The opening of Palmer followed a period when girls had studied at Bradfield on an ad hoc basis. Belinda Boyd (nee Somerset) (H 76) was the very first girl at Bradfield and was admitted by forward-thinking Headmaster Anthony Quick to join her brother Arthur (H 74-78) when her school in Switzerland closed just before her A Levels.

“Perhaps I never realised what a cultural sea change it really was – but the effort made by the school to make me welcome most definitely eased that path.”

Faulkner’s for me was one of the best attributes of the College. It’s a great way of getting to know the whole year group, both the boys and the girls, whilst not being too intimated by the years above.

Lara Robinson (M 07-12)

Belinda completed two terms at Bradfield as an ‘unofficial’ member of The Close, staying during the week with Biology master Malcolm Thompson and his wife Margaret who made sure she got to lessons and did her prep. Belinda remembers walking to her first lesson with windows opening above her and it seemed “all 500 boys were trying to get a glimpse of “the new girl” who had, apparently, been announced in assembly!”

The reality was that after a few weeks, the novelty had rather worn off for all concerned and Belinda’s abiding memory was “that Bradfield was a kind, progressive, often fun, hard-working place of learning that taught its pupils the meaning of acceptance. I can honestly say that those two terms have certainly given me the self-confidence to succeed in the now slowly diminishing male dominated sectors like the media, horse-racing, hospitality and healthcare.”

In the years before Palmer opened a small group of girls had begun boarding with members of the SCR and Headmaster. One of those girls was Helen Cavendish (B 86-88) who remembers the experience of being one of the few girls in the Sixth Form.

“I had come from Theale Green, so was used to a co-educational environment. However, many of the Bradfield boys had only been in single-sex schools and never been to school with a girl. Schooling with girls genuinely was a novel experience and we had much amusement watching them moderate their behaviour and topics of conversation when girls were around.”

Girls boarding back in the 1980s was a very different prospect from the wonderful girls Houses of today. Most were day girls, but a few girls boarded, by living with Housemasters and their families. If day girls needed to sleep over, after a rehearsal, concert or school trip, they were able to use the overflow sanitorium.

“The ‘over-san’ was a room of beds in the main building, set aside for accommodating sick pupils during an outbreak of illness when the Medical Centre ran out of space. No male teachers or boys were allowed in and there was the threat of expulsion for any boys caught up there when girls were staying over.”

At the time the girls were fully integrated into Bradfield life, taking part in all of the Drama productions, joining in with the CCF and sport and helping to raise academic results.

“The boys were very welcoming and once the novelty factor of having a girl in the class had worn off, we all settled into a normal classroom rhythm.  It was quickly observed that when you first add a girl to a class of boys, the academic standards rise quite dramatically. The boys worked harder because they didn’t want to be beaten by ‘a girl’ and as the only girl, there was no way that I was coming in the bottom half of the class for fear of being teased, so we all found ourselves in an upward cycle of academic results.”

Now a parent to a current Sixth Form pupil, Helen believes Bradfield still has the same underlying core values, focus on education for life, committed teachers and idyllic setting.

“Everything has been taken to a much higher level and the transition to co-ed throughout the school is an enormous positive. Having spent most of my career in Investment Banking, the lessons learnt during two years at Bradfield have been invaluable. The team spirit, standing up for your views when all around seem to have a different perspective, being authentic and comfortable in your own skin even when you look different from those around you, the importance of friendship and the ability to be resilient, robust and aware of your strengths and vulnerabilities. These are all good life skills and illustrate the value of a broad education for life.”

Once Palmer had opened its doors, the House operated for the first few terms with only one tutor, Dr John Horsfall. The Housemaster was on duty for the remaining six nights including, of course, every weekend.

“It was a very tiring experience resulting, at times, in a very grumpy Housemaster,” remembers Tim. “My wife, Judith, and our children, Elizabeth and William were most understanding. There were lots of ‘characters’ in that first year – too numerous to mention but together they generated a great House atmosphere and were certainly pioneers for the success of girls’ boarding for the years to come.”

 

The first intake in Sept 1989 was relatively large and as a result the 1990 Palmer House entry was limited to just 16 pupils while there were over 100 applicants for those places. As a result, plans for a second dedicated girls House, Armstrong (J), were brought forward a year.

This was swiftly followed by the opening of Stevens House (K), something that Nickie Moss-Gibbons, wife of David, a former Housemaster of Stevens, remembers fondly.

“Of all the jobs David had at Bradfield he enjoyed being Housemaster of Stevens House the most. We were only there for four years but they were the best.”

Nickie was Matron for the first year and found the job both demanding and physically rewarding. “The job did keep me fit though with all the rushing up and down stairs, distributing medicines, chasing up those who hadn’t stripped their beds (always the same ones!) and waking the girls so they got to lessons. Keeping in touch with our ‘old girls’ is important to me and I look forward to seeing many of them in the summer.”

All 500 boys were trying to get a glimpse of 'the new girl' who had, apparently, been announced in assembly!

Belinda Boyd (nee Somerset) (H 76)

Hannah Lee, nee Knapp (I 96-98), also remembers her time at Bradfield as it enabled her to form strong lifelong friendships with the other girls in the House.

“We spent so much time together inside and outside of the school day. My best friends twenty years on are my I House friends. My bridesmaid was my roommate in the Lower Sixth and another friend is the godmother to my daughter as I am to hers.”

“I remember feeling pretty nervous walking into the Dining Hall for the first time and desperately looking for a friend to sit with. After things settled down we started to mix more. Taking part in Duke of Edinburgh, sport, clubs and Drama helped to get to know other girls and boys outside the House and being part of the JCR in Upper Sixth really helped us all to feel integrated into the school community and respected by teachers and pupils alike.”

Taking part in Drama productions at Bradfield is something many pupils remember vividly and Hannah’s experiences set her up for the career she enjoys today.

“I trained as an actress I think purely as a result of being part of the 1997 Greek Play, Oedipus Tyrannus. Rehearsing so intensely for the best part of a year and performing to packed audiences in Greeker and on tour in Greece was the most incredible and illuminating experience for a 17 year old.

It gave me a real passion for Drama and love of team work and artistic collaboration which I have certainly taken into my career. Bradfield gave me a sense of confidence; that I could give anything a go and if it didn’t work out, at least I’d tried and followed my dream.”

In 2003, the College took the pioneering decision to create a boarding house for all Bradfield’s first year pupils, Faulkner’s, the first and only co-educational House. One of the first girls in Faulkner’s was Radio X DJ Hattie Pearson (K 03-08) who remembers being one of only two junior girls in the school making for a unique early experience.

“I remember being allowed to roam freely throughout the mixed boarding house – something I’m sure would raise some eyebrows today! I recall having no choice but to partake in sport activities with the Sixth Form girls. Either I challenged myself to keep up with girls five years my senior on the hockey pitch or risk being hit by a cricket ball by one of the boys!”

The first year of Bradfield was both thrilling and overwhelming for Hattie but she remembers the choice of co-curricular activities on offer as one of the most appealing selling points.

“As a 13 year old girl being surrounded by 98 boys it was not exactly straightforward and I can comfortably compare the experience to what I imagine it’s like to be a rabbit in headlights. I immersed myself in almost everything that my schedule would allow; from the shooting team to the Shakespeare society, playing bassoon in the orchestra to the odd round of golf.”

The boarding experience of girls at the time involved a lot of moving around between the Houses as they went up through the senior years. Hattie went from Faulkner’s to Stevens for Year 10 before moving over to Stanley, then situated in the old B House above the SCR, in Year 11.

“As Bradfield went about becoming a fully co-educational school I enjoyed being part of what felt like at times a social experiment, but which I now look back on with fond memories. It wasn’t always plain sailing being wildly outnumbered but undoubtedly it has given me the strength to go on to achieve in a male dominated industry.

“The College’s ethos instilled in me a determination and motivation to make my dreams a reality in both my career and personal life. The day to day experience of boarding provided me with a discipline and sense of community which I continue to value today. There’s no denying that my time at Bradfield set me up for life.”

 

Lara Robinson (M 07-12) joined as the number of junior girls continued to rise substantially and Faulkner’s proved to be a huge success.

“Faulkner’s for me was one of the best attributes of the College. It’s a great way of getting to know the whole year group, both the boys and the girls, whilst not being too intimated by the years above.”

The House continues to play a key role in the integration of the year group as a whole into a new school, allowing first years to settle and make long lasting friendships, something Lara found to be a great experience.

I remember being allowed to roam freely throughout the mixed boarding house – something I’m sure would raise some eyebrows today! I recall having no choice but to partake in sport activities with the Sixth Form girls. Either I challenged myself to keep up with girls five years my senior on the hockey pitch or risk being hit by a cricket ball by one of the boys!

Hattie Pearson (K 03-08)

“Due to Faulkner’s having a separate dining room and boarding house it really allows the first years to settle in and get used to living with the other sex which becomes very normal very quickly.”

One of the strengths of the school has always been its ability to encourage its pupils to explore their strengths and excel in them whatever they are. For Lara, those strengths lay in the creative and expressive subjects.

“I very much loved my time in the Art Schools and within the sports at Bradfield. I am now an artist and cannot thank Bradfield enough for every opportunity they gave me when I studied Art at GCSE and A Level”. Lara recently completed an Art Residency at The Barcelona Academy of Art and recently moved back to London and plans to catch up with former College pupils at the planned get-togethers celebrating 30 years of girls at Bradfield this summer.

Co-educational Independent School of the Year

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