St Helen's

The name of St Helen’s goes back to the early days. Although College started as a day school, some girls always boarded, initially with private landladies. In 1864 the growing number of boarders prompted Council to open the first College-owned boarding house at 24 Lansdown Place; the adjacent house, number 25, was annexed in 1893, and Miss Beale named the combined house St Helen’s. The Housemistress at that time was Miss Wilderspin, the eldest of the three sisters who were to run St Helen’s for thirty-six years.

By 1897 College had, for many years, been offering teacher-training courses at the Kindergarten and Secondary levels (through which many of its own ex-pupils had passed), and in that year it was recognised by the Government as a residential training college. An Elementary Training Department was added, and St Helen’s became ‘The Residential College of St Helen’s’ for students taking the Elementary course. Boarding fees were about 10 guineas per term.

The Elementary Training Department closed in 1910, and from 1911 St Helen's was included in the College prospectus as a normal boarding house. For some years it was listed as a ‘foundation house’, which meant, in effect, that assisted places were available. At that time, and indeed right up to the 1930s, there was a scale of fees for boarding, St Helen's always being among the least expensive houses. At the end of World War I the fees were 61 guineas per annum, whereas at Sidney Lodge and Glenlee they were as much as 93 guineas.

In 1917 St Helen's moved from Lansdown Place into 5 and 6 Fauconberg Terrace, which stood on the site of the present West Wing. These tall Victorian houses had no electric light until 1927 and were reputedly so ‘jerry-built’ that they swayed perceptibly in a high wind. In the unheated dormitories, with their iron bedsteads separated by curtains, the water jugs on the washstands sometimes froze over in winter. Then, in 1931, came the welcome news that, to mark the centenary of Miss Beale’s birth, a new St Helen's and a new St Austin’s were to be built at the top of Parabola Road on either side of Bayshill Court.

The new houses, designed by Stanley Hamp and described by the Principal Miss Sparks, as ‘this really beautiful example of modern building’, were duly ready for occupation by September 1933. With the move, the fees went up from 26 guineas to 30 guineas per term. Only six years later, at the outbreak of war, both houses were requisitioned by the War Office, together with the rest of College. All the boarders had to be found temporary accommodation in hastily-leased houses in and around Cheltenham. Although St Helen's, along with six other houses and the main College buildings, was back in College hands by January 1940, many of the makeshift arrangements had to continue, and it was not until 1945 that life began to return to normal.

Life in College in the post-war years was rather less comfortable than it is today, and the strict régime which had prevailed before the war persisted to a large extent until the 1960s. Change came gradually – carpets replaced linoleum, bathrooms were modernised and kitchens were completely refitted. A new heating system was installed in 1985. Nowadays meals are less formal, rules far fewer and the atmosphere more relaxed than in the past. Miss Beale’s desire that the houses should be ‘home-like’ is probably more fully realised today than it has been since the early years of College.

HOUSEMISTRESSES

1867-70 Miss Caines
1871 Mrs Perceval Baskerville
1873-80 Mrs Brady
1886 Miss A Wilderspin
1904 Miss K Wilderspin
1905 Miss K and Miss E Wilderspin
1923 Miss H Phillip
1926 Miss F Baron
1937 Mrs Rice
1938 Miss A Truesdale
1939 Miss Spence
1941 Miss O Waller
1943 Miss E Barnes
1953 Miss M Gulland
1958 Miss M Dewhirst
1962 Miss D Travers
1975 Miss M Francis
1981 Mrs R Dawson
1988 Miss L Elvin
1989 Mrs F Cartledge
1991 Mrs R Kerin
1991 Mrs J Dobinson
2003 Mrs L Keith
2012 Ms J McNair
2013 Mrs L Nestor-Powell
2016 Mrs Z Wragg-Smith