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Chichester High School for Girls

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What: Girls' High School
Where: Chichester, West Sussex
Built: Old School 1909; Caretaker's Lodge 1911;
 North and West Wings 1933, Labs 1937,
 Boiler House 1955-8.
Architect: Haydn Parke Roberts (1909-11);
 C.G. Stillman (1933-7); Frederick Steele (1955-8)
Abandoned: 2007
Listed: No
Visited: 2009-11
Last Known Condition: Demolished except for
 part of old school
Page Updated: November 2013

On September 22nd 2009, the Chichester High School for Girls celebrated its Centenary amid much fanfare. Little mention, however, was made of the School's now vacant first home, although perhaps this was not surprising: dilapidated, vandalised and plagued by drug users, the old buildings had become a blight on the city.

The school, the first purpose-built Council secondary school in the city, was founded in 1909 and officially opened by Lady March of Goodwood in 1911. The buildings were designed by County Education Architect Haydn Parke Roberts to be light, airy and modern and by all accounts the school was ahead of its time, with facilities better than many independent schools and tuition in subjects such as sciences, mathematics and geography at a time when education for girls was severely limited. Despite all this, the school was initially dubbed "Chichester's White Elephant" by those who thought it unfeasible. Fortunately it did not take long for interest in the school's progress to grow and for the doubters to be proven wrong: in 1917, an alumna became the first 'old girl' to receive a University degree and thanks to the Education Act, 1918, which raised the school leaving age to fourteen, pupil numbers had exceeded 200 by 1920.

Throughout the 1920s and 30s, the student body continued to grow, as did the curriculum and range of activities offered. Girls came from all over south-west Sussex by 'bus, train and tram to attend lessons and take part in dramatic performances, tennis, hockey and netball, cathedral services, fêtes and annual Empire Day celebrations. To cope with influx of pupils, extensions were built in 1933 to the North and West of the main building housing a gymnasium, library, assembly hall and two new classrooms. A second extension, also designed by County Architect C.G. Stillman, was built in 1933 to provide a new dining hall as well as state-of the art laboratories. Reader Paul Smith, a laboratory technician at another local school notes that:
"Each lab had a demonstration bench and a platform behind it (I assume where the teacher sat!) There were more sinks in the chemistry lab than the few that were in the botany & biology lab. The lattter did have a Wardian Case [a type of terrarium]. Interestingly, next to the stairs on the W side on the wing, was a cupboard-store for science and a glasshouse on the same first floor! Never come across that before. The school also had a dark room which was accessed from the chemistry prep room."
"The lab with the blue furniture is clearly a chemistry lab. The heavy cast iron radiators along the side are a very unusual arrangement - I've not come across that anywhere else that I have visited in the past. Because of the fitted benches and shelving along the sides of the room, there was obviously nowhere else for them to go. There are what look like small fume cupboards at either end, built into the wall and benching. The labs are actually very well designed and great care was clearly taken to provide as much storage space and for display [as possible]. When newly opened, the school must have been very proud of their new labs."

During the Second World War, the school took on many evacuees from Portsmouth and London and pupils made various contributions to the War Effort, from fire watching to farm work to assembling 8,000 gas masks. According to former pupils, fabric rationing meant that the green school blazers varied in shade from sage to khaki. In 1959, the school celebrated its 50th anniversary with a mass outing to Swanbourne Lake near Arundel. During the following years, the school continued to grow: in the 1972 the school merged with Chichester Lancastrian School for Girls, (founded 1812) and was given Comprehensive status. By the 1990s the school was exceeding capacity and, seeking ways to expand, it was proposed that the school move to a site next to the Chichester High School for Boys on Kingsham Road. Construction began c.1999 and was completed in 2002 after which the school moved fully to the new site. In the same year, the county council sold part of the site to a developer who demolished the south and west wings and built a multi-million pound leisure complex in their place. The remaining buildings were used by the Council as a Professional Centre for teacher training and conferences until October 2007.

In 2008 the 2½ acre site was offered for sale at £6,000,000 with planning permission for 99 flats. The sale coincided with the economic recession, however and the site was still on the council's books in November 2009 despite a reduced asking price. The vacant school buildings soon became a retreat for the city's homeless, drug users and other down-and-outs: Hypodermic syringes, budget food wrappers and cutouts from pornographic magazines littered the doorways and a makeshift bed had been set up in the caretaker's flat. Planning permission was granted in June 2010 to build a student village on the site of the school. As of April 2011, all buildings with the exception of the original school had been demolished. It is expected that the 1909 building will be converted into flats.


The Derelict Miscellany: website and all content © D. A. Gregory unless stated to be otherwise.