Over one hundred years ago, Macclesfield High School for Girls moved to brand new premises on Fence Avenue.
The official opening in February 1909 marked the start of eight flourishing decades for the school but, sadly, in 1990 it was forced to close. The site lay empty and neglected for two years until the King’s School Foundation bought it for its new Girls’ Division, breathing fresh life into the buildings and grounds.
Birth of a high school
By the late 19th century, it was finally dawning on the British people that the education of girls was being neglected. In Macclesfield, the idea for a girls’ high school surfaced in 1879. Mr Dale, secretary of the Useful Knowledge Society, which already provided reading rooms, evening classes, a library and a school of art in the town, proposed that rooms in the parsonage at Park Green, once used for art classes, should be turned into a school for girls.
The King’s School was an early supporter of the scheme, promising help and £100 a year. School fees were set at £2 2s per term for older girls and £110s for the younger pupils, and Miss Laritt was appointed headmistress. She was guaranteed £200 a year, with £1 for each pupil over the first fifty. The curriculum consisted of Scripture, Domestic Science and Needlework.
Macclesfield High School for Girls, one of the earliest members of the Girls’ Public Day School Company (later the GPDST), had begun.
After the 1902 Education Act, the High School received its first grant from Cheshire County Council and in 1909 was able to move from Park Green. The new, purpose-built school was paid for by the county and cost £14,500. Built on the site of The Fence, a house once owned by Mr Charles Brocklehurst, it stood in generous grounds, with magnificent views of the hills.
The three-storey red-brick building was designed for 250 senior and junior girls, and 30 infants. The kindergarten, cloakrooms, dining room and playroom were on the ground floor, the assembly hall and headmistress’s room on the first floor and, on the second, a kitchen and four classrooms for Science, Art and Cookery. Each classroom was fitted with the latest style single desks and wall-mounted blackboards for the pupils. Behind the building, a large veranda with a glazed roof provided a covered play area and the grounds were laid out as playing fields and tennis courts.
On Thursday 18th February 1909 the new school building was officially opened by the Chairman of Cheshire County Council, using a gold key presented to him by Colonel W B Brocklehurst, the Chairman of the Governors. The next day, parents and children attending the High School were invited to inspect the up-to-the-minute classrooms, fixtures and fittings of their new home, and on the afternoon of Saturday 20th February the school was opened to the general public. Messrs Arighi Bianchi successfully tendered to supply cupboards and bookcases for the teachers’ room, finished to match the other furniture, for the sum of £15 10s 9d.
The governors formally took over the care of the premises on 22 February 1909.
Fence Avenue's first headmistress
The High School’s move from Park Green was presided over by Miss Elizabeth Windsor, who returned from a headship in Nova Scotia to take over the reins in 1907. The daughter of a Manchester cotton merchant, she was educated at Manchester High School and Cambridge, where she studied Mathematics at Newnham College.
Later describing herself as the bridge between the old and the new schools, she provoked criticism when she introduced the gymslip as uniform for the girls. There were other – less unpopular – innovations, including netball and a number of trophies and shields to reward proficiency and achievement.
First World War
Inevitably, life changed during the First World War. Transport was unreliable and girls who travelled to school by rail were often delayed as they waited for trains carrying injured troops to pass through Macclesfield station.
Fourteen Belgian girls arrived as evacuees, bringing home the grim reality of what was happening in Europe. The school regularly raised money for the war effort: on one occasion, the girls gave up half their sweet money and collected £16 to send chocolate to the men at the front. They also made 90lbs of marmalade for Hurdsfield House Hospital.
In 1919, the girls joined in the town’s official peace celebrations, marching with flags to Park Green where they were presented with commemorative mugs. Two ‘old boys’ who had attended the kindergarten at Fence Avenue were later awarded the Military Cross.
Meanwhile, numbers had been growing steadily. By the end of the war, the school had 300 pupils and lack of space was an ever increasing problem.
Between the wars
There were neither funds nor workmen for the much needed extensions immediately after the war but these were finally carried out in 1922. By the mid 1930s space was again at a premium and in 1935 building work began on the new dining room.
The school orchestra was formed in 1922 and in 1929 the school was officially enrolled as a company in the Girl Guide movement, swelling the ranks of the 1st Macclesfield Company.
As part of the 1930 Jubilee celebrations, a fund was set up to establish a university scholarship. Two plays were performed by the Sixth Formers as part of the drive to raise money, The Boy Comes Home and The Grand Cham’s Diamond, and a dance was organised. The Old Girls held a dinner and a Cinderella dance, and a Thanksgiving Service was held at St Michael’s Parish Church.
Second World War
During the Second World War, the girls grew accustomed to a daily trek in a crocodile across town, carrying their gas masks. The evacuation to Macclesfield of a Stretford school meant time-sharing the Fence Avenue classrooms and facilities, so the local girls used the school in the morning and had their afternoon lessons sitting on the floor at Stanley Hall in Castle Street (now the shopping precinct).
Air raid shelters were dug in the school grounds and Upper Sixth girls were given the duty of fire-watching. The Lower Sixth, meanwhile, had to stick pieces of net on every window pane in the school, to stop the glass splintering in case of bombs. In 1943 the lawn in front of the school was ploughed up to grow vegetables and later that year girls were given time off lessons to help with the potato harvest on local farms. The war effort by the school’s White Wyandotte hens produced 1,790 eggs in one year.
The 1944 Education Act gave many more girls the chance to win scholarships to the High School. A scholarship was a source of great pride and brought free travel and textbooks – though families still had to find the money for the uniform. Fee-paying pupils continued to be admitted, but were taught in separate classes until the Upper Third.
With the Fifties and Sixties came a spate of building: the new hall in 1956, the dining room block in 1957, the Charter Block in 1961 and the Walker Block in 1963. In 1964, the names of the four school houses were changed from the royalist Glamis, Sandringham, Windsor and Balmoral, to the more locally resonant Haddon, Hardwick, Chatsworth and Capesthorne.
A new extracurricular activity was introduced by Miss Morley in the 1950s: marionettes. The girls made the puppets themselves and staged shows in other schools in the area. Dressmaking was popular in the 1960s and girls were allowed to make their own summer dresses for school. Though everyone had to use the same material, the results were highly individual.
Top of the Form
One of the highlights of the Seventies was taking part in the BBC’s ‘Top of the Form’ competition. After headmistress Miss Footman’s successful application for the school to enter, every pupil took the test to decide who should be in the team. In a series of separate rounds recorded in the school hall, the High School girls beat all opposition to be declared Top of the Form 1977. All those who had taken part were invited to the Houses of Parliament to meet MP Mr Nicholas Winterton and, afterwards, to No 10 Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister Mr James Callaghan.
Celebrations and closure
In 1980 – a year after entering a new and final phase as a mixed state comprehensive – the High School celebrated its 100th birthday. Former members of staff and pupils were invited to a series of special events, including a drama festival, a gymnastic display and a centenary exhibition. The new Centenary Building was officially opened by Dr Jean Mackay and a Thanksgiving Service was held at St George’s Church.
Sadly, just a decade later, the school was forced to close because of a surplus of places in the county. It was not the end of the Fence Avenue story, however. Thanks to the vision of the King’s School headmaster at the time, Mr Adrian Silcock, and the school governors, the buildings and grounds were acquired in 1992 and brought vividly back to life as the home for King’s new Girls’ Division.
King’s Girls’ Division
After a year’s intensive work, the King’s School Girls’ Division was ready to open at Fence Avenue in 1993. Under its charismatic new Principal, Dr Brenda Despontin, it grew and prospered from the very start and was soon joined by the Junior Division and the Infant Department, both success stories in their own right. At King’s we are very proud of our long connection with Macclesfield High School for Girls, begun over 125 years ago. We are also proud that we are continuing their fine tradition of providing top quality education for girls. It was a special privilege to bring together former pupils, staff and friends of the High School to jointly celebrate 100 years at Fence Avenue.