This is a copy of an article published in 'Derbyshire Life and Country', August 1965 by Eric Sample and reproduced with their kind permission.
St. Ronan's, Girls School, Duffield (1965).
How strange to be so frequently reminded of Australia in visiting a Derbyshire girls' school ! There is,as it happens, an Australian pupil there at the moment, but there are also girls from Hong Kong, Singapore, Venezuela, and from Africa. No, the influence is more subtle than that.
It begins as you enter the oak-panelled hall. There, the one spot of colour is an oil painting by Phyllis Dodd RA ( Mrs Douglas Bliss of Turnditch) of the former principal Mrs.E. M. Melbourn, a name which, even without the final 'e', immediately recalls Australia to Derbyshire people and,before you forget it, this somewhat tedious is cemented on meeting Miss Catherine Wood, the present Headmistress, most of whose life was spent in Australia. Her undoubted influence on the school is largely a product of long and varied experience in Australian schools.
St. Ronan's dating from 1908, is situated in Duffield Hall, four miles north of Derby on the A6 trunk road. Its 20 acres of pleasent park land with magnificent cedars and Scots pine are the setting for a 120-community of girls of ages ranging from five to 18. The school caters for both boarders (from the age of ten) and day girls and is divided into Junior and Senior departments.
For a school of this size its facilities are surprisingly comprehensive.They study in chemistry and biology laboratories, well equipped gymnasium, grass and hard tennis courts, a swimming pool in the school grounds,domestic Science room,a large hall with theatrical equipment and the use of riding stables and equestrian apparatus.
' What I am trying to do ', said Miss Wood as we drove to the riding stables at nearby Quardon, ' is to give a girl a good alround education. If she then wants to go onto university she is properly equipped -- if not, then she has at least the background of a good schooling with comprehensive domestic training '. At Mrs. Yeoman's well-equipped stables we saw the pupils riding competently along the open ridge overlooking the Derwent valley shimmering in the summer heat and returning to pratice jumping in the paddock.
Back at the school, tennis pratice on the lawns and on the hard courts was in full swing, while other classes were practising athletics under the supervision of the Gym Mistress.
' Two subjects which I have added to the curriculum ', said Miss Wood, ' are Home Science and Speech Training ' both as normal class lessons '. In the Domestic Science room impressive in its spotless cleanliness, girls are preparing a meal, where, earlier, a lesson in dressmaking had benn taking place. Perhaps more unusually --- but then in this modern world we are accustomed to seeing girls in the laboratory --- another class was receiving chemistry instruction.
In answer to my query ' Why St. Ronan's ? ' , I was presented with a booklet The Story of St. Ronan, written by Nina Langley a former member of staff. This describes the life of a Breton bishop among those Christian acts was the ringing of a bell on the coast to warn ships of the activities of wreckers.The bell is still preserved in a chapel Locronan in Brittany where his bones rest. It is pertetuated too, in the badge of the school along with the bishop's crozier and a shellto indicate his visit to the Holy Land. The saint was adopted for the school by Mrs. Melbourn not so much for its local associations as for the fact that he was a person of of initiative and drive.
St. Ronan's will prepare girls for the GCE at both Ordinary and Advanced Levels, the Common Entrance Exam for Public Schools and for 'eleven - plus'. In addition facilities exist for many other examinations in music, drama and dancing. The highly qualified Graduate and specialist teaching staff number 19 with eight visiting staaff for special subjects.
Although the cirriculum is a very wide basis, the VIth Form tends towards the humanities -- in particular to English, French ( Miss Wood, who holds an Honours Degree in the subject assists in the teaching here) , History, Zoology, and Religious Knowledge.
The school which recruits through personal recmmendations, is entirely self-supporting.It reieves no money from public funds, yet it is effecient and regularly inspected by the Department of Education and science.The big adventages of the smaller independent school are evident here in the small sizes of the classes - mainly 15 to 20. Girls are drawn from no particular locality. Many of the boarders aare children whose parents are in forces abroad or who work overseas.
Catherine Wood left Ceylon, the place of her birth, from Australia as a young girl. Her First Class Honours Degree in French was taken at Adelaide University. She was at one time President of the Association of Teachers of Registered Schools for the State of Victoria.Her teaching career in Australia culminated in the Headship of Ruyton Girl's Grammar School at Kew, Victoria. It was here in this school of 600 girls that her greatest impressions were formed and that the influence she has brought to St. Ronan's became the inspiration it is undoubtedly is today. That she governs with diginity and authority is obvious from the moment of meeting. That she is eminently approachable was equally evident from the many requests made by girls who came to us as we waandered round the school and her sense of humour was plainly appreciated by the seniors to whom she talked in the gardens while I took the pictures.
She remembers well the occasion that Sir Robert Menzies - whose daughter Heather was a pupil at Ruyton -- addressed a meeting of teachers, urging on them the importance to a girl of a good all-round education, because girls, he said, were 'the custodians of standards'. Standards matter at St Ronan's.
I would say it stems from the Christian influence. 'Christian rather than Anglican', says Miss Wood. 'In fact we, with Roman Catholics on staff and among our pupils and with our other denominations, are good examples of a junior ecumenical movement.' The Vicar of Duffield prepares the girls for Confirmation and they attend the Parish Church where Miss Wood is a member of the Parochial Church Council.
Among the many things that please Miss Wood is the fact that so many girls deliberately choose a career in which they can help others, such as the training of the handicapped and the blind. The pupils assist in social work in the village and organise a Christmas effort for welfare purposes. A recent Coffee Morning in aid of Church lighting, Christian Aid, school scholarships and other charities, raised £150. There is too, a Scholarship Fund (started by Miss Wood) with the object of giving an extra years study to those whose parents might find this otherwise difficult.
It cannot have been an easy task to replace the greatly loved and respected Mrs Melbourn who was Principal for nearly 30 years until her death in December 1960, and whose influence to those who knew her must linger over every mellowing stone of Duffield Hall. Her connection is still strongly maintained through her daughter Mrs Wrigley and her husband Lt Cdr Wrigley, both of whom are Directors of St Ronan's. There must be many former pupils who still remember her words at the 1951 Speech Day when she said 'What I want, look for, hope for is each girl should resolve to make good. high, to work hard, to despise ease inefficiency and to find exhilaration and happiness in achievement. The inspiration for this is found in the sentences said at our morning prayer ---"Whatsoever hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might and response ---"That God in all things be glorified". Surely with this aim. inspiration, the work of the School continue to prosper and each home happier.'
After the tragic death of Miss .F.C. Wood in hospital following a brain heamorrhage,
the governors felt obliged to close the school after the summer term of 1970.
The lease reverted to Mrs. Wrigley, who offered the Melbourn Hall, named after her mother, as a gift to the village for immediate use. Unfortunately the planning authorities and the village could not come to an agreement and sadly the gift was never taken up.
Duffield Hall estate was sold and in due course the Derbyshire Building Society acquired Duffield hall, which is now their Head Office.