on Sunday May 7 th at St Mary’s, Handsworth. On Tuesday May 8 th, a Thanksgiving Meeting for all the Foundation Schools was held in the Town Hall attended by past and present, pupils, staff and governors.

The Second World War – evacuation

With the threat of aerial bombardment of industrial targets and major cities, Birmingham was clearly a risky place in which to live and plans for the evacuation of school pupils began. As the threat of war increased, staff were recalled early from their holidays on the 26 th August 1939. Two days later a rehearsal of the planned evacuation of the school was held and the evacuation took place on Friday September 3 rd, two days before war was declared. Two hundred and fifty-eight apprehensive girls and thirty-four teachers and helpers were seen off from Snow Hill station. Others had been privately evacuated or chose to remain. The destination was Worcester Girls’ Grammar School. By 8.30 pm all the girls had a billet – then they realised they had forgotten the staff! It was not a happy time for many girls and some of them ran away, even walking the whole way home. Others, of course, settled in well and formed long-lasting friendships. Lessons took place from 2pm to 6pm daily and in the morning girls went to St George’s Church Hall where small classes were held, the Guides met and lunch was prepared. The Governors travelled out to Worcester for speech day. This period is known as the ‘phoney war’ and there were no air raids in Birmingham until August 1940. Girls began to drift back to Birmingham and by November Miss Davis and Miss Evans had returned to organise home study groups. Girls came to school twice a week to collect work and have some short lessons.

By April 1940 air raid shelters had been built at Handsworth and the school reopened. Two hundred girls returned with Miss Evans in charge and seven staff to assist her. In August the school moved back from Worcester. Many of the rooms on the ground floor had their ceilings reinforced to make them bomb-proof including the boiler room, the basement room in the library (then the bicycle shed) and the keyboard room (then the drying room). All the corridor windows were covered with adhesive net to prevent flying glass. There were many air-raid practices but only one real raid took place in the school day. After night-time air raids school opened an hour later to allow for disrupted sleep and difficult journeys.

A second evacuation was organised on the 26 th November 1940, this time to Coalville in Leicestershire. This was a very difficult time with poor accommodation and rather poor hospitality provided by the Grammar School. Miss Brew paid frequent visits to try to maintain morale and the kindness of Miss Davis is remembered. This evacuation ended in July 1941 and for the rest of the war the school remained in Handsworth.

Staff took it in turns to do fire watch duty at night to look-out for incendiary bombs. From the summer of 1942 onwards parties of girls went to various summer camps to help bring in the harvest: Henley-in-Arden for corn, peas and bean, Salford Prior for potato picking and Knightwick for hops. Collections of useful materials were made at school and a number of speakers came to inform the girls about aspects of the war. Girls in the school became very actively involved in the work of the AVF, an organisation of French people who established a centre of resistance. Both Miss Brew (Headmistress) and Miss Evans (French) were rewarded for their efforts by the French Government after the war and Miss Evans was made an ‘Officier de l’Academie’ by the Academie Francaise. Most school events took place despite the war. When the war in Europe ended the girls celebrated with two days holiday on the 8 th and 9 th May.

The threat to the grammar schools

By the 1920’s education for girls was relatively common and the Foundation, in financial trouble, decided to hand over control of its schools to the city. With what now seems extremely bad timing, the Bailiff, Dr Bernays, announced this at Speech Day on November 19 th 1920. Miss Nimmo, no longer Headmistress but a member of the audience, turned Speech Day into a protest that spread across the city.The problem had arisen because of improvements to accommodation in all the Foundation schools and a doubling of the teaching staff salary bill to bring teachers’ pay in line with national levels. The Foundation salary bill was £33 500 in1916-17 but £66 000 in 1920-21. To meet their costs, the Governors, having failed to get a grant from the city, had decided to hand over the schools. Until that occasion, the Foundation governors had kept their plans secret but now it hit the press. Three days later a protest meeting was held at the school. Two petitions were drawn up that evening, one to the Governors asking them not to handover the schools (it had over 5 000 signatures when presented two days later), and a second to the Lord Mayor, showing that giving a grant to the Foundation would save the city money as some of the costs of educating the pupils in Foundation schools would be borne by the Foundation. A public meeting was held in the Town Hall in early December and by the end of January the Council had agreed to an annual grant of £35 000 (it would have cost £90 000 to take over the schools).

A second attempt by the Governors to divest themselves of the burden of the grammar schools was made in 1930, led by the new headmaster of King Edward’s School. A meeting of over seven hundred parents, staff and Old Edwardians took place in the Handsworth Hall and a committee was formed to ‘help’ the Governors. This campaign was again successful.

After the Second World War the main threat was the ending of selection. In 1965 a Labour controlled City Council voted to instigate city-wide comprehensive education. This threat was held off until 1970 when a battle ensued until June 1973. This was a temporary reprieve, for in October 1973 the Education Committee decided to ‘cease to maintain’ the grammar schools at Handsworth, Aston and Five Ways. The Foundation united in its defence: a petition with one hundred and fifty thousand signatures was drawn up; a car cavalcade stopped traffic in the city centre. Success was only temporary, for in 1977 Mrs Shirley Williams, Secretary of State for Education, issued an ultimatum to the Council to complete its programme of comprehensivisation. Things went quiet until 1981 when a new city plan for Sixth Form colleges threatened the schools. Fortunately in May 1982 the change in Council control saved the schools. Attempts in the 1990s and a decade later were again rebuffed with the level of support for the King Edward grammar schools being shown at meetings in the Town Hall and Council House and in the media. The merits of the grammar schools are widely known since the publication of OFSTED reports and league tables and recent research. No one should fear applying for a place these days!