Milford House Museum

 

The Manor House School

In 1936 Mrs. Miller leased the house and forty acres to the Manor House School Ltd. The school was a country house residential school run along English guidelines but on a smaller scale with less domestic staff. It was established in 1935 by Mrs. Grace Theodora Wilson, wife of Robert Potts Wilson of Ballygarvey Ballymena. She initially wanted to purchase the Manor House in Benburb but when she couldn’t afford it decided to lease Milford House at a rent of £150 a year. The school opened in September 1936 with three pupils. Mrs. Wilson was President of P.N.E.U (Parents National Educational Union) which was set up to regulate education for girls being taught at home and in particular those being educated in the colonies. Manor House School was a P.N.E.U school until it was abandoned in 1943 when Mrs. Jean Killen became Headmistress and the school adapted the standard Cambridge Curriculum.

The general aim of the school was to prepare the girls to make the fullest use of their abilities whether it be in home life, or in a career and to encourage wise use of leisure. Subjects taught were Scripture, Literature, Geography, Citizenship, Hygiene, Science, Botany, Biology, Languages (French, German, Italian, Latin , Greek), Mathematics, Architecture, Drawing, Picture Study, Arts and Crafts, Needlework, Gymnastics and Eurhythmics. Games included hockey tennis, badminton, netball and Lacrosse. Riding and stable management were taught- horses were kept in the grounds and the girls could bring their own ponies to the school. There was an emphasis on good health and physical training, with regular checkups by a visiting doctor. The fees were forty five pounds per term and extra lessons such as dancing, special art elocution and piano and violin lessons had to be paid for separately. The school was noted for the quality and distinctiveness of its elocution teaching.

The first Headmistress was Mrs. Claudia Shelley. She was extremely popular with the girls and their parents. However there were various disputes between her and the Board of Governors and Mrs. Wilson. Mrs. Shelley disagreed with the P.N.E.U curriculum and had her own teaching ideas. During the war when it was no longer safe for girls to travel to finishing schools in Europe or to private schools in England many girls came to the Manor House School because it offered a similar sort of curriculum. The numbers increased so much that a wing at Tynan Abbey had to be leased from the Stronge family and twelve girls spelt there and cycled to the Manor House School every day. In 1941 things came to a head, when Mrs. Shelley took thirty five girls by bicycle in the middle of the night without telling the staff at the school or the parents of the girls she took where she was going. She telegrammed Sir Norman Stronge (who was on the Board of Governors)in Dublin requesting additional space at Tynan Abbey. When she was found there three weeks later, Mrs. Wilson accused her of kidnapping. The outcome was that there was a split and Mrs. Shelley set up her own school at Castewellan (which only lasted a year). This left the Manor House School half empty.

Mrs. Jean Killen, a member of the Board of Governors arrived in 1943 to put the school in order. She agreed to stay for three months until a younger replacement could be found. She stayed for eighteen years retiring in 1958. She was the savior of the School and created its reputation. A report in the Ulster Gazette in 1946 on Parent’s Day stated:

“Over two hundred distinguished personages attended the picturesque and aristocratic Manor House School. Cars from all over the North went up the long drive in a regular convoy between verdant shrubs and trees. The guests were graciously received by Mrs. J. Killen, Headmistress. Sir Norman and Lady Stronge were among the guests. The opening phrases of the extensive programme were devoted to a spectacular display of Callisthenic’s in which senior and juniors took part. It was a grueling test for the girls on what was later recorded as the hottest day of the year. This was followed by gymnastics, vaulting and ballets.

The spacious well trimmed lawns stood out in wonderful contrast to a background of fir trees around the root of which lovely blooms were in progression. The guests basked in the sunshine as they sat out in deckchairs and trestles against the ivory covered walls of the school, where roses climbed along the high netting wire. In the middle of the lawn was a tow tier fountain of dull grey stone and the ripples of the water reflected a golden hue on the upper tier. After singing of the national anthem, the guests were treated to tea and then proceeded on a visit of the gardens and of the exhibitions of art and handiwork”

In 1949 the Board of Governors decided to make the private company into an Incorporated Non Profit making one, such as was found in many similar English Schools. This meant the school could avoid paying income tax and that all profits would go immediately into the school, but as this had happened all along the shareholders were not losing anything.

Mrs. Killen was succeeded by Mr. and Mrs. Norman Callender from Devon who came as joint Principal. During the time that Mr. and Mrs. Callender were Principals seventy girls at the school used the narrow back staircase in the house, while ten members of staff used the grand front staircase. Mrs. Callender’s face was all twisted from polio and reeked of tobacco- the girls said you could smell her coming along the corridors at night.

Miss Muriel Mc Gonigle replaced the Callender's as Headmistress in 1963until the closure of the school two years later.

In 1938 the school converted the coach house into a gymnasium and alterations were made to stable block which became known as the ‘San’ and became dormitories for teaching staff and pupils. In the same year the trees were cleared in front of the Pavilion and three tennis courts were built- two soft courts and one hard court. Mrs. Miller sold Milford House and forty acres of the estate to the Manor House School in 1940 for £3,000. It may be said that Mrs. Wilson thought the price was too high. In the same year the school began the new wing by extending the dining room and room above it. It was built by the contractors A.C Simpson of Railway Street Armagh.

The new wing was further extended in 1955 to provide new form room. On 3rd June 1955 Her Excellency Lady Wakehurst of the Governor of Northern Ireland to unveil the building of a new form room, domestic science room and re decoration of the Pavilion. The domestic science rooms were built on the foundations of one of the glass houses outside the walled gardens.

With the exception of the addition of the new wing it must be said that in every respect the Manor House School maintained Milford House beautifully and kept the all of the original features of the house. No matter how short money was every summer workmen French polished and repaired the house throughout.

Plans were unveiled in 1964 to raise £15,000 for an extensive programme for Manor House School which had the distinction of being the only independent school for girls in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Gazette reported:

“Science is already being taught but new buildings and facilities are required. Proper changing rooms are needed by the school and for visiting teams. The hockey pitch and Lacrosse field both need attention although some drainage has already been done. More hard tennis courts are needed and also a hard netball court. The old Art room which will no longer be required when the new building is finished will be converted into changing rooms. It will be convenient for the playing fields, the gym and proposed swimming pool. It is intended to build a separate block which will contain practice rooms and a new hall where concerts will be given and a school orchestra may practice. The swimming pool, more than anything else depends on funds available. A small ‘trainer’ pool to teach juniors to swim is comparatively inexpensive but a heated pool which can be used over a long period and with high diving facilities can run into very large figures. The school is a great asset to Milford and Armagh and it is to be hoped that success crowns the management in their courageous and ambitious project”.

The project never became a reality. Only enough money was raised to further extend the new wing and to build the training pool beside the Pavilion. These were unveiled by the Countess of Roden of Bryansford in 1964. In 1965 a recession hit and numbers dropped so significantly that day pupils were being accepted. It was to no avail as the school owed the Bank £18,000. On December 19th 1965 the Manor House School closed.

The general aim of the school was to prepare the girls to make the fullest use of their abilities whether it be in home life, or in a career and to encourage wise use of leisure. Subjects taught were Scripture, Literature, Geography, Citizenship, Hygiene, Science, Botany, Biology, Languages (French, German, Italian, Latin , Greek), Mathematics, Architecture, Drawing, Picture Study, Arts and Crafts, Needlework, Gymnastics and Eurhythmics. Games included hockey tennis, badminton, netball and Lacrosse. Riding and stable management were taught- horses were kept in the grounds and the girls could bring their own ponies to the school. There was an emphasis on good health and physical training, with regular checkups by a visiting doctor. The fees were forty five pounds per term and extra lessons such as dancing, special art elocution and piano and violin lessons had to be paid for separately. The school was noted for the quality and distinctiveness of its elocution teaching.

Dormitories in the school were named Jarvis Bay, Tara, Kilmore, Kincora, Scone, Robert the Bruce, Spider and Florence. The furniture for the dormitories came from HMS Hampshire, a First World War Hospital ship. The beds were only three foot long. Leaving the grounds was out of bounds but that did not stop some girls breaking the rules.

Manor House School was the only country house residential school of its kind in Ireland and because it was unlike any other school that is part of its unique charm.

Discover the world of the Manor House School at the Milford House Museum and the intriguing stories of the girls and staff that were at the school

 

Manor House School 1940

Back row (left to right): Elizabeth Anderson, Sheelagh Patterson, Aleen Herdman, Susan Park, Anne Henry, Mary Clarke, Nancy Clarke, Maureen Rebbeck, Dorothy Mc Coy, Philippa Cochrane, Mary Moller, Mavis Deirdre Corry, Mary Coey, Mary Kirkpatrick, Rhona Scot
Second row (left to right): Betty Hodges, Patricia Clakr, Hetty Ussher, Rowena Cruikshank, Ruth Morton, June Charley, Angela Lowndes, Janet Kingan, Vera Gordon, Florence Leader, Lucy Lamour, Barbara Williams, Sheila Parker, Wanda Kennedy, Loran Allen, Anne Pooler, Evie Stronge, Rosemary Cotter.
Third row (left to right): Daphne Alexander, Margaret Bailey, Rosemary Haughton, Anne Hughes, Maeve Workman, Jill Davies, Heather Caruth, Pat Heyn, Gladys Mc Coy (Head Girl), Honor Powell, Helen Blackwell Smyth, Heather Johnston, Elzabeth Lucas Clements, Priscilla Mc Laughlin, Henrietta Wickham, Anne Ferguson, Moya Mc Corry, Eleanor Warnock.
Fourth row (left to right) Staff: Miss Cynthia Moseley, Miss D Ewing, Miss J.c Cochrane, Miss B Little, Matron M.O Simpson, Miss H. Bailey, Headmistress Mrs Claudia Shelley, Miss E.M Hindle, Miss V.R Wilstshire, Miss A. Murray, Fraulein Schmitz, Miss K. Stoney (Secretary), Miss M. Douglas (Under Matron), Miss M. Vere Hunt.
Front row (left to right): Jessica Needon, Mary Hobday, Elizabeth Eliis, Sonia Workman, Susan Herdman, Rosemary Mc Kinny, Rosemary Mackie, Tanya Blyth, Christine Campbell, Jane Stitt, Avril Mc Laughlun, Non Chamberlain, Shirley Proctor.