On 13th July 1990 the official opening took place of the new Sixth Form block at Saint Martin’s Girls’ School. The Sixth Form occupied the site of the former stables at Malvern Hall, adjacent to the former Solihull Lido in Malvern Park.
Saint Martin’s School had moved to Malvern Hall, Solihull in 1989 and was the third school to occupy the historic site – the previous two being Solihull High School for Girls (1931-1974) and Malvern Hall Comprehensive School (1974-1989).
In September 2020, Saint Martin’s School will merge with Solihull School, and Malvern Hall will then house its fourth educational establishment – Solihull Preparatory School. It seems timely to look back at the schools that have occupied this stately home over the last 70 years.
Solihull High School for Girls 1931-1974
In the early 1920s, Solihull Parish Council wrote to Warwickshire County Council (which had responsibility for state education in Solihull at the time) drawing attention to the need for a girls’ secondary school in Solihull.
Solihull Rural District Council formed a small sub-committee to work with Warwickshire County Council and, in 1925, negotiations took place to purchase from Mr Horace Brueton Malvern Hall and 11 acres of land. This was approved by the Board of Education in January 1926 but it was not until February 1929 that plans were submitted for discussion. Approval was given by the Board of Education on 25th June 1930 and work began in September 1930 under the direction of Warwickshire’s County Architect, Mr Arthur Charles Bunch (1879-1950).
There were 160 applicants for the post of Headmistress of the new school and eight were invited for interview in March 1931. The successful candidate was the gifted and cultured Miss Flora Macrae Forster (1895-1981), then Senior English Mistress at the Church of England College, Edgbaston. Miss Forster had a brilliant academic record, being Top Scholar at Somerville College, Oxford and gaining a First in English Language and Literature in 1918.
Miss Forster remained Headmistress of the school for thirty years, retiring at Christmas 1961. She was commended for her “staunch and true” service to the school, with Mrs J. Macey, President of the Parents’ Association at the time of her retirement, describing her as “a valiant and fearless fighter for the best interests of the school.”
The selective girls’ grammar school opened on 16th September 1931, with 88 pupils in five classes:
- Form Remove (teacher Miss Jackson);
- Form I East (Miss Grove);
- Form I West (Miss Gardner);
- Form II (Miss Brimacombe);
- Form III (Miss Davies).
To begin with, only younger girls aged 10-12 were admitted, provided they passed an entrance exam in arithmetic and English. An entrance exam was held the day before the school opened, with the school caretaker hand-delivering the exam results to the successful candidates, who then reported at the school the following morning!
As the school buildings were not complete by the time the school opened, the girls were taught in the main Hall itself. A former pupil remembered that there were no rules on the first day, but they were introduced later as necessary, e.g. no sliding down the banisters, no going outside in indoor shoes, not removing one’s hat whilst cycling, not eating in public.
There was no formal opening of the school but a Foundation ceremony was held the following year on Saturday 5th September 1932, by which time there were 190 children enrolled. The capacity of the school at that time was 330, with plans for this to be increased to 440. The Foundation ceremony saw the school, with its now completed buildings opened by Sir Henry Hadow, entrusted to the care of the Governing body. Each subsequent year of the school’s life saw Foundation Day celebrated on the Saturday closest to 5th November and always (except during the war years) winding up with a bonfire and fireworks on the field.
Initially, there was no school uniform, although it was introduced soon afterwards and consisted of:
- a brown tunic with box pleats
- thick brown lisle stockings
- a blazer with the school badge
- a brown overcoat or gaberdine raincoat
- cream blouse
- blue, green and brown tie
- brown velour hat, adorned with a striped hat band
In summer, girls were allowed to wear their own summer dresses albeit with a much-hated panama hat. Later, a green and white summer dress was added to the uniform, the tunic lost its box pleats, and brown skirts replaced the tunic from around 1951.
The school badge, worn on blazers and on prefects’ hats, was an adaptation of the Greswold coat of arms and included a silver band between two running silver greyhounds on a green background.
A House system was introduced around 1934 with girls being assigned to one of four houses – Greswolde, Leewode, Longdon or Ulverley. Discipline was described by a former pupil as “fierce by modern standards” with the girls “not allowed to speak, run or even lift a desk lid unless told to do so.” For further reminiscences from former pupils see Respice Prospice: Malvern Hall 1931-1989 edited by Betty Durrands (available to borrow from Solihull Libraries).
The school’s motto – “Respice, Prospice” (Look back – look forward) – was devised by Miss Forster and considered by one of the original teachers as “so exactly right for a forward-looking twentieth century school in which the new buildings are joined to a gracious William and Mary house.” In her address at the Foundation ceremony in 1932, Miss Forster referred to the motto and described its meaning as:
that we want to hold on to the best things in our heritage from the past, and at the same time be ready to welcome change and growth in the future. And the motto is echoed in our material setting here, the old hall with its sense of the past, and the new wing with its sense of the future
Nationally, by 1938, around 80 per cent of children left school at the age of 14. Most of these pupils had only received an elementary education. Grammar schools were fee-paying, although there were a limited number of scholarships until the Education Act 1944 introduced the concept of free education at maintained schools for those aged 5-15. Grammar schools would take the most able 20 per cent of pupils, based on the results of children’s 11+ examinations.
Miss Forster enjoyed Malvern Hall’s history and finding its lost treasures, especially the original Coade stone statues from the niches of the main gate pillars. The classical statues, depicting a Vestal and a Sibyl, which had been ordered in 1818 for Henry Greswolde Lewis by John Constable, had been removed after the First World War. By the 1940s, the statues were at Hill Park, Lapworth, which was owned by Mr Harry Dare, a notable local builder. Miss Forster discovered that the statues were coming up for auction with the sale of the estate in 1949 and she was able to purchase them for the school, where they still remain today.
On 19th July 1963, the Harold Cartwright Wing was officially opened, adding much-needed space to the school, including six well-equipped laboratories.
Miss Forster’s successors as Headteacher were:
- Mrs M. E. Cotton, Headmistress 1961-1971
- Miss Eleanor Binks, Deputy Headmistress, who took over as Acting Head 1971-2
- Mr Harold Kenneth Greenhalgh, who was appointed Head in September 1972 having previously been Headmaster at Dame Elizabeth Cadbury School in Bournville. He was tasked with developing Malvern Hall from a highly selective girls’ grammar school into an 11-16 comprehensive school
Malvern Hall Comprehensive School
Having been a girls’ grammar school for more than 40 years, Malvern Hall became a co-educational comprehensive school in 1974, when Solihull Council reorganised its schools into a comprehensive education system. Eight comprehensive schools were formed out of the previous grammar and secondary modern schools, with a new school – Langley School – and a Sixth Form College also being built.
Headteacher, Mr H. K. Greenhalgh noted that Malvern Hall was the only one of the new comprehensive schools that had to accommodate both a great extension in the range of abilities of pupils, and the introduction of boys into what had been a single-sex school. Previously it had taken only the very ablest girls (from about the top eight per cent of ability range).
The first intake of boys in the first form in 1974 were, according the Headteacher, spoiled by senior girls and ribbed by boys from other schools as ‘sissies’ for attending what was still perceived as a girls’ school.
The uniform of the new school was pale blue for shirts and blouses, dark brown for blazers, jumpers and skirts, and mid-grey for trousers. By 1984, the number of school houses had increased to six, with Constable and Blythe added to the original four houses.
Miss Forster had endowed the school with a portrait of Henry Greswolde Lewis by John Constable but her deed of gift specified that it was to be transferred to Somerville College in the event of the school no longer being a girls’ grammar school. Malvern Hall pupils raised £700 which more than covered the cost of a photographic reproduction to be made to hang in place of the original.
Malvern Hall School was a county secondary day school for pupils aged 11-16 and drew children mostly from its catchment area primary schools – Bentley Heath, Coppice, Greswolde, Knowle, St Alphege and Yew Tree.
Around 80 per cent of pupils at Malvern Hall left the school to go onto further education at college or into specialised training such as the police or the Armed Forces.
An article in the Solihull News on 26th December 1981 suggested that Malvern Hall School was likely to close as a result of falling rolls. Negotiations began in 1984 for the Malvern Hall site to be taken over by Saint Martin’s School, an independent girls’ school which, by 1987, had 435 pupils. The school, which had grown by 50 per cent since 1984, intended to open a new Sixth Form and expand pupil numbers to 750 pupils. Approval for the move was given in October 1986.
Malvern Hall School’s information booklet from 1984 stated that the new first year pupils would be the school’s final intake and so would have the experience of a gradually shrinking school, as there would be no younger children following them. It was noted that a benefit of this would be that pupils would experience increasing individual attention from staff.
Prior to the closure of the school, a reunion of former teachers was held on 10th June 1989, which the Headmaster, Mr Greenhalgh said would include staff from every year from 1934 onwards. He referred to the school’s “very successful and proud record” and noted that “the school has always inspired loyalty and affection” (Letter, Sandwell Evening Mail, 27th April 1989).
Malvern Hall School officially closed on 31st August 1989, with Saint Martin’s School opening on the site the following month.
Saint Martin’s School
Saint Martin’s School was founded on 24th November 1941 by Miss Christine Thirza Tucker (1902-1980) and Miss Zelie Georgina Bull (1904-1964) It opened at no. 1 Homer Road in April 1942 with 14 pupils and eight staff.
It was said that Miss Bull was the energetic, enthusiastic one, whilst Miss Tucker (who was apparently known to friends by her middle name, Thirza) was the more academic of the pair. They both became joint principals of the new school, which was named after Saint Martin, third Bishop of Tours. Whilst a young soldier, Martin encountered a beggar in Amiens. As it was cold, Martin used his sword to cut his cloak and gave half to the beggar.
Miss Bull had been born in Solihull and was educated at Olton Court Convent. She gained a BSc at London University and returned to Olton to teach science and elocution. She also taught at several private schools in Solihull and, for a time, was a lecturer in phonetics and speech training at Selly Oak Teachers’ Training College. By 1939, she was also in partnership with Miss Gladys Mary Cole, running a children’s outfitters at no. 12 The Parade, Solihull called “Mary Marys.” The partnership was dissolved by mutual consent in 1944 and the business was continued by Miss Cole.
Miss C. Thirza Tucker was born in London on 24th November 1902 and gained a BSc from London University, as did her friend Miss Bull. Miss Tucker’s birthday also became Saint Martin’s Commemoration Day, on which the foundation of the school has been commemorated each year.
A booklet produced for the 50th anniversary of Saint Martin’s School in 1991 said that Saint Martin’s School was established as a result of Miss Tucker being left a legacy by an uncle, Miss Bull having a private income, and Mrs Jessie Taylor (Miss Tucker’s cousin) contributing her savings (which were repaid in 1951). The three ladies pooled their resources and opened the school.
In order to foster the sense of home as well as provide a place of education for children at Saint Martin’s, Miss Tucker’s mother became known to pupils as “Aunt Alice,” her cousin Mrs Jessie Taylor was “Aunt Jessie,” and Zelie Bull’s sister was “Aunt Doris.”
The school accommodated boarders and, in October 1943, no. 6 Alderbrook Road was purchased as a boarding house, having its own matron, domestic staff and cook. By May 1944, the school had 61 pupils and “Oakfield”, no. 37 Station Road (opposite St Augustine’s Church) was purchased to house the Junior Department, which also included small boys.
On 25th October 1943 the House system was instituted, with three Houses named after the means by which Saint Martin symbolised his courtesy – the Shield (by which he defended right and justice), the Sword (by which he fought for the same ideals) and the Cloak (by which he showed generosity to a beggar). Helmets House was added in 1953 and Chargers House in 1957.
By April 1945, the Senior School had moved into no. 41 Station Road, where a library and a well-equipped laboratory had been created. The gardens of nos. 39 and 41 had also been merged into one. No. 8 Alderbrook Road was acquired to provide boarding accommodation for the Senior girls as well as a home for Miss Bull and Miss Tucker.
The tennis courts in Herbert Road, which had been leased by the school in 1943, were purchased in 1945.
By 1955, the school had 270 pupils and consideration was given to moving the boarding accommodation from Alderbrook Road to Parkfield, Dorridge. However, an announcement was placed in the Birmingham Daily Post, 21st September 1957 to say that joint principals had decided against the move in the current circumstances.
In January 1957, it was announced that “Aunt Alice”, Miss Tucker’s mother, had acquired no. 10 Homer Road, which became a kindergarten in May 1957 and was known as Alice House, catering for pupils aged 3-7. Adopting the Alice in Wonderland theme, the head pupil was known as Alice and her four assistants were the four Aces. A beautiful stained glass window featuring the White Rabbit was presented to Alice House on its opening, and installed in the front door. It moved with the school when Alice House, catering for pupils from Nursery through to Year 2, moved into Malvern Hall.
In May 1958, College House opened at no. 2 Alderbrook Road and, later, “Churchwood”, no. 4 Alderbrook Road, was added to the school properties.
By 1959, when Miss Bull and Miss Tucker applied unsuccessfully for planning permission to open a finishing school in East Preston, West Sussex, they were described as running a “large international grammar school in Warwickshire, which takes 400 girls from 16 nations” (Worthing Herald, 7th August 1959).
By 1st September 1963, when Miss Bull and Miss Tucker gave up control of the school to a Board of Governors and it was converted into a public school, there were 442 pupils of 20 nationalities, with 40 teaching staff. The ladies carried on teaching at the school, intending to give up teaching at Christmas 1964. A new headmistress, Miss Edna Mary Bacon, was appointed from 1st January 1965. Miss Bacon served as Headmistress until her retirement in the Spring of 1982 and died on 9th October 1986.
Sadly, Miss Bull, who had apparently had spells of ill-health, didn’t reach her planned retirement. She died at her home in Alderbrook Road on 23rd September 1964, aged 60, and her ashes were interred in St Alphege Church. Those of Miss Tucker were interred beside her after Miss Tucker’s death on 23rd February 1980. Their memorial stone includes the motto of Saint Martin’s School – “The Grace of God is in Courtesy” – taken from the poem Courtesy by Hilaire Belloc.
In 1967, falling numbers of boarders caused the Governors to take the decision to close the school’s boarding houses and to sell the properties in Alderbrook Road. The boarding houses closed in July 1967, and permission was given by Solihull Council for the houses to be demolished and for 45 dwellings to be built on the site.
In 1975, the lease of no. 43 Station Road was acquired, with the freehold being purchased in 1977. No. 43 housed the Sixth Form until 1980 and was then used as the Staff House before becoming the main part of Lower School prior to the move to Malvern Hall.
Following the retirement of Miss Bacon, Mrs H. Roxborough was appointed Headmistress in September 1982. She was followed by Headmaster Mr D. J. Cobb, who was appointed in September 1984. In November 1984 it was announced that negotiations had begun to take over the Malvern Hall site for the school.
Mr Cobb resigned as Headmaster in Spring 1988, so it was his successor, Mrs Williams, who oversaw the move to Malvern Hall during the summer of 1989. Saint Martin’s opened its doors at Malvern Hall to senior pupils on 11th September 1989 and for the younger pupils on 18th September. On 4th January 1990, the first day of the new Spring term, the whole school of Saint Martin’s was on one site for the first time since 1957!
In November 1989, plans were approved for the school’s former playing fields, an 18-acre site in Widney Manor Road, to become a new cemetery. It was originally intended that, apart from a former coach house, all of the previous Saint Martin’s School premises at Station Road, Solihull, would be demolished. However, following pleas for the buildings to be retained, a revised scheme was revealed in May 1990, which saw most of the buildings retained and converted into offices – Dominion Court, nos. 39-43 Station Road. A two-level car park, with access from Herbert Road, was also built on the former school playground.
If you have any memories of the schools that have occupied Malvern Hall, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
© Solihull Council, 2020.
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