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St Catherine’s School opened for business in 1885. A group of local country gentry formed a committee to establish a school for ‘middle class’ girls – among them were Revd. Canon Musgrave, Revd. John Sapte, the Rt.Hon George Cubitt (later Lord Ashcombe), Joseph Merriman, Headmaster of Cranleigh and and the MP for South Surrey William Brodrick. As a group they had founded Cranleigh School and now decided to create a similar school for girls, conveniently near the railway station.
Six acres of land was purchased and the building of the School was swiftly realised. It was named St Catherine’s after St Catherine of Alexandria who was martyred on a wheel for affirming her faith – hence the school badge is a wheel.
1885 – 1887 The first headmistress was Susan Burnett who left after two years to become a missionary in Japan
1887 – 1925 Mrs Charlotte Russell Baker held the role of headmistress for 38 years. Hers was a significant period in establishing the School and it was extended to house more boarders.
1n 1893 the School received an anonymous gift of £1,00 to build a Chapel and one year later the Archbishop of Canterbury dedicated the building in a splendid ceremony basing his address on the words from Hebrews 6 v.1 “Let us go on”, which was adopted as the school motto.
The Chapel is a fine example of late 19th century gothic revival architecture with all the interior decoration and stained glass designed by Charles Eamer Kempe and a fine Henry Willis & Sons Organ. This period also saw the construction of the Sanatorium in 1897(donated by Lady Ashcombe), which is the current Music School, and also a fire caused by a lightening bolt in 1907, which destroyed much of the main buildings.
1826-1947 Miss Agatha Symes was headmistress during the period when School Block and the Speech Hall were built. The School remained open during WW2 and took more than 30 extra girls who had been evacuated from St Mary’s Hall, Brighton. On 17th December 1942, two bombs fell on Bramley, one on a train at the neighbouring station to the School, killing 7 passengers, including one St Catherine’s pupil.
1947 - 1970 Miss Celia Stoner guided the School through the post-war years of recovery and expansion. The Warren (the white gothic villa) and Church House (the current Prep School) were both purchased during this period. Building activity included a gymnasium, open-air swimming pool and the dining hall.
1970 – 1982 For the next 12 years Miss Barbara Platt was headmistress. Under her tenure, new 6th form accommodation was built initially with the construction of the single story Unit and later extended this by erecting a building on stilts over this. Extra classrooms and labs were also installed in West Block and an air-dome was installed over the swimming pool.
1982 – 1994 Mr John Palmer was the first male head of St Catherine’s. In 1985 the centenary of the founding of the School was celebrated. The Centenary Building was built, providing dedicated 6th form accommodation for boarders, a lecture theatre and a common room.
1994 – 2000 Over the next 6 years Mrs Claire Oulton further modernisation included the construction of the John Palmer Art Centre and the Millennium Building, housing chemistry labs, language labs and classrooms.
2000 - In 2000, our current Headmistress, Mrs Alice Phillips joined St Catherine’s. She has overseen the expansion of the Prep School as well as the building of the senior school Anniversary Halls (to commemorate the 125th Anniversary of the School). The Anniversary Halls have been an impressive addition to the School, with state of the art auditorium/concert hall, drama studio, sports hall, dance studio, music and sports facilities. This was opened in 2014 by our Patron, the Duchess of Cornwall. Mrs Phillips has recently launched the Create the Future Campaign which includes plans for 3 projects : The 6 – an impressive new 6th form boarding centre, which is already underway; The Catalyst – a state-of-the-art space for the collaborative teaching of Maths, the Sciences, IT and Tech; and The Art&Maker Space – to extend and improve the creative arts facilities, bringing them all under one roof.
St Catherine’s is a vibrant, busy school with a rich and interesting history. Please visit the link to our Digital Archive above if you are interested in learning more about the ongoing transformation of our School.
Let us go on!....
‘Let us go on … unto perfection’ (Hebrews VI, i) was used by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson, as the text for his sermon when he dedicated our beautiful late Victorian Chapel in 1894. We do not know who adopted this as the School’s motto, but in doing so, she – we must assume it was our Headmistress at the time - selected only the opening four words, wisely removing any pressure to achieve perfection and preferring to leave the meaning open to interpretation. These four short words, imbued with a sense of anticipation, and affording it a welcome versatility, have been our mantra ever since.
Not Latin or Greek – which would not be understood immediately by many without translation - it’s a fantastic forward looking statement. No use crying over spilt milk, just move on forwards. The past is the past. We must live with it. It’s inclusive - ‘us’, not ‘me’ or ‘I’. It’s Biblical – we are a Church of England School – but it is not overly evangelical and can speak to anyone of any faith.
It is also practical and pragmatic. Many a school internal email at times of trial ends quite simply with LUGO. We all know what we mean by it – encouragement and purposefulness – and so do the girls who also use it, and I understand many St Catherine’s families do too. That is why, as mottos go, we think it’s wonderful.
It has stood the test of time. It can be used in times of joy and celebration, or, when times might be tougher. One of the skills we develop in our young women is resilience. ‘Let us go on…’ sits well at the end of a congratulatory message and, equally, can convey so much to a sports team who have just been defeated by a whisker.
‘Let us go on…’ is embedded too in the everyday life of the school L.U.G.O. – our 4 teaching groups in years 7 and 8 are assigned one of these letters – U3L, L4U, U4G etc. Thus we make it very clear that we do not stream or band the girls in this very academic cohort by ability or any other kind of rank.
‘Let us go on…’ suggests a collegiate approach. There is no sense any individual is on her own – as a School community we are in it together. We can imagine Charlotte Russell-Baker, one of our longest-serving and highly esteemed former Headmistresses finding comfort in these words in 1907 when she witnessed St Catherine’s partially destroyed by fire after a lightning strike. We have the most poignant photograph in our archives of her standing beneath a capacious black umbrella, lamenting the damage sustained.
It also sits well with the St Catherine’s Association – a community of over 7000 members, and growing daily, comprising girls, staff, alumnae, parents, governors and friends of the school, past and present. The Association makes it possible to bridge the years, bringing together current pupils with those who are now in exciting careers, to those who left St Catherine’s long before the Equal Pay Act!
‘Let us go on…’ sums up an eternal spirit, a life force which transcends the here and now.
‘Let us go on…’ Indeed!
ASHCOMBE – George Cubitt, 1st Baron Ashcombe (1828 – 1917)
George Cubitt was the eldest surviving son of 12 children. His father was Thomas Cubitt the famous and wealthy master builder who had developed Belgravia in London. George was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, after which he wished to train as a clergyman but his father wouldn’t let him as he really wanted George to go into the building business. George was only 27 when his father died and he inherited great wealth. He went on to become an MP for 32 years serving as Conservative MP for West Surrey and for Epsom, and was then elevated to the Lords as Baron Ashcombe of Dorking and of Bodiam Castle, having been invested as a Privy Counsellor in 1880. He also served as Honorary Colonel of the Royal West Surrey Regiment and Deputy Lieutenant of the counties of Surrey and Middlesex.
George married Laura Joyce and they had 9 children, although only 6 survived beyond infancy.
Denbies, a large estate in Dorking was part of the inheritance from his father and he lived there until 1905. George’s grandson Stephen wrote of him “he led a simple and austere personal life among the luxury with which fate had surrounded him, careful for those about him, and scrupulous in all his ways”
It was while an MP for West Surrey, that Cubitt and his wife Laura became founders and one of the largest benefactors of St Catherine’s School. In 1896 Lady Ashcombe gave £1,000 to build and furnish a sanatorium. This house, which stands separate from the main school block (in case of infectious diseases) has changed its use a number of times. It became a 6th form house in 1965, then a study centre and finally the Music School, which it is today.
Lord Ashcombe died in 1917 and is buried at St Barnabas Church in Ranmore, the church he had built for the workers on the Denbies Estate.
The stained glass window in Chapel showing St Cecilia is in memory of Lady Ashcombe. “In grateful recollection of Laura, wife of George, 1st Baron Ashcombe, of Denbies, in this County, one of the founders of this School, this window is dedicated.”
We are very honoured that our patron of St Catherine’s School today is Lord Ashcombe’s great-great-granddaughter Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.
- George Cubitt
- George Cubitt picture with his wife Laura and her brother (seated)
- HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, our patron
MERRIMAN – The Reverend Joseph Merriman (1835 – 1905)
The Reverend Joseph Merriman was born in 1835, the son of a Norfolk farmer. He attended St John’s College, Cambridge University and was ordained a deacon at Ely in 1862. After teaching briefly at Bradfield College he became, at only 29 years of age, the first Head Master and Bursar of The Surrey County School (later Cranleigh School).
He was Head of the School for 26 years and it was during this period that he joined the original founding committee of St Catherine’s School (also including Musgrave, Ashcombe and Midleton). In fact, it was Joseph Merriman who presented the first paper to the committee on the need for such a school. His paper reveals the thinking of a man very much of his time and profession. There is clear vision of “the need to educate women but for a role that is limited! The girls’ education is to be for the good of the nation and at this period for the growing Empire.” He proposed that girls be prepared in groups of twenty so as “to avoid all the evils that you feared or imagined as likely in massing together large numbers of girls!”.
On his retirement from Cranleigh School, he became Rector of Freshwater on the Isle of Wight until his death, aged 71, in 1905. He married Julia Wells in 1868 and they had 6 children, 2 boys and 4 girls.
The School Magazine of June 1905 reports his death.
“Since the publication of our last Magazine there has passed away one whose name must ever be inseparably connected with our School, the Rev. Dr. Merriman, Rector of Freshwater, first headmaster of Cranleigh School, and one of the founders of our own School. The news of his death on January 27th came upon us with an overwhelming sense of loss, all the more keenly felt because, hardly more than 48 hours before he died, he had been in our midst at St Catherine’s, performing with his unvarying thoroughness and energy his work as auditor of the school accounts. It is impossible to estimate all that St Catherine’s owes to his wise counsel, which was ever at our disposal, and surely to him we may well apply Tennyson’s well-known words:- “Rich in saving common sense, And, as the greatest only are, In his simplicity sublime”.
You can see his painting in the corridor to Chapel. His great-great nephew, Richard Merriman came to visit school in 2015 and is pictured with the painting of Joseph Merriman (quite similar!)
The stained glass window in Chapel depicting St Etheldreda is dedicated to Joseph Merriman “We pray you remember in the Lord the Rev Joseph Merriman, DD, first Headmaster of Cranleigh School, and one of our chief founders. In grateful recollection of his zeal and devotion to St Catherine’s, this window is dedicated.”
MIDLETON – William Brodrick, 8th Viscount Midleton (1830 – 1907)
William Brodrick was the son of Reverend William John Brodrick, 7th Viscount Midleton, who was Dean of Exeter and Chaplain to Queen Victoria. He was educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford and called to the bar in 1855. Ten year later he contested the East Surrey parliamentary seat but was unsuccessful. He then returned to Parliament as one of two representatives for Mid-Surrey in 1868. He vacated his seat in the commons two years later when he succeeded his father as the 8th Viscount Midleton, Baron Brodrick of Midleton, Co. Cork & of Peper Harow, Surrey.
He served on two commissions, the Noxious Vapours Commission (1875) and the Sale of Exchange of Livings (1877) although his blindness limited his ability to do more in public life. For some time he was president of the National Protestant Church Union, and Midleton served as Lord Lieutenant of Surrey between 1896 and 1905.
William Brodrick was one of the original Founders of St Catherine’s School in 1883 (the founders also included Merriman, Ashcombe and Musgrave). He was a distant cousin and very good friend of Charles Kempe, the celebrated Victorian Church designer, and so we are sure that it is Midleton who influenced his selection as designer of the interior of our Chapel, all the stained glass windows and the reredos.
Midleton's son later wrote of him: “My father, whose courage and self-denial were conspicuous, suffered from serious defects of sight and hearing, partly due to an accident, but mainly to his father and mother having been first cousins, from which source a disability affected several of my grandfather's family in different ways. The calamity of partial blindness came upon my father early in his married life, and deprived him of a rising practice at the Bar. Although he fought his way with splendid energy into Parliament, his infirmities robbed him of the full scope which his ability and untiring work would have commanded.
Lord Midleton married the Hon. Augusta Mary, daughter of Thomas Fremantle, 1st Baron Cottesloe, in 1853. They had three sons and five daughters. It is also interesting to note that Midleton’s neice Agatha was the first wife of Georg Johannes von Trapp and mother of the children made famous by the Sound of Music.
Lady Midleton died on 1 June 1903 and Viscount Midleton survived her by four years and died on 18 April 1907, aged 77 at Peper Harow. This was only one week after the massive fire at St Catherine’s. He was succeeded by his eldest son, St John Fremantle, who was a prominent Conservative politician for Guildford and was created Earl of Midleton in 1920.
A memorial window to Viscount Midleton was installed in Chapel in 1910. The window depicting the Saint Elizabeth of Hungary has an inscription reading : “To the honour of God and of His servant St Elizabeth of Hungary, and with gratitude for the memory of William Broderick, eighth Viscount Midleton, a founder and benefactor of this school, this window is dedicated AD 1910, in the 25th year of its foundation” . The dedication service was given by Canon Scott Holland. (Famous to many in his writing “Death is Nothing at All”)
- Photo of John Brodrick, Viscount Midleton
- Cartoon of Midleton in Spy
- Photo of Augusta Midleton
- Peper Harow – the Midleton family seat
MUSGRAVE - The Revd. Canon Vernon Musgrave (1831 – 1906)
The Revd. Canon Vernon Musgrave (1831 – 1906) was the Rural Dean and Rector of St Peter’s Church in Hascombe, and Honorary Canon of Winchester.
Vernon Musgrave was one of the original founding committee of the School (also including Merriman, Cubitt and Midleton). The same group of men had successfully founded a school for middle class boys, which opened in
1865 as The Surrey County School and subsequently became Cranleigh School. In 1883 the committee decided to found a similar school for girls agreeing that “it is desirable to found a Public Boarding School in this district for the Daughters of the Middle Classes, in which there shall be given a sound and liberal Education with Religious teaching and training according to the principles of the Church of England”.
The council, met that year and six acres of flat land was purchased next to Bramley Railway station from Mr Eastwood. The School opened on 25th September 1885 with 11 boarders and 6 day girls. The Founders continued to have strong links with the School until their deaths.
Musgrave was educated at Dr Arnold’s Rugby and Trinity College Cambridge where he read Mathematics. His family’s wealth came particularly from the ownership of land in Cambridge, and by 1881 he had become the main heir and was a wealthy man.
In 1855 he married Frances, the sister of the Freshfield brothers (the distinguished legal family). They had 9 children, 4 girls and 5 boys. While he became a canon of Winchester in 1881, he otherwise devoted 44 years of his ministry to the care of the Parish and neighbourhood of Hascombe, and to St Catherine’s School.
Musgrave was described as having “exquisite charm due to his unselfishness, sympathy and his love of people. He had the power of common things in an uncommon way, living a good life working with others.”
The wonderful oak reredos of the altarpiece designed by Charles Eamer Kempe, and hand-carved in Oberammergau, was given by Canon Musgrave to the Chapel, in memory of his wife Frances in 1903 after her death 2 years earlier. The central panel bears an inscription to her.
The stained glass window in the Chapel – St Catherine of Alexandra, Virgin and Martyr, was also given in 1902 by the teachers and pupils in memory of Frances Musgrave, bearing testament to her contributions to the School.
In 1908 the Figures of St Peter and St Paul were installed in Chapel in memory of Vernon Musgrave himself who had died in 1906. These fine figures stand on each side of the altar. St Peter is the Patron Saint of Hascombe, of which parish Musgrave was rector for forty-four years, and St Paul, represents the fact that St Catherine’s School was a Missionary Guild at the time, and Musgrave had a great interest in the foreign Missions.
Revd Canon Musgrave’s children kept strong links with the School and his youngest daughter Frances Christina Musgrave, remained a Governor for 41 years at the School until 1959.
- Revd Canon Musgrave
- Pencil drawing of Musgrave
- Vernon and Frances Musgrave with their dog Piper
- The reredos in Chapel which Musgrave had carved in memory of his wife.
RUSSELL BAKER – Mrs Charlotte Russell Baker (1855 -1938)
Contrary to belief, Mrs Charlotte Russell Baker was not the first headmistress of the School. Mrs Susan Burnett held that post for 2 years until she resigned to become a missionary in Japan, but Mrs R-B was head for an impressive 38 years until 1925! Hers was obviously a significant period in establishing the School and she was described as “a lady of singular power and energy”.
Charlotte was born Charlotte Thurman. She had attended Newnham College, Cambridge and was married in 1880 to Arthur Russell Baker, a curate of Torquay. Very sadly, after only 5 years of marriage, Arthur died in 1885 in San Remo Italy, where had gone to live due to ill-health. Charlotte took up the post of Headmistress of Tewkesbury High School for two years before joining St Catherine’s School in 1887.
Under her tenure the School proved to be a success and the number of pupils was soon outstripping the accommodation. The School already needed to be extended with a dining room and dormitories above (now the library, St Agnes and St Ursula, and later the West Wing and South Wing were built.
It was reported in Kelley’s Surrey Directory of 1894 “The St Catherine’s Church of England School for girls is under the auspices of Mrs. Arthur Baker, and going from strength to strength. Extra trains are run for when the boarders arrive and depart from school”.
She always wore black dresses, a St Catherine’s Wheel missionary guild necklace, a white cotton hat and in later years carried a cane. Madeline Linford (1910, later to become first female editor of the Guardian) wrote in her memoires of her time at school…. “I can still hear the swish of Mrs RB’s black silk gowns and see her extraordinarily kind smile soften a face that was normally stern”.
On 11th April 1907, disaster struck when lighting set the central section of the main school building ablaze. Fortunately it was the Easter holiday and the one pupil there(who was ill), escaped without injury, but the building was seriously damaged and Mrs Russell Baker was devastated by this blow.
On her retirement in 1925, Mrs Russell Baker moved to a house in Station Road, where she died in 1927. Her grave is in Bramley cemetery next to that of Rev’d Charles Etty, the School Chaplain, and his wife. The House Captains of Russell Baker visit her grave every St Catherine’s Day to lay flowers.
The stained glass window in the Chapel of Queen Bertha was given in gratitude to Mrs Russell Baker for her long service to the School.
STONER – Miss Celia Stoner (1910-1981)
In January 1947 Miss Celia Elizabeth Stoner was appointed the 4th Headmistress of St Catherine’s School, succeeding the 21 year tenure of Miss Agatha Symes.
Having studied French at Reading University she went on to teach at the Royal School, Bath, which was located at Longleat House during the war, and Marlborough College. Their Master’s Prize Day Speech tells us that…..
"Miss Stoner is going to a responsible post in a girls` school; we have been fortunate indeed to have so expert a teacher of French and I am specially grateful to her, for it must have been rather an ordeal to plunge into a wilderness of trousers. However, if I may without impropriety adapt a metaphor, she has come through the ordeal with flying skirts and I wish her all success in her new appointment. Long may they fly!"
At St Catherine’s she is well-known for guiding the School through the post- war years of recovery and expansion. Her task was to improve the accommodation and increase the numbers again. The number of days girls began swiftly to overtake the boarders : the roll in 1951 was 102 boarders and 234 day girls.
With the Governors she purchased Church House (opposite the main school) in 1949 which became the Junior Department and is now the Prep School; and in 1954 they purchased the Warren, the neo-Gothic villa on the western boundary of the School, now a 6th form Boarding House. The late 1950s and 60s saw much building activity too, with a gymnasium and an open air swimming pool (the very same pool now in the Anniversary Halls), a new dining room which could seat 330. Miss Stoner also introduced two very popular school dances a year – one with Cranleigh School and one with Christ’s Hospital.
Miss Stoner was believed to have lost a fiancé in WW2, and that she wore a ring on her engagement finger each Remembrance Day. Sue Makhzangi (Alumna 1975 :née Parry) looked after Miss Stoner at Mount Alvernia in her last days and also remembers being a pupil on Miss Stoner's last day as Head and remembers that Miss Stoner came in to her last assembly wearing dark glasses and all those present were in tears. Rosemary Christopher (Alumna 1960 :née Munn) remembers her coming into assembly each day wearing her gown, and lining up outside her study at the end of each term when she saw every girl in the school on their own for a few minutes.
She retired to Elstead, where she continued to edit the Old Girl magazine for several years. She was passionate about the Old Girls and first mooted the idea of an Association for alumnae. She would be delighted to have seen its launch in 2002.
Miss Celia Stoner died on 28th May 1981 and her funeral service was held in the Chapel on 5th June followed by a service of thanksgiving in Guildford Cathedral. Her ashes are buried in an unmarked spot in Elstead churchyard. A plaque in her memory was placed on the south wall of chapel.