Ely High School 1905-1972
Celebrations in 2005 of the centenary of the founding of the school

Article from Ely Standard? - May 2005: source Jackie Sotheran (Bidwell): Christine Fuller (Bell) notes "Hilda or Pip Onion (Unwin)
married Cliff Cooper) and is the one on the right cutting the cake - she was born in 1916."


This booklet is dedicated to all those who were instrumental in the establishment of Ely High School so long ago, sited in the shadow of Ely Cathedral.

A grammar school blessed and prayed for by Cathedral Clergy, supported and managed by the Isle of Ely County Council, guided by the Governors throughout 67 years of existence.

The four excellent Headmistresses who created this centre of Education and instilled in its pupils high principles and ideals, who chose teaching staff of a high calibre to instruct and lead by example.

Ancillary staff who devoted long years of service.

To the beneficiaries of the quality education that Ely High School offered - the pupils - all of whom were equipped to go out into the world in the best possible way.

Fortiter ad Fastigium - Bravely to the Top.

issued as a 15-side A4 booklet
source: Sotheran


" the younger generation will come knocking at my door " - The Master Builder - Ibsen

[image to be found - Bedford House prior to 1905]

In the early 19th century a three storey dwelling was erected in St Mary's Street in Ely by Thomas Page for use as a private house but in 1824 it was acquired for use as the headquarters of the Bedford Level Corporation. It was bought by Cambridgeshire County Council in 1903, and a year later was passed on to the Isle of Ely Education Committee to use the buildings to establish a new High School in the city.

An arrangement was made with Miss I Pigott, principal of a private school in Ely, by which her pupils were to form the nucleus of the new school and she would be Head of the Preparatory School, to be run in connection with the new High School. Boys as well as girls were admitted to the Preparatory Department and remained a feature of the school for over four decades. At the age of 11 girls went on to the High School and the boys to the Choir School.

In early 1905 candidates were interviewed for the post of Headmistress of Ely High School and an appointment was made, only to be refused as the potential postholder was soon to be married. Miss EE Fletcher was recalled and appointed and took up her post in May 1905.

Ely High School was formally opened on 18 May with 42 pupils aged between six and fourteen - they were:

Annie Allen
Gladys Cross
May Evans
Phyllis Guyatt
Edith Jefferson
Mary Kempton
Florence Pledger
Laura Sennitt
Grace Woodward
Audrey Barnett
Audrey Cross
Alan J.Gardiner
Arthur Harris
Jane Jefferson
Dorothy Kempton
Winifred Robinson
Ethel Thompson
Gladys Woolnough
Gertrude Coy
Elsie Davison
Hilda Goodbody
Ethel Hills
Gladys Jennings
Elsie Northrop
Bertha Sennitt
Arthur Tyndall
Sissy Woolnough
Margaret Coy
Rachael Dunwoody
Thomas Guyatt
Madge Hills
Patty Jennings
Iva Pledger
Olive Sennitt
Kate Vye
Dorothy Wright

In June 1905 the following were admitted: Olive French, Hettie Shepperson, Beatrice Goodin, Eva Leonard

With the very beginning of the school began its growing pains which continued for over 50 years. The premises were, unfortunately, never adequate, even at its inception. Within a very short time the pillared main entrance, minus the steps, was moved from the centre of the facade to the position that remains 100 years on.

What must have been a fine and beautiful garden, comparable with any in Ely, became gradually cluttered with wooden huts, put up from time to time as the number of pupils became unworkable in the existing accommodation. In the early days there were fine lawns, an old thatched summer house and a hothouse with grapes and tomatoes, but these were soon to disappear.

The original building was extended at the back to provide larger classrooms, and the long cloakroom was added. A gymnasium was created at the front of the building by lowering the ground floor to take the necessary equipment - this was later to become the Art Room; cookery was taught in the square cloakroom which had a kitchen range and the Laboratory was enlarged.

During the First World War the numbers of pupils rose to 200, partly due to taking in some Belgian refugee children and one class had to be taught in Cass's Garage despite the fact that Miss Fletcher had been able to move into the Lodge in 1917 thereby releasing rooms in the building that had been her living accommodation.

In 1920 an ex-Army hut was purchased and positioned in the garden; initially used for Prize Livings with banks of ferns and girls dressed in white frocks, and wearing white gloves it was subsequently partitioned to provide cookery and needlework rooms.

As numbers increased more accommodation was needed and in 1932 the wooden gymnasium was built for gymnastics and for use as an Assembly Hall, followed by two more classrooms between the gymnasium and the main building.

The Second World War brought a halt to building work and saw the need to use three rooms in Archer House for classrooms as well; numbers were increasing rapidly because of the national awakening to the need for education and the necessity to share Bedford House with the staff and pupils of the Central Foundation School from the East End who had been evacuated to Ely.

At this time also the foster daughter of Dr and Mrs Davies, a young Jewish girl who had escaped from Nazi Germany with her brother, was admitted as a pupil along with many evacuees from the larger cities.

In 1944 the school bade farewell to the CFS and although still using the rooms at Archer House for teaching, life returned to a semblance of normality. The 1944 Education Act had come into being, more pupils would be admitted, the structure of examinations had to be changed, and the Preparatory Department was to close in 1949.

Soon a block of prefabricated classrooms and a cloakroom were erected at the Chapel Street end of the site but the smooth running of the school was soon to be disrupted once again. Bedford House had been formerly owned by the Bedford Level Corporation who were responsible for the drainage of the fenlands and who had maintained a presence in the single storey extension of the building. In 1947 disastrous flooding occurred in the area and parts of our school were commandeered by the Army to cope with the situation, and it was at this time that the school was to receive a visit by the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester who came to inspect the damage caused by this natural disaster.

The next few years were relatively calm but underneath this veneer an atmosphere of excitement was developing. Long years of negotiation and planning were about to bear fruit and it was announced that Ely High School was to have new buildings, and in 1954 the outline of these was marked out by drainage pipes for all to see. Building work commenced and by 1957 the site was ready for occupation.

Operation Shopping Bag was instigated and towards the end of the 1957 summer term girls could be seen going back and forth between the old and new schools moving the small portable apparatus, books and chairs.

As well as new buildings the school had a new uniform with navy skirts replacing the gymslips with three box pleats front and back. There was also a school motto Fortiter Ad Fastigium inspired by the ascent of Everest by Hilary and Tensing in 1953.

On 21 October 1957 the new buildings were officially opened by HRH The Duchess of Gloucester, paying her second visit to our school in rather happier circumstances. The Duchess also planted a tree by the front wall to commemorate the occasion. The Downham Road site also had a number of chestnut trees given by Mrs M Sinclair Martin, a long serving Governor, who, in 1940 had encouraged her small evacuee Hazel (pronounced lzal) to grow some trees from conkers that she had collected. In due course leaves appeared and in time sizeable trees resulted, and when the new site was acquired they were planted around the playing field.

These new buildings had been long awaited and so many years before Miss Fletcher had written "I have in vision a new site for the School on the Downham Road, in its own playing field, with lofty classrooms, Assembly Hall, Gymnasium and Laboratories."

Miss Tilly, in 1936 made an appeal for new buildings and described them as a "dream of delight", and many years later was to speak again of her vision of a school surrounded by trees and fields.. Long years of coping with inadequate accommodation for the ever increasing numbers of pupils, the national crises which had directly effected the school were gone.

Their dreams for a new Ely High School had been realised.

The life of the school continued with staff and pupils enjoying their new surroundings until the announcement came that the school was to be amalgamated with others to form the new City of Ely College. Comprehensive education had arrived and in 1972 Ely High School ceased to exist after 67 years.

Throughout the years pupils had travelled to school by whatever means of transport they could acquire and necessity was the mother of invention and ingenuity! In the 1920's Evelyn Cross, Muriel Taylor and Freda Stannard used a governess cart for their journey, stabling the pony at the Bell Hotel during the school day; Eva Prime often used to ride her father's motorcycle. Others came more conventionally by train, bus, car, bicycle or on foot. Inclement weather caused addition problems and more than one girl had to strip down to her liberty bodice and pants and steam gently dry in front of the dining room fire.

Bedford House had no playing fields but was able to use the Paradise Ground for hockey and the tree shaded lawns of the Theological College for Sports Day. Gymnastic displays were held on the asphalt playground.

The Downham Road site extended over several acres with grass on three sides of the new building. Tennis courts in their fenced areas, hockey pitches, netball courts, running tracks, discus and javelin segments, high and long jump sandpits were all there bounded by ancient field lines, hedges and gnarled trees which offered shelter on hot summer afternoons.

Swimming was to involve treks to the outdoor pool in Angel Drove either on foot form Bedford House or by bus from Downham Road to brave the icy waters. Not for the faint hearted!

There were problems connected with the teaching of the Sciences even in the 50's and 60's. Reciprocal arrangements were made - Kings School boys came to share our lessons and some girls like Patsy Hunter had to receive instruction in the Kings School labs.

The four Houses of the school were instituted in the 1920's and were named for people who had been associated with Ely Cathedral many centuries before:

Miss EE Fletcher, the first Headmistress, 1905-1929

Miss EE Fletcher, the first Headmistress, was at Bedford House from 1905 until her retirement in 1929 and during that time her untiring devotion and determination ensured that the school prospered and grew.

She was imbued with the highest ideals in her educational methods and aims, and had a strong sense of right values and of the importance of putting these first things first. By her own deep religious convictions and self consecration she inspired in others a moral sense and purpose in giving a tone and dignity to the school which could have been achieved in no other way; this viewpoint was shown too in her teaching, for Miss Fletcher was always at pains to maintain good scholarly standards of work.

She had an extremely heavy workload with teaching and was responsible for examination work as well as the administrative duties. She worked tirelessly to build up the school from its first beginning, an arduous task when secondary grammar school education for girls was still in its infancy, when traditions had to be made, and when many people had to be convinced of the usefulness and the need for a good education.

She was a pioneer in education but was faced by the financial parsimony which continually hampered and thwarted her efforts; she was also handicapped by the real poverty of some of the parents and by their lack of understanding of the vital need for education.

As a person Miss Fletcher was gifted in many ways; she had an acute, logical mind and was an excellent communicator; she was artistically talented and created original and lovely designs and her taste in and love of dress were obvious to all. Everything about her portrayed a cultured woman. She was generous, impulsive and temperamental and being quick-minded herself did not always find it easy to suffer fools gladly. Her discipline was strong and definite and her own energy and driving force exacted hard work from both the staff and girls.

Miss Fletcher had the joy of seeing her work prosper and of knowing that she had won the admiration, affection and gratitude of all that were privileged to know her.

Miss EM Verini, Headmistress 1929-1936

Miss E.M.Verini became Headmistress in 1929 and her tenure lasted until 1936. She was always natural and easy; formality and restraint were foreign to her and she had no feeling of superiority of her position and none felt ill at ease with her. Happiness and goodwill emanated from her and this influence was felt throughout the school. Thoughtful of others, she was indifferent to her own comfort and was generous in every way to all, except herself.

Miss Verini was the hardest worker in the school and yet was never too busy to attend to others - her vitality seemed inexhaustible. Her strength lay in her quietness and confidence. When Miss Verini left Ely she went on to eventually become, in 1945, the Principal of the Cambridge Training College in 1945.

Dr Bertha Tilly, Headmistress 1936-1966

Bertha Tilly was appointed Headmistress in 1936 and held this post until her retirement in 1966. Ely had been known to her only because of the fame of the Cathedral and the fact that she had been loaned a book called To a Minster Garden by Dean Stubbs who of course had played such an important role in the foundation of Ely High School, and who was the first Chairman of Governors.

Miss Tilly was delighted with her home in the Lodge which she described as "a delightful Georgian fenland house with the local characteristics - the old pump, a back-house and even a brick oven. There was also a garden planted with many old fashioned and precious plants such as red peonies, butchers broom, tradescantia, wisteria, lavender, and rosemary by the front door as well as the fig garden, a fine bay tree and the old gnarled mulberry tree spreading itself over the lawn."

However the buildings gave her a feeling of depression: they were cramped, inconvenient and in many parts, makeshift and thus began her quest for new buildings which she once lamented as "the dream of a future delight". Three years into her Headship came the Second World War with the cataclysmic disruption of our way of life; crises made their own special demands, created their own problems. Miss Tilly brought to bear on all of them her power of concentration, her attention to detail, and her considerable organising ability. These qualities were very much in evidence when the pupils and staff of the Central Foundation School were evacuated to share the Bedford House site with the pupils already there.

In the years following the Allied Victory the evacuees went back to London and life at school returned a semblance of normality so much so that in 1949 Miss Tilly was able to spend a sabbatical year in Italy to do some study and research, leaving the school in the capablehands of Miss Defew.

Miss Tilly, a gifted scholar had a personal motto "nothing is too good for Ely High School" and that most certainly included the pupils; many Old Girls will remember the thoroughness with which she considered the question of their careers, and how generously she gave time and thought to their welfare, sometimes long after they had left school. She encouraged every girl to do their best in whatever career they had chosen, to use their talents to best advantage andrealise their potential. She wanted only the best for us all.

Miss Tilly was gentle, quiet and kind but had an iron resolve where the school and its pupils were concerned. She loved Ely, a place so full of history and tradition, so rooted in the soil and was to write " through the years I have learned to love and shall never cease to love, the fenland people, for their sincerity, the genuineness and freedom from sophistication, for their healthy outlook, their robustness of mind and body and common sense in addition to their country ways. I am proud to have watched over the development and progress of some three thousand girls, many of them are the daughters of girls I knew in my early years at Ely High School...... you are the salt of the earth."

Miss Moody, Headmistress 1966-1972

Miss Moody took over the Headship in 1966 and stayed on until Ely High School was absorbed into the new City of Ely College in 1972.

Whilst upholding the high ideals and values set by her predecessors she had an enlightened and outward looking approach to academic studies and broadened the curriculum to include driving, engineering and computer programming. She encouraged foreign exchanges and encouraged many to make friends and live abroad in France and Germany. She loved music and drama, those interests being reflected in many dramatic and musical productions by the school. Miss Moody was characterised by her sense of humour, her sympathy and her lively mind.

Not least of her gifts to the school were those of time and energy which measurably increased as greater demands were made because of the long talked of reorganisation becoming reality.

Miss Moody became Assistant to the Principal of the City of Ely College in 1972.

Ely High School was no more but Bertha Tilly was to write in 1966

"When I think of you all, I believe that you will carry with you always the ideals and traditions of the School that you loved: if you do that the School can never really die but it will live on in if no longer visibly at least in your hearts and minds and in the whole quality of your lives".

The considerable qualities and attributes of Miss Fletcher, Miss Verini, Dr Tilly and Miss Moody are well documented but it should not be forgotten that many assistant teachers of all subjects were also to have an influence on our lives and careers, and many were to become personal friends once we had left school.

Some staff

Over the years there have been scores who have taught us - some of them are:-

Miss Pigott, the Principal of a private school whose pupils formed the nucleus of Ely High School in 1905 and then became Head of the Preparatory Department when boys as well as girls were admitted. She ran it with the wisdom, firmness and thorough devotion to duty characteristic of her generation of career women.

Miss Pater was her successor and with equal quiet strength and a steady example of Christian living remained with that department until it was phased out in the late 1940's. She is reported to have had a penchant for teaching with her back to the well guarded classroom fires much to the curiosity of some of the boys.

Miss Parkes was a kind and gentle lady who was Deputy to Miss Fletcher and retired with her to Bournemouth in 1929.

Miss Cooper, a devoted teacher of Music served under three Headmistresses.

Miss Bufton taught History and remained at school for many years. Many of us will know her better as Mrs Staniforth, who in her zeal to impart historical facts gave most of us writers cramp as we valiantly strove to write copious notes during each lesson.

Miss Baird served the school for some 30 years as a teacher of French. She used to escort those girls who travelled who travelled by train back to the station each afternoon making sure that they wore the requisite hats and gloves. Her lessons were a delight - in 1940 on the day that Paris was invaded girls responded to her command and sang The Marseillaise with great fervour. She taught French but not only, rather even more, about life. Quelle dame!

Miss Haynes taught Science at both schools, a teacher with meticulous standards in the laboratory, who often wore a yellow overall and rubber gloves , and always had a bottle of hand cream on her bench. She dispensed scientific knowledge interspersed with advice about life and was interested in all her pupils. She was the epitome of fashion.

Mrs Jones, also a teacher of Science, was greatly respected and conducted her lessons with great enthusiasm and humour. She was to succeed Miss Defew as Deputy Headmistress.

Miss Defew, last but by no means least, was connected with the school for the greater part of her life. She had been a pupil in the early days and had gone on to gain her degree in English at Royal Holloway College and had taught briefly elsewhere before returning to teach at Ely High School for thirty years until her retirement in 1964. She had not only been a pupil but served as part time secretary, assistant teacher, Senior English Mistress, Deputy Headmistress and Acting Headmistress during Miss Tilly's sabbatical year.

She was not only a much loved teacher but also a wise counsellor and friend and was fully aware that she was affectionately known as Defe. She taught her pupils a sense of human values as well as English. She could illustrate almost any situation in a play or story with a parallel from her own life, and never failed to do so where it helped to explain a difficult passage. She was remembered for her understanding and perception of human nature. Those girls who were summoned to explain their low C or D grades were soundly reprimanded but were soon to forgive her for their scolding.

Miss Defew was the daughter of a Churchwarden of St. George's Church but during a stay in Liverpool in her youth was converted to Roman Catholicism. She remained deeply religious all her life and was able to carry out pastoral duties with dignity, resolve and respect.

Generations of girls were taught extremely well in both academic and non-academic subjects by so many teachers dedicated to imparting their knowledge to both willing and unwilling pupils. They inspired, influenced and enthused us both inside and outside the classroom by accompanying us to theatres, exhibitions and museums, to interschool sporting events, to International Hockey matches; on educational cruises, visits abroad, walking trips to the Lake District, Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Wales. Many future careers were decided or life long interests were begun by these visits and we owe the staff concerned an enormous debt of gratitude for their involvement in these activities.


The high calibre of teaching contributed to the success of pupils who were awarded State Scholarships - Cynthia Levett, Patricia Taylor and Jennifer Drake - and Open Exhibition Awards made by Universities to scholars like Margaret Burtt and Jennifer Drake.

Patricia Taylor had the distinction of being the first Ely High School pupil to be accepted by both Oxford and Cambridge Universities to read for a degree, choosing Newnham College, Cambridge to read for the Classical Tripos.

A decade earlier Ella Thurmott had also achieved great success at Bedford College reading Geography. Many girls throughout the life of the school have achieved success, not only in the academic field often suffering hardships to achieve their aims.

Miss Tilly was to write in 1961. "Many of you bring honours which are not seen, and receive no applause; I mean that of good work faithfully done, good conduct, fine characters, unselfish attitude of mind ...." - an accolade applicable to every pupil.


A Speech Day and prize giving was held each year to celebrate the achievements of the school and its pupils. At first the Assembly Hall at Bedford House was used but as numbers grew it was impossible to accommodate all those involved within the school buildings so for quite few years the ceremony was held in the Rex Cinema.

Once the new buildings were in use the new Assembly Hall was used. Several prizes were awarded annually one of which was endowed in memory of a former pupil - the Arthur Tyndall Prize for Nature Study - and others in memory of former staff such as the BR Baird Prizes for Persistency and Determination and for French, the Fletcher Prizes for Religious Knowledge, and the Sarah Wright Memorial Prize for Religious Knowledge. Form prizes were also given.

A number of former pupils have returned to school to teach including :-
Beatrice Bywaters née Goodin, Bertha Sennitt, Dorothy Defew, Ella Thurmott, Pamela Blakeman, Mary Byfield née Reynolds, Barbara Rice née Sanders, Vivian Hawes née Convine, Margaret Haylock

Love has many definitions; most of us loved our schooldays but for a few, love was to extend beyond academia, for some ended up marrying fellow pupils, for example Margaret Barwick wed Toni Rayment, Jean Ellingham wed John Smith and Enid Rice wed John Bedford.

Romance also blossomed because of the reciprocal agreement which allowed pupils from the King's School and Ely High School to share teaching facilities - most notably the marriage of Cynthia Levett to Bruce Matthews.

Ancillary Staff

Schools cannot operate with just teachers and pupils, they need ancillary staff to keep the buildings clean and in good repair, to prepare lunches and to offer secretarial support.

Miss Whitmee was Secretary and loyal friend to both Miss Tilly and Miss Moody and started her long association with the school in January 1945. Her office in the Lodge overlooked the mulberry tree and was often shared with Fawners, Miss Tilly's cat. Her somewhat timid and frail appearance belied her inner strength as she coped with the might of the County Education office with quiet efficiency and determination and also the problems that beset a school full of adolescent girls. At the new school she issued late dinner tickets from a table at the end of the long ground floor corridor She often drove herself to school, a diminuitive figure behind the wheel of an enormous car.

Long service was also the hallmark of the catering staff with Mrs Aldridge, Mrs Kerr and Mrs Dew having worked for the school for a combined total of 57 years. Meals eaten in the bow-windowed room at Bedford House will be long remembered.

At Bedford House Cutworth kept the classroom fires well stoked, carried crates of milk up the flights of stairs and carried out caretaking duties as well as tending the gardens.

At the new school Mr and Mrs Carpenter lived in on-site in the Caretakers House and were to stay there for 20 years. The buildings were kept in pristine condition, fresh flowers were always in evidence and they fiercely protected Miss Tilly and the school. However, one night Mr Carpenter incinerated a pile of twigs and leaves only to be informed later that Miss Haynes had spent a whole evening in Newmarket an the surrounding area, collecting those specimens for a class. He was mortified!

In Memoriam

We younger Old Girls tend to forget the part that former pupils, both boys and girls played during the two World Wars and in other global conflicts since, serving our country in Europe or other foreign theatres of action. At least two of them lost their lives as a result of their heroic acts.

Arthur Tyndall, one of the original entrants to Ely High School in May 1905 was to fall at Passchendaele just twelve years later in 1917.

Mollie Evershed was drowned at sea in 1944. She was a nursing sister aboard a hospital ship full of wounded men and when an explosion occurred and the ship began to sink, Mollie together with the Matron succeeded in carrying up to the deck about seventy stretcher cases. Finally however, Mollie was trapped below deck and went down with the ship [HMHS Amsterdam].

Edna Gotobed was awarded the Distinguished War Certificate in 1944. She was working with the BRCS Commission as part of 103 Spearhead Relief Section and was one of the first workers to enter the notorious Belsen Concentration Camp. She was later Welfare Officer for Belsen Bergen, being responsible for the welfare of the displaced persons after the camp was burned down.

Audrey Norfolk was one of Sir Winston Churchill's nurses during his illness in Libya.

There may well have been others whose feats have gone unrecorded. At this Centenary Celebration of the founding of our school - we salute them all.

We also salute the memory of our classmates who are no longer with us, some of whom sadly never had the chance to realise their developing potential; and the memory of our teachers who dedicated themselves to our education.

I especially remember Helen Stanyer, my mentor and my friend who collapsed and died when she was Careers Tutor at the City of Ely College. She was the second of my three teachers of Geography all of whom fired my enthusiasm in that subject.

Some will remember Sylvia Raine who passed away in her second term at school in March 1954 and Geraldine Uffindell, a contemporary who followed her in 1963.

This month of May 2005 has given us all the opportunity to remember Ely High School and those who served her as pupils or teachers in the shadow or sight of Ely Cathedral during the 67 years of existence.

Saturday 21 May 2005

280 or so people are assembled in Soham to remember their school and their schooldays, each with their own recollections of Ely High School.

Clasp the hand of new or renewed friendships firmly as our school enters its second century of history. Let it stay alive in our hearts as long as there is breath in us.

This booklet closes with some words from Miss Tilly:-

"My greatest hope is that every girl should feel that she matters as a person, that as an individual and an educated individual she is an asset to society. This is equally true that whether she stays at home or whether she travels far afield, what matters is that she should make the very best of herself, and her talents, and this is whether she is destined to become a university graduate, a teacher, a nurse, whether she works in a bank or post office, whether her interests are in horticulture, agriculture or whether she becomes a wife and mother; education should have shown her how to develop herself for the utmost and the best."


"My great hope is that you will carry always with you the ideals and principles which we have learnt together, and have found to be good and true. Remember that once a pupil at Ely High School, you can never cease to be a member of it, and that nothing can take that from you. Keep your pride in your school, and keep too the friendships you have formed here. Friends are among the most precious things in life."

This history of Ely High School has been compiled from accounts published in School Magazines over the years. We were part of that history and there will undoubtedly be many more private memories destined to remain forever in our hearts and minds.

Christine Fuller née Bell

21 May 2005 Brook House, Soham: Centenary Reunion day

We are honoured to have these former members of staff with us today:-

Ruth Buttenshaw née Green started at EHS in 1948 - Mathematics
Doreen Beard née Cullen at EHS1950-58 - Mathematics and PE
Lorna Delanoy née Higson at EHS 1951-56 - PE
Ruth Johnson at EHS 1954-60 - Housecraft
Margaret Walsh née Bliss started at EHS in 1954 - Needlework
Pamela Brook at EHS 1951-1961 - English
Joyce Stott née Taylor started at EHS in 1961 - General Science

Also with us are former pupils who had returned to their school to teach, some continuing onto the City of Ely College:-
Ella Thurmott - Geography
Barbara Rice née Sanders - English
Vivian Hawes née Convine - English
Margaret Haylock – Housecraft
Connie Collen née Smallpiece also taught housecraft at the City of Ely College

We owe them all a great deal - we were taught how to cook, sew, add, subtract, multiply, divide, recognise flora and fauna, interpret our landscape, perform gymnastics, play hockey, netball, tennis, take part in athletics.

We learned about tenses, how to parse sentences, comprehend and spell, grasp the meaning of hyperbole and onomatopoeia; also to appreciate the beauty of the written word by studying the poetry of Keats, Coleridge, Wordsworth, etc, the plays of Shakespeare, Chaucer and Sheridan, and to read the novels of Jane Austen, Dickens and Hardy.

We enjoyed acting in or watching the plays produced and directed by the English specialists.

Staff who cannot be with us today introduced us to art and artists, chemistry and physics, to French, German, Latin and Greek, Religious Knowledge, to sing, play musical instruments and to experience the variety of classical music of the great composers.

This wealth of education was ours to enjoy.
Thank you all.

I like to think of one period, when her father was a minor Canon of the Cathedral, Elizabeth Goudge, the authoress, as a young girl came to school for certain English lessons. The wife of Canon Glazebrook, herself a writer, also used to come and give us lectures. In her young days she had known Jane Austen and her family and told us about them.
Gertrude Edmunds née Coy, 1905-1909

"Self reverence, self knowledge, self control - these three alone lead life to sovereign power" These words by Tennyson were framed and hung in the Hall at Bedford House. How difficult when one is young to make anything of such profundity; Self reverence - is this not slightly presumptuous and a form of conceit? - Self knowledge - how does one ever know one's self? - and self control - ah! That one could understand - but how tedious to try to achieve it!

I wonder what wise person placed those words in that particular place in the school and what influence they have had on succeeding generations of girls who must have looked at them so often and tried to understand their meaning?

Tennyson also said "knowledge comes but wisdom lingers" and the acquiring of a little wisdom during a long life is an achievement much to be desire
Lorna Kisby née Hammond, 1918-1922

I remember my schooldays with affection and they have provided me with lasting friendships: Ely High School gave me a love of schooldays, of teaching and especially of English Literature, and for this I am grateful. I hope that I can pass on to my pupils some of the enthusiasm that came to me from Miss Defew: thank you Defe for that and the sound guidance you gave to me, and to so many others. Thank you too, Miss Tilly, for your encouragement, which helped so many fen children to aspire to successful careers.
Vivian Hawes née Convine, 1949-1956 - returned to school to teach English

They were happy and formative years because of the high, unusual quality of the teaching and the absolute integrity of the teachers.
Nina Ambrose, 1920-1927

To be a VI former wanting to take Science subjects in 1925 created problems which the school had never faced before as Botany and Mathematics were the only sciences offered up to 'Matric' standards. Miss Jarvis filled in with Zoology but for Chemistry there was no alternative but to go to Kings School, not to join the boys but for private tuition from Canon Kirkland in the Headmaster's study. Practical Chemistry was done in the King's School labs, after tea, under the kindly supervision of the laboratory technician. Biology practicals were solitary occasions, and I was alone for Art too. No one really knew where I was at any given time, so I was often able to avoid that depressing daily ritual - the supervised crocodile walk to the station.
Winifred Butcher, 1920-1927

I could not have followed my career except for the education and public examinations taken at Ely High School.
Gillian Ada, 1920-1924


Miss E. E. Fletcher, B.A., 1905-1929

Miss E. M. Verini, M.A., 1929-1936

Miss B. Tilly, Ph.D., M.A., 1936-1966

Miss E. Moody, B.A., 1966-1972



1931 Mildred Sawyer.
1932 Beatrice Brailey.
1933 Joyce Smith.
1934 Doris Clarke.
1935 Stella Ager.
1936 Ruby Lodge.
1937 Patricia Atkin.
1938 Megan Coghill.
1939 Muriel Faulkner.
1939-40 Kathleen Norman.
1940-41 Inez Lambert.
1941-42 Barbara Ambrose, Bernice Morgan.
1942-43 Margaret Gentle.
1943-44 Ella Thurmott.
1944-45 Jean Dewse.
1945-46 Jane MacDonald.
1946-47 Pamela Blakeman.
1948 Stephanie Wells.
1948-49 Barbara Sanders.
1949-50 Anne Stow.
1950-51 Pamela Wilson.
1951 Jean Gibson
1952 Paula Leonard
1953-54 Winifred Smith.
1954-55 Mollie Wigg.
1955-56 Vivian Convine.
1956-57 Christine Saberton.
1957-58 Sylvia Wymer.
1958-59 Helen Smith.
1960 Susan Riley.
1961 Jill Burroughs.
1962 Patricia Taylor, Judith Chapman, Gillian Morley.
1963 Rosemary Burritt, Carol Gibson.
1964 Kay Bedford.
1965 Patricia Dodman
1966 Christine Carter.
1967 Brigid Riley.
1968 Judith Fernie, Janis Watterson.
1968-69 Susan McCauley.
1970-71 Valerie Neal.
1971-72 Gaye Kerridge.

[image to be found - part of a school photo]

[image to be found - aerial view]

[image to be found - view of Station Road]

Life at Ely High School

September 1948 - I stood on the pavement outside Bedford House in St Mary's Street, a very new High School girl. In navy blue beret with a bright yellow badge, a three pleat gym slip, navy and yellow striped tie and probably the regulation gaberdine mac. A spanking new leather satchel from Blakeman's shop and shoes polished to please a sergeant major.

Eventually a teacher came out and herded the new girls into the school. The Headmistress, Miss Tilly, was away on a sabbatical in Rome, studying her beloved Etruscans. Her place was taken by the equally formidable steely-eyed, Miss Defew.

The preparatory school must have closed that year because we had two of the pupils in with us. One still had the old blue felt school hat with elastic under the chin, and a straw one for summer. The school had expanded to accommodate the influx of scholarship girls after the 1944 Education Act. In the playground a row of concrete prefabs stretched along the wall.

About 80 new girls were divided into three classes - A, Alpha and Remove. As Lower IIIA, we were shown into the end prefab with Miss Mahony as form mistress. Sitting on the south side by the window in the sun, it was difficult to keep awake some hot summer afternoons when things droned on a bit. That was the only time I ever got into trouble, for yawning. I had to go and stand outside the staff room in the main building and apologise to the teacher concerned.

The cloakrooms were so over-crowded, the whole class shared pegs in what was no more than a cupboard. Girls from all the villages way out in the fens as far as Lakenheath and Mildenhall travelled each day.

The cookery and needlework rooms were housed in the wooden huts behind Bedford House proper, just across from the bowed window of the Music room. Reached by an open covered walk from the main cloakrooms, they were built of planks of tarred wood; very hot in summer and freezing in winter. You entered the needlework room and turned left into the cookery room furnished with long tables, sinks, draining boards and cookers.

I did not become over-familiar with this room; I only had two cookery lessons. The first was to make rock buns. We were sent home with a list of ingredients required: flour, sugar, margarine and an egg. Remember this was 1948 and rationing was still in force. This was probably my own ration for a week. I was quite keen for a start, but when it came to adding the liquid to produce the required consistency, I overdid it. As all good cooks will know rock buns have to be quite a stiff mix to hold together on a baking sheet; mine didn't. The teacher scooped the mess up into a half-dozen bun tin and plonked it in the oven where they rose into quite respectable currant buns. When I took them home, mother was not impressed. She could have made a dozen from that amount.

The next week it was plain biscuits. Mine were not perfect but adequate; however, a classmate saw fit to play catch with them and missed. The bag of biscuits shattered on the floor and that was the end of my culinary education. The next week a teacher shortage meant we had to choose between Geography and Domestic Science. I leapt at the chance and never looked back.

So there we were being given the chance of a lifetime: Classics, Mathematics, Science and Languages. I do wish someone had explained what phonetics were before we launched into French accent, and what Nominative Vocative, Accusative represented before we started Latin. I was hopeless at languages, it came as a great relief when, because of staff shortages again, we had to choose between French and Geography in the Lower Fourth.

All our games lessons were held on Paradise. We probably got more exercise trailing back and forth for netball and hockey in the winter and rounders and tennis in the summer, than actually playing.

We had to walk everywhere in crocodile. All the way down to the swimming pool in Angel Drove in summer. That was a pretty chilly affair too and I was used to it. What it was like for non-swimmers shivering around in the shallow end, I hate to think. At least I could plough backwards and forwards to keep my circulation going.

Then it was getting dressed in the draughty, unheated cubicles and a chilly plod back up the hill with wet hair. If I was lucky and it was just before dinner, I could get permission to break ranks and nip home to Broad Street and a nice warm kitchen.

I wasn't so keen on gymnastics but found the gym hall fascinating; straight out of all the books we used to read in those days about girls' boarding schools and the adventures they had. There were wall bars, ropes, parallel bars, vaulting horses and fat heavy coconut mats to land on. Strangely enough you took your gymslip off and tucked your blouse in your navy blue knickers for that, just like at junior school. But I never managed to climb to the top of a rope and write my name on the beam in the dust.


This taste of life at Ely High School has been reproduced with the kind permission of Ann Harding. It has been taken from a book entitled The Way We Remember It which tells of growing up in Ely in the 1940s and 1950s and was written by Ann Powell née Harding and Michael Rouse; it was published by The Ely Society. ISBN 0-903616-21-1

Lord, behold us with Thy blessing
Once again assembled here;
Onward be our footsteps pressing
In Thy love, and faith, and fear;
Still protect us
By Thy Presence ever near.

O God, Whose light glows in the golden sunshine,
In the white glory of the moon by night,
In gleam of stars, in all that's clear and lovely,
Shed in our hearts the radiance of that light,
Let no blind shadow hide Thee from our sight.

All that is true and beautiful Thou shapest,
Wide spaces, mountains, cloud in spreading skies,
The birds, the coloured flowers, the shining waters,
May we behold them with rejoicing eyes,
And make our lives a thankful sacrifice.

Thou framedst the Universe and it is goodly
Thou fashionest man and set his spirit free:
Help in little things to seek the highest,
Guard us from sluggard insincerity,
That all we think and do be fit for Thee.

Thine is the love which passeth understanding,
Thy Spirit comes to comfort us, and bless;
May Thou abide in us and give us power
To venture on in joyful steadfastness,
And build Thy Holy Kingdom in this place.

Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing,
Thanks for mercies past received;
Pardon all their faults confessing;
Time that's lost may all retrieve;
May Thy children
Ne'er again Thy Spirit grieve.

Lord, behold us with Thy blessing

Susan Riley
Head Girl 1960

Vivian Hawes née Convine
Pupil and Teacher

Diane Cole
Major, Salvation Army


Pamela Brook
Teacher of English

Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing

Joy Phillips

Lorna Freeman

source: Jackie Sotheran (Bidwell)
page created 17 Jul 10: last update 21 Oct 10: CWGC links updated 4 Apr 19