Tweed skirts and lots of space: memories of Hemel Hempstead’s St Nicholas School

The ‘mystery picture’ of St Nicholas School featured recently in the Gazette brought several responses from local people, including one from a former pupil and one from a former teacher.

Sonia Waterton, then Miss Sully, was a resident class and art teacher and helped to look after the girls who lived there from 1950 to 1953, when she left to get married.

St Nicholas School, Hemel Hempstead

St Nicholas School, Hemel Hempstead

It was a preparatory school for girls up to about 14 years of age, some being boarders and others attending as ‘day girls’.

It cost £66 per term for boarders and from nine to 20 guineas for day girls.

The buildings contained a gymnasium, class rooms, a kindergarten wing and dormitories.

The house, formerly known as The Hollies, had been home to the Marnham family, well known in Boxmoor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The house was bought sometime pre-1933 by two sisters, the Misses E.B. and P.I. Brown, and a caring boarding school was founded there, later taken over in around 1949 by Miss Muriel Clegg BA

She tried to keep the ambience of the school according to its founders, but struggled to have the same impact on the girls under her care. The matron, Mrs Hastain, was later replaced by Miss Davies, who had a stronger hold on discipline.

The aim of the school was to prepare girls for the entrance and scholarship examinations for girls’ public schools.

Sonia has many happy memories of the school and can recall the names of some of the pupils, such as Sandra Butlin, Janet and Alison Douglas, Wendy Bullen, Elizabeth ‘Pony’ Shanks, Ann and Sheila McIntosh and Joanna and Rosamund Seth-Ward, daughters of the head of Heath Brow School.

The girls enjoyed the eight acres of grounds and played lacrosse, netball, tennis and rounders. On one open day, scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream were performed to parents in the open air.

The girls wore oatmeal coloured sweaters, brown Harris tweed skirts and red and white candy-striped dresses in summer.

Everything came from a large London store and was of the highest quality, even the brown interlock knickers, with white inner linings!

The gym was converted from the stables and coach-house and was a multi –purpose building, while the caretaker had his own accommodation on site.

There were extensions to the The Hollies for the staff room and classrooms, while the headmistress had her office in the old house, which also accommodated the housekeeper’s rooms, dormitories, matron’s rooms, playroom and dining room.

A gardener and a young assistant tended the grounds, including the kitchen garden and rose beds.

Several Wellingtonia trees and a lovely copper beech tree were part of the scene, as well as a pond where crested newts could be found.

Sonia’s recollections give a lot more detail about the staff and pupils she knew in the early 1950s and, although now blind, she has written her memories down for posterity.

The once isolated nature of the school protected the girls, but when the school moved to Abbot’s Hill and the estate was sold for housing – now St Nicholas Mount – the site was quickly surrounded as the new town developed apace.

The bungalow at the end of the lane leading to Shrub Hill Common, once accommodation for resident teaching staff, is nowadays the only reminder of those early school days.