Burnley High School for Girls

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It was only a few weeks ago that I realised a significant Burnley anniversary should not go without being marked by an article in this column.

There was, however, a problem in that I did not have an illustration of the building most associated with the institution in question and this series, as you will know, depends upon such pictures.

Imagine my surprise when I opened my mail early last week. Occasionally a postcard dealer, who lives near Bolton, sends me a selection of her cards. This time four cards were enclosed. They, as is usual, were "on approval" which means I pay for, and retain, those which interest me but return those for which, for what ever reason, I have no use.

One of the cards I retained accompanies today's article and it could not have come into my possession at a better time as the forerunner of Burnley's former High School for Girls was founded 100 years ago, in 1910. I will discuss the photo, which incidentally cost me 6, after I have told you something about the education of girls in our town over the past century and a half or so.

I don't suppose Burnley is any different from most towns in that the history of its schools, to use a phrase much overused by teachers writing end of term reports, "leaves much to be desired". It is not that nothing has been published on the subject. The problem is that no one has thought to bring the work that has been done together.

There are a number of individual histories of schools and former schools, Burnley Grammar School, largely because of the work of Walter Bennett, being the chief among them.

In fact, many of the schools, even some of the smaller ones, have published anniversary histories when the opportunity has arisen and the best of them are quite interesting.

However, there is very little on the history of education for girls in our town. Even Mr Bennett, in his monumental history, dismisses the subject in, relatively speaking, only a few words.

This may have been because, though there has long since been provision for the education of girls, it was not, in England at least, undertaken at public expense until recent times.

Girls, if their families could afford it and if their fathers thought it worthwhile, were educated at home whereas most small towns had their grammar schools which, of course, were intended for boys only.

Burnley, by the early 19th Century, had private schools for girls but they were usually expensive and sometimes not particularly good.

Little was done by the State until Queen Victoria was on the throne though a number of the churches and chapels provided rudimentary education for both boys and girls.

There was, though, an emphasis on the "useful arts" for the girls who would be expected to run a household and take responsibility for the children.

It was not until the last years of Victoria's reign that it was recognised girls should be given a proper education. Regrettably Burnley lagged behind many other towns and it was not until 1888 that the Wesleyans at Red Lion Street opened a higher grade school for girls.

There was already the grammar school for boys and Mr Grant ran a school, also for boys, but the establishment of a girls' higher grade school was an important event in the history of our town.

We should mark the site of this school with one of our superb blue plaques. It should not be difficult as Burnley Council's Contact Centre, at the junction of Red Lion Street and Parker Lane, now occupies that plot of land.

The higher grade school must have been a success because in 1893 it was joined, in the same building, by a boys' higher grade school and, four years after that, a higher grade school for both boys and girls was established by the School Board in the Mechanics in Manchester Road.

Amazingly, two of these schools (those at Red Lion Street) were closed in 1900 when the London-based Board of Education withdrew the grants it had been making to them.

Some girls were allowed, from 1903, to attend the grammar school and the higher grade school at the Mechanics continued with both boys and girls but this school had to compete for space with the Mechanics Institution itself.

It was soon realised that new facilities were necessary and the council, after a few false starts, decided to build a new college.

A number of sites in the town centre were considered but eventually Ormerod Road was chosen and, in 1909, what became known as Burnley College was built. In 1910, the girls, who had attended Burnley Grammar School and those who had occupied part of the Mechanics building, moved to Ormerod Road as Burnley High School for Girls.

It is from 1910, therefore, that I date the school which remained in Ormerod Road for about 40 years before its removal to the site shown in today's photo. Burnley Corporation had acquired Ivy Bank Hall and its estate in 1932 with the intention of building a high school in the extensive grounds but, as you will know, money was very tight in the 1930s.

The war then intervened and it was not until peace was achieved that building commenced.

The new Burnley High School for Girls was completed in 1951 and, writing at the time of the Festival of Britain, Walter Howarth, Burnley's director of education, described the building: "It will be of stone and of an attractive architectural design and modern appointments on the wooded Ivy Bank Estate of 42 acres, secluded, almost cloistered, from the hurly-burly of the mart and the mill – for you 'cannot hammer a girl into anything'; she develops from within, nourished by the skyey influences around her."

You can judge for yourself whether you think the school is attractive or not but, being a former teacher, I sometimes wonder what Dr Howarth meant by "skyey influences". Or could it be that he, like me, had to suffer the interventions of local typesetters?

The postcard is not dated but it must have been taken not long after the school was completed. Notice the children in the large "yard" behind the building, the almost empty car park but, most of all, the older building in the top left hand corner.

This was a remaining part of Ivy Bank, one of the three fine houses built and occupied by the Dugdale's of Lowerhouse Mills.

The other two survive at Park Hill House and at Rosehill House but Ivy Bank, perhaps the most impressive of them, was demolished incrementally when land was required for building purposes.

To conclude, you remain to be informed that Burnley High School for Girls survived until 1981 when it was merged with Burnley Grammar School to make Habergham High School but that is another story.