Skip to content ↓

History of Rugby High School

The History of Rugby High School

Miss Olive Hands, born in Rugby in 1877, returned to Rugby in 1903 having taught in Bromyard for five years, and decided to open a private school. This school welcomed both boarders and day girls, serving mainly the business and farming community. It was named Arnold High School, after the great Thomas Arnold, Headmaster of Rugby School in the 1800’s, and was the first incarnation of Rugby High School.  The original school motto was ‘Semper Parata’, meaning ‘Always ready.’ Miss Glenday, Headmistress from 1926 – 1933, changed it to ‘Ascensiones in corde suo deposuit’ meaning ‘She has set her heart on the heights’.

On Saturday April 18th 1903, five months before the new school was due to open, this advertisement appeared in the Rugby Advertiser:

Miss Olive Hands BA (London) begs to inform the public that she is about to Open a Thoroughly Efficient High School for Girls.
Address - Arnold High School for Girls, Elsee Road, Rugby.
First term to commence September 24th 1903. For Prospectus and further particulars, apply Epworth, Clifton Road, Rugby.

Now a house in the centre of Rugby, 10 Elsee Road was the site of the school for 22 years. On the ground floor was the boarders’ sitting room and dining room. The matron, Mrs Allen, who was the aunt of Miss Hands, had her sitting room inside the front door, on the other side. On the first floor Miss Hands had her accommodation and classrooms. There were five or six rooms on each of the three floors, with small, narrow staircases and a small walled garden at the rear.

The number of pupils on roll in July 1909 was 114, but numbers increased. By December 1909 extensions to the school had been made: 12 Elsee Roadwas linked by a glass-covered corridor with number 10. At number 10 an assembly hall was created by opening up two rooms into one. A further six classrooms and an art room were added, along with the Headmistress’ room, a kitchen, a drill room, a science laboratory and a small room for individual music lessons. The school had no central heating system, although some rooms had open fires.

Little is known about the school uniform in the very early days of the school, but it is likely that the ankles were covered with long dresses or skirts – the wearing of trousers would have been unthinkable. Pens would have been filled from desktop inkwells, which had to be replenished daily by the ink monitor. The teachers wrote on blackboards and easels with dusty chalk.

Phyliss Carey, who went to Arnold School from 1913 – 1923 recalled that: “The boarders went out for walks every morning in a crocodile, others weekly, the latter being children from villages around. They were delivered by horse and trap each Monday morning by their fathers or elder brothers on their way to the Market and then collected each Friday afternoon. The uniform worn by the older girls for Hockey was a navy blue pleated skirt, at least calf length or longer, a thick flannel blouse, a great deal of thick underwear, black woollen stockings, laced up boots and to crown all, a type of cricket cap in school colours firmly fixed by elastic under the chin! Miss Nutt’s standard dressmaking pattern was used for just about everything – nightdresses, camisoles, dresses, skirts and they would all have fitted the gasworks when finished.”

Rugby High School at Clifton Road

Conditions were so cramped for the increasing number of pupils that a new school building was required. Thus on 2nd October 1925 the new school foundations were laid in Clifton Road. On 16th September 1927, the school opened with its new name - Rugby High School. At this point only the main assembly hall and the east quadrangle had been built and was not really large enough for the 168 girls.

The building of the West quadrangle did not start until 1931 and was finished for September 1932. There was now room for the Preparatory department to move to the new site from Eastfield House.

Newspapers reported that RHS ‘was one of the most up-to-date and well equipped schools in the country’. It had 8 classrooms, 2 music rooms, a laboratory and science room, a kitchen for domestic science and a large hall that could be used as a gym or for ‘exhibiting cinematograph films’. Outside there were 2 hockey pitches, 4 tennis courts and 2 hard courts. The school was for approximately 200 pupils but would later be expanded for up to 500 pupils. In February 1928, the school was officially opened by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, the Duchess of Atholl. At the opening ceremony, the school anthem, ‘Unto Thee O Lord do we give thanks’ was sung for the first time.

In 1928, the house system was set up with 4 houses named after famous women – (Charlotte) Bronte, (Florence) Nightingale, Queen Margaret (of Scotland) and (the Duchess of) Atholl, reflecting the founder’s commitment to education for women. Curie and Cavell were added in 1944. Marks were awarded for competitions in games, art and singing. Each house had a garden and a House Christmas party. Girls could lose marks for their House if given detentions and gain them for entering articles for the school magazine.

When Miss Glenday left in 1933 there were 300 pupils and 19 teachers at Clifton Road. The new headmistress was Miss Briselden. In 1944 the Education Act prompted the closing of the Preparatory Department. The spare space let the upper school increase its intake to 3 forms per year from 1944. In 1955 Miss D.M. Lindsley became headmistress and a month later it was announced that the school was going to move sites again. The Technical College was being split to form an Engineering College and a College of Further Education. The college was to take over the school buildings.

The school remained at the Clifton Road site until 1960, when it was moved to the current Longrood Road site. The old school buildings remained at Clifton Road, where Curie Close now stands today, until they were sadly demolished in the 1990s.

Former Heads of Rugby High School 

Miss Olive Hands – founder of Arnold High School (later to become RHS) - 1903-1919

Miss Minnie Skues - 1919 – 1926

Miss Dorothea Nonita Glenday MA - 1926 – 1933

Miss Alberta Briseleden – 1933 – 1955

Miss Dorothy Linsley MA – 1955 – 1972

Miss Margaret Chamberlain – 1972 – 1978

Mrs Eunice Philips – 1978 – 1988

Mrs Suzanne Hall – 1998 – 2006

Mrs Margaret Thornton – 1988 – 1998

Charlotte Marten – 2006 – 2019