A school of definite ideas

Last updated 12:41 02/05/2011

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A century ago, four sisters opened the doors to a new school in Timaru, and Craighead was born. Features editor Claire Allison looks at the history of the school.

The Misses Shand desire to intimate that, having purchased Craighead, Timaru, they are making arrangements to fit up the Commodious House and Beautiful Grounds for the purpose of a Girls' School, and that they will be prepared to receive a limited number of boarding and day scholars in May next.

And so, Craighead began.

One hundred years later, past and present pupils, staff and principals, are preparing to celebrate the school's centennial.

Much has changed since the beginning. Craighead began as a private girls' school, became a church school, and eventually transitioned to its present state of a state integrated school.

Successive principals and headmistresses have all left their mark, buildings have been acquired and constructed to cater for the school's growing roll, the uniform has evolved over the years, and the subjects on offer now bear little resemblance to those proudly touted in 1911.

The Misses Shand had very definite ideas about what kind of school they wanted.

The first prospectus: Pupils, whose parents desire it, will be prepared for public examinations; but the main aim of the school will not be the preparation for examinations, but rather to give such a liberal education on modern lines as will be best fitted to train the intellectual, artistic and moral faculties, to develop the character and ultimately to produce refined, cultured and capable young women.

Subjects on offer were English language and literature, history, French language and literature, German language and literature, Latin, mathematics, elementary science, drawing and brushwork, needlework, class singing and drill.

"Music, dancing and cooking will be extra subjects, but, as a fully-qualified, English-trained drill and games mistress is provided, each girl is expected to take drill as part of the curriculum.

"The religious instruction will be strictly undenominational and arrangements will be made for the attendance of resident pupils at the Anglican or Presbyterian Church, according to the desire of parents."

But first, parents had to ensure their girls were fully equipped for their time at Craighead. The first clothing list was extensive, and included a navy blue coat and skirt, a school skirt of serge or tweed, three warm blouses, a white or navy jersey, a plain black velveteen frock, a white muslin frock for special occasions, a pair of galoshes, two hats (panama for summer, black felt for winter), and two pairs of gloves.

In summer, pupils had to have two navy or butcher blue gingham frocks or blouses and skirts, two white dresses instead of one, a bathing suit and cap, and a "drill dress consisting of tunic and bloomers of navy drill or nurse cloth".

It wasn't an official uniform as such to begin with, but when one of the Misses Shand travelled to Europe late in 1912 she saw a French school uniform of blue and green that she particularly liked. They were to become the official colours of Craighead. In the late 1920s and 30s, the school uniform was changed progressively from blue to green. The "croc" on Sundays – the line of girls heading off for a walk – was headed by the greens and finished with the blues. The much-disliked beret withstood attempts in the late 1970s and early 1980s to abolish it, but it finally met its end in 1985.

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The site of the fledgling school was already an important one in the town's history. The original house was built in 1875 by HJ Sealy, a Timaru surveyor. It was purchased later by another early Timaru settler, Henry Le Cren, who named it Craighead, after the old castle in Forfarshire, Scotland, that was owned by his brother-in-law.

Eleanor Shand, the first headmistress: "How came we here? It was quite by chance and almost at a moment's notice as you might say. My three sisters and I had been preparing ourselves to have a girls' school somewhere and had thought that Timaru would be the ideal place, if only we had the money to buy a good piece of land and build there. Suddenly in 1910 we heard that the property of Mr Le Cren in Timaru was for sale."

Miss Fanny Shand: "When father inspected the house and grounds allotted to it he decided that, with its sunny aspect and excellent situation, it was very suitable for a school and Craighead was bought for that purpose the same year.

"Drainage had to be installed, electric light and gas laid on, there were also many alterations to be done to the house."

The school opened on May 31, 1911, with six boarders and 11 day girls. Term fees were four guineas for pupils aged under 12 and five for those aged over 12. Boarders paid 21, with laundry two guineas extra. Extra subjects were charged – two guineas for dancing, 1 5s for sketching.

The roll grew rapidly. At the beginning of 1912, there were 24 boarders and as many day girls, and the need to build arose, a new wing of two storeys was built on the side of the conservatory, providing extra classroom and dormitory space. Just a year later, the school numbered 80 to 90 pupils, and with more dormitories built, could now take 40 boarders.

Around 1922, the Misses Shand realised that the time had come to enlarge the school considerably and that heavy expenses must be met to do so, and after much thought, they decided to put the school on the market. It was purchased by the Diocesan Board of Education to become a church school, although the diocese did not officially take over until 1953. In 1981 Craighead integrated into the state system.

A number of principals and headmistresses were to take the reins of Craighead over the years, all of whom made their mark on the school.

Miss Violet Salmond, appointed in 1927 as the school entered a new phase, died unexpectedly under anaesthetic for a tonsilectomy. A memorial sundial was erected in her honour.

Mrs Dorothy Macpherson, who led the school from 1931 to 1935, was a young widow who came out from England to take up the reins. Her son Euan was the first boy to be enrolled at the school, attending classes at Craighead for two years.

Miss Helena Clarke arrived at the beginning of the third term in 1938. The single biggest improvement to the school in her time was the construction of the swimming pool, removing the need for girls to travel in horse-drawn buses to Caroline Bay for their daily dip. It was the first appeal made to old girls of the school, and proved an overwhelming success; the baths handed over to the school, free of debt, within a year of the scheme being mooted.

Miss Mary Oakeley, who served the school for 15 years and through World War II, classed as her main achievement the construction of the school chapel, starting with just 11 shillings, sevenpence ha'penny, and in spite of plans to abandon the project and the prospect of a road across the site.

In 100 years, the school has grown from one building to several, from a staff of four to more than 30, from 17 pupils on opening day to more than 320 today.

There were other small private schools in Timaru at the time Craighead opened its doors, almost all placing an emphasis on cultural learning, rather than academic achievement. Craighead, however, was to survive. One hundred years on, the school's motto – By the Grace of Heaven I will Overcome – has proved apt. Centennial celebrations will be held from May 26-29, and will include a cocktail party, decade lunches, dinner and dance and church service. Registrations are still open, and can be made through the school website, craighead.school.nz/

Greengages. The story of Craighead School, 1911-2011, by Patsy McKenzie and David Batchelor, will be on sale for $59.95 at the centennial celebrations.

- South Canterbury

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