Founded by a City merchant, William Ward, in 1881, the City of London School for Girls opened in Carmelite Street in 1894 at a time when there was so little faith in academic education for girls that the building was designed so that it could be turned into offices, should the project fail. At the outset there were 53 names on the register and the first Headmistress, Miss Alice Blagrave, was keen to encourage and aid her pupils in getting into University but “when work was done, she insisted on all enjoying themselves thoroughly”.
Miss Blagrave was succeeded by Miss Ethel Strudwick, MA, who initiated and encouraged various forms of war work. From 1915 there was a ‘tinned’ day every term, when tins of food, tobacco and other goods were brought to School to be sent to British prisoners of war in Germany, and in 1915 and 1916, money collected for sports prizes was sent to the Red Cross or to the British Prisoners of War Fund.
By 1938, the increasing likelihood of a European war forced the School’s Committee to consider the position of City Schools should a national emergency be declared. In early September 1939 some 200 girls moved into billets in and around Ashtead (site of the City of London Freemen’s School). However, with the fall of France, German occupation of the Channel Ports and the bombing raids commencing on London, the Ashtead campus was now directly under the bombers’ route to London. The School broke up in July 1940 for what was to be a long holiday, while safer accommodation was sought. Miss Winters made arrangements to share buildings with Keighley Girls’ Grammar School, Yorkshire, and around 150 girls made the journey. High academic standards were maintained and, even though books were sparse, it was taken for granted that University was the natural goal. By October 1942 numbers at Keighley dropped to 121.
In September 1943 the School re-opened in Carmelite Street with 153 pupils, 60 of them new girls. With the end of the war and return of some normality, numbers rose rapidly and out of school activities expanded fast. There were many new clubs, ranging from debating to photography, politics to chess and for the first time debates, play reading and concerts were shared with the City of London School. The privilege of involvement in some of the great traditional events of the City of London was also restored. Around this time the School’s musical life made great strides, increasing both the standard and range of the choirs, and so began the tradition of a senior girls’ choir singing in the annual performances of the St. Matthew Passion.
By 1947, the lack of space in the School took precedence over everything else. Miss Winters, the Head, was adamant that the links with the City were of great value and that the School should not move to a more suburban area. However, by February 1962 plans went to London County Council for planning permission for the building of the School in the Barbican.
Though the new School building is today part of a modern City development, the whole Barbican site is still rich in reminders of the area’s historic past. Opposite the front of he School is part of the wall of the great Roman fort built in approximately AD120. The new building opened with 446 pupils on 18 September 1969, coincidentally the School’s 75th birthday.
Music, Art and Drama flourished and the Music department continued to present a largely classical repertoire but also encouraged the inclusion of works composed by gifted pupils, several of whom had entered the School as a result of the Music Scholarship established by the Worshipful Company of Musicians and the City of London itself. The scholarships were becoming increasingly important and the School was keen to continue to give opportunities to girls with good ability whose parents could not meet the full fees. Over the next few years a number of Scholarships were established and the School’s own Bursary Fund Appeal was launched.
The standards of academic achievements remained excellent and changes within the curriculum saw subjects such as Economics offered as additional subjects at advanced level alongside History of Art and Classical Civilisation. Computer Studies was introduced in 1985. A Media Resources Centre was also established. Prize Day was held in the Great Hall of Guildhall from 1985.