More than 250 ex-pupils of the former Lewes County Grammar School for Girls gathered from far and wide at the Potters Lane site on Saturday to celebrate the centenary of its founding.
The highly-acclaimed school served girls from East Sussex from 1913 until 1969 and the arrival of comprehesive education.
The day’s celebration included a poignant Service of Thanksgiving at a packed Southover Church where there was a lively reminiscence about school life in the Swinging Sixties, as well as an extraordinary story from more than 70 years ago of how the girls and teachers got through the Second World War with true grit.
The Mayor of Lewes, Cllr Ruth O’Keeffe, attended the event and cut the celebration cake in the old school hall.
Betty Levett (nee Wooller) and Eileen Dunk (nee Eldridge) both joined the school in 1937 and shared their memories of life there during the Second World War. They recalled that pupils were issued with gas masks in 1939 and that if the air-raid warning sounded, all girls went in crocodile formation to the concrete shelters with their books and blankets.
There they spent literally hours in near-darkness while teachers tried to enthuse them, as German planes were flying overhead.
One day all the senior girls went on a trip to the Odeon Cinema in Cliffe High Street to see Henry V. On the way back they had reached Friars Walk when a German Dornier plane attacked, flying so low they could see the pilot’s face. They girls dashed for cover in a greengrocers’ shop where they were showered by lumps of falling ceiling and showers of glass.
They recalled that in 1941, during a maths lesson with a teacher who was always rather fierce, a girl brought a message to her from the headmistress. The stern teacher then became full of smiles and wrote on the blackboard ‘Bismark has been sunk’.
All the class cheered because they thought this would be the turning point in the war – the feared Bismark, one of the largest battleships ever built by Germany, had been the target of relentless pursuit by the Royal Navy involving dozens of warships.
Lewes County Secondary School for Girls opened in September 1913, with just 59 pupils. Within a year that number had risen to more than 100.
It became Lewes County Grammar School for Girls as a results of the Butler Education Act of 1944 which introduced the 11-Plus examination and meant there were no longer fee-paying pupils.
By 1969 there were around 500 girls attending.