Then & Now

Mrs McEwan’s School – Then & Now

Mrs McEwan’s School – Then & Now

This pair of then and now images evocatively captures the end of the era from before universal state education was available to all. The ‘then’ image shows the pupils of Mrs McEwan’s day school at Upper Ladyes Hills. The ‘now’ image was photographed in 2019, with the kind permission of the then owners of the property on the left, which was on the market at the time.

Until 1870 all schools were charitable or private institutions, the Elementary Education Act of 1870 permitted local governments to complement the existing elementary schools in order to fill any gaps. It wasn’t until the Education Act of 1902 that  local authorities created secondary schools and the Education Act of 1918 abolished fees for elementary schools. Before these acts, education was usually a privilege only afforded by the wealthy. Another such example being The Ladies’ College, Kenilworth which was run from Cumnor House on Abbey Hill by a Misses Blatch-Cox. 

Joce Powell’s book Kenilworth at School – Education and Charity, 1700 – 1914 (Odibourne Press, 1991) is an excellent read for anybody interested in the various schools that existed in the town over the years. Joyce’s book includes the ‘then’ photo above, and she tells us: “Mrs McEwan’s day school for girls was in what is now Upper Ladye’s Hill. Two of the large early Victorian semi-detached villas housed the school. The photograph shows the staff and pupils in the mid-1870s. It was a popular school with middle-class families. In my childhood many of the elderly ladies with whom I was acquainted had been pupils at Mrs McEwan’s school. Unfortunately, I can identify only one of the girls with any certainty. Edith Draper, with her fair hair tied back and a bow at the neck, is standing in the centre of the right-hand group. She was the youngest child of Edward Draper, lawyer”.

The ‘now’ image shows that the property has since been split back into two domestic residences again; Hazelwood (left) and Caversham House (right), as they were originally built to be. The two houses were Grade II listed in November 1971, described in the listing as follows: “Similar to St Andrews but without bargeboards, central ground floor verandah with cast ironwork. All the listed buildings in Upper Ladyes Hills form a group”.

At the time the ‘now’ photo was taken, a few vestiges of the school’s interior were still present in the Hazelwood property, including a bricked up archway mid-way up the grand staircase, which used to connect the two buildings in Mrs McEwans’ day. Each house still has meticulously tended gardens, the foliage shown in the ‘now’ image is the dividing hedge between the front gardens of the two houses.

Joyce Powell also collected two programmes for the KHAS archives, advertising the musical recitals to be performed by Mrs McEwans’ girls. The first is from July 20th 1872 and the second is from July 24th 1877. 

Mrs McEwans School Recital Programme, July 20th 1872
Mrs McEwans School Recital Programme, July 24th 1877.

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