As Woodford County High School For Girls marks its centenary, Deputy Headteacher Colin Jenkins reflects on 100 years of history and traditions, which have been encapsulated in a new book by the Chairman of the Old Girls’ Association
Woodford County High School has changed a great deal over the years. On 29 September 1919, it opened its doors for the first time. On that day, the seven teachers in the school welcomed their new intake of 110 girls. Now, 100 years on, the school is 10 times bigger, but many of the values and traditions that inspired the founders live on today.
The founders of the school had a clear vision: to educate girls to the highest standards possible and to equip them to be self-confident, socially responsible adults, ready to make their mark on the world. This vision has remained consistent, as has the strong sense of mutual support and community spirit that permeates everything the school does.
The school was opened in the old Highams manor house, built in 1786. Although this still lies at its centre, it was obvious from the start that the old building needed extending. In the inter-war years two wings were added, which included the building of new science laboratories and a school hall and swimming pool (sadly, now closed). After that, there was little structural change until the sixth form block was built in 1974, followed 30 years later by the new sports hall and, most recently, a multi-million pound science and mathematics block.
The population of the school has changed a great deal too, reflecting the social and demographic changes that have occurred in the area in the past century. The school now has 180 girls in each year group from a culturally diverse mix that is reflective of modern London. The diversity is something we celebrate and is a source of strength. What binds us together, though, is the fact that all our pupils very much feel themselves to be Woodford Girls.
The school has witnessed a great deal in the last 100 years and has not been immune to the passing of history. It was founded in 1919 to accommodate the growing population of the area, and its early success was in no small part due to the work of local MP Henry Cutforth and its first headmistress, Miss Gordon. Creating a new school from a building that had been used as an army hospital until the end of 1918 was no easy task, and when it opened it had virtually no furniture or stationery! These early teething problems were soon overcome, and the school went on to thrive, building an enviable academic reputation.
With the Second World War came evacuation and relocation to Bedford, but by the middle of 1941 the girls were back and remained on the school site for the duration, occasional air raids notwithstanding. School life continued much as normal, but with comprehensive education introduced across the country from the 1960s onwards, the London Borough of Redbridge had to make a decision. They chose Woodford County as one of two schools that would continue to be selective – it therefore remains a grammar school to this day, along with its ‘brother’ school, Ilford County High School.
The school has also seen its fair share of illustrious visitors, particularly in the political sphere. Winston Churchill was the local MP and he visited the school several times, most notably in the year of his 80th birthday, when he and his wife were presented with a portrait of Clementine Churchill. And more recently, another former prime minister, David Cameron, paid us a visit and had to field some tough questions about the Brexit referendum!
As you would expect from a school this old, it has built up some quirky traditions over time. Some are older than others, but the 5p Race and House Drama are great Woodford institutions, as are the singing of the school songs. The 29th of September remains a special day, though, and every year since it was founded, there has been a parade of the banners followed by the birthday service in the main hall – which is followed by the cutting of the school cake. Woodford loves its cake!
Woodford County High School has commenced its 101st year in good shape and faces the future with optimism and confidence that its pupils will continue to achieve great things and keep the Woodford spirit alive.