WOKING High School for Girls was an upmarket private school in Commercial Road. An old picture postcard of the building has rekindled its history.

Founded in 1884, it lasted until to 1922. The previous Peeps column told how it was established by a Miss Helen Taylor Coulton, for the education of girls aged up to the age of 18, with a kindergarten for boys and girls added in 1886, and a preparatory school for boys opening in the early 1920s.

Reader Mark Coxhead has found a good deal about the school in back copies of the Woking News & Mail on microfilm at the Surrey History Centre, including advertisements and reports of its annual prize-giving and entertainment ceremonies held in April each year.

He says these were clearly well rehearsed and choreographed events, which were held in the Woking public hall further along Commercial Road.   

The event held in April 1901 started with the school’s orchestra performing a couple of pieces and a few songs by the elder girls. The kindergarten gave a display of ball drill and games. 

The physical training class gave some impressive dances, as well as a routine with dumb-bells and Indian clubs by the elder pupils. This was followed by the distribution of prizes.

Every pupil that had passed a public examination (Cambridge Junior and Cambridge Preliminary) received a prize. As well as the school examinations, there were also the results of the Associate Board of Music and the Royal College of Music. 

Subject prizes were given in arithmetic, music, painting, needlework, drawing, neatness and order, and various conduct prizes. The Revd WFT Hamilton gave an address on the value of education in which he praised the principal, staff, parents and pupils. There were 112 pupils at the school. 

He also praised the educational achievements of the school. A piece of ground near the school had been purchased for croquet and tennis, as well as numerous improvements to the school premises. Miss Coulton and her sister Lucy were presented with a clock as a mark of gratitude. Specimens of work in oil and watercolour paintings, drawings and needlework were exhibited in a side room.

The 1909 prize distribution also consisted of a programme of entertainment: a cantata operetta, a pianoforte piece, dancing, and two divisions of drill. The physical training class performed scarf and skipping dancing followed by various pupils engaged in singing.

The prizes were distributed by the Revd ERP Devereux (Christ Church). He also praised the excellence of the school, saying: “It was likely that Woking would become the greatest educational centre in Surrey as the result of the academic foundations being laid by Miss Coulton and her school.”

He described the plans to build a technical school for boys, which were said to progressing well. At the close, cheers were given for Miss Coulton and her staff, and the National Anthem was sung.

The prize-giving evening in 1914 was at Christ Church. By this time Miss R Webb was well installed as headmistress. Elocution classes had recently been introduced, consisting of breathing, distinct utterance, gesture and deportment. Another recent innovation was the Swedish system of drill. Miss Webb was given a bouquet from the boarders of the school at the end of the evening.

In 1909 the Woking News & Mail gave the scale of fees for pupils per term. Fees for day pupils for English, mathematics, drawing, singing classes and drilling were £2 two shillings. Fees in addition to the above, but including French and Latin, were £3 three shillings. Music piano fees according to the professor chosen, were £1 one shilling to £3 three shillings.

The building next door to the school was a private English language college for foreign students, run by a Joseph Tomlinson. The 1911 census shows him resident with several family members, one general servant, and four male students from Spain – who were resident in the country for two years. 

The building was another relatively large house with 10 rooms. Mark Coxhead believes there may have been an association between the two educational establishments, as two daughters, Emily and Winfred Tomlinson, attended the High School in 1901 and by 1911 they had become teachers at the High School.

If  you have some memories or old pictures relating to the Woking area, call me, David Rose, on 01483 838960, or drop a line to the News & Mail.

David Rose is a local historian and writer who specialises in what he calls “the history within living memory” of people, places and events in the west Surrey area covering towns such as Woking and Guildford. He collects old photos and memorabilia relating to the area and the subject, and regularly gives illustrated local history talks to groups and societies. For enquiries and bookings please phone or email him at: [email protected]