Prior’s Field School was the fulfillment of a dream for Julia Huxley, granddaughter of Dr Thomas Arnold, the reforming headmaster of Rugby School and niece of poet Matthew Arnold. Married to Charterhouse schoolmaster Leonard Huxley, she had long cherished an ambition to open a school of her own. She bought a five-acre plot and a moderate sized house on the outskirts of Godalming and, in January 1902, opened her progressive school for girls with just six pupils and her seven-and-a-half-year-old son, Aldous.
A brilliant scholar and gifted teacher, Mrs Huxley had advanced and original ideas about education. She brought subjects alive by taking her pupils out of the classroom and into galleries, concerts, theatres and museums. She allowed the girls an unusual freedom of thought and expression and encouraged a love of books, culture and solitude. Prior’s Field pupils could choose whether or not to go to church and could explore the countryside in pairs without supervision.
Prior’s Field attracted the attention of many of the intellectual and cultural elite of the country; Arthur Conan-Doyle, Professor Gilbert Murray and Alexander Siemens were among those who sent their daughters to be educated in the new experimental style by Mrs Huxley. When Julia Huxley died in 1908 aged only 46, she had established a thriving and successful school. She was succeeded by Ethel Burton-Brown and in turn by Ethel’s daughter Beatrice Burton-Brown who was Head Mistress at the time of Prior’s Field’s Golden Jubilee in 1952. Together, these formidable women created a unique and distinctive school whose ethos of joy in learning and ambition for girls continues to this day.
Masked girls take no chances during a science lesson in 1919.
A century ago, sport was considered unbecoming of young ladies. But not by Julia Huxley.
Julia Huxley, the school founder allowed the girls an unusual freedom of choice and expression.
Old Girls build a Snowman in 1959.
The Girls go off to a match.