DERRY’S two eminent girls’ and boys’ schools - Londonderry High and Foyle College -were amalgamated in 1976, the end result of a collective evolution of colleges that goes back four centuries.
To celebrate Foyle College’s 400th anniversary, a major top-quality publication entitled ‘A View the Foyle Commanding’ is currently being compiled, put together by former pupils, staff-members past and present, and anyone who cares to send their recollections, anecdotes, photographs, and any other ‘general school ephemera’ to the publisher. Meanwhile, former Londonderry High School student and regular Roamer contributor Molly Kennedy previews, reviews, and recalls her own part in an intriguing story that began some four years after the city of Derry was granted a Royal Charter and became Londonderry:
“Mathias Springham, a Master of London’s historic Merchant Taylors’ Company, founded and funded the ‘Free School, Derry’ in Society Street in 1617. After four centuries of triumphant educational history, and now called Foyle College, the school is set to celebrate its vital role in shaping next year’s European City of Culture. In 1814 Springham’s establishment relocated to premises overlooking Strand Road. The designer was John Bowden, famed for the city’s Courthouse and Belfast’s St. George’s Church in High Street. Boarding-student George Fletcher Moore, who later became the Attorney General of Western Australia, proposed that the school should be renamed Foyle College, which was approved with ‘great acclaim’.
“An early example of pupil-power! The site is now Foyle Arts Centre. Due to funding difficulties in 1896, Foyle College amalgamated with Londonderry Academical Institution, established in 1868 by local merchants. A pupil recounted a practical joke perpetrated there in the late 1940s when an upper sixth former hatched a cunning plan to enliven a dull lesson. It was a hot summer day, the windows were open, and there was an air of languor after lunch. Some of the lads were stealing 40 winks under the cover of semi-darkness required for a slide show.
“One of them discreetly collected pigeon droppings from the window sills and slipped the muck into everyone’s blazer pockets. With the lesson over and the curtains drawn, uproar ensued as the pupils encountered the contents of their pockets! But the miscreant made one mistake. He’d put no droppings in his own pockets, thus exposing himself as the practical joker. His popularity waned! Changes required by the 1947 Education Act made it necessary to build a completely new school and by 1967 the school at Springtown on Northland Road was completed and opened by the Duke of Kent. Two girls’ schools were started in Derry in the 19th century, Strand House School, set up by Miss Frances Holmes (1860) and the Ladies’ Collegiate School, which was founded in 1877 by the five Miss MacKillops at 11 Queen’s Street. Along with their mother, the sisters were actively involved in teaching in and running the school. Subsequently the name was changed to Victoria High School, which moved to Crawford Square, catering for boarders as well as day-girls. In 1900 a Miss Kerr started St. Lurach’s College on Lawrence Hill, named after a distinguished Foyle College old-boy, the 1st. Baron Lawrence, P.C., Viceroy of India between 1864 and 1869. His statue still stands proudly outside the present Foyle building at Springtown. When Strand House closed during WWI the pupils transferred to Victoria High School and St. Lurach’s, both merged by 1922 into Londonderry High. In 1928 Duncreggan was purchased - the former home of the Tillie family. Its stable block, known as Dunseverick, was converted for use at different times as classrooms and dormitories. “One of the dorms, called St. Lurach’s for posterity, contained a piano for music practice. When I was there the piano doubled as a clandestine larder for ‘tuck’, eaten after lights-out. We were all devastated when a mouse guzzled a smuggled-in box of chocolates, and dissatisfied with its sugary booty, it scampered into a wardrobe and ate a hole in my friend’s best Sunday coat. One winter during a bad flu’ epidemic many of the girls were off sick and most of the boarders were confined to bed. Several of us didn’t succumb to the bug, and greatly envied the bedridden girls who were excused lessons. So we feigned illness, and presented ourselves to matron, complaining of sick tummies! Ordered to bed, Matron took our temperatures. But we sneaked the thermometers onto our hot-water bottles. Matron’s face was a picture as each thermometer registered boiling point. Silently and straight-faced she went to her office, returning with a large bottle of castor oil and a tablespoon. We were thoroughly dosed with the horrible stuff, pronounced cured, and sent back to our classrooms. The High School had approximately nine temporary classrooms in Nissan huts in the 50s, an insufficiency remedied by 1962 when the old walled kitchen garden was replaced by an extension joining Duncreggan with Dunseverick. A new block for the Preparatory Department was opened in 1964. In 1976 Foyle College and Londonderry High School were amalgamated, becoming Foyle and Londonderry College. It might be described as a ‘marriage of convenience’! The Junior School was then located at the Springtown Campus while the Senior School was, and still is, at Duncreggan. “Rosie Turner (Head Girl 1977) writes, ‘Suddenly there were boys everywhere! Shouting, running, barging, thumping, their burgundy blazers blocking out the light. They made the school untidy - dragging huge sports bags around whereas we girls had refined our essential baggage down to a slim document wallet and lip gloss.’ Forty years on and the Department of Education has confirmed that a new school on the Waterside - The Springham Campus - will open in time for the college’s 400th anniversary in 2017.
“The wheel has turned full circle and the founder’s name lives on. The forthcoming book ‘A View the Foyle Commanding’ draws on the school’s extensive archive and has over 200 pages in colour. A key element will be memories contributed by pupils of the 20th century. It will be a book to treasure by everyone with memories of their schooldays.”
Costing £40, there is a special pre-publication price of £29.50 plus P&P, but only if orders are received before November 30.
More information is on www.tmiltd.com or phone Third Millennium Publishing on +44 (0)20 7336 0144 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’ve any related school memories or documentation that you’d like to submit, send them to email@example.com