GSA Girls' Boarding & Day School 11–18

Priorsfield Road, Godalming, Surrey, GU7 2RH

Tel: +44 (0)1483 810551

A Glimpse into the Past!

Masked girls take no chances during a science lesson in 1919.

Prior's Field opened as a school on January 23, 1902 with five day girls, one boarder, a wire-haired terrier and one small boy - Aldous Huxley!

The school has a Sherlock Holmes connection: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's daughter, Mary, was one of the earliest pupils.

Headmistress Mrs Ethel Burton-Brown (1908-1927) read aloud from Plato to girls who chose not to go to church.

The school magazine was published for the first time in June, 1908, when there were 85 pupils and 86 Old Girls.

The gardens of Prior's Field were tended by lady gardeners in the early years, including head gardener Miss Cracknell who wrote about the mower's pony falling down in "fits of weariness" while another ran away, smashing the machine, and yet another, took fright, dragging a man behind him!

During the First World War, the girls knitted for the troops, sending socks, mittens, mufflers and sweaters by the dozen. Old jerseys were dyed khaki and made into cardigan jackets for the soldiers and sailors.

The school's drama studio (formerly the art room) served as a weekend clubroom for the men of 14th Signal Company, Royal Engineers, who were camped at Shackleford. The scent of their Woodbines penetrated to the farthest corner of the house!

In 1920, Prior's Field formed its own fire brigade. Members wore dark brown overalls and were drilled in the art of rolling and coupling hoses.

Hezel the Butler.

A much-loved figure at Prior's Field in the early days was Hezel, the butler. With his slicked-down hair and tailcoat, he was the school's own version of Wodehouse's famous character, Jeeves.

Maids brought cans of hot water to each room so that the girls could have their morning wash. One housemaid had to wash all the girls' socks by hand!

In 1934, Headmistress Miss Beatrice Burton-Brown took a party of girls to Rome, where they heard Mussolini speaking to a great gathering of the women and girl Fascists. She described their white-gloved hands, raised high and waving to him as like "great flocks of white birds", in what was a chilling scene.

Contact with the Charterhouse boys was strictly forbidden and there was a rule that the girls were not to go near the "hedges and edges" of the school grounds in case they came into contact with the Combined Cadet Force marching past.

Prior's Field's first science laboratory (now the Food Technology room) was opened by Dr Julian Huxley, elder son of the school's founder Julia Huxley, on October 26, 1939.

On D Day, June 6, 1944, the girls, clad in dressing gowns, pyjamas and nightdresses sat in the girls' hall (now the staff common room) listening to the Allied progress on the wireless.

On VE Day, May 8, 1945, the school celebrated with a Victory bonfire. Later, every bedroom, form room and sitting room was flooded with light - the first time the electric lights had been blazing without curtains since 1939.

In 1970, Prior's Field adopted its very own Royal Naval vessel - HMS Cutlass - a fast patrol boat. In the words of the headmistress, Mrs Hiles, she was "built by a father, launched by a mother, and accepted for the Navy by another father" - all Prior's Field parents.

Boarding rules in the Seventies remained strict. The girls had to book telephone times to ring home, and were only allowed to wash their hair once a week - special time was allocated to use the hair dryers!

One of the school's most famous Old Girls was the playwright and author, Enid Bagnold. Her most famous play was The Chalk Garden, which ran for 658 performances in 1956-57, with Edith Evans heading the cast. Her famous novel about the Grand National, National Velvet, starring Elizabeth Taylor, had been MGM's 1944 Christmas film.

Crime writer, Margaret Yorke, is also a Prior's Field Old Girl. She has written over 40 books and in 1999 received the Crime Writers' Association Cartier Diamond Dagger Award.

Other old girls include Baroness Mary Warnock, educationalist and philosopher; Victoria Hamilton, actress and Thetis Blacker, singer and artist.

All facts are taken from Prior's Field School - A Century Remembered 1902 - 2002 by Margaret Elliott.

Baroness Warnock of Weeke opening the Prior's Field Girls Allowed Radio Station 1431am.