Camden School for Girls celebrates 150th anniversary

Sixth formers cut the cake marking the 150th anniversary of Camden School for Girls

Sixth formers cut the cake marking the 150th anniversary of Camden School for Girls - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

Past and present pupils and staff celebrated the 150th anniversary of a Camden school with moving speeches and cake.

Camden School for Girls (CSG), in Sandall Road, held a commemoration day on Friday (April 1) in honour of founder Frances Mary Buss. 

The school orchestra top and tailed the service with Elgar's Nimrod, choristers sang, the congregation stood for hymns and heard moving, funny speeches from pupils and headteacher Kateryna Law.

Former pupil Camden mayor Cllr Sabrina Francis, and former head girls Cllr Georgia Gould, leader of Camden Council, and Highgate councillor Anna Wright, were among the guests. 

L-R Cllr Anna Wright, Kateryna Laws, Camden mayor Sabrina Francis and leader Cllr Georgia Gould

L-R Cllr Anna Wright, Kateryna Laws, Camden mayor Sabrina Francis and leader Cllr Georgia Gould in front of the Frances Mary Buss bust - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

Frances Mary Buss was a pioneer of women's education, founding CSG in 1871 with the aim of offering more affordable education for girls. She was the first person to use the title "headmistress".

In her speech, head girl of the main school Elspeth Leith referenced recent worldwide events including six million Covid deaths, three million UK domestic violence numbers, "George Floyd – murdered, Sarah Everard – murdered, Sabina Nessa – murdered..." and 130 million girls globally denied an education.

Leadership team at Camden School for Girls

Leadership team at Camden School for Girls - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

The 16-year-old said afterwards: "I went down the internet wormhole and remembered everything that happened before Covid, like the wildfires.

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"I also wanted to pay tribute to my mum and sister Bea as well.

"Everything that happens in the world is addressed and talked about in the school and that's what makes it different to a lot of other places.

"It's really involved, and that's down to the students who are affected by it and speaking out about it." 

Sixth form head girl Lulu Brown spoke about femininity. She told the Ham&High she felt "proud to be at the school".

Head girl of Camden School for Girls Lulu Brown

Head girl of Camden School for Girls Lulu Brown - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

The 18-year-old, who represents England in karate, added: "I really wanted to wrap everything that this school means in the speech.

"The main thing for me was self expression the school allows for and promotes in a way. As a queer person as well, I feel so comfortable at this school – it's even celebrated."

Head boy and former William Ellis pupil Max Leach centred his speech on "challenges".

He said: "I love it here. Everyone is really chilled out. Everyone gets on together, it's all a big family."

Camden councillors reminisced about their experiences at the school.

Cllr Francis, a former chorister, said she had not returned to the school since leaving in 2003.

"It's great to see it and remember it all," she said. "It's very moving and to be singing the Sevenfold Amen – me and my friends all remember that."

Cllr Wright, whose three children attended the school, recalled that in 1983 head girls had to read from a Bible passage instead of write a speech. She said she refused to read the section which said "who shall find a virtuous women" and instead found a passage from Letters of Paul to the Corinthians.

She added: "Everyone who returns to CSG for founders day – teachers, parents or former students such as me – cannot help but get swept up in an emotional mix of nostalgia and pride in the place.

"There is something very powerful about feeling part of an institution that is so steeped in history.

"Moments of ritual and formality such as founders day unleash and amazing collective recognition of the things that connect rather than divide us."

Camden School for Girls headgirl and prefects with former headgirl Cllr Georgia Gould and chorister Cllr Sabrina Francis

Camden School for Girls headgirl and prefects with former headgirl Cllr Georgia Gould and chorister Cllr Sabrina Francis - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

History and politics teacher Una Doyle said the service was "fantastic".

"I taught Lulu, the head girl, politics on a Friday afternoon last year and she really saved me during lockdown because I couldn't do the technology," said Una.

Former pupil Paula Downes said there were only two Black pupils in 1956 but that it is "wonderful to see the diversity here now". 

Kateryna Law, who became head teacher in September as "the first outsider for a long time", said the service was "absolutely tremendous, beautiful".

"It's such an important way to mark a big anniversary – 150 year of education for women. That came through in the speeches so much, and about how valued that is here," she said.

"I'm so proud of the legacy and so determined to continue that pioneering spirit."