Commemorative Plaque remembering the site of the Thame Girls Grammar School

Chairman’s address at the unveiling of the plaque ceremony 25.4.1992, at what was then a Co-op store and which later became a Sainsbury’s.

Firstly, a warm welcome to you all – Thame Girls’ Grammar School Guild members, friends and the people of Thame.

I expect most of you will remember the Thame Girls’ Grammar School and, if so, you will recall the dignified and historic Mansion House which was the front part of the School, the living quarters of the two headmistresses, Miss Hockley and Miss Messenger, as well as dormitories for the boarders.

Most of the actual school was in a long line of buildings which stretched back behind the Mansion House about two thirds of the way to Southern Road. These included a large dining hall, an equally large assembly hall, a gymnasium (with sprung floor) and a swimming pool, the latter being quite a rarity in those days. Then down Moreton Lane was a large playing field with tennis courts, hockey and netball pitches, etc.

The School, as we knew it, came into being in 1917 and in 1920 the then Head Girl, Dorothy Adams, always known as Doss, suggested that an old girls’ association be formed. She can be said to be the founder of the Thame Girls’ Grammar School Guild which, though the School closed 44 years ago, is still veiy much alive with about 150 members. We are very pleased that Doss is able to be with us today and also our President Dorothy Hamilton-Hill who for 22 years was Secretaiy of the Guild and for 39 years its Chairman.

The School closed in 1948 with the retirement of the Co-Principals and it re-opened in Holton Park, Wheatley as part of the State system, but the Thame Girls’ Grammar School Guild lived on with two meetings a year. In 1990 it attained its 70th anniversaiy and celebrated this with a lunch at the Spread Eagle Hotel. At the meeting which followed members felt that the fact that the Guild had not only survived but was still growing rather than decreasing in numbers after this long time said something about that School. It was small compared with most modern schools. Doubtless it would be considered Victorian in outlook compared with schools of today, but it had standards based on
Christian principles and its pupils were sent out with these firmly implanted to cany them through life.

Because of this the Guild felt it would like to mark its 70th anniversary by making a small gift to Thame which its members – however far away they may be – always remember with affection. Several suggestions were made and considered, but the one which seemed most appropriate and won the approval of the majority, was that we should place a commemorative tablet to mark the site of the historic Mansion House and the School, so that this important piece of Thame histoiy would be recorded for future generations and would not be lost in the mists of time.

We are grateful firstly to the Oxford & Swindon Co-operative Society for readily allowing us to place the tablet on their building and for their advice and help. We wish to thank Thame Historical Society for checking the facts included in the brief histoiy of the house, the Oxford Stone & Marble Craft whose Manager [and an Old Tamensian]  must have sighed eveiy time I turned up at fhis office with yet another amendment, and last but not least we thank all those members of the Guild and friends of the School who have made possible this project by their generous contributions.

It is now with much pleasure that I invite Mrs. Marion Treloar, representing the late Miss Messenger’s family to unveil the tablet but first she will tell us of her connection with the School.

Marion Treloar’s address at the Unveiling of the Guild Plaque in Thame High Street on 25th April 1992

First of all I feel very touched and privileged to have been invitedby the Old Girls’ Guild of the G.G.S. to unveil this plaque. In 1918, at the age of 10, I arrived as a boarder of the School, little realising that, owing to unforeseen circumstances, it would become my second home and that in 1938 I would be married from the School. All through those years I was veiy closely connected with Miss Messenger, my aunt and Miss Hockley, my godmother. What a wonderful couple they were and I loved them both dearly.

Having introduced myself, I come to the real reason why we are here today. Dorothy has already told you the histoiy of the School and, although the Mansion House built in 1572 was obviously male dominated, as history records, it was often politically involved. However, its character changed radically at the beginning of this century. In 1917 Miss Hockley and Miss Messenger took over a girls’ boarding and day school from Miss Cowell and Miss Dodwell and the G.G.S. was born. Almost immediately an Old Girls’ Guild was formed at the suggestion of Doss Adams, one of the pupils. In 1948 Miss Hockley and Miss Messenger retired and all the pupils were transferred to Holton Park, Wheatley. Sadly the building stood empty for several years and once or twice I took an old girl over and we wandered about and remenisced over the past.

Eventually the demolition people took over before it was possible to get a preservation order on the building. I personally feel it is incredible and perhaps unique that now in 1992 there should be this very active Old Girls’ Guild, increasing rather than decreasing in number. Not too many years ago, at their instigation the plaque to John Hampden was unveiled across the road and now 70 years after the birth of the Guild we are to unveil yet another plaque. This has, of course, involved much research under Dorothy’s leadership and the help and interest of the Oxford & Swindon Co-operative Society, whose building now stands on the site of the old Mansion House, has been greatly appreciated.

Now this leads me to speak of Miss Hockley. She was an M.A. and came to Thame from Clapham High School G.P.D.S.T. Years later, when my daughter was at Headington School, Oxford, I learned that Miss Moller, the Headmistress had been a pupil at Clapham and was taught by Miss Hockley. At my age life is full of coincidences! With hindsight she was a truly remarkable woman, almost ahead of her time. Her sole interest was in the pupils, not only at school but in their later life. The curriculum not only included lessons – we had one of the first P.T. graduates from Bedford College – netball, tennis, hockey, even cricket and swimming were soon in full swing with inter-school matches. Miss Digby came from London for dancing lessons. We had a science room and of course piano lessons. There were many extra- mural lectures. I personally remember Yeats coming to read his poems and listening to music lectures etc. However, we must not forget Miss Hockley was the product of Victorian parents with a stern sense of duty, discipline, morality – it was not the done thing ever to show affection or favouritism and consequently we respected her and sometimes feared what would happen if our consciences were not quite clear. I wonder if there are any old boarders here today who remember Visiting Day – the highlight of the term – and coming back to school with forbidden sweets hidden in the elastic of our knickers, sighing with relief when safely back in their bedroom! Don’t forget, we are talking of the early 1920s, not 1992.

Now Miss Messenger was a completely different personality and, I later in life realised, undoubtedly the power behind the throne. She was responsible for every other aspect of the school – secretarial, looking after all the staff, comforting us when we were sick or homesick and she was the one we all loved. Her cooking was much admired and someone among us, who shall be nameless, still remembers, I quote “Lovely suet puddings’1. This sums her up in a nutshell.

So finally I have great pleasure in unveiling this plaque which will always remind the people of Thame that in 1992, nearly 50 years after the School closed, an ever increasing Old Girls’ Guild keeps alive the influence for good which emanated from the G.G.S.

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