More memories of St Ives:
Slepe Hall School

Betty Yeandle

by (the late) Betty Yeandle (previously Betty Robb)

who was a pupil at Slepe Hall School from 1930-1940, a time she remembered with affection and gratitude. She believed her education there, with its emphasis on self-discipline, was very suitable for its time, and she would have sent her own daughters there too, had it not closed in 1966.

St Ives
Cambridgeshire




Click Oliver Cromwell (who once lived here) to go to contents list.






Oliver Cromwell resided in the original Slepe Hall between 1631-1636. It was situated on the site of Cromwell Place and Cromwell Terrace. This building was demolished in 1848 when it was occupied by the Rev. Mr Rugeley who kept "a young ladies school". At the time of the abolition of slavery, Mr Rugeley brought home "Mr Sambo" when he returned from travelling abroad and he became a general favourite in St Ives. He then built Slepe Hall in Ramsey Road in order to continue his work. This building was purchased during the 1870s by the Rev. Thomas Lloyd, Minister of the Free Church, to prevent it being sold to the Roman Catholics! The Rev. Lloyd believed in women's education and his three daughters taught at Slepe Hall, Martha becoming Headmistress.

The interests of the Rev. Lloyd proved to have a great influence upon Slepe Hall School, as he gave support to Christian missionaries at home and abroad, the anti-slavery movement, education and practical help for the poor, appreciation of music, the Temperance movement, the study of science, Church history and travel. This nonconformist school provided for boarders as well as day girls. The day girls often had to cycle past the boys' council school wearing their distinctive uniforms, panama or velour hats, gloves etc and had to receive jeers and taunts with controlled dignity - as later on I had to do. On the other hand, the day girls had to be lowered by ropes from the dormitories during fire practice!

During the 1930s Miss Hilda Newton became Headmistress (known as "Taddy" Tadpole!) The total number of pupils was approximately 50, day girls (like me) being in the minority. Boarders enjoyed the privilege of bread and dripping with their milk at 11am break! The Kindergarten (attended by my husband-to-be) was housed in an adjacent building known as "The Dovecot", and Miss Winifred Gray taught both boys and girls aged 5-7. Sea shells were used in arithmetic lessons. Form 2 moved to the main building and by the 3rd-5th forms, boys were excluded. Day girls' fees were £4 14s 6d per term, a small extra charge being made for books, piano lessons, uniform, e.g. blazer 21/6d, badge 6d, hatband 2/6d.

Reunion
A reunion of old girls was held in the 1960s just before closure. The current schoolgirls were sitting in front. Behind them is the school building, now Slepe Hall Hotel. The room seen on the left of the ground floor was the school dining room. The room to the right of it was the staff room. Beyond the main entrance was the school library, and on the extreme right, the Headmistress's study. There is also a larger version of this photo, together with a 1926 school photo, on the next page.

The curriculum in the 1930s (when I was there) included:
English literature, grammar and composition, and compulsory holiday reading of a "classic" book. A school library was provided and a school magazine was published annually with articles and poems by the pupils (including me, aged ten!), together with news of old girls. I still have a copy.
Religious instruction. New Testament taught by Miss Phillips and Old Testament by Miss Duckering.
History. dates, Kings, Queens and rulers had to be memorised.
Geography. Pride in the extent of the British Empire!
Art. Leading to Royal Drawing Society exams.
French. Taught by a succession of "Mademoiselles" visiting from France.
Music. Including piano taught by Miss Lilian Prust and Miss Dorothy Warren, violin, Miss Maguire and choir all joining in concerts with St Ives music groups and societies. Staff concerts introduced pupils to classical and orchestral music and drama.
Embroidery - silks used were charged individually.
Elocution taught by Emily Lewis.
Biology (later extended to science) taught by Miss Hughes. Girls were provided with their own area of garden to cultivate, and at the end of the summer term all the pupils were allowed by the school gardening society to collect wild flowers, awards being given for the highest number of named varieties and the best arrangements.
Mathematics covered geometry, algebra, mental arithmetic and trigonometry, taught by Miss Owen.
Physical Education taught by Eileen MacLean included gym and dance (classical wearing Grecian dress, national and modern). See the pictures below.


Gym
Gym on the hard court.

Grecian dancing
Grecian dancing on the front lawn. I was third from the right!

The old gym


The gymnasium was this wooden building equipped with parallel bars, a horse and benches. The photo shows it being used by the hotel as a storeroom.





We also played hockey on the school field across the road (later the town's cricket field, and now a children's play area and home to car boot sales), and tennis, with two grass courts in the school garden and one hard court, now the hotel car park. A sports day was held annually on the school field and included three-legged, egg and spoon, sack, slow bicycle and obstacle races in addition to hurdles, high jump and competition between the two houses, Hague and Geneva.
Swimming in the open air town pool (now used as a base by the Sea Scouts) enabled pupils to acquire Royal Life Saving qualifications. The very cold river water was a toughening experience!
Latin and psychology were taught by the Headmistress in the 5th and 6th forms.

Girl guides joined with the town to present a masque of Empire and learnt to signal morse and semaphore messages using flags. They also gave a gym and dance display using Indian clubs and dumbbells.
The Zenana mission sale and concert in 1935 raised £44 16s 8d and gave support to schools in South India, China and Madagascar.
A free boarding place was given to a girl from China.

The boarders were taken on an annual picnic, and an Empire Fancy Dress Dance challenged them to use their imaginations and their sewing skills. They also walked in crocodile to the Free Church every Sunday endeavouring to set a good example to Miss Patrick's, the other, smaller, girls' school in Church Street, St Ives.

Each day started with a religious assembly in the dining hall, all the girls having silently queued in the corridor. If anyone murmured a word, the queue had to be reformed and the procession repeated. The school hymn was Jerusalem and the school motto "The utmost for the highest". In the 1930s one pupil was excused as she was a Roman Catholic. To sum up the aims of Slepe Hall, the Rev. J.S.Whale, Principal of Cheshunt College in Cambridge, said on Speech Day in 1935, "The school is the nursery of God whence we set out on our journey through the vale of soul making."

Miss Buckfield succeeded Miss Newton as Headmistress, and the school closed and became a hotel in 1966.

Betty Yeandle was also the author of "Robb's Walk", the history of her family's rope making business in St Ives. This is available from the Norris Museum and from Walkers Bookshop in Crown Street.



Slepe Hall School - A Little Later

by Dr Bridget Wallace (previously Bridget Eaton)

The photo was taken at the Slepe Hall Old Girls' Reunion in 2006. Bridget Wallace is on the right. On the left is Davina Scrivener/Dakers, whose parents ran the Dolphin.

All my school days, from 1941-1953, were spent at Slepe Hall. At first in the kindergarten before "going up" to the main school. When I started school Miss Newton was headmistress. I remember the school performed "Masque of Empire" in the Corn Exchange. I was a page girl in a pink dress, carrying a "silver" wand which was broken and flopped over. Later we repeated "Masque" on the Priory lawn for the Free Church garden party. This time I was a nightmare, which was much more fun. I also remember being a sunbeam dancing on the school lawn for Parents Day, in a yellow and orange cheesecloth dress. Those were the days of Miss Maclean.

In - I think - 1946 Miss Newton retired, Miss Buckfield became Headmistress and Miss Maclean retired soon afterwards. Miss Buckfield changed the colour of the school uniform from navy to green and grey, and dancing in flimsy dresses gave way to gym displays in shorts and shirts.

Slepe Hall was a boarding school, so there was a whole area of school life that I, a day girl, knew little about. We had a matron, housekeeper, domestic staff and gardeners who looked after us and kept the school running smoothly.

At first little appeared to have changed from the description given in Betty Yeandle's excellent and comprehensive account of her years at the school.The Zenana bazaar held in November to support the Zenana missions continued to be a highlight of the year. We made lavender bags and kettleholders. Stalls were set up in the dining room and competitions in the gym. We served tea to parents and friends and hoped they would do some Christmas shopping.

Times were changing. Running the school during and just after the war must have been difficult. Although they were all well qualified, there was a frequent change of teachers. The curriculum became more restricted. Several subjects, such as geography were dropped. In contrast, around this time, a new block of classrooms was built next to the hard tennis court which greatly improved the teaching facilities.

As travel became easier after the war we occasionally went to the theatre, locally or in London to see a Shakespeare play and at my very first experience of foreign travel was a memorable visit to Paris in 1949, accompanied by Miss Buckfield and Miss Watkins who taught gym and games and trained the choir.

After Miss Watkins left to become an opera singer, the choir was trained by Miss Sadler who also taught English and History. In the spring term we took part in the county music festival held in Huntingdon. Mrs Fontaine taught sports and gym and the hockey team competed in the county trials also held in Huntingdon.

The school had a Guide company and Brownie pack. After Miss Maclean retired Mrs Fawkes became Guide Captain. She took us on enjoyable camping trips to Norfolk, Devon and Guernsey. Shortly before I left school Betty Yeandle became our Captain.

In 1951 the school joined in St Ives celebrations for the Festival of Britain. I remember parading round the Broadway, dressed as a peasant, playing the recorder. By this time "O" levels had replaced the "matric" exams and life became more serious. We studied history, English language and literature with Mrs Tait and French with Mrs Ilott. Mrs Kaplanska, a refugee from Poland, taught mathematics, including arithmetic, algebra and geometry. Scripture was taught by Rev Ballard. Mrs Hudson, who became the first woman Mayor of St Ives in 1956, taught biology. Piano lessons were taught by Mrs Tomlin and it was a great treat when she gave a concert for us. Other subjects offered were art, dressmaking and elocution all taught by visiting teachers. Miss Bartlett, the school secretary, taught Latin. My class took "O" levels in the summer of 1953 amidst all the excitement of the Coronation celebrations. We then left the shelter of Slepe Hall for the wide world.

I would like to record my thanks to Mrs Northcote, a temporary teacher, who encouraged me to go on and study biology.

There are more photos of Slepe Hall on the next page.

A brief account of life in the original Slepe Hall School in Cromwell Place in the early 1840s can be found here.


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