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Walthamstow School for Girls Ofsted Outstanding Provider

History Snippets

Here is a cartoon from the December 1929 edition of the Iris magazine.

School life is much the same but life is somewhat easier when ink spots do not have to be sanded off the wooden tables!

Ms Kelly
LRC Manager


The war also deeply affected people long after it had ended. Here is a poem by a student, Olive Baker, written in the 1933 Iris which remembers those people who died.

THANK God for peaceful England, this dear isle;
For England's quiet green beauty and her fame;
For her never-failing honour, and her ever-glorious name,
Which still doth stand though nations fall the while.

Remember! Only nineteen years ago,
The roll of war's dread thunder filled the air,
And ev'ry home was called upon to spare
Her father and her sons, to fight the foe.

Think, that the flower of all this nation,
And the good, were laid 'neath alien sod.
And for them England now gives thanks to God.

So while we in security may dwell
Remember still those sons who fought and died
For England's noble glory and her pride.

Olive Baker  (Form VI.)

The LRC will have an exhibition about our students involvement in the First World War.   All staff and students are welcome to come along to see it when free and staff are welcome to book in classes to work alongside our archive resources.   

The display covers many aspects, including War Weddings, Fundraising in Australia, Poetry, Nursing and Suffragettes. We have diaries from two former students stranded in Switzerland and France, detailing their journey back to England. ‘Our Boys’, has information about former male pupils which demonstrates the resilience of those involved.

Walthamstow also hosted Belgian Refugees at a centre in Wood Street and I would like to share with you a part of their story.

Ms Kelly
LRC Manager

High School Girls and the Belgians.

We can do very little for our friends from Belgium, but every Monday a box is placed in each room for contributions from the girls. We give what we like but it must be our own. The collection, not counting what is given by the Staff, amounts to an average of a guinea a week, and is devoted to the Belgians of the Wood Street Centre. Feminine activity finds expression in knitting. Wherever you go, you see nothing but wool, hear nothing but the clicking of needles. It is knit, knit, knit from morning till night……..

The Belgians are just like a happy family. The majority speak Flemish only but a few know French. The eldest is a dear old lady of 84, who sat by the fire and smiled. The youngest is about 17 months - just as dear, and makes an even more pathetic case, for the child seems to have lost its parents, and we can trace none of her relations. It is a puzzle how she came here, she was the centre of interest and we all crowded round, trying to coax her to play, but with little success. She has taken a fancy to one of the women and will go to no one else. To be sure, as "mother" held her, the little one did condescend to shake hands all round.

Pianoforte solos by Doris Atkins, Hilda Farmer, Winnie Berry, and Kathleen Attenborough were greatly appreciated, as well as the duet by Peggy Robbins and Ethel Holmes. Lou Reeve recited in French and was heartily clapped by those who did not understand, and even more heartily by those who could appreciate. Cora Bayne gave us one of her delightful dances. The dignified sixth, robed in drill tunics, enjoyed the healthy exercise of a country dance. Some of the girls in Va. made fine shepherds, and danced with their lady-loves as gracefully as if they had been born and bred in the country. The Belgians really enjoyed this; they are peasants and it appealed to them. Two or three in our corner took arms and were just going to join in, when they were restrained with difficulty by another who grew quite alarmed …

Two or three in our corner, who were rather excitable, stood up and flaunted their little English with "Hip, hip, hurrah"! "It's all right," and "It's very good," which appears to have been all they could say apart from "Good Night." When they had quieted down a little, Winnie Gowen sang "Tipperary" and of course, we all joined in the chorus. We also sang the Belgian, French, Russian, and English National Anthems. We had to go then, as it was 8.30 p.m. and they like to go to bed early. However, it seemed as if they did not want to leave us, for they came to see us off at the gate, amid many a noisy "Good Night" and “Bon soir." We certainly had as good a time as they did and were sorry it was all over. On the serious side, no one could respond with more out-and-out heartiness than we to the call of­ hats off and three cheers for Belgium!


Here is a poem from the December 1927 Iris magazine, which many of our current students taking exams and tests will be able to relate to.  The title is ironic, as you will see when you read the poem.

Ms Kelly
LRC Manager

"Our Carefree Youth."

LAST night we decided to get up at five
And 'swot-up' some words that from Latin derive,
Prepare last week's history, an essay to write,
To translate some French at the very first sight,
To juggle with x's, with y's and with z's,
And generally cudgel our sleepy young heads.
Alas! though at eight the alarm clock went off,
We shiver and growl as our nightdress we doff.
Five minutes for breakfast, no more can we stay,
We put on our hats and then run all the way.
We think of the test we've been promised to do
In Latin, and English and Arithmetic too.
We shudder and groan as we enter the room,
“Rough note-books and pencils” – those words full of doom;
Well-known and expected they fall on our ears,
As hopeless and helpless we burst into tears.

G. McFarlane (Va)


Over the years, many of our staff members have also been former pupils of the school. The first teacher who was also a former pupil was Millicent Margaret Jackson, who was appointed in 1911 and stayed until 1925. She was also one of the first pupils in the school, attending in 1890, the year the school was founded.


As a Music Teacher her wages were calculated on the number of pupils she taught. She was employed for two days a week, earning £3 for every Pianoforte and Singing Pupil and £9 for Class Singing. By the time she left in 1925 she was earning £158 4s 0d. A Supply Teacher at that time earned just £2 per week.


WW1 Open Day Vestry House & St Mary’s Church - 15th September.

Our school participated in this event, with a display from our archives. The display mainly focused on women, with information about War Weddings, Poetry, Fundraising in Australia, Nursing and Suffragettes.  It also included diaries from women stranded in Europe, detailing their journey back home.

During this period, our school also enrolled boys up to the age of 11 and so ‘Our Boys’ stories were shown. The church has memorials to brothers of our students and there was a detailed display about Vincent Bayne, who died at the age of 19. His sister Cora Bayne attended our school and in the 1914 edition of Iris, our old school magazine, it noted that Cora gave a delightful dance to the Belgian Refugees. 


Walthamstow hosted Belgian refugees at a centre in Wood Street and our school held parties and raised funds to support them. A person who came to the event, told me that the Belgian refugees lived with his family in Prospect Hill.

I would like to thank Ms Winter and our Alumnae Committee for supporting this event.

Ms Kelly
LRC Manager


It is with great sadness that we  announce the Death of Ethel Matteson, née Britten, our oldest alumnae at the grand age of 106.

She attended the school in the days of the first Headteacher, Blanche Hewett, along with her older sisters, her twin having sadly died at the age of 5.

The Britten family lived in Cazenove Road, Walthamstow. During her time at the school the Greek theatre was built and Ethel opened the 80th Anniversary fete in July 2005.

She was also a guest speaker at the 2012 Alumnae AGM, at the sprightly age of 100, speaking for half an hour without notes!

It has been a great privilege to have known her and to be part of her family. She leaves a son, daughter, grandchildren and great children, including twins in whom she took great interest.

The Alumnae will be making a donation to the Age Concern charity in her memory.

Ms Winter
The Alumnae Committee

Following on from Interform last week, I would like to share with you the article from the November 1906 edition of the ‘Iris’ magazine. It is describing Sports Day and the various races. I still can’t figure out what a ‘flat’ race is and the ‘spearing a potato race’ sounds scary!

Ms Kelly
LRC Manager

The Sports.

Our Sports were held on June 20th. The day was beautiful, although perhaps a  trifle hot.

The visitors were seated on chairs, round the field, striving to be as much in the shade as possible.

The first item on the programme was the Fancy Skipping. This was very pretty and everyone joined in.

Following this was the Spearing Potato Race, for which were offered a first and a second prize. These were won by Ethel Dann and Girlie Foxon respectively.

The children from Form 1 and Preparatory then had a competition all to themselves, namely, Bouncing the Football. The opposite sides were adorned with green and yellow bows. 

The yellows, headed by Violet Norwood, came off victoriously.

The next proceeding was the Egg and Spoon Race, which Olive Cooper won, Dora Cross being second.

The Three-Legged Race then took place. Elsie Cotching and Gertrude Allen came in first, with Beatrice Norwood and Ruth Holdstock second.

The Flat Race for girls over thirteen was won by Elsie Cotching, and Olive Cooper took the second prize.

The Junior and Senior Drill was a very interesting and instructive item.

The Backward Flat Race was won by Ethel Dann, and Elsie Bennett came in second.

The last item was a Tug-of-War between the old and present girls. The latter being victorious.

During all these proceedings, many of the visitors were glad to be supplied with tea, which was served on small tables scattered about the part of the grounds not used for the Sports.

The profits from the tea were £1 16s. 3d., which went to the School Games Club.

All then gathered round to see the distribution of the prizes, but owing to some delay they had not arrived. The girls, however, received them at school two or three days afterwards.

Many votes of thanks were given, including one to Mr. Hallows, who, for the second time, had so kindly lent his field.

Helen Mercer

The snow earlier this Spring wreaked havoc in the building, salt was carried in on everyone’s shoes, leaving a trail of white across all the floors. The premises team were busy all day ensuring that the floors were safe, but until this sort of thing happens, you don’t realise how many people are constantly moving round the building.

I came across a letter by Phyllis Helps, who left the school in 1918, which shows the cleaning routine in the school at that time. I have also left in the part about the teacher’s clothes. As we celebrated our freedoms and opportunities on International Women’s Day, it is worth noting that our female staff were not only restricted politically but physically too.

Ms Kelly
LRC Manager

Any ink marks on the floor had to be rubbed out with glass paper, and supervised by a teacher in the cloakrooms seeing that we changed into plimsolls on arriving and never leaving without our gloves on.

Our headteacher was Miss Hewett, supported by Miss Richardson and Miss Goldwyn, both wearing lace fronts to their blouses with bone supports. And of course gold chains with watches tucked into their waists. Miss Hewett was a little more modern.

MBE for ex– Student

Janice Pettit née Warner student from 1965-1972

Janice a local Girl Guide leader has been recognised in the New Year’s Honour's list with an MBE (Member of the British Empire) for spending  for over forty five years volunteering with young people and the local community in the borough.

She also serves as regional chair of the Guides’ awards committee for London which oversees groups in Waltham Forest. Her work with the Girl Guides led her to  being offered a  role in the 2012 London Olympic Games, as a “Games Maker”. She was one of 70,000 picked from 240,000 applicants and volunteered for the ’Games’ media team.

Congratulations to Janice from all at WSFG.

Earlier this year our oldest alumni Ethel Mattison celebrated her 106th birthday!

Here are her memories  of being at Walthamstow High School as it was  known in 1923.

WSFG 1923-1929

I was at Walthamstow High School for one term with Miss Hewett, the first ever Head  Mistress, and then with Miss Norris, who was a Classics scholar, and it was she who had the Greek Theatre built. When excavations began, we thought it was going to be a swimming pool, but after the initial disappointment, I for one was delighted.

It was opened by the Ben Greet Company with 'Medea', with Sybil Thorndyke in the title role. Later, when the school put on 'Androcles and the Lion', Miss Brown, the art teacher, made wonderful helmets for the Roman soldiers, from buckrum, painted with metallic paint. Although there were still only 300 pupils since WHS was built in 1912, more facilities were needed in the  advancement of education for girls, so during my stay the library and another laboratory were built and construction on the gymnasium had begun.

A group of us were once taken by three staff members to Germany, for a week to Goslar and Hilderheim in the Hartz Mountains,  followed by a week on the Rhine visiting Cologne, KCoblenz and  getting a wonderful view of the castles. Otherwise, our school trips were confined to England or the Isle of Wight. We were taken on fungus forays in Epping Forest every Autumn and on other field trips by Miss Dennithorne, mostly on Saturdays or for occasional weekends. We also went on visits to factories, notably Ambrosia, Yardley, Bryant and May and The Royal Mint.  We even went by overnight  train to Richmond in Yorkshire to see a total eclipse of the sun, but it clouded over so we didn't see the corona, but it was an exciting and eerie experience  nonetheless.       Ethel  aged 16                   


I was very proud of being at WHS. The school instilled a sense of social responsibility in its pupils and, even after all these years, I still find it  obnoxious when I see people eating or drinking in the street, or dropping litter.   

Ethel Mattison (née Britton)                                                   

Here is a poem for some of you dog-lovers out there - I found it in the 1949 edition of the ‘Iris’ magazine. Miss Hooper, as well as teaching, used to run ‘Ranscombe Kennels’ and specialised in breeding Spaniels.

Ms Kelly
LRC Manager

The Dog's Pow Pow.

Within the bounds of County High School,

Walthamstow’s great County High School.

All the "Powers that be" decided

They would have a show for canines.

Have a lovely show for canines.

First and foremost 'mongst the urgers

Was our well beloved Miss Hooper,

Respected and revered Miss Hooper:

Three and sixpence was the wampum.

Was the fee to enter "Rover."

Many came, and many brought

Canine friends, all barking madly.

And the air was filled with barking,

Filled with noises made by spaniels,

Made by labradors and bulldogs;

Some dogs were all brown and furry.

Others black and sleek and shiny;

There was one like strings of licqu'rice

Very like a long black sausage:

There were dogs of every species,

Known to us or known to others.

Suddenly a hush fell on us,

All was quiet but for barking.

Then a voice in tones insistent,

Tones that carried o'er the ether.

Gave a message, clearly, and asking,

All the dogs who in the first class

Were competing, that were present,

"Come into the grassy clearing,

Stand around our luscious green-sward,

First parading all together,

And then, singly, come toward me,

And go through your simple paces."

Every winner proudly marching,

Marching proudly came with owners,

First the best dog of those present,

Then the one in best condition,

After him the most appealing.

Then 'twas time to hurry homeward,

Hurry home through dreary showers,

We’ll remember, we'l1 remember,

And we'll show our cards and murmur,

"These I got at County Dog Show,

Got when barking dogs abounded."


Here is a poem from the 1948 Iris magazine. If you were to look at an aerial photograph, you would see that the oldest part of our building is shaped like the letter E. The author of the poem, poses the question about why this is? My guess is that the letter E, stands for Essex, as when this building was opened in 1912, it was part of Essex County Council, hence the coat of arms above the entrance to the school.

Of course, that is only my guess, there may be a more straightforward answer, so what’s yours?

My School.

My school is shaped just like an E,

On this my friend and I agree,

Does anyone know why this should be,

                I don't.

The architect should surely know,

But I think he lived long ago,

Can anyone tell me where to go

                To find him?

I'm puzzled still, but then you see,

I'm only in the Lower Three,

Why is our school shaped like an E?

                Please tell me.


Ms Kelly
LRC Manager

On 8th February 1918, women who were householders over the age of 30 (6 million women) got the vote. Here is an article about the campaign that was led by our students who participated in the local campaign, as well as school.

Ms O Kelly
LRC Manager


How sensibly she dealt with what amounted almost to a revolution in Form II. It was the Osborne Bye-election of 1912, Sir John Simon was the Government candidate and the suffragettes came down in force. Simon must be turned out. All except two unhappy Liberals’ in Form II became ardent suffragettes. Christabel Pankhurst was our hero. All over the weekend I sold "Votes for Women" on the Hoe Street corner, and Miss Hewett bought one.

Then on Monday we turned our form room into a suffragette committee room, we hung the colours from the gas-brackets. The pictures were covered over with suffragette slogans.

We barricaded our doors to all of different views. Form VI could not get through to their room. Even staff were barred out, and our two unhappy Liberals slunk miserably about the passages. 

We couldn’t break windows in Oxford Street perhaps but we could defend women’s rights against the whole school if necessary. And while the excitement was at its height, Miss Hewett sailed along and we didn't quite like to bar her out. How I longed for her to order us to take down our notices, so that I could bravely refuse to do it. She was much too wise.

Very pleasantly she looked round the room, and complimented us on our zeal.

Then she said, "I like to see my girls taking this keen interest in politics. I hope it is an intelligent interest, and not just rowdy partisanship. Let me give you a few simple questions to see if you know something about parliamentary procedure and how we are governed. Does parliament sit every day?” A petrified silence. What had that to do with votes for women? Then Irene Hitchman saved the situation. “No,” she said firmly. Afterwards we rushed at her. “Shrimp, how did you know?” “Oh, well, I thought it wouldn’t sit on Sundays!”

But our revolution was over. We quietly removed our posters and life returned to normal.

Article from the ‘Iris’ magazine of December 1937 by Leslie M Greene (nee Campbell)

Over the years people have kindly donated works of art, books, furniture and even plants to the school. The Iris magazine of 1928, resolves part of the mystery surrounding two objects which have been used to inspire students during their art lessons.

Many of you who have worked and studied in the school may have pondered why there is a plaque on the wall of F18. Room F18, was formerly an Art Room, and even though the room is now full of computers, the plaque is still on the wall. The bust of Hermes was also in this room but was relocated to our new Art rooms in 2010.  Unfortunately, it has recently suffered a fall and is need of repair. Not to worry, because Tana West, our artist-in-residence, is a ceramacist, and is                                                 intending to repair it.

" Summer and Winter Echoes crowd upon us: the new paint and the crack dating from the Summer holidays, the crannied recess with picture, carpet and curtain that is now a Sixth Form study, the new arrangement of the Reference Library in sections, murmurs about the loss of books in the past, as well as joyous recognition of the purchase of many delightful new books this term. The Art Room has acquired "Ornament," a wonderful book and a cast of the Hermes of Praxiteles and a tondo of the Virgin and Child by Michelangelo.  "

The Iris 1928

Ms Kelly
LRC Manager

For the new Year 7’s the transition to secondary school can sometimes produce quite  terrifying results. In the case of the school bell, a widespread panic breaks out at the sound of the school bell and wide-eyed students can be seen hurrying towards various  destinations.

In  primary school the school bell would be heard in the playground to herald the end of play, or the beginning of the school day.

However, in our school, we have bells for lesson changeovers  (beginning and end of), bells for the beginning of the school day and bells for lunchtime. We also have a bell for fire drills, which is a continuous bell. To add to this cacophony of noise, a  warning bell is set off before the main bell at registration  periods. (Apologies if  I have missed any bells).  It all adds to the dynamic of the school day which is split up into ‘chunks’ or I should say ‘chimes’ of time!

Here is a piece from the July 1929 Iris describing the introduction of the new  electric bell. The new building referred to would have been additions to the ‘house’.  I thought you might like to see our original school bell, which is now kept in our new archive.

The Bell.

School life this term has been very hectic - I mean more hectic than usual, if that is possible. The chief feature has been the noise. Apart from the usual musical strains issuing from the Hall (and else­where!) there has been the incessant hammering of the workmen in the new building, and worst of all - the new electric bell. It may be thought, and rightly too, that the sound of the bell, foretelling the end of a lesson, is a welcome sound. It is. Quite an audible sigh of relief passes through the School, when the bell is rung. It is such a simple action, too - just pressing a button.

This bell, which is the means of the saving of many lives, has, this term, taken on a peculiarly dynamic ring. If one happens to be in the vicinity of the front hall or on the stairs, when the bell goes, one stops as though under an electric shock - it is a great strain on people with weak hearts. Of course, it has the effect of pricking into action even the most sleepy of consciences. For instance, if a girl is late for a lesson (I am not saying that this ever happens) but if she were hurrying down­stairs, trying to look as though she had every right to be there, the sound of the bell would make her start guiltily, and she would break into a run and hurl herself in the nearest class-room, in the hope that it is the right one. This may be one of the reasons for its institution.

Marjorie I. Johnson (Form VI)


Ms Kelly
LRC Manager

Our visitors from Michigan State  
  University with Ms Davies & Mr Gunzi.

Having welcomed visitors from Michigan State University today, I thought it would be appropriate to share Miss Hewett’s writings about her time spent in America.

This article is from the December 1921 edition of the Iris.

Ms Kelly LRC Manager

AMERICA is a country of superlatives. When one is trying to describe the vast expanse of prairie and wheat district, the variety and brilliance of the autumn tints in the woods, or the noise and rush of a great city, ordinary adjectives are quite useless: one finds oneself using the ubiquitous American adjective "wonderful," in spite of one's resolution, to find a more descriptive word.

In every city or district one visits there is one thing at least which exceeds in some way (frequently in size or cost) all other things of the same kind in the whole world: the guides say this and the guide-books corroborate. For instance, one city has more miles of Boulevard and Park drives than any other city in the world; another city possesses “the only building planned and constructed by women"; and another "one of the longest, widest and finest streets in the world": yet another boasts a monument which "is supposed to be the most wonderful piece of masonry in the world" (the Great Pyramid taking second place, perhaps). The list might be extended indefinitely from guide-books, but I will refrain and add two wonderful records personally endured-one is dirtier after twenty-four hours in a train going across the States than at any other time in one's life, and Chicago is certainly the noisiest city one could ever visit, with its overhead and surface street cars, its ear-piercing police-whistles regulating traffic (which the English visitor at first mistakes for a summons to assistance in a life and death struggle), the hooting of a thousand automobiles and the raucous yells of the newspaper boys. In Chicago life certainly shrieks.

Indeed, life and vitality (not always quite so unpleasantly manifested) are splendidly characteristic of America, for she is a young country and has consequently many of youth's best qualities. She has energy and vigour, a determination to set the world right, together with a firm conviction that there is a panacea, and a generous disposition for enthusiastic admiration, even for hero-worship. Her frankness in expressing this admiration and everything else is very different from the Old World's more critical attitude to people and their performances.

Education is of vital importance to America, Everyone is realising it. The papers daily contain articles on the necessity for more High School places: the schools themselves are full to overflowing, and still there is more demand. We share that problem in England. The other problem, that of welding together the mixed nationalities in the great cities, is felt only in a small degree with us. I have been in one school in America where there were thirty-one nationalities, several children entering without knowledge of one single English word.

Building, as in England, is very difficult. To provide more school places, in some towns the double session is used: in others, they have a system called the Work-Study-Play plan, an arrangement by which every class-room, the auditorium (assembly hall) and the playground are all in use the whole time-thus, a school which has school places for six hundred pupils has over a thousand in attendance. This means that no one has a definite place in school or class-room. Here is an uncomfortable example of Individualism yielding to Communism.

The arrangement of the curriculum is different from the English plan. Each

State makes its own regulations and there are consequently minor differences. The High School age is fourteen to eighteen years, though there are some Junior High Schools beginning two years earlier; the schools are free; a pupil may enter and leave at any time (in some States not before sixteen); there are no maintenance grants. But the fundamental difference is that no pupil "carries" more than four major subjects at once. For instance, a First Year's Course may be: English (compulsory during every year), Algebra, French, Domestic Science, and listening to members of the Senate and the House of Representatives carrying on the government of the United States. Now I am in Philadelphia, and in another week I shall be in New York, which with Boston will be the end of my wanderings on this side of the Atlantic.

I expect to be home almost as soon as this article is in print, and then if you have any desire to hear more, your curiosity can be gratified more easily than by the painful process of writing.

America is, as I said, a country of superlatives: I add one more­ Americans are superlatively kind to a stranger, even kinder than one would have expected. The knowledge that one is English only adds to their readiness to help one and make things easy. I am hoping that several from my host of kind friends in America win be able to visit us in Walthamstow. We would like to give them an English welcome.