An Interview with Miss Hulme and Miss Morris

Monica HastingsRecently I was privileged to enjoy a fascinating couple of hours with Miss Hulme and Miss Morris, reminiscing about their years at WGS. Miss Morris joined the school in January 1950, and Miss Hulme became Headmistress in 1961. I was a pupil from 1954 until 1964 and later a member of staff, so memories flew backwards and forwards. How interesting it was to hear of things from different points of view. We covered topics like the buildings, the uniform, behaviour and clubs, but sometimes just moved casually from one memory to another.

We discussed first the small size of the buildings when Miss Morris joined the staff. Miss Bain, who became Headmistress in 1938, added to the Main House the Lesser Hall and six classrooms; then, in the late 1950s, she had the labs built. Miss Bain's study, the Council Chamber, the sick room, the main door (with the nearby long sideboard for letters) and the hall area were all instantly recalled, as were the old Library with the third-form classroom leading off it and the Crush Hall, which Miss Morris remembered causing awful problems. There was a time when lunch was arranged in two sittings, and to facilitate this some classes had two lessons in the afternoon, and some had three. This meant that girls unable to play outside because of bad weather had to be kept silent. Miss Morris remembered the near impossibility of keeping the girls quiet.

Miss Hulme recalled Miss Bain's observation to her, on her appointment, that she needed to build a new Dining Room. The school still had echoes of the war, with attics containing beds used by staff when fire watching. There had been boarders too, so several unexpected facilities became apparent when Miss Hulme was taken on a guided tour. One feature was that the school engineer, Mr Whitelegg , then had a flat in the school. We reminisced enthusiastically about food. Miss Morris remembered that afternoon tea and cakes were served to staff, on request before break, for 6d. Miss Brandrick, the housekeeper, apparently found Miss Bain's delight in making mayonnaise in the kitchens rather a trial. I remember how delicious we found cold beef, grated raw cabbage and hot gravy in those days!

We discussed the uniform and its changes; we all remembered the tunics with box pleats, but particularly the hats, which Miss Morris recalled everyone putting little pleats in, at the back. I vividly remember sitting on public transport in the 50s while naughty boys popped bus tickets into the pleat or the hat band. Miss Hulme thought changes should be made to ensure that the uniform was practical and comfortable. The gaberdines had warm, lined hoods, and berets were used for some years. Apparently, when staff travelled on buses to and from school, their presence was a check on the uniform and behaviour of the girls travelling at the same time, but when staff started to use cars, it was felt that things deteriorated.

Staff too in the 50s were given a taste of uniform, since they were expected to wear gloves on their way to school. Miss Gearing, who left retirement briefly to help during staff rearrangements, used to confiscate things in the staff room, and new appointees were expected to perform tasks such as filling ink wells. Miss Finney was given that job: it was a challenge to her flawless elegance.

In my years as a pupil, behaviour in general was carefully supervised. There were periods of silence at lunch time, and I certainly remember the people at the ends of tables gathering up the plates and cutlery for washing. Prefects supervised behaviour in corridors, having to stop people running or walking on the right. This duty rather interfered with our own breaks, I recall. However, the girls were by no means subdued. There were naughty forms, but, as both Miss Morris and Miss Hulme observed, that was quite natural, and young people need energy and inventiveness as they grow.

Timetables have obviously changed a great deal. Miss Hulme remembers feeling that certain subjects needed to be studied without breaks, whereas others could be left for a year or so and then resumed if required. She and Miss Morris recalled how very many PE lessons there were years ago and the difficulty there was fitting in that number with new timetable developments. However, Miss Hulme was pleased that parents commented on the breadth of choice offered to the girls.

There were, of course, fewer extra-mural activities in those days. PE, with Miss Corfe, fielded many teams, which played against other schools. Music was developed in Miss Hulme's time. Miss McCardell had taught singing, trained a choir and given private piano lessons, but Miss Hulme felt that a school like Withington should teach music as an academic subject and have an orchestra. Hilary Johnson had already started a tiny orchestra, which was then led briefly by Miss Rogers, then taken over and developed by Miss Fielden. Wendy Boswell taught Music GCE and A-level, succeeded later by Jean Fielden. Miss Fielden also organised additional peripatetic teachers, who gave private lessons on many instruments. Throughout this time the choir had been singing Minuit chrétien at Christmas, after it had been introduced by Madame Bebié, a Modern Languages teacher in the 50s. Stirring, memorable, much-loved music. Miss Boucher encouraged the School Society as a debating and play-reading group. Happy memories! She also, of course, developed the school plays. Those had existed under Miss Telford and Miss Jowitt, but Joyce Boucher made them events of great enjoyment. Everyone from UIV, and later from L V upwards, could take part, and crowd scenes employed up to a hundred in plays like Julius Caesar. Many members of staff helped with lighting, sound, costumes, sets and props. There were many rehearsals, and I adored it all, sad though I was that I could be in only two plays myself, Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

There was a hiking club, run by Celia Pitts, which Miss Morris helped with, as with the plays and other school activities. Big Miss Wilson of the Geography Department, not to be confused with Little Miss Wilson (later Mrs Hill) of Classics, organised holidays, such as the one to Norway. Miss Boucher took trips to Stratford, a memorable one being in 1964, when there was a special exhibition with smells, just as there were at the Yorvik exhibition, organised years later. Mrs Darbyshire developed activity holidays to provide challenges for the girls.

I was fascinated to hear of the background to building projects. Apparently, when Miss Hulme became Headteacher, schools were not allowed by the Department of Education to put up fees or dinner charges, if that might mean a profit was made. So money had to be borrowed for building projects. The governors with whom Miss Hulme first worked had experienced years of austerity and were reluctant to sanction borrowing. However they did recognise the the need for a new Dining Room. Eventually work on it started, and during the work Miss Brandrick organised soup for all in the Main Hall, but we also brought sandwiches and became adept at stacking and unstacking chairs. Then we organised dance sessions on wet days to the sound of the Beatles.

The 1970s were years of educational upheaval, beginning when the Manchester LEA adopted comprehensive education and refused to pay for further pupils to attend direct grant schools, and finishing when the government abolished the direct grant. Then the governors had to decide whether to become a state-maintained or an independent school. A School Trust was started, to which staff, parents and past pupils contributed; and parents, under the leadership of David Davies, helped with maintenance work, such as decorating. To Miss Hulme and Miss Morris the Bursary Appeal must seem like history repeating itself.

When I asked about staff meetings, Miss Morris remembered Miss Bain's enjoyment of discussions after assemblies, analysing the girls' progress and the little green absence books, which were so religiously filled in. Miss Morris also remembered how, before the school buses, Miss Bain would gather the whole school together, if there was fog, and personally supervise arrangements for the girls getting home. Thank goodness for the Clean Air Act.

By now, we had been chatting for hours, so I asked for final memories. We all recalled with much affection Miss Williams in the office. She knew everything, had perfect written skills and understanding of finance, yet coped effortlessly with sick children and various interruptions. Miss Morris remembered her terror as a young teacher at being asked to accompany Miss Verity and Miss Corfe to try out a restaurant in order to see if it was suitable for Miss Bain's farewell party. Miss Hulme remembered being invited by Lady Simon, a strong proponent of comprehensive education, for dinner, only to discuss the relative merits of women's Oxford colleges.

So, on the subject of food, we finished our meeting. It was all so enjoyable and fascinating that I hope they will allow us to repeat the experience.  I thank them enormously for giving their time and feel that there are many more memories still to be revealed.