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St Hild's College, Durham

Teacher training college for women in Durham

Type: School

St Hild’s in Durham, is one of the oldest teacher training colleges for women in England, established in 1858. In 1903 the college purchased a hostel that adjoined the college which increased the number of women who could be accommodated to 114 students.

The women usually studied for two years at the college but some stayed for a further year in order to complete a degree with Durham University, an opportunity which for some time was unusual for women’s teacher training colleges. The college had close ties with the University and for the first term after the University began admitting women, four students from St Hild’s were the only women studying at the University. By 1923 about 90 women had obtained degrees from the University alongside their teacher training.

Very shortly after the beginning of the First World War, St Hild’s began to see changes. As early as November 1914 the Girls’ and Infants’ Practising schools were requisitioned by the War Office and the students would have seen the large numbers of soldiers practising their drills on the nearby race course.

During the war years, the students continued to teach in the Demonstration Schools attached to St Hild’s as well as ‘Practising Schools’ across County Durham, including schools in Gilesgate, Neville’s Cross and Birtley. The students also spent days experiencing teaching at other schools such as the Industrial School and schools for blind and deaf children in Newcastle.

The number of students trained at the college over the war years did not increase, perhaps due to practicalities such as accommodation. However yearly reports would suggest that numbers applying did increase, spaces on the courses filled up quickly and waiting lists had to quickly be drawn up.

The women students had a vital role in replacing the male teachers who left County Durham to serve during the war. The annual report from the college for the year ending July 1916 records that “during the year the College has done some good work in supplying teachers to fill the vacancies caused by the enlistment of teachers under Lord Derby’s Scheme.” In the summer term of 1916, junior students assisted teachers in schools including those in Sacriston and Houghton-le-Spring, schools that were regularly used as ‘Practice Schools’ by the trainee teachers.

This extra work done by the student at St Hild’s was widely recognised as essential for the schools across County Durham. The principal at St Hild’s, Miss Eleanor Christopher, received the following letter in July 1916 from A. J. Dawson on behalf of the County Education Committee:

“Dear Miss Christopher,
I am requested by the County Education Committee to offer to you personally, and through you to the students concerned, their cordial thanks for the most valuable help which you have given in connection with the staffing of Schools during the critical period through which we are now passing.

The Education Committee very much appreciate the timely assistance which they have thus received from St. Hild’s College – without which some of the Schools in the district would have been placed in a most difficult position. The Committee trust that the students will realise that in rendering help in this time of need they have been engaged in war work of the most valuable description.

May I add my own thanks to those of the Committee,

Yours Faithfully,

A. J. Dawson”

There were also changes to the routines within the college. Intercession services for serving soldiers and sailors were held daily in the college chapel, which were well attended and greatly appreciated by both staff and students. Rolls of Honour for relatives of both former and present students were placed in the Chapel Porch and continued to grow throughout the war years.

Students were given classes on first aid for the injured from the summer term of 1915 and spent their evenings knitting items required by soldiers. Special offertories and donations were given to various charities including The Belgian Relief Fund, The Prince of Wales’ Relief Fund, The French Red Cross and money to support blinded soldiers and prisoners of war.

In the summer of 1917, 67 students from St Hild’s spent up to six weeks in the Midlands picking flax, which was of vital importance in the production of aeroplanes. An account of this is found in the St Hild’s College Magazine.

Civil Parish: Durham

Contributed by Fiona Johnson - Durham