Sun sets on school that rose out of the Empire: Chris Mowbray reports on the demise of a 140-year-old institution

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE OLDEST girls' boarding school in a town once famed for its seminaries for young ladies is to close its doors because the sun is finally setting on the last outposts of the British Empire.

For nearly 140 years Lawnside School, in Malvern, Hereford and Worcester, has cared for the daughters of the officers and gentlemen who had to travel the world administering the Empire.

While their parents trekked between the Falklands and the Orient, generations of pupils grew up together under a unique style of education. From next autumn term, however, the school is to merge with the nearby St James and the Abbey school because the governors have decided that it is no longer a viable single unit in an age which has seen a huge decrease in the demand for boarding places.

Lawnside, whose motto is 'Knowledge is no more a fountain sealed', was a trendsetter when it was founded in about 1856 with a single pupil in a tiny flat.

As the demand for boarding schools grew, dozens of similar establishments sprung up throughout the area. At one time, the list of illustrious parents disembarking at Greater Malvern station to attend various speech days read like a directory of the famous and aristocratic.

The merger of Lawnside, which has 73 boarders and 16 day girls, with the 180-pupil St James and the Abbey school will reduce the number of all-girl boarding schools in Malvern to two.

Janet Harvey, headmistress of Lawnside, said: 'There was a time when parents had to have a good reliable school where they could send their children while they were abroad running the Empire. There is still some call for boarding places . . . but generally the demand is falling and this trend has increased considerably with the recession.

'The average cost of a boarding place in the UK is now pounds 10,000 per year and, as this is about pounds 3,500 more than the cost of an average day place, it is a very large bill for parents to face in these times.

'Another reason for the trend is that many parents who were themselves educated at grammar schools have turned to the independent sector now that grammar schools are no longer available. They are not happy about sending their children to board because they have not experienced it themselves.

'Yet the pupils love boarding because, socially, it offers them a wealth of opportunity which they may not have with their families.'

Lawnside, which numbers among its old girls the novelist Angela Huth and the RSC director, Phyllida Lloyd, is to sell its buildings in the move.

(Photograph omitted)