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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Springwood Church of England Grammar School for Girls

Normanhurst which became the Springwood
Church of England Girls Grammar School

Miss Rhoda Griffin was the eldest child of Alexander and Harriet Griffin and her siblings were Harriet, Alexander and Charles.  She established a private venture (non government) girl’s school in ‘Normanhurst’ Springwood around the turn of the century.[1]  Although the foundation date of the original school is purely speculative, local newspapers do imply it was operational by 1903/4.  In fact the Nepean Times reported a serious incident that occurred in 1904 whereby a student avoided a nasty accident when her hair almost caught fire.[2]  More bad luck followed several years later when the entire college burnt down as a result of a fire suspected of originating in the kitchen.[3] Rebuilding obviously proceeded smoothly because the school was back in business by December 1909, when the local tome announced a recital and the annual distribution of prizes.  The school suffered a close call again in 1915 when it was threatened by bush fires raging in the area at the time.

Additional accommodation for the school, located on Bathurst Road (now the Great Western Highway) was provided when Rhoda purchased ‘Woodneck’ in 1907.  She was the owner of both properties when she died at St. Peters in 1920.  After she passed away the property passed to her sister-in-law, May/Marie Louisa (nee Sampson) who had married Miss Griffin’s brother Alexander.[4]
One of Miss Griffin’s pupils was Janet Keats (nee le Brun Brown) who went on to become a noted soprano and actress using the name Barbara Russell. She was the daughter of grazier Walterus le Brun and Emmeline Hanniford (nee Fletcher).  After the death of her mother Janet was sent to and attended the Springwood school for only for a short time c1912/13.  She was not impressed with the school and left due to suffering, amongst other deprivations, the physical discomforts of cold showers which, for obvious reasons, were the bane of many children attending schools in the Blue Mountains at that time.  Janet was removed and sent to board at Gosford Girls School which, in later years, she related was a much happier place.  Janet married composer Horace Keats, one of the founders of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and – in 1946 -  Hugh MaCrae the poet.[5]

Little else is known about the school but it would seem that Miss Griffin may have retired due to ill health because her sister-in-law was in charge of the school by 1918.  However, by 1923 the school was operated by Miss Florence Hutchinson Bradford.

According to information supplied by Ku-ring-gai Council, Florence Bradford founded ‘Willandra College’ in William Street, Hornsby in 1910.  In 1913 the college moved to the corner of Duff Street and Lane Cove Road (now the Pacific Highway) Turramurra where it remained until it closed in 1916.[6]  Miss Bradford relocated to ‘Silva Plana’ in Springwood – the one-time home of John Frazer – but found the home too small for her requirements.  When she took over Miss Griffin’s school she changed the name of the house to ‘Willandra.’
Miss Bradford was the eldest child of Alfred and Lucy (nee Barrett) Bradford and her siblings were Ernest Alfred, Elizabeth and Walter.  Ernest went on to become the Mayor of Hurstville Council 1916-17.[7]

Rate records note the school was known variously as ‘Florence Bradford’s Ladies College’ or ‘Willandra Girls Grammar School’ until it was changed to Springwood Church of England Grammar School sometime before 1938.[8]  A photograph that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1926 suggests the name change may have occurred around that time as the caption stated the property was under the jurisdiction of the Church of England Anglican Synod.[9]  The Sydney Morning Herald in June reported that the Rev. H. Dempster, rector of Springwood,  resigned as chair of the school council - due to ill health – and even though he remained on the committee his place had been filled by Mr. F.A. Bland, MA, LLB who was a lecturer at the University.[10]

Advertisements appearing in the Sydney papers illustrate the school was well equipped with its own dairy, vegetable gardens and playing fields.  In 1932 Miss E Lance was the senior mistress assisting Miss Bradford who was listed as the Principal.[11] Prior to that, a Miss Ethel St. John Clarke was appointed as senior mistress in 1927.  Although nothing is known about Miss Lance, Miss Clarke was well suited to take on the responsibilities because she had a BA from Melbourne University, had taught overseas and was a member of Oxford University.[12] Miss Clarke retired at the end of 1927.[13]

A former pupil from Miss Bradford’s time was artist, printmaker, designer and teacher, Thea Waddell (nee Hogg).  Thea completed her primary education in the Springwood school until successfully winning a scholarship to attend Kambala at Rose Bay where she received her Intermediate Certificate in 1940.[14]  In adult life Thea (1925-2008) was a patron of the arts in Sydney.
Joan Harris, another student, went on to have a career of some note when she became the youngest person to pass the conveyance-at-law in 1930.[15] Miss Bradford’s obituary implied that her long successful scholastic career had been responsible for placing some of her students - like Thea and Joan -  into useful positions in public, social and philanthropic circles because her devoted training supported high ideals.  The obituary went on to state how the school was founded in ‘Willandra’ at Turramurra before moving to ‘Silva Plana’ and then into Miss Griffin’s former school which was altered extensively before being taken over by the Church of England.[16] 

Newspapers attest to students taking part in inter school sports and various fund raising activities like raising money for Christ Church.[17] An Old Girls Reunion was held at the ‘Feminist Club’ in 1926 where Dorothy Taylor acted as secretary, Grace Hazeldene and Rae McIlivride were treasurers while the committee consisted of Muriel Fleming, Nancy Fleming, Elsa Seaward and Thelma Lansdowne.[18]  In 1928, ex-pupils held an annual event at the ‘Waldorf’ and the proceeds of the event went to the reference library of their former school.[19]  Ex students held a reunion dance at Ambassadors in 1927.  The committee members wore wristlets showing the school colours of navy and red.  Miss Bradford (absent on the evening) was president, Dorothy Taylor treasurer and Rae McIIvride secretary, while other ex students comprised Doris Pryor, Nancy Flemming, Freda Tatham, Nancy Deane, Stella and Freda Deaton, B. Stuckgold Elsa Seaward, Kathleen and Nell Lord, Mavis Pink, May Nancarrow, Lorna Hoddle, Joan Molyneaux, Nancy Armitage, Jean Clarke, Lois Thorpe and Nell Tatham.  The girls were gowns of black lace and taffeta,  olive green romaine, mist blue taffeta, blue beaded georgette and tomato georgette.[20] Events like the foregoing suggest a strong connection existed between students and private venture schools long after their formal education ended.

The death of Miss Bradford was announced in the Sydney Morning Herald on 11th April 1941.  She was cremated at Rookwood.

Prize winners as per SMH 17.12.1923
Joyce Goodley, Wenda Sweet, Barbara Allen, Mary Allen, Agnes Courtney, Celia Goldstein, Gwen Sinclair, Betty Broad, Nancy Fleming, Freida Tatham, Marie Simonsens, Jean Scott, Norma Spencer, Jean Scott, Blessing Stuckgold, Joyce Evans, Kathleen Lord, Dorothy Taylor, Enid Douglas, Kate Percival, Letty Lambert & Enid Douglas who was Dux for that year.

Prize winners as per SMH 15.12.1926, p. 12
Maisie Pike etc.

Prize winners as per SMH 17.12.1927, p. 12
Lillian Turner, Joyce Ting, Nancy Cook (Dux), Margot Mason, Gertrude Taylor, Violet Gilmour, Alma Cull, Molly Reilly, Heather Johnson, Joan Mason, Nance Speedie, May Kenny, Dorothy Pile, Joyce Day, Wilma Williams, Roberta Garnett, Jean Humphries, Eileen Pike, Elizabeth Ribbert, Hester Stokes, Marie Simonsens, Beryl Neve, May Wiltshire, Adeline Cull, Anne Penny (Dux of School), Winifred Corke & Edna Scott.

Prize winners as per SMH 14.12.1935, p. 23.
Joan Bostock, Valerie Deane, Thorpe Richards, Dawn Reeve, Peggy Bax, Catherine Engisch, Bettine Bostock, Betty Duly, Patricia Plunket, Clive Hodgson, Barbara Cameron, Thea Hogg, Marie Borchard, Jill Sherman, June Peters, Hope Richards, Olive Hodgson, Arthur Pringle, Barbara Crane. (* Boys appear)

Even though some girls won more than one prize their name only appears once in these lists. Furthermore, these are lists of prize winners only therefore they do not reflect enrolment numbers at the school.
Prizes were presented for the usual subjects like maths, French, music and music appreciation, sewing, drawing, sport, religious studies (divinity) and elocution other prizes were given out for obscure subjects like mythology and the general appreciation of art.

It would seem the school may have gone into decline roughly around the time of Miss Bradford’s demise and closed its doors during the latter part of the 1940s.


[1] Bruce Jackson’s notes, vertical files, BMCC local studies collection, Springwood.
[2] Nepean Times 27.8.1904.
[3] Nepean Times, 31.11.1908.
[4] NSW Births Deaths and Marriages.
[5] Australian Composers, Wirripang, Janet Keats: The Early Years,
[6] Joan Rowland, Kr-ring-gai Council Local Studies Librarian, email correspondence with Pamela Smith 28.10.2008.
[7] Hurstville Council Past Mayors,
[8] Sydney Morning Herald, 10.4.1920, p. 7; BMCC Local Studies Collection, rate records ‘Willandra.’
[9] Sydney Morning Herald, 12.5.1926, p. 18.
[10] Sydney Morning Herald, 8.6.1926, p. 8.
[11] Sydney Morning Herald, 21.5.1932, p. 22.
[12] Sydney Morning Herald, 13.1.1927, p. 4.
[13] Sydney Morning Herald, 17.12.1927, p. 12.
[14] Sydney Morning Herald, From a brush with blindness evolved a life dedicate to art, 19.8.2008.
[15] Sydney Morning Herald, 26.6.1930, p. 15.
[16] Nepean Times, 10.4.1941, p. 2.
[17] Nepean Times, 24.10.1940, p. 6.
[18] Sydney Morning Herald, 5.6.1926, p. 9.
[19] Sydney Morning Herald, 24.7.1928, p. 5.
[20] Sydney Morning Herald, 3.9.1927, p. 10.

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