Our History – an article published in The Ribbus in 1995 to celebrate the 70th Anniversary.
70 years on – or 130 years ?
We celebrate this year the milestone of 70 years of Ribston Hall as a County Girls’ School, although it had been known by this title in 1891. Why 130? It was in 1861 that the Goodricks came from Yorkshire and took over the school which they were to christen ‘Ribston Hall’ when they transferred to Spa Road because they had outgrown Suffolk House. After a brief period as ‘The Sanatorium’, where almost any ailment could be cured (!), it was fitting that the name should be perpetuated when Gloucester United Schools took over the building as a girl’s school in 1921.
However far back one looks, the school has a proud tradition of providing an excellent education and of being at the forefront of ideas in education; from the beginning music, dancing and languages (with a resident Parisienne) feature as accomplishments. How fortunate we have been to have the dedicated staff to further these and to introduce other activities over the years.
In the last century, a lending library was established by subscription with about two hundred books. How that has changed! Now they are numbered in thousands, there is no fee, except for sinners, and we were able to appoint a specialist librarian two years ago. Countless of girls will remember their time spent as librarians during break and lunch hours.
The appointment of Miss Whitaker as Head Mistress of the new school ensured that innovation would still be a hallmark; she set the seal of non-conformity and concern for the individual which has continued to this day.
Drama was soon added to the activities for which Ribston became noted – the Drama Group with some of the original pupils still meets and has contributed to our charity collections. In recent years the choice by the Drama Club for school productions has produced some surprises: The Admirable Chrichton and Blithe Spirit, for example. After several years of productions ‘in the round’, with some realistic props to support the imagination (do you remember when the peat caught fire in ‘Playboy of the Western World’?), there was a return to the stage for an acclaimed production for ‘Blithe Spirit’. Convincing performances by Sharon Zink (later the National Young Poet of the Year) as the suitably zany Madame Acrati, Andrea Till and Nichola Jayne Turner as the couple plagued by Emma Davis as the impressible Spirit, and good supporting roles all combined to provide highly amusing entertainment, decreed as one of the best ever. On such occasions, many more girls enjoy slapping paint and paste onto a board or backcloth to work the miracle of transformation to realistic scenery.
‘The Citizen’ critics are not noted for undeserved flattery so when they describe something as ‘professional!’ that is high praise indeed! There can be few schools who can mount a major production relying almost entirely on pupils for orchestra, chorus, cast and sets. A long line of musicals and light operas springs to mind - including ‘Jubliana’, ‘The Good Old Days’, The Bartered Bride’ with King’s, ‘The Gondoliers’ and the Pirates of Penzance’ with Crypt. ‘The Yeoman of the Guard’ with Sir Thomas Rich’s and ‘The Mikado’ with both the grammar schools, at different times. When was the first occasion on which we co-operated with one of the boys’ schools for such a venture? The latest combined effort with Crypt, ‘The Boyfriend’ surpassed most for its vivacity and infectious high spirits, bringing to life the lighter side of the 1920’s. Were early Ribstonians like that then; did they dance the Charleston? Certainly, there were clandestine meetings with Crypt boys when both schools were in the centre of the City!
It has become traditional to have music and dance frequently on the same programme, pupils past and present have been fortunate to have a dance specialist on the staff long before this was regarded as a modern development. Countless participants and viewers have enjoyed spectaculars presentations from mythology to clowns, from chess to toys and how many cannot see Steve Davis without remembering that marvellous human snooker game? The competitions, too, have been remarkable for the ingenuity and talent displayed.
This is one of the delights of School life – there is so much of lasting enjoyment. Music was well established at an early date and has gone from strength to strength, gaining Ribston a reputation extending even beyond the County. The official motto ‘have a go’ applies in this, as it has in all other activities, revealing sometimes surprising ability. The now traditional Annual Cathedral Concert with King’s provides an uplifting experience (or perhaps it is the following Saturday disco which make it so popular)!
At the beginning, excursions were undertaken to Cranham Woods - no small journey, by brake, In those days. There followed visits to the Continent and London (more rare than now, but creating the same excitement), and then, well ahead of its time as sixty years later someone discovered that residential experience is a Good Thing, came our own country house, Newent Court, where all girls spent some time which included looking after the animals and the gardens. Sadly, this is no more but many girls have had the opportunity to experience living in gracious surroundings at Christian centres and Cowley Manor. Some shared this with handicapped pupils finding it very demanding, but rewarding, as those who now link with St. Rose’s will know.
Journeys gradually extended in content and scope; ski-ing became an annual event from the 1970’s, exchanges and visits increased and a strong tie formed with the Treviris Gymnasium in Trier. After more than thirty years this was partially severed, but not forgotten, when they suffered the fate which might have befallen Ribston and closed after our last visit in 1988. The good news is that some of the German staff have made it possible to start an exchange with another school in Trier in 1991.
Some shifts in emphasis are more subtle and are responses to attitudes in society in general; one of these is the upsurge of competitions. Some, of course, are not new; the local festivals have always been well patronised, with excellent results in all sections. In another sphere, to quote ‘The Citizen’ of 1986, ‘Among them will be Ribston Hall which is fast gaining a reputation for its success in public speaking’. After a period in the ‘70’s gaining experience, there has been a long run of notable performances in the local events – Rotary, English Speaking Union, Business and Professional Women’s Club and Cheltenham Festival. The poise gained has been evident when former participants have appeared on National Television or addressed gatherings of university students – or willingly spoken in school.
The consistently good performances at languages events is recorded by our name on the University French verse and drama cups at Bristol and on the programmes for the County and National festivals where we have been the only group providing items in Russian.
The spur to groups and individuals has appeared in many other fields – mathematics, B.A.Y.S., television programmes such as ‘Blockbusters’, enterprise and community service. The last gradually grew as the selfless help given by girls was recognised in a more tangible way through awards from such sources as the Captain Nairac and Lions funds. In addition, Ribston is associated with eye camps in India and water jars in Kenya. ‘Enterprise’ may be regarded as new in its present form of structured businesses in school; the first one, a decade ago, was one of the guinea pigs from which much was learned. A non-competitive, but highly successful introduction is the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme: the number of top awards is currently small but growing healthily as Old Girls complete their assignments.
Sports always undergo periods of ascendency and decline. Having an international hockey player on the staff at Spa Road gave that emphasis in spite of the restricted facilities at the park. We can now include a recent England schoolgirl player in our number as well as regional representatives. In between, netball frequently appeared in the press headlines as the teams won tournaments and players gained places in Area and National teams, one for three years running. We also had an International Golfer, swimmers and gymnasts and a steady number of regional athletes. Some sports – rowing and cricket – have disappeared, temporarily, we hope.
The P.T.A. has not escaped the changes in the style of life. Many parents have increasing demands on their time which has taken its toll of evening events. Not long ago, the spring dance was a formal affair – long dresses, mostly ballroom dancing and supper served (remember the apple pies?). Now the order of the day is disco style.
It seems that no school is ever built big enough. The Spa Road numbers spilled over to other buildings including Rikenel, Friars Orchard and the Judge’s Lodgings before moving to the new building at Sutgrove. That soon needed the Elliots and now there are the extra ones brought in to accommodate the girls who came into the IIIrd and VIth years from Colwell in 1987 and 1988.
That was part of the re-organization plans which have been proposed, in various forms, for a very long time – since 1932! The threat reached its peak in the 1980’s when girls were constantly being given letters about the latest plans to take home; we were to disappear / become 11-16 comprehensive/ become 11-18 comprehensive / Crypt was to disappear and we would use their buildings for half the school (former Sixth Form, Economics students could give views on walking the Ash Path in the rain to and from lessons).
Then there were the petitions; the stalwarts of the P.T.A., parents and staff, and girls experienced campaigning in a dignified form – and standing in King’s Square in the snow, collecting signatures. There were five sets of plans in eight years so it is no wonder that a final effort was made to save our school. Referring to 1921, one writer stated; ‘At last the school was on a firm footing’. We could re-iterate that in August, 1989 when the long-awaited news of being granted Grant-Maintained Status was received, looking forward to a future built on firm foundations and free from incessant uncertainty with the attendant block on getting very much done by the Council.
Ribston Hall was the first in Gloucester to become Grant-Maintained; others have followed our lead. The pioneering spirit of ‘G.L.’ and fostered by Miss Mortimer is still alive today. We wonder what innovations might emerge which will become general practice in the 21st Century. It is a great school which weaves its spell: as former pupils will testify….
‘Once Ribston, Always Ribston’.
From our viewpoint by members of the Ribston Hall Old Girls Association, 1991
1991 – 2017……. Extracts from Mrs Chong’s Speech at Speech Day in September 2017
There were lots of changes to Ribston in those early years of GM status – the Technology Block was built, better funding enabled us to increase to four forms of entry but to retain our family feel we restricted them to 20 students… that wouldn’t be financially viable today!
In 1991, I was invited to be Acting Deputy Headteacher. Having accepted the challenge the post was made permanent and I found myself responsible for the curriculum and writing the school timetable, teaching PE and being responsible for the day to day running of the school.
We introduced a Cross Curricular Week in 1992 – later to become Enrichment Week – with everyone taking part in a range of visits all in this country – I found myself on an outdoor activities week at Manor Farm - which we re-visited this year 2017 with a Year 7 group!
Having stepped down as Head of PE when I became Deputy Head our new PE lead introduced Volleyball and as a school we had amazing success – despite the low ceiling in the gym – playing at national level with teams competing across the country and individual students achieving international status.
There are so many memories of this period at Ribston -school productions such as Yanamamo – dance productions in school and at the Roses Theatre, ski trips to Austria, the first Ribston Hall minibus, National finalists in the Young Consumer Competition the first Ofsted Inspection in 1994… and the 75th Anniversary of Ribston Hall in 1996.
I was appointed Acting Headteacher, in 1996 for the Summer term and in August 1997 I was asked to act as Headteacher for a second time…
Picture the scene … August Bank Holiday, unlike this year, we had torrential rain over the weekend fairly normal, only Ribston Hall was having the roof on the three storey block of the main building replaced… I received a phone call from the Bursar early on the Tuesday morning… ‘I think you need to come in to school’ – I arrived to find water running down the stair case heading towards the parquet flooring in the hall….. we managed to sandbag the corridor to prevent the water getting in to the Hall but the devastation was huge – nearly all of the classrooms in the main building suffered damage – so much so that term was delayed by over a week and the staff had to be based in what is now the Parrish Building whilst we had to have temporary buildings brought on to the site to house classes on a rotation whilst re-furbishment took place. It was a six month programme but we kept the buildings for a lot longer than that!!
This became known as the first Ribston Flood – the Great Gloucestershire Flood of 2007 occurred on the last day of term and whilst the site wasn’t affected – members of staff certainly were as they tried to get home at the end of term. The second Ribston Flood occurred in October 2013 when a pipe burst on the second floor causing devastation to many of the rooms affected previously. This time however with some clever timetabling we kept the school running.
I was appointed to the permanent Headship in April 1998 and had the pleasure of an Ofsted Inspection in 1999… 12 inspectors spent a week in school – quite different to the Inspection at the end of last year – 2 inspectors for one day. That year we were amongst the top ten schools in the country for improved GCSE Results and I was invited to the Department for Education to celebrate this achievement.
We had just over 400 students on roll and 13 temporary classrooms some of which had been on site since the 1970s. We maintained the many Ribston traditions – The Boars Head in the Carol Service, Speech Day and the Cathedral Service, Enrichment Week and the Inter house competitions. Dance shows and school productions. We ventured over the pond to ski in America for the first time. We had introduced new sports to the curriculum and three of our rowers represented GB in Munich, Bulgaria and Ireland.
The Year 2000, the ‘threat of the Millenium Bug’ which played a starring role in the ‘staff pantomime’ came and went the editors of the school magazine ‘Ribbus’ celebrated the 60th edition. In 2001 we celebrated 80 years of Ribston Hall High School, A Comedy of Errors was school production and the dancers performed at the Gloucestershire Youth Dance Festival in Cheltenham Town Hall. In the summer Ribston held a mock election and the winning candidate, who represented Labour, can regularly be seen on BBC TV today.
In the 2000s Ribston continued to grow and thrive. The broad range of trips and visits increased to include expeditions organised through the World Challenge Organisation to Kenya, Ecuador, & Peru. As a school we achieved the International School Award. School productions included The Sound of Music, and Dance Shows became a regular feature, Year 9 performed a ‘Shakespeare Evening’ each year and Enrichment Week continued in the Summer Term. I was invited to join the Ardeche Trip - canoeing down the Gorge was amazing – the overnight bivouacs were often an interesting challenge for the students.
Ribston continued to raise funds for charities including the Tsunami Appeal of 2006 and held ‘Pink Days’ to raise funds for the fight against breast cancer as well as a whole host of other activities. We held a spectacular ‘Little Princess’ day and a whole variety of Ribston competitions involving staff that were based on various TV programmes including ‘Blind Date’!
The school roll had increased and we were bursting at the seams – in 2003 we built a Performance Suite with dedicated Music and Dance facilities. We had sold the grass tennis courts as building land to create the funds.
We applied to become a Specialist School and were the only Humanities School in Gloucestershire, we were then invited to apply for a second specialism and after much persuasion were able to become Gloucester’s Sports Specialist School with Languages.
We gained funding to replace 14 of the temporary classrooms with a purpose built Teaching Block – now the Whitaker Building which we opened in 2009.
There were threats of closure in the mid 2000’s – Gloucester schools had too many places and we were threatened with re-organisation yet again. Parents and Governors rallied and we saved Ribston from closure.
In 2011 Ribston Hall became the ‘Ribston Hall High School Academy Trust’ an opportunity to secure a slight increase in funding but more importantly build on our independence and secure our future as a selective school. Our latest building project saw the removal of the last temporary classrooms and the extension to the Sixth Form- we opened the Parrish Building in 2014.
Last September (2016) we increased the number of places in Year 7 to 120 and this September we have approximately 850 students on roll. We continue to build on our strengths and I am delighted to say that in the local press earlier this week we were rated as the most over subscribed Grammar School in Gloucestershire.
Amanda Chong, Headteacher, September 2017