Newcastle Central High School for Girls, a happy history
22 December 2020
Our soon to be launched Jesmond Assembly community sits on the site that was once occupied by the Newcastle Central High School for girls. School Librarian, Carol Elliott, took over the care of the school’s archives in 2000 and began digitising them, she was so inspired she turned them into an illustrated history.
During her research she discovered Central High was a happy place, held in great affection by the many alumnae and was much loved having a profound influence on the lives of the girls who passed through it. We spoke to Carol about writing and researching the fascinating history:
It took you 12 years to research and record the history of Newcastle Central High School for Girls, where Pegasus Jesmond Assembly now stands. What particularly inspired you to embark on the project?
I had to do the research when I could fit it in with my main duties as School Librarian, but once I started I was soon hooked! The school archives, 20 years ago, were scattered around the building in filing cabinets and cupboards, even one cupboard that had not been opened for decades. As I discovered how much information we had, especially the many lovely photographs, I realised that there would be a lot of people who would be interested to see them. The last history of the school was published in 1955, so research was needed to present the images in context, and I was happy to take on the task.
Is there one discovery you made, however small, that struck you and why?
Unsurprisingly, given my career, I was delighted to find the photographs from 1931 of the school’s first purpose built library. This was a beautiful oak-panelled room with a large window and remained relatively unchanged until the school moved out in 2016.
It’s a fascinating history of the progress of girls’ education in this country. What sort of girls would have attended a school of this kind?
The girls would originally have been from fairly well-off families, who could afford the fees, but from the 1920s to the 1970s the school was grant-aided, which meant accepting a proportion of girls from state-funded primary schools. These were girls who would have had to pass the 11+ exam, and the local authority would have paid their fees, ensuring a social mix in the school. The grant system ended in the 1970s, but there were bursaries to help pay the fees of some of the girls. The qualities shared by the girls from all walks of life were intelligence and a commitment to their education.
What sort of jobs and professions did the girls, like Olive Carter who features in your Illustrated History, go on to pursue?
Olive Carter became a teacher, and in the early years of the school there would have been limited career opportunities for girls outside of teaching, nursing, and secretarial posts. This, of course, gradually changed, and the strong science element of the school’s curriculum ensured that medicine, dentistry and veterinary science became possible choices of career. The girls were always encouraged to aim high, whatever their career choice.
Is there one decade in the school’s history that you felt most defined the greatest achievements in furthering women’s education?
The first decade must have been the most pioneering and difficult, yet pupil numbers rose from 28 in 1876 to 300 by 1885. At a time when the education of girls was overlooked and undervalued this success was remarkable, especially since the curriculum was academic. The school had at least six teachers with degrees, and girls took the examinations of the Oxford and Cambridge Examinations Board from 1880. The school obviously believed that girls might be equipped for employment outside the home, which was an advanced attitude for the time.
Jesmond Assembly sits in the heart of Jesmond offering a collection of sophisticated one- and two-bedroom apartments. Its name was chosen to celebrate the trailblazing heritage of Central High, perfectly evoking the neighbourhood’s history. For more details about Jesmond Assembly please contact the sales team on: [email protected] or call 0191 247 4463. Prices at Jesmond Assembly start from £300,000 for a one-bedroom home with rental prices from £1,450pcm.