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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

On the Trail of a Mystery School

Winifred (centre) with older sisters, c. 1905

A comment in my late aunt's family history notes about my grandmother, Winifred Griffiths, (the little mite in the middle, pictured left) has set me off on a trail this week to solve a mystery.

The note read: "At one point she was sent to a Catholic Boarding school in Hereford because she was very lively and they thought it would settle her down." No other information was given.

Well, where to begin to unravel that particular conundrum! The family lived in Staffordshire, so why my gran had been sent to a school in Hereford is anyone’s guess. Not to mention that they weren't Catholic – they attended the local Methodist chapel in Heath Town.

So, is there any truth in the story?

Naturally, I couldn't resist looking up what Catholic boarding schools would have existed in Hereford when my gran was a child.

A likely time-frame

Winifred was born in 1901 and was living with the family in Wolverhampton on the 1911 census. She joined the Carl Rosa Opera Company aged 16, so if she did go to a boarding school, it would have been sometime between 1911 and the end of the First World War.

My search stumbled across a possibility in the form of St Elizabeth's Catholic School, which was run by a charity. This seemed to tie up, as Win's parents weren't wealthy and wouldn’t have been able to afford expensive school fees. Details about the school appeared on Peter Higginbotham's website along with an email address of the charity's archivist.

Old photos & school history

I emailed a query, explaining my conundrum and the archivist, Sister Bernadette, replied that the charity no longer held records of the school, but that Herefordshire Archives had photocopies of the logbooks of the period. She also kindly sent me a number of photographs of the school and some information about its history. It looked to be in a delightful setting!

The school was founded in 1861 at the behest of the Bodenham family who owned the nearby Rotherwas estate to the south-east of Hereford. In the beginning, it was merely a cottage of four small rooms until other buildings were acquired and extended. In 1868 a large farmhouse was given over to the sisters running the establishment, and become St Elizabeth’s school.

An elementary school was set up for local pupils, with a purpose-built school opening in 1870. A boarding school for girls was established in 1875, with one for boys five years later. If Win did attend, she would have joined the school after its Golden Jubilee of 1911.

The school moved elsewhere at the start of the WWII, as it was dangerously close to a munitions factory. Over time it relocated to its present site to the north-east of Hereford and changed its name to St Mary’s High School, but it remains connected to its past as a Catholic Secondary School.

I've emailed an initial query to Herefordshire Archives and await a reply. Keep your fingers crossed!


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