About the School

The school which was to become Peterborough County Grammar School for Girls opened on September 17th 1904 as a Pupil Teachers Training Centre in four rooms of the County Technical School in Broadway (the building now occupied by the Wetherspoons pub “The College Arms”), with Miss Wragge as Headmistress. The school was also allowed the use of the corridors of the Technical School for “physical drill”! Pupils attended the Pupil Teachers Training Centre from the age of fourteen for two years full-time and a further two years part-time, followed by a studentship to complete their training.

The College Arms

The former County Technical School building

The school staff consisted of Miss Wragge, Miss Hough, Miss W. D. Taylor and some part-time instructors including Mr B. Manders for music. In 1906 a Miss Cutlack allowed the school the use of a small playing field off Thorpe Road for games, which an additional mistress, Miss Cleaver, coached. The familiar school motto, “Non Sibi Sed Deo et Alteri” (not for oneself but for God and others) was chosen during this period as a result of a task set for the pupils in which they had to select an appropriate motto and write an essay on it. This then led to a uniform of navy hat-bands with the initials P.T.C. and the motto around the initials in red. The girls were also “greatly daring” in wearing navy gym-suits with knee-length shorts and tunics instead of the nearly ankle-length skirts that were normally worn.

By Spring 1907, Miss Wragge and Miss Hough were convinced of the need for a secondary school for girls in the city. A building in Park Road, which had formerly been used as a Public Library, and an adjoining building which was formerly a Working Men’s Club, became available and in Autumn 1907 the staff and pupils moved to these buildings and became known as Peterborough Girls’ Secondary School. The school reopened with 27 fee-paying pupils, 39 pupil teachers and 33 scholarship holders, a total of 99 pupils. The school was a success from the start and the next term saw the numbers rise to 130, with 141 pupils attending in the summer term of 1908. Ten girls were entered for the Oxford Senior Examination that term: all ten passed, with six gaining honours.

Old Badge PGSSThis is a badge for the Peterborough Girls Secondary School (PGSS). The school motto that was used until the 1980s can be seen but the colour and design of the badge is quite different from that of the later Grammar school, being in the shape of a shield with a red background and blue diagonal stripe. The matching school uniform comprised of a red blouse, blue skirt and straw hat.

In 1909, with school numbers continuing to rise, a new school building was proposed and a specification was drawn up by Miss Wragge and Miss Hough. 107 designs were submitted by architects and displayed in the Angel Hotel. The winning design was by Mr Annesley Brownrigg of Hazelmere – the first school building he had ever designed but later regarded as one of the best-planned schools of its size. This, of course, was the building which stood on the corner of Lincoln Road and Cobden Avenue until its closure and demolition in the 1980s. The new school building cost about £10,000 and was in use from September 1911, although it was not formally opened (by the Marchioness of Exeter) until December 1911. The new school was named Peterborough County School for Girls and opened with 167 girls.

1915 side County Girls School src-pc

Peterborough County School for Girls, about 1915

During the first world war, money was raised by the school for the Red Cross, and pupils and teachers alike knitted socks to send to soldiers fighting in France. Out of town pupils found difficulty in travelling to school and Misses Wragge and Hough obtained permission to open a school boarding house in St Peter’s College, which was closed during the war as almost all of the male students had enlisted. The college reopened in 1919 and the school boarding house was then transferred to “The Lawns” in Thorpe Road.

The school had already become overcrowded by 1919, with a total of 436 pupils, so a pair of houses on the corner of Burghley Road and Lincoln Road were purchased and adapted for use as a Junior Department for the school.

The two houses on the corner of Burghley Road, as they are today (converted to flats)

The two houses on the corner of Burghley Road, as they are today (converted to flats)

In 1929, the school was approved for the special training of Secondary School Mathematics Mistresses and one or two students (out of the twelve such students in the country each year) attended the school every year thereafter. The school was later made an Observation School by the Board of Education.

The School has always been well-known for fundraising in order to improve its facilities. The school swimming pool was opened in June 1930 at a cost of £1,563, paid for and maintained entirely by funds raised by the pupils, parents, and old girls of the school. The next fundraising effort produced a hard tennis court in 1933 at a cost of over £100 (built in Cobden Avenue across the road from the school), and a library was built in 1936 at a cost of £420. The library chairs, tables and other items were all marked with the names of those who donated money; unfortunately I suspect these items were all lost when the school closed.

Miss Wragge and Miss Hough retired in 1936, to be replaced by Miss Vail as headmistress. During the second world war, she did her best to continue the school’s activities as normal, with school plays, fetes, concerts and so on. The school magazine, Chronicle, was not published from 1939 until 1942, and the Old Girls’ magazine was also temporarily discontinued. The money which would have been spent on printing the Old Girls’ magazine was donated to a fund started by the secondary schools of England to provide an ambulance. As well as the usual news of Old Girls at college or university, nursing and teaching, the 1942 news of Old Girls includes details of girls in the ATS, WAAFS, Land Army, Timber Corps, and nursing with the BEF in France.

PCGS badgeThe post-war period saw many changes for the school. The 1944 Education Act resulted in the abolition of school fees and the closure of the Junior department. The school changed its name once again, and became Peterborough County Grammar School for Girls. New classrooms and a science laboratory were provided in 1946 by means of “temporary” annexe buildings, which were still in use in the 1970s.

Miss Vail saw the school through the second world war but unfortunately had to retire in 1946 as a result of ill-health, to be replaced by Miss Mona Mathews.

1948 School Staff

Saturday 18th September 1954 saw the school celebrating its Golden Jubilee with a service in Peterborough Cathedral in the morning and an open afternoon at the school. This was followed in the evening by a Jubilee dinner in the ballroom of the Angel Hotel, attended by 255 former pupils and present and former staff including all the previous headmistresses. At the same time, a badly-needed new wing was nearing completion, with additional classrooms, science laboratories, and a new gymnasium, to house the five hundred pupils which now attended the school.

P1020807 Ex Staff

Former staff members with Miss Mathews at the 1954 Jubilee Celebrations

Plans were drawn up in June 1964 for a new school to be built in Ledbury Road, Westwood but unfortunately this scheme was abandoned, much to the disappointment of Miss Mathews. Instead, the Jack Hunt School opened on this site in 1967. The County Grammar School purchased two properties in Cobden Avenue to house the sixth form pupils, and mobile classrooms were placed in the playground, which helped to ease the congestion in the main school.

The 1970s was another time of great change for the school. Miss Mathews retired in the summer of 1969, being replaced by Mrs Halliday, who was herself replaced in 1974 by Miss Roberts. The school became a comprehensive school in 1976, with the new name “Peterborough County Girls School”. More building work took place around this time, providing a new “Jubilee Block” of classrooms and a new Home Economics building. Unfortunately the decision was eventually taken to close the school and in 1982, staff and pupils were moved to the Ken Stimpson Community School in Werrington and all the buildings demolished, apart from the caretaker’s house. The Lincoln Gate sheltered housing complex now stands on the site.

1980s PCGS demolition src-RAR

School site in the 1980s after demolition; only the caretaker’s house remains

As far as I am aware, all that remains to remind Peterborough that the school once existed are some documents in the Local History Library and my own school uniform in the “Changing Lives” gallery in Peterborough Museum. Reunions are held occasionally; see “Reunions” on the News menu for details.

School uniform on display in Peterborough Museum

School uniform on display in Peterborough Museum

I am trying to preserve memories of the school by means of a Facebook group (which has over 500 members) at www.facebook.com/groups/peterborocountyschool/ as well as this website.

If anyone has any information, photographs, newspaper cuttings or other memorabilia or artefacts connected with the school which they would be willing to let me have or borrow to photograph or copy, I would be very pleased to hear from them. I am particularly interested in knowing more about the school prior to the 1930s, but all information will be valuable. I do not live in Peterborough so if any articles about the school or its pupils or teachers are published in the Peterborough newspapers I would be grateful if someone would send me a copy.

Information and photos for this article are from the Peterborough Advertiser, the school magazine “Chronicle”, and from my own personal collection of photographs and postcards.

Rosie Rowley