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A short history of Queenswood School

Queenswood School, May 1992 Photograph by Ron Kingdon, part of the Images of North Mymms collection
Queenswood School, May 1992
Photograph by Ron Kingdon, part of the Images of North Mymms collection

Queenswood School moved to Shepherds Way in Brookmans Park in 1925.  Eleven years later the main building, Sheepwell House, burnt down. It was replaced by an almost identical building. 

During the second world war an estimated 38 bombs fell on the estate. It's claimed that the first 1000lb bomb to be dropped on England landed on the hockey pitch and exploded while the girls were at dinner. There were no casualties. 

Dr Wendy Bird, Queenswood's archivist, has written the following short history of the school which is published here with her permission.

A short history of Queenswood School

By Dr Wendy Bird

The Educational Home for the Daughters of Wesleyan Ministers opened in Clapton, London in 1869 then transferred to Clapham Park, London and closed in 1893, only to re-open as Queenswood School on 23 September 1894, with 23 girls. The first headmistress, Marion Waller, was the daughter of the school’s founder Dr David Waller.

The name Queenswood derives from a lecture by John Ruskin (1819-1900) “Of Queens’ Gardens” published in 1865 in Sesame and Lilies and so does the school motto, in hortis reginæ (“In Queens’ Gardens”). Ruskin’s ideas on the education, power and place of women in society formed the basis of the school ethos.

In 1897, Miss Waller became engaged and resigned her post. Ethel Mary Trew took over and stayed as Headmistress for nearly 50 years. She was a great champion of Ruskin. Her ideas are clearly expressed in the symbolism of the school crest:

“And what shall be said about that lamp of knowledge and owl of wisdom that, with the lyre of music and song, complete the school crest? The lamp of knowledge burns brightly enough; such varied forces feed its flame that every girl, no matter how untalented, may add to its brilliance. The owl’s wisdom not only makes good pupils, but also good citizens, strong reliable women, fair wives and mothers.”
In 1925 Queenswood transferred to its present location at Sheepwell House in Hatfield. Here girls studied Horticulture, Botany and Nature Study. They wore white shantung silk dresses from Liberty’s of London, in imitation of the white water-lilies from Sesame and Lilies and they walked:
“... in Queens’ gardens where such blooms as Gladness and Joy, Flora and the Graces flourish is the gift that Queenswood has brought...”.
From 1920-1965 the Queenswood music department flourished under the direction of Ernest Read, Professor of Music at the Royal Academy of Music.

In 1936 Sheepwell House, then called Head’s House, burnt down. It was replaced with an almost identical building. The wooden porch was saved and a cast-iron phoenix was made for the door knocker.

The wood porch that survived the fire at Queenswood School Image from the Peter Miller collection
The wooden porch that survived the fire at Queenswood School
Image from the Peter Miller collection

Two years later Queen Mary visited the school. The following year the Second World War broke out. In 1940 the first 1000lb bomb dropped on Queenswood’s hockey field. The year after the war ended Queenswood won the Aberdare cup for tennis. 

Miss Trew reluctantly retired in 1944 (she died four years later). A Queenswood teacher, Enid Essame, took over as Headmistress. She was particularly interested in the Ruskinian origins of Queenswood and so was Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who visited Queenswood in 1955.

In 1957 the new science block and the Bellman library were opened. Sir Harold Bellman, a self-made man, was on the board of governors from 1926 and was a champion of Queenswood. “Education involves the training of the body, mind and spirit” he wrote. Some of the books he wrote are in the library.

In 1967 Queenswood had a new art and music block, (the Essame Studios) and a quotation from Ruskin was placed above the entrance: ‘Fine art is that in which the hand, the head and the heart of man go together’

On Miss Essame’s retirement in in 1971 Margaret Ritchie took over until 1981 when Audrey Butler, an ex-pupil, winner of the Aberdare Cup, (previously a geography teacher at other schools), became Headmistress. 

In 1996 Mrs Butler retired and was succeeded by Clarissa Farr, daughter of an Old Queenswoodian and a Queenswood teacher. 

Miss Farr left in 2006 to become High Mistress at St Paul’s Girl’s School and was succeeded by Pauline Edgar who retired in 2016 to be replaced by Mrs Jo Cameron.

List of headmistresses and principals

  • 1894 Miss Marion Waller (Headmistress)
  • 1897 Miss Ethel Trew (Headmistress)
  • 1944 Miss Enid Essame (Headmistress)
  • 1971 Mrs Margaret Ritchie (Headmistress)
  • 1981 Mrs Audrey Butler (Headmistress)
  • 1996 Ms Clarissa Farr (Principal)
  • 2006 Mrs Pauline Edgar (Principal)
  • 2016 Mrs Jo Cameron (Principal)
Article by Dr Wendy Bird, archivist at Queenswood School

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