The origin of a school for girls in Sherborne dates back to 1898, when Mr Kenelm Wingfield Digby, MP for North Dorset and resident of Sherborne Castle, decided that a girls’ school, similar to the long-established King Edward VI boys’ public school in Sherborne, was needed in the town.
He put together a working party to help bring the idea to reality and approached Miss Beatrice Mulliner, an Assistant Mistress at Cheltenham Ladies College, to take up the appointment of Headmistress. The school opened in 1899 at Ransome House in Sherborne with just 14 pupils.
Within three years, numbers were close to 100 and the school was gaining a reputation as one with high academic standards. Larger premises were required and in 1903 the school opened on its current Bradford Road site occupying five acres of land, some of which was generously donated by Mr Wingfield Digby ahead of his death in 1904.
The early days
The new site heralded the first boarding house, Aldhelmsted West. It accommodated 46 girls on two floors, not in open dormitories but in ‘cubicles’, the style of which can still be seen in some of the houses. A second house, Dun Holme, opened in 1907 followed by the building of Wingfield and Aylmar in 1911.
New classrooms and a school hall were added to the main building; the hall was destroyed by fire only seven months later, but rebuilt within the year. In 1915, the school purchased more land bringing the size of the site to 26 acres. The boarding accommodation now included a further two houses, Thurstan and Ealhstan.
The Clock Tower (home to the library) was completed in 1926, along with laboratories and science block. These were shortly followed by the opening of another house, Kenelm, in 1928.
With 287 pupils enrolled, Miss Mulliner retired in 1930. She was succeeded by Miss Hilda Violet Stuart, after whom the Music Centre was named many years later. During Miss Stuart’s tenure, an outdoor swimming pool opened (1931), along with a gym (1936), squash courts (1938) and another new house, Aldhelmsted East (also 1938).
The school was one of only a few girls’ schools not to be requisitioned during the war years, but it did not escape unscathed; an air raid in 1940 killed 17 people in Sherborne and the nearest bomb was only two fields from the school. Some parents chose to evacuate their daughters to a school in Canada during the war, marking the start of a lifelong connection between Sherborne Girls and Branksome Hall in Toronto. Once the war had concluded, the school’s first male teacher arrived – quite a novelty!
The third Headmistress of the school was Dame Diana Reader Harris, a former Head Girl and Housemistress of the school. Development work under her leadership from 1950 to 1975 included the opening of the Upper Sixth’s boarding house Mulliner in 1967 (now the school shop and health centre) and it was during her time that ties with the local boys’ school strengthened, resulting in an increase in joint leisure activities and sixth form options.
Dame Diana was well known for her life of service to the wider community, especially if it affected the lives of young people. Miss Elizabeth Coulter was the next Headmistress in post and among her achievements were the opening of the Stuart Centre (for Music & Drama) in 1979 and also initiating a new strategy for the recruitment of overseas pupils.
Yet another Sherborne Head Girl and Housemistress was appointed to the role of Headmistress in 1985. June Taylor led the school until its Centenary in 1999 and she oversaw a number of significant building projects, including the Dame Diana Reader Harris Art Centre (1988), the ‘new’ Mulliner boarding house (1992) and the Sports Hall (1995) with an artificial turf pitch (1998).
In recent years
Mrs Geraldine Kerton-Johnson became the school’s sixth headmistress and was in post from 1999 until 2006. She oversaw the refurbishment and opening of Reader Harris house (the product of merging Thurstan and Ealhstan houses) in 2003 and also the opening of Wingfield Digby house (the merger of Aylmar and Wingfield) three years later.
Mrs Jenny Dwyer joined the school in 2006 and is the current Headmistress. Under her auspices, the school has seen significant investment in buildings, including a new Science and Language Centre (2011), a new Sixth Form and Careers Centre (2012), a new junior boarding house (Aldhelmsted West) in 2013 and a major refurbishment and relocation of boarding house Kenelm (2014).