By Mrs Gibson, Headmistress
It has been absolutely fascinating to research the history of BGS’s heritage schools as part of our 10 year anniversary celebrations. Both Bedford High School and Dame Alice Harpur School (Bedford Girls’ Modern as it was then called) opened in May 1882, meaning that we have 140 years of girls’ education to draw upon. A lot of campaigning took place to get these two girls’ schools to open and possibly some reluctance too, with girls’ education still being seen as a bit of a new-fangled idea!
Initially, they were both housed in the same building with BHS starting with 43 pupils and DAHS with 58. That’s about the size of our Year 4 nowadays. As a historian, I love the circular nature of history and being able to see the patterns. There are so many similarities between all three of the schools and gaining a greater understanding of how our heritage schools navigated their paths before coming together as BGS in 2012 has been fascinating.
And what about those patterns? The most obvious one is about rising to challenges and the girls in all the schools have done this admirably over the years. The first of these was during World War I where we can see parallels to our own modern history. 1914, started quite auspiciously with electricity being brought to the building (like BGS’s wonderful ISI inspection in early 2020) with no sign of the impending crisis. However, as the world around them fell apart, the girls rose to the challenge fully supporting the war effort by knitting for the soldiers and supporting refugees from Belgium.
During the Depression, a number of the fathers lost their jobs and families struggled financially, with the schools using a hardship fund to keep the girls in school. Another strife the girls of DAHS had to contend with was the flooding of the school in 1939, a very short time after the new building had been opened. Despite all the disruption, the girls were back in school within two days! The girls’ education was not to be interrupted. And then of course the dark days of World War II with evacuees, questions around school uniform due to rationing and the cancellation of much of the competitive sport. Both schools also had alumnae involved in the war effort, with some sadly losing their lives.
It was delightful hearing the voices of some of these previous students through their quotes in the histories of the schools. I found this one in particular to be poignant “The windows were always open, so we were very cold in winter”; reading this, one would immediately think it was a student today writing about living through the pandemic, but actually it was from 1914 (and this refrain is often repeated throughout the many crises of the 20th century)!
So what will the history books say about BGS? There are a huge amount of positive things to say about our future forward outlook and focus on technology, but no doubt there will be a chapter dedicated to living through Covid-19. And just like the girls before them, our students have risen to the challenges, this time of remote learning, the limitations of the co-curricular activities they love, missing friends, the cancellations of public examinations and coping with the fear of something happening to their loved ones. And like many headmistresses before me, I have been exceptionally proud of how they have coped whilst simultaneously trying to keep their lives as normal as possible.
Whilst celebrating the students who have gone before us, I think it is apt to finish with this quote from poet, Rupi Kaur, which we have recently put up on display as inspiration to our current students:
on the sacrifices
of a million women before me
what can i do
to make this mountain taller
so the women after me
can see farther