From humble beginnings To stunning successes
In 1923, two young women in Blackburn were unable to find teaching vacancies. The Local Education Authorities of Blackburn and surrounding towns were so short of funds that as teachers died or retired they were unable to replace them. Miss Emily Singleton and Miss Ivy Richmond viewed their dilemma with stunning logic; if they could not find a school to employ them, they would have to make their own! And there we began, on 19 April 1923, in the local Wesleyan Chapel. Miss Emily Singleton and Miss Ivy Richmond opened the doors of their school and Westholme was born.
During the 1930s the School began to grow rapidly. The move to ‘Westholme’, 167 Preston New Road from Wesleyan Chapel, in 1926, was an essential stepping stone, but soon outgrown. Miss Richmond was now engaged to Miss Singleton’s brother and as married women were not allowed to teach, Ida Burrows was appointed as Assistant Mistress. She described teaching at Westholme on Preston New Road as, ‘…not a very convenient house; no large hall of course!’ There was no place for games at 167 Preston New Road which posed a serious problem as the Board of Education would not recognise Westholme as a ‘proper’ school. After some searching, the perfect place came on the market – it was the infant department of Blackburn Girls’ High School and it was called Billinge House.
We would like to imagine Emily Singleton tucking the name plate ‘Westholme’ under her arm, forming her pupils into a crocodile and marching them up the road to their new premises. The move was a big improvement in facilities and Miss Singleton wrote on her next prospectus with great relish:
‘The classrooms are large, airy and exceptionally well lighted. Central heating is installed throughout the building. Latin is taught by special arrangement. The school equipment includes Radio, Gramophone, Lantern and Kinematograph apparatus – the latest technology. Dinners supplied at 5p per day. Milk (Grade A) at Break 1/2p per day.’
As for the uniform, if you had attended Westholme in the thirties you would have worn a navy blue tunic with a compulsory hat (white Panama in the summer and black velour in the winter). In addition, you had to add the hatband and badge.
We are sure that children at that time were affected by the tensions of the war, but at Westholme, Miss Singleton and her small staff had one aim; to keep their pupils secure, happy and learning. Rationing was in place; one egg would not go far in the week. You know how Miss Singleton responded to having no teaching job – she made a school. She tackled the ‘one egg problem’ in a similar way and made herself a farmyard. Into the grounds of Billinge House she introduced a goat and some chickens – and looked after them herself. During the war years, grounds staff would be impossible to find but she solved that problem too – she put gardening on the curriculum for the children to do! With spades and forks the children attacked the borders; we imagine her striding up and down saying,
“Mens Sana in Corpore Sano”
“A healthy mind in a healthy body”
When Miss Singleton was ready to retire by 1949, she had to find a very special person to take on such a special school – a place that pupils never wanted to leave. She found the ideal candidates in Mr and Mrs Rouse. Both qualified teachers, Mr Rouse left the army with the rank of Major for his fearless service (notably on the Normandy beaches) and was awarded the MBE. Miss Singleton must have heaved a sigh of relief as she prepared to hand over the reins, and announced her retirement to families in October 1949. Arthur Rouse took up his position as Principal in the new decade in January 1950.
In 1956 a larger property, Beardwood Bank on Preston New Road, was purchased to replace the short-lived purchase of Garth on St Silas’ Road as this property proved too small due to the rapidly rising numbers. Mrs Rouse was a remarkably adaptable Headteacher of the Senior division. She taught History to Senior girls and was in charge of employing and supervising the domestic staff and also of planning and catering over 300 meals per day. This was no mean feat as Beardwood Bank did not have a dining hall. The solution – a crocodile of pupils would make the daily walk to lunch at Billinge House.
By 1967, both Billinge House and Beardwood Bank were bursting at the seams so new premises were again needed! By 1968, Mr Rouse had raised the funds to buy Wilmar Lodge, Mrs Rouse had retired and Dr Joan Bond had arrived as new Headteacher! (Dr Bond would later become Westholme’s third Principal when Mr Rouse retired).
At Westholme it was all build, build, build in the 1970s! With several acres to play with at Wilmar Lodge, expansion was immediately on the cards. The multi-purpose Clitheroe Hall built at the end of the sixties was swiftly followed by the Thatcher Wing in 1970. Hundreds of well-wishers in our ever-expanding community celebrated our Golden Jubilee, marking 50 successful years for Westholme in 1973.
The School’s academic results at GCSE and A Level were beginning to make the headlines. Places at universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, became the norm for leavers, but change was once again on the agenda. Dr Joan Bond decided to retire, and in the spring of 1987 Mrs Lillian Croston was appointed as Westholme’s fourth Principal.
For a brief period up to the end of the Spring term in 1988 both Dr Bond and Mrs Croston were in School together! In December 1983, Miss Emily Singleton, the founder and first Principal of Westholme School died at the age of 92. Several members of staff and pupils attended her funeral at Wilpshire Methodist Church.
Under Mrs Croston, the period of building development really began to flourish for the school, and the previous declaration of ‘final stage of expansion’ didn’t last long. When Wilmar Lodge Farm came on the market, Westholme seized the opportunity to turn the land it stood on into playing fields and to convert the farm itself into the first Sixth Form Centre.
Work eventually began in 1987 and for a considerable time the area resembled a lunar landscape with heavy earth moving equipment operating back and forth. At one stage it looked very much like a desert as sand had been laid over the whole area. What excitement there was when the first slender blades of grass sprouted forth! The very first Sports Day on the new field was held in June 1988 following the official opening by Lord Waddington.
This was an exciting decade for Westholme, beginning with the construction of the Science Wing, opened by Helen Sharman, the first British Astronaut, in 1994. This was swiftly followed by the significant development of Beardwood Bank and the major highlight of this era, the Croston Theatre. The decade was rounded off with the addition of the new Library, ICT facility and Languages classrooms; a period of immense success for the School as it flourished under Mrs Croston’s leadership. The School celebrated its 75th birthday on 19 April 1998. The anniversary was celebrated in various ways at School, from the burying of a time capsule by the children at Billinge House, the making of badges by Beardwood Bank girls, and a special assembly at Wilmar Lodge. Direct descendants of our founder, Emily Singleton, were invited to a commemorative anniversary assembly. All children were able to share the lovely birthday cakes baked in the School kitchens, and were presented with a fine China anniversary mug.
Completed in 1997, the new theatre really allowed the musical and theatrical ambitions of Westholme to flourish. Mr Millest organised a very successful series of ‘Anniversary Concerts’. Internationally famous musicians such as Kathryn Stott, classical pianist, visited and performed. It quickly became the heart of the School and with House Play rehearsals, Drama lessons and public performances it rarely knew a quiet moment. From ‘A Christmas Carol’ in December to ‘Guys and Dolls’ in July, it added another dimension to Westholme life.
There was no let-up in the School’s march forward. In 2003, a fine new Sixth Form Centre opened, with a splendid Common Room or ‘DFS showroom’, as one of the Sixth Form christened it upon seeing the magnificent array of sofas. Rebecca Stephens, the first British woman to climb Everest, performed the opening ceremony. The unforgettable Channel Swim, in aid of new sports facilities, also went way beyond what any school in East Lancashire might hope to achieve. Twelve girls swam in relay formation from Shakespeare Bay, Dover to Cap Gris-Nez in France. Long Saturdays were spent training in the unglamorous Albert Docks, Salford Quays and Rivington Reservoir. The swim began at 11.30 at night, in the pitch dark. Mrs Croston, in her blue balaclava in the accompanying boat, was with them every stroke of the way. They coped with massive jellyfish and freezing seas and were triumphantly successful!
As the decade concluded, development was still unfolding at Westholme as ever. Successful fundraising from the community led to the opening of the stunning all-weather pitch by Jeremy Hunt, Minister of Sport.
Preparations began for a mammoth trek with over 1000 pupils to visit the much vaunted Millennium Dome. Westholme made the front page of the TES when a representative of the Lower, Middle and Upper Schools went with Mrs Croston to investigate the possibilities of arranging the trip. They were the very first pupils to be allowed onto the building site of the Dome; a showcase project for ‘Cool Britannia.’ The transport to London was organised by Deputy Head, Mrs Georghiou, and involved 25 coaches departing from the car park at Blackburn Rovers! It was yet another pivotal milestone for our ambitious and groundbreaking School.
Lillian Croston retired in 2013. In her farewell message she spoke of her extraordinary happiness throughout her 25 years: ‘It is easy to be happy here. To live and work every day in such a beautiful location, with wonderful students and staff, is something few people have the luck to experience.’ She was uncharacteristically lost for words when it was announced that the theatre she had so brilliantly planned early on in her tenure was to be named the Croston Theatre in her honour.
Mrs Lynne Horner was appointed as Westholme’s fifth Principal in September 2013 after a successful Headship at Abbeygate College, Chester. In her first year, boys’ and girls’ education became fully integrated. During Mrs Horner’s time at Westholme the first boys transitioned into the Sixth Form and the next stage of our evolution was successfully completed.
In 2020, Dr Richard Robson was announced as the sixth Principal of Westholme. He set out his clear vision of unrivalled holistic excellence to ensure Westholme continues to be the school of choice in Lancashire preparing all students for success in the 21st century workplace. Focussed on reinvigorating the School, such as the new INSPIRED Sixth Form, the strategic ambition for the future of Westholme is clear for all to see: a strengthening of our warm, friendly atmosphere where students love coming to School within a family environment; continuing to provide academic excellence within the classroom though inspirational teaching and high expectations; placing an equal importance on all subjects, clubs, societies, activities and experiences inside and outside the classroom – thus achieving a unique holistic balance that inculcates the essential 21st century transferable skills in every student.
Westholmians stand out because they have enjoyed a wonderfully enriching purple and green educational experience – they are well-rounded, delightfully articulate young people. For 100 years, we have believed in offering our students the time to develop their talents, the opportunity to explore their passions and as the late Sir Ken Robinson would have said, the experiences to find their element. This is our aim for the next 100 years of Westholme.
In 2020, the unforgettable and unprecedented Covid-19 world pandemic will be remembered for dominating the beginning of this decade as the UK plunged into a national lockdown in March 2020. This was the first time in the history of Westholme that its pupils remained at home. Online lessons replaced face-to-face teaching and Home Learning became the norm. By 2022 though, the excitement was building at Westholme! The sale of Beardwood Bank and Billinge House to finance the multi-million pound Prep development to be built at Wilmar Lodge epitomised the constant evolution and refinement of Westholme over the past 100 years. Westholme’s second Principal wanted to bring the whole Westholme family together in one place, providing an all-through, seamless education. Professor Sophie Scott MBE, OW, opened the new Prep building in the Autumn term of that year; finally, Arthur Rouse’s stated aim was brought to fruition.