Farewell to the Scarborough Girls’ High School

Scarborough Sixth Form College
Scarborough Sixth Form College

by Dr Jack Binns

During the Second World War after the Girls’ High School had at last moved to Sandybed, Miss Glauert was succeeded by Miss Woods, known familiarly to her pupils as “Millie”. Less complimentary was a description of her by “an old girl” as “the spinster with scraped-back black hair and spindly legs”.

Finally, there came Hilda Briggs, born in Southport in 1920, a BA in English at Manchester University, who was to be there at the death. Reluctant to leave Sandybed and take over a very different mixed school of 11-16-year-olds, she agreed to become head of the new Graham comprehensive until her retirement in 1978. Most readers will best remember her as the 80-year-old lady who abseiled down the outside front of the Grand Hotel and the 85-year-old who parachuted, both for charity. She died in 2009 aged 89.

Westlands had no assembly hall and no adjacent sports field. For the latter, the school made good use of the nearby Oriel grounds. Nevertheless, though most of its places had to be paid for and the North Riding with its accustomed parsimony kept a tight rein on the number of scholarships it awarded, the Girls’ High flourished in hard times and hard circumstances.

In 1939 it was finally rewarded with a new building for 350 pupils, which cost £53,000, on a green-field site at Sandybed. It was a belated recognition by the county of its remarkable success.

By 1972, the last full year of its half-century existence, the High School for Girls had evolved in advance of the nation’s growing acceptance of gender equality in education. Since 1922, its numbers had grown from 200 to 650 with 41 staff, several of them male. In 1972, 50 of these pupils had passed the Advanced Level in 155 subjects and 18 had left Scarborough to take up degree courses at 14 different universities.

The girls had been taught separately, but by their own efforts and those of their dedicated teachers they had long since disproved the predictions of Professor Maudsley.

The abolition of Scarborough’s two prestigious grammar schools, the Boys’ High as well as the Girls’ High, in 1973 therefore came as an unwelcome surprise to pupils both past and present of both of them.

It seemed particularly unexpected because the decision had been approved by Margaret Thatcher, the education minister in Ted Heath’s Conservative government, and implemented by one of the most conservative and Conservative county councils in the country.

In fact, though comprehensive reorganisation of secondary education had been the declared aim of the previous Wilson Labour government, Mrs Thatcher consented to the closure of more selective grammar schools than anyone in her office before or after. Both party governments believed that the 11-plus had to go; what each local education authority had to decide was what kind of comprehensive reorganisation would replace it.

After the girls moved out of Westlands and up to Sandybed in September 1939 their original home came to be occupied first by what was then called Scarborough Technical Institute. Since 1896 the Institute had been offering a restricted range of adult evening classes at the Central Board School on Trafalgar Street West. Then, after German bombs had destroyed its building at the junction of Vernon and Falconer’s Roads on May 10 1941, Scarborough’s School of Art was transferred to the annexe of Westlands.

According to the terms of the Butler Education Act of 1944, in future there had to be a clear, distinctive break at the age of 11, separating elementary from secondary schooling.

Depending on a child’s aptitude and academic ability, after the age of 11, and at least for three, but ultimately five, years, secondary education was to be free and of three kinds – grammar, technical and modern.

At that time most of Scarborough’s schoolchildren were taught in all-age elementary schools, infants, junior and senior, under the same roof and it took many years for the Butler Act to be implemented in the town.

Though eventually Scarborough did get secondary modern schools, in existing and new buildings, at Scalby, Eastfield, Raincliffe and 
Westwood, it was never provided with a separate secondary technical. Instead, belatedly, Scarborough got a Technical College.

In October 1961, after three years of construction work costing more than £400,000 on a 15-acre green-field site next to Scarborough hospital, Scarborough Technical College was opened by the Archbishop of York. Renamed Yorkshire Coast College in 1992, it continues to provide most of the adult and further education in the district of Scarborough.

So, in 1961, Westlands was again emptied. Scarborough Council agreed to convert it into a private hotel, but its new owners lacked the necessary means and allowed the building to decay.

Such was the sad and deplorable condition of Westlands that, after compulsory purchase, it was carefully demolished in 1985 and thousands of its special white bricks put in storage for later Council use.

Finally, what had once been Westlands and its 
annexe became a handsome block of 26 sheltered flats and six bungalows. As a reminder of the site’s previous occupant, the new buildings were called College Court.