This section illustrates aspects of St Mary’s history using items from within the archive. Further items will be added over the months ahead.
01. The Calne Fates
In 2017 it was noticed that a rectangular block of stone, which had been largely overlooked in an area of the school grounds, had a hollow relief on one of its faces. Following this discovery, the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes undertook an investigation.
In 1910, the last surviving founder of St Mary’s, Penelope Murray, died at her home in Bath. The following year the pupils and alumnae of the school erected a brass plaque in the school Chapel which commemorated the three founders and benefactors: Canon John Duncan, Ellinor Gabriel and Penelope Murray.
A modest leather-bound book provides one of the first windows into the early running of St Mary’s. Hand-written, most likely by Penelope Murray when she became Superintendent of the school in 1879, the book draws retrospectively on records kept by her predecessor, Ellinor Gabriel.
St Mary’s holds several legal documents relating to early property transfers undertaken by the school. When founded in 1873, the site of the school was on The Green near the church in Calne. By 1907, St Mary's needed to expand and so moved to its current site.
When Miss Florence Dyas arrived as Headmistress of St Mary’s in 1888 she recorded all the pupils who were at the school and she continued to add to the list year by year as new pupils came in. Despite being a small document, it is extremely useful as we have no formal school register before this time.
A seal of John Wordsworth, Bishop of Salisbury from 1885 to 1911. On 17th November 1889, the Bishop visited St Mary’s Church in Calne to conduct a Confirmation Service for the town. After the service he went to St Mary’s School ...
Standing between the main school buildings and the Sixth Form boarding houses is an industrial relic that indicates how the land was once used. The lime kiln has been a familiar feature of the grounds of St Mary’s for generations of pupils. It is now no longer open for the girls to climb but at one time pupils used it as a performance space and for relaxation.
Morning chapel has been the focus of the start of the school day from St Mary’s foundation. Each day the headmistress would lead the service. In 1927, when Marcia Matthews was head of the school, the leaving girls gave a gift of a prayer book.
St Mary’s has a set of hand-written, leather-bound diaries covering the period 1915 to 1960. The diaries were started when Marcia Matthews became Headmistress and continued into the time of the following Headmistress, Elizabeth Gibbins.
In November 1935 the foundation stone for a new assembly hall, dining room and kitchen was laid by Lady Lansdowne. Built of reclaimed stone from the old Calne workhouse which the school had bought in 1934, when completed the building stood proudly above the lower grounds of the school.
One of St Mary's early school houses had been given the name St Faith. The tradition continued with two further buildings named St Prisca and St Bridget. The Headmistress, Marcia Matthews, wanted these three saints associated with the school to be represented in relief work on the face of the new building. However, the architecture of the assembly hall called for four plaques and as the hall would be extensively used for music, St Cecilia, the Patron Saint of Musicians, was included.
To mark the millennium St Mary’s commissioned an interactive sundial. The design was driven by the Physics and Art Departments of the school and was undertaken by a team of pupils, incorporating ideas from the Preparatory School, St Margaret’s.
The lithograph by Ethel Gabain was commissioned by St Mary’s on Miss Matthews’ retirement as Headmistress of St Mary's in 1945. Ethel Leoutine Gabain (1883 – 1950) was the daughter of a French father and Scottish mother. She lived for over twenty years in France but boarded at Wycombe Abbey School. Her artistic talent was encouraged and she later studied at The Slade and the Central School of Arts and Crafts where she learnt the art of lithography. Wycombe Abbey commissioned Ethel Gabain to do a portrait of their headmistress and it seems likely that it was through connections in the educational world that St Mary’s also commissioned her.
This small building once stood on the perimeter of the Calne workhouse site on the ground to the north of the school. The workhouse closed in the early 1930s and was acquired by St Mary’s in 1934. It was then mostly demolished with the stone being used for building purposes within the school. However two workhouse buildings remained and are today listed buildings.
St Mary’s name was given to the school by the Vicar of Calne and Founder of St Mary’s, Canon John Duncan, whose church in the town was also called St Mary’s. The lily image associated with the Madonna was adopted for the school and has been used in many depictions down the generations. Set in glass, woven into chapel kneelers and adorning notepaper it is a well-recognised symbol of the school despite taking on many variations in how it is presented.