A history lesson for one of our main schools

An aerial view of Helenswood Upper School
An aerial view of Helenswood Upper School

Brian Lawes’ A History of Helenswood School recounts the story of education in Ore from the board school days of 1871 to the present century.

His main focus is on what was known as Hastings High School for Girls, now Helenswood Academy; the beginnings of the Ore educational system are to be found in a church committee’s reference in 1855 to a new schoolroom that stood on the site of Ore Village School, now the Ore Centre.

There were also at least two ragged schools, one held in an old brick kiln. The High School stood opposite to the cemetery on The Ridge; it opened on October 1, 1906. This event was preceded by protracted controversy; the school’s opponents objected to the extravagance of the cost of almost £12,000 for building and equipping the school, saying it was ‘too palatial’. The chairman of the school board, Mr Ransom, asked why the children should not have a palace, adding that it would cultivate taste and aid health and comfort, of which many had too little at home.

From its earliest times music played an important part in the pupils’ education; in 1912 the school entered the Hastings Musical Festival, coming third out of all schools and winning a prize for sight singing. The school contributed to the Great War effort by raising funds and visiting the wounded at Old Hastings House.

In 1920 Miss Commin became headmistress. A girl guide company was already established and a house system introduced, each named after famous women. In April 1927 the Prince of Wales opened the White Rock Pavilion and, accompanied by the Municipal Orchestra, the High School choir sang in front of the prince and 1,500 invited guests.

During this period the education system in general and school were undergoing great changes; by 1930 it was known as Hastings High School. Miss Commin remained its head throughout the Second World War, surviving a flying bomb explosion by sheltering in the school’s playing field ditch.

She was succeeded as head by Miss de Gruchy, still recalled fondly by former pupils; she was head from 1950 to 1968. By the mid-1950s the school was becoming overcrowded, extensions were built, a nearby Victorian house, The Cleeve was acquired to provide extra class rooms and overflow pupils were also bussed daily to the Boys Grammar School.

It was clear that a new building was needed. The High School was demolished and in April 1970 a new four-storey building was opened on the site, it had cost £118,000. In time this building became cramped and in September 1978 an additional Lower School, known as Maplehurst, was opened on The Ridge, on the former site of Hydneye Boarding School for Boys.

Further reading: The fully illustrated A History of Helenswood School by Brian Lawes can be obtained from Helenswood Academy, The Ridge. The book is priced £5 plus £1.60 P&P. Phone Alison Kingwell 01424 757926 or email akingwell@helenswoodacademy.org.