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July 02nd 2013

Lady Harriet Bligh speaks at Festival Day

Cobham Hall’s annual Festival Day celebrated the School’s 50th Anniversary in grand style with Lady Harriet Bligh, former resident of the Estate and one of Cobham’s first students, addressing an audience of over 500 including current and former students and staff.

Lady Bligh – introduced affectionately as “Hatty” – who was born in what is now the Headmaster’s study, spoke about her time as a child living in the Hall, the ancestral home of her family, the Earls of Darnley, and about her experiences as a “pioneer” student in the School’s formative years.

Having spent time in a strict French-speaking school in Switzerland “where I was not even allowed to speak to my own sister in English” and where “there was no room for creativity, individuality or humour”, Lady Bligh reflected on the joy of returning to her former home to continue her schooling aged 13.

“Returning to Cobham…was, as you can imagine, a huge relief, not just for the house and grounds which I loved, but for the kind of school which I discovered. Although my English was quite poor when I arrived and I’d never made notes from a History book in my life and had no idea how to do it, I loved the space and freedom to be myself again.”

She recalled how girls walked around with dusters tucked into their skirts to wipe down any surface they wanted to sit upon when the building was still in renovation, the trip behind the Iron Curtain to Russia at the height of the Cold War in the mid-1960s – a 15-day tour, costing just £50, in which the girls got a glimpse of life in the USSR – and getting used to smell of dead rats under the floorboards in the very first year (thankfully now a thing of past).

A number of other former pupils and four former Headmistresses, including the first Headmistress, Miss Brenda Hancock, attended the prize giving ceremony held on Saturday. Several Elders presented cups to this year’s prize winners.

The day also included performances from students, including flash-mob poetry – a look back on the first 50 years of the school and a hypothetical glimpse forward into the next 50 – a dance performed to a piece of “clapping music” inspired by Steve Reich and a rendition of the Cobham Hall song, composed this year by the Head of Music and the chamber choir.

Opened in 1962, Cobham Hall was the first independent girls’ school to be established in England in 16 years. Fifty girls were enrolled in the first year, including Lady Harriet Bligh, who became Guardian (Head girl) in her final year before studying History at Oxford.

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