As Rickmansworth School prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary with a 'Party on the Hill' on July 6, Year 12 student Kat Bowman reflects on the opportunity to meet one of the school’s founder pupils.

Rickmansworth School was privileged to receive a visit from Gill Harding, a former student who was in attendance here 70 years ago, when the school first opened. Also present was Gill’s son, who is now himself a parent of Rickmansworth students.

We were delighted to hear about Gill’s experience as a student, and it was fascinating to learn of some of the major changes the school has seen since it opened its doors to its very first students 70 years ago.

Gill remembers taking history, Latin, French, art, mathematics and English in her school years. She remarked that when she was forced to drop history in her third year, she was disappointed, as she had been fond of the subject. Students were not given the chance to study the performing arts – this is certainly a difference from life at the school now, where the performing arts always greatly contribute to our school.

Gill Harding outside the gates of Rickmansworth SchoolGill Harding outside the gates of Rickmansworth School

Students often went on geography field trips in Chipperfield and Sarratt, but rather than getting a coach back they had to make their own way home (in a time before Google Maps!).

With regards to homework, she reported that it had been plentiful, especially as she progressed through the school. In particular she recalls large amounts of red ink across her work from when the teachers did their marking.

The school was run by Mr Morrell (head of the boys) and Miss Collings (head of the girls). Many of the teachers were quite young as the school had only just opened – many began teaching straight out of university. Every morning the headteachers would take assembly, where the choir (a group of which Gill was a part) would sing hymns and psalms most days.

Each form consisted of about 20 to 25 students, and Gill told us about her form master, Mr Withers, who always wore his gown – attire more commonly worn by teachers in the 1950s, though they certainly weren’t obliged to always wear them.

The school's first headmaster Peter Morrill, the Headmaster, with the Patron, the Hon Lady Bowes-Lyon (centre), and Mildred Collings, the Headmistress, just ahead of her. Image: Watford ObserverThe school's first headmaster Peter Morrill, the Headmaster, with the Patron, the Hon Lady Bowes-Lyon (centre), and Mildred Collings, the Headmistress, just ahead of her. Image: Watford Observer

Gill explained that the food was of an excellent quality and all of the students would have a sit down meal at lunch time each day. They were taught table manners that she has never forgotten to this day. She fondly remembers the excellent puddings served each day.

The facilities available to students were far less extensive when the school opened: for example, there was no swimming pool as there is now, and a lot of the school’s newer buildings weren’t yet there. However, where we now have our student reception building, there used to be the caretaker’s house – it was typical for the grounds keeper to live on site at schools until several decades ago (and even now in some schools this is the case).

Gill commented on her love of the library at Rickmansworth. She was an avid reader when she was younger and still carries this passion for literature. English was one of the subjects she really enjoyed in school, and mentioned that one of her granddaughters has shown interest in the subject as well.

Even in its first few years, Rickmansworth School offered a variety of extra-curricular activities. In her free time, Gill enjoyed playing tennis with her friends by the gym – this differed from her PE classes where girls played netball and hockey. There was a sailing club run by the school, which gave students a chance to sail at the Aquadrome in Rickmansworth, or on Aldenham Lake. Additionally, this club gave her the chance to visit the Netherlands on a school trip, which was a memorable experience from her school days.

The school also had a bridge club in the 1950s, two in fact. This might be one of the very few clubs not offered at the school presently!

It was a delight to speak to Gill about her time here and it certainly emphasised how far the school has come, in all sorts of ways.

In years to come, current students may reflect on this academic year as a very special one, filled with anniversary celebrations, which are all able to happen thanks to the staff, students, parents, governors and wider community that make Rickmansworth School the wonderful place it is.