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NEWS > 1574-2024 Anniversary Features > Yvonne Anderson PGSG 1964 - 1971, shares her first day memories

Yvonne Anderson PGSG 1964 - 1971, shares her first day memories

This October, sixty years after their first day at PGSG, Yvonne and other members of 1R will be attending their 60th Anniversary Reunion at Pate's. We look forward to welcoming them!
2012 reunion of 1R
2012 reunion of 1R

Wednesday 9th September 1964 - my first day at Pate's Grammar School for Girls. One hundred and twenty new first formers, 11 year olds, gradually assemble in front of the stage in the school Hall. They sit on the wooden parquet flooring looking around nervously, feeling bewildered or even petrified as they try to make some sort of sense of their new environment. Their uniform is uniform but not quite uniform – all of the girls have red ‘V’ neck jumpers with a navy stripe in the neckband and cuffs but in varying shades of red, some are ‘off the shelf’, the rest are hand knitted by proud or thrifty mothers and grandmothers. Some are wearing their new grey raincoats; others have new blazers. Everyone has a regulation grey felt school hat but not everyone has the new ‘trilby’ style, some have been kitted out with the old style that looks like an upturned pudding basin with a wide floppy brim! Both types of hat do however have one thing in common - neither of the styles is flattering. There is a strong aroma of new leather as the new girls have brand new leather satchels each one containing an assortment of stationery.

Eventually, at 10 o’clock, groups of older girls file in. For the girls, the first day of term had, as usual, started an hour later than other days as there was a staff meeting before Assembly. Hardly a word is spoken, but there is a noticeable increase in the noise level as the girls’ shoes clomp on the bare wood. Years 2 - 4 stand in rows behind the new girls, the Fifth Formers have fold down wooden seats in the balcony at the back of the Hall and the Sixth Formers sit on chairs at the far side of the Hall. The Form Mistresses and Masters sit down on chairs placed along the wall by the entrances. Some of the new girls look around to see if they can find their older sisters and begin to feel a bit more comfortable when they at last see a familiar face. Finally Miss Lambrick, the Headmistress, appears on the stage, asks the First Formers to stand up and Assembly begins.

Miss Lambrick briefly welcomes the new girls and new members of staff and then tells everyone that they will sing the hymn “When a knight won his spurs …”, this being the hymn that is sung on day one of every new school year as the new girls have yet to be given hymn books but are sure to know the words of this hymn. Mr Wilson, the music master, lifts the lid of the grand piano that is at the front of the hall alongside a huge kettle drum, starts playing the hymn’s introduction and then the singing begins. This is followed by a short reading from the bible after which Miss Lambrick welcomes everyone to the start of a new School Year and gives out information including names of new teachers and changes that have been made to the school buildings during the holidays. The girls in Years 2 and above then file out with their Form Teachers and head off to their ‘new’ form rooms. The new First Formers are now told to sit back down on the floor and Miss Lambrick tells them how wonderful the next few years will be, how honoured they should feel that they have secured a place at such a prestigious school and how important it is that they all make the most of this golden opportunity.

At last the time has come for them to learn which, if any, of their friends will be in the same form and who they will have as their Form Mistress or Master. They are told that when their name is read out they should stand up and then, after the first 30 names, they are told that this group will be in Form 1P and will now leave the Hall with their Form Mistress, Miss Smith. The names of the girls in 1Q are then read out and that group and teacher file out with their Form Mistress Miss Snelgrove. The next list to be read out brings together the “R” girls (the group of girls of which I am a member) or, to be more precise, the first 30 of the “R” girls as over the course of the next five years a further eight girls join this group (and a few leave) as families relocate to and from the Cheltenham area. We are told that our Form Mistress is Mrs Harrison for whom it is also the first day at Pate's.

She leads us out of the hall, out of the main building across the playground and up some concrete steps to a block of ‘huts’ at the rear of the school. There are two huts each consisting of two classrooms and a shared cloakroom for coats and bags. There are however no toilets in the block; anyone needing to use the ‘facilities’ has to venture across the playground to the main building. In the corner of each classroom, by the teacher’s desk and blackboard, is a large floor-standing boiler, the only source of heat in each room. In front of the teacher’s desk are our desks laid out in formal rows. Mrs Harrison tells us to sit down at any desk for now but later on in the day we are arranged ‘alphabetically’ according to our surnames.

The next few hours we’re kept busy starting to find out how different school life is going to be compared to what it was like in our much smaller primary schools. We learn that the classroom opposite ours is occupied by 1S, the girls that had remained sitting in the hall after the other three forms had left; their form mistress is Mrs Plowman. We can at last take off our coats and hang them on the hooks on the wall backing onto our classroom leaving the hooks on the opposite side of the cloakroom for the 1S girls. We’re asked to tell each other our names and which school we came from and it highlights the way in which the groups were formed: all of the first formers had been listed in alphabetical order of surname, the girl at the top of the list went into 1P, the next into 1Q and so on. No attempt had been made to place girls in the same form as others from the same primary school, but to some extent this was fair – after all some girls were the only one to come to Pates from their old school, it was ‘in at the deep end’ for all of us!

We’re given timetable cards to fill in with details of our lessons, classrooms and teachers. We learn that each day starts with assembly followed by seven 40 minute lesson periods with a lunch break mid morning (10:50-11:10) and a dinner break (12:30-1:50) during which there are two ‘sittings’ in the dining room. Eventually it is dinner time and all of us, except for one girl who goes home for dinner as she lives nearby, make our way back across the playground, into the main building and navigate our way past the domestic science room, the biology lab and the hall to the far end of the building where the dining room is situated. The smells of the cooked food waft in our direction and we realise how hungry we are having felt too apprehensive to eat breakfast even though some mothers had offered special treats such as stopping off at the Cadena Café on The Promenade on the way to school.

After lunch, it’s back to the classroom for further unravelling of the mysteries of our new environment and new regime until the bell rings at 3:50 to tell us all that it is the end of our first day and we are free to go. So life at Pate's had begun for this band of intrepid newcomers. In all 38 girls were members of this group. As we reached the ripe old age of 60, thirty-four of us were still alive and ‘kicking’. We’d embraced a variety of careers; several in medical, social or teaching professions, others more office based in roles such as accountancy or computing, some in scientific or engineering environments, another in the world of politics, some choosing to be self employed, several electing to work part time particularly when children started to arrive. Many of us were now partly or fully retired but some were continuing their careers for the time being. There’s an obvious aura of caring and interest in the welfare of others emitted by our group and a strong feeling of close ties with family members. Unhappily three ‘girls’ had passed away – at the ages of 32, 52 and 59, all from cancer.

Additional note Spring 2024: Since I wrote the above, two more ‘girls’ have passed away – aged 66 & 67, yet again from cancer. The remaining 33 of us are now in our early 70s – pretty good survival rate (nearly 90%)! Small groups of us meet up regularly and we’ve had reunions for 20 or so of us over the years (1990, 2003, 2012, 2018, 2023). Many of us will be meeting up in October 2024 at a reunion being held at what is now Cheltenham’s mixed Grammar School. The reunion is for the ‘girls’ from our year at Pates (1964 starters) and the 1974 starters as well as the ‘boys’ from both of those years. Further information about the event is on the Events page of Pate's Community.

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