Blackburn Girls' High School was founded in 1883, to educate the daughters of the middle classes.The original home of the school was Spring Mount on Preston New Road.When more space was needed premises at Crosshill were acquired which acted as a preparatory school for juniors. Later Crosshill became part of the secondary school, where pupils spent their first two years before moving to Spring Mount.
The High School's final home was in purpose built premises on Buncer Lane, which opened in 1961. The comprehensive system came into force a few years later and the High School merged with the former Witton Park Secondary Modern School to become Witton Park School in 1968.
Nick Harling, Keeper of Social History at Blackburn Museum gives us an insight into the history of the school.
In common with many other schools in Victorian Blackburn, the Girls’ High School was founded as a result of private enterprise.
A group of local businessmen and educationalists set up a foundation committee to look into the provision of a school for girls.
A preliminary meeting took place in 1883 at the home of James Hargreaves, a wholesale tobacconist. Also present were Thomas Mitchell Eccles, cotton spinner, of Crosshill, and W. H. Brewer, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools. A limited company was formed to establish and administer the new school.
Premises were chosen at Spring Mount,the school opening in September 1883 with 23 pupils. This increased to 150 within ten years. Two teachers sufficed for the first couple of years, increasing to nine by 1905 and thirteen by 1914. The early curriculum included English, History, French, Mathematics, Geography, Science, Music, Art, Scripture and Gymnastics.
Spring Mount, the original High School building, was built as the home of Dr. James Barlow, a surgeon who pioneered caesarian births.
James Barlow was born at Hawkshaw, Bury, in 1767. He trained as a doctor and first practised medicine at Chorley. It was in the village of Blackrod that he performed a caesarian birth in 1793. Although the baby was stillborn, Barlow saved the mother’s life.
Barlow came to Blackburn in 1797 after the breakdown of his marriage to Elizabeth Winstanley of Preston. He initially lived at Bank House, off Adelaide Terrace, but as his practice grew, he decided to build larger premises for himself.
He chose a plot of land at the junction of the new Preston turnpike (Preston New Road) and Branch Road (Montague Street). Spring Mount was built in 1826 as a gracious double-fronted house set in its own grounds, with lawns, borders, a pond, and it is reported, a peacock which screamed all night!
James Barlow died a highly respected local figure in 1839. Spring Mount passed to his adopted son, J.B.S.Sturdy (later Mayor of Blackburn), whose family lived there until the early 1880's.
Blackburn Girls’ High School was originally designed to educate middle-class girls, but the 1902 Education Act broadened its remit.
From 1903, the school received grant aid from the Borough, in return for 10% free scholarship places.
By 1917, there were around 50 girls receiving free secondary education. At this period, fee-paying parent could expect an annual bill of around £12/12s/6d.
The curriculum changed relatively little over the years, apart from the addition of extra languages such as Greek and German, giving the girls a very well-rounded education.
Classroom accommodation was initially cramped, a point criticised by the Inspectors in 1909. This was quickly remedied , with several of the ‘special subject’ rooms being enlarged.
Academic achievement was consistently good, with several girls each year going on to college and university, including Oxford and Cambridge.
As the years went by, the number of pupils at the school increased. It soon became clear that Spring Mount would have to be extended.
Land was purchased behind and to the side of the old building. A new hall, gymnasium and many more classrooms were planned. In the meantime, classes were taken in temporary wooden buildings.
Miss Green recalled that “snow and rain would come in and the stoves would send out sulphurous fumes. Pupils had to bear knocking and hammering all day. They had to occupy rooms which grew darker and more dismal as the new buildings rose higher”.
This temporary inconvenience was soon forgotten when the splendid new extension was completed. A blend of Arts & Crafts and Gothic styles, the new building was opened by the Archdeacon of Manchester in May 1892.
From 1917, another building was acquired by the High School to accommodate the junior or preparatory classes.
Crosshill was a fine-looking Victorian villa situated in Blackburn’s affluent ‘west end’. For many years it was the home of Thomas Mitchell Eccles, cotton spinner and manufacturer, also one of the founders of the main school at Spring Mount. John Dugdale signed the building over to the school trustees in 1917.
For 15 years, juniors were ‘prepped’ at Crosshill. This function ended in 1932 when, due to the gradual increase in the number of pupils at the main site, Crosshill became part of the secondary school. Girls spent their first two years at Crosshill before moving down to Spring Mount.
A well-rounded education included a variety of ‘extra-curricular’ activities, designed to keep pupils healthy, both mentally and physically.
Sports were encouraged, often played up to county level for girls with a particular aptitude. Hard courts for netball and tennis were provided at the main school site. A typical presentation evening programme from 1950 includes school prizes for netball, hockey, tennis, rounders, gymnastics and deportment!
For those girls who preferred ‘mental gymnastics’,there were prizes for poetry, music, essay-writing and art. An annual dramatic performance was popular with budding thespians.
Girls looking for a little more adventure could join the school Guide Troop, the 9th Blackburn High School Company, making contact with other Guides from all over the world.
One of the biggest changes in the history of Blackburn Girls’ High School came with the move to a new site at Witton Park.
In 1961 the High School moved out of Spring Mount and into their new purpose-built premises. In 1966, the school finally lost its ‘High School’ title, becoming Blackburn Girls’ Grammar School. Two years later, the school was absorbed into the comprehensive system.
The new buildings offered greatly improved modern facilities. Light and airy classrooms replaced the Victorian accommodation at Spring Mount and Crosshill.
Spring Mount and the 1892 extension spent their final years as a Curriculum Centre for Lancashire Education Authority.
Interest in the history of the buildings ran high - Blackburn Civic Society affixed a ‘blue plaque’ to Spring Mount, highlighting its historical importance to the town. It was also included on the Kathleen Ferrier Trail.
Sadly, years of neglect had left the buildings in a poor condition. The Lancashire Evening Telegraph reported that “inspections showed structural and other defects in the building which were estimated to cost more than £1m to repair”. The axe finally fell in March 2001. The site is now being redeveloped with a new complex of flats called ‘Weaver’s Court’.
by Nick Harling
After seeing the photographs of Blackburn Girl's High School, Celia Twomey contact Cotton Town with a few images her mother had taken when she was a student at the college and wondered if anyone had any more details about the photographs. Are you or any of your family in these photographs? If so we want to here from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
Celia's mother was Ethel Shaw of Burnley Road, Whitebirk, Blackburn. She went to the High School in September 1931 and left in 1938. She then went to Leeds Training College to train as a teacher and was a head teacher when she retired in 1980. Sadly she died in 1985 but her memory lives on in the photographs she took...
School Netball Team: March, 1938
Staff Netball Team: March, 1938
"Miss Johnson", 1938
"Jean and Ethel" June 1937