I still vividly remember my entrance interview with Mr Peacock, when I joined Penrhos College in 1992. My previous school was, at the time, in the process of closing down and my then-Headmaster had phoned Mr Peacock, requesting that he consider allowing me to attend Penrhos.
I remember walking down the long drive to the North Entrance and meeting Mrs Bethel, the School’s secretary, followed by my interview and tests, which allowed me to join the Lower V, today known as Year 9, in time to get settled and choose my GCSE options.
Sadly, not long after, Mr Peacock became ill and eventually retired from his post, but the culture that I entered into was testament to his leadership, leading to a very happy four years of my school career.
There was something quite freeing about being in an all-girls’ school, in that one never had to be really concerned about appearance in front of boys, which was a blessing considering the uniform was a lovely mix of yellow, grey and brown, topped with a tweed coat!
No one was concerned that they may have acquired their uniform secondhand and we pushed our boundaries through wearing coloured hair bands and jewellery, along with allowing our knee-high socks to roll down to our ankles, which went against the uniform policy.
I smile when I see pupils today trying to improve the ‘appearance’ of their uniforms and how we thought we were such rebels!
However, what really hit me when I started at Penrhos College was that instead of being top of my class as in previous schools, there were plenty of girls in my year group who were academically able and often better than me; the high expectations placed on us really pushed us to perform and succeed, not only in our studies but also in our conduct.
Throughout my time at Penrhos, even during periods that were demanding and exhausting, we were a community, a family.
Yes, we all had subjects and teachers that we liked the least, and plenty of social issues like any group of teenagers, but overall, the times we came together, for morning assemblies and events such as ‘Carols and Cocoa’ and Speech Day, are amongst some of my favourite memories; even if I can’t remember the specifics, the feelings evoked, feeling that I ‘belonged’, have stayed with me nearly 25 years on.
Fond memories include German lessons as a Sixth Former with Miss Potter in her study, where a small group of us could always expect to have a cup of tea while practising our speaking; I think every Penrhosian that she taught will remember having to learn ‘zany boys’! Being involved in so many music recitals under Mr Jandrell’s guidance as Director of Music, from concerts (I played the violin) to string quartets (with the wonderful if slightly eccentric Mr Littlewood) to musicals such as ‘Orpheus’.
Theatre productions, directed by Mr Fletcher, brought out acting abilities I never knew I had, and I thoroughly enjoyed playing Cordelia in ‘King Lear’, despite having to pretend to be dead in the final scene, after being carried by a fellow pupil who was shorter than me! Bless her for not dropping me!
Sport was never my strong point, so any little bit of praise from Mrs Bargery or Mrs Stevenson, was met with relief that I was actually doing something right! I always admired friends who were selected for teams, as that remained unattainable for me.
Meanwhile, the Art Studio, overlooking the North Entrance, with the large lawn and tall fir trees at the perimeter, and the views of the sea just beyond, was a place that fed our creativity; I often regret not continuing Art in the Sixth Form under Mr Allen’s tutelage.
The morning that we all gathered and were informed of the merger with Rydal was a strange one. It was a time of uncertainty, before the full merger and the move to the Rydal School site. As pupils, we disliked our new name, Rydal Penrhos Girls’ Division; ‘Penrhos College’ in our minds was much more elegant and apt, and we continued to call ourselves that, despite the new name being used on our A Level certificates.
I left Penrhos in 1996 to study at Sheffield University, and I recall coming home and looking around the school once it stood empty of pupils and staff. It truly felt like the end of an era.
Then something unexpected happened in the spring of 2000. I had just completed my training as an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher and was invited to interview for a position at the newly named Rydal Penrhos School.
I had initially planned to head abroad, but instead I settled into my new post, and have remained teaching at the school ever since. Miss Simpkins, Head of EFL, who had spent her first year of teaching in the last year that Penrhos had been open, told me how she had been given a chance as a new teacher, and that she wanted to give me that same opportunity. One may say that I have become rather institutionalised, given that I am not only an Old Penrhosian, but also that I have taught at Rydal Penrhos since 2000; however, the truth is that my roles over the years, and the opportunities for growth professionally, have been numerous; the variety has certainly kept me on my toes, never allowing boredom to take root.
When I first joined the staff body, I found that many of my past teachers were now colleagues and thus were expected to be called by their first name – a very strange concept for me at the time, indeed! Miss Potter, Mr & Mrs Stevenson, Monsieur Piton, Mr Allen, Mrs Teal, Mrs Williams, Mrs Davies, to name but a few, welcomed me into my new career.
As the years have passed by, there are only a few of us who remain with direct ties to Penrhos College. When Mr Stevenson departed from the school, he gave me an academic hood and gown that he had been given by Mrs McDougall (Home Economics), because he wanted someone connected to Penrhos College to continue wearing it to formal events, which I now do so with pride. I hope that when it is my turn to pass it on, I will be so lucky to find someone with such ties.
While Rydal Penrhos School inevitably has differences from Penrhos College, many of Penrhos’ attributes and values live on, from its Methodist foundations of inclusivity and diversity, to the care that teachers have for pupils’ wellbeing and academic success. Just as I once was able to turn to teachers for advice and help, we too provide layers of support in all aspects, in some ways even more strongly than ever with the increased understanding of mental health issues and the challenges youngsters face in the 21st Century.
Volunteer work and community action that pupils today participate in, remind me of the charitable work and fundraising activities that Penrhosians undertook; from stalls and lifeboat support at Colwyn Bay’s annual May Day, to a sponsored walk to and from Llandudno Pier to raise money for a new powerboat.
Every day, I have the pleasure of walking past the stained glass windows that once adorned Penrhos Chapel, and the Archives hold items and photographs that bring back vivid memories, sometimes ones that I hadn’t realised I had forgotten.
The whole-school photographs lining the ground floor corridor of Old House, can often be found with current pupils studying those of us from the past; in fact I often challenge Year 7 to find me in them, after sharing the history of our merged school. And at the start of each chapel, two candles are lit that came from Penrhos College; Semper ad Lucem.