Session 2015/16 marks the 40th anniversary of girls joining the boys on the Colinton Road campus, and we shall be celebrating. The merger of George Watson's Boys' College and George Watson's Ladies' College to form a co-educational school at Colinton Road was one of the most important decisions the Merchant Company Education Board has ever taken in its history.
Please be patient while the photo galleries load.
There were a number of reasons for the Merchant Company's radical proposals, some educational, others relating to the political and economic pressures arising from the education policies of the Labour Government of the mid 1960s. In a policy statement on 30 June 1967 the Merchant Company Education Board indicated it was intending "within the foreseeable future to make provision for co-education" at the two George Watson's schools. The Board had requested an update of the Quinquennial Review of the City Development Plan, which had previously earmarked the George Square building for incorporation in the University's plans. At the same time the University playing fields at Craiglockhart had been earmarked for the site of a new George Watson's Ladies' College. It seemed a small, but important step for the Board to proceed with a single co-educational college at Colinton Road believing it made more economic and educational sense. The Board also emphasised that the new co-ed George Watson's College was a major plank in its policy of providing choice for parents between co-education on the South side of Edinburgh and single sex education on the North side schools.
While there must have been some misgivings in the two Watson's School communities with regard to the proposed merger, the overall view seems to have been one of cautious welcome.
As the deadline for the merger approached, one can only imagine the 'behind the scenes' detailed forward planning involved, the frenetic activity on both Watson's sites, the countless negotiations with the builders to ensure completion on time of the new buildings to accommodate the transfer of the girls to Colinton Road.
Although inevitably there were numerous irritations and frustrations in the first full session of the new Watson's (1975/76), The Watsonian struck a very optimistic note:
"The first full year of amalgamation has now passed with a smoothness and efficiency that has astonished many. The prophets of doom have been confounded, although of course not silenced."
The article goes on to state that the administrative changes affected the staff more than the pupils. Although class numbers changed little, the problem of the school size was apparent in recreation areas and corridors. Timetabling must have been a major headache. A tribute is paid to the new guidance staff who more than earned their salaries in tackling pupil problems in the new school. Finally most staff were delighted to hear the Principal state that changes would in future be kept to a minimum, giving way to a period of consolidation.
However, perhaps a judgement of the first few years of the merger is best expressed in the words of Peggy Naughton, Assistant Principal at the time:
The first day at GWC: everyone, staff and pupils, boys and girls in unfamiliar territory, among unfamiliar faces and following an unfamiliar timetable – camaraderie of shared ignorance!
Second/third term of amalgamation: teething troubles of co-education disappearing. Some apparent 'diehards' on the staff – of both sexes – even admitting to a certain pleasure in some facets of their work.
At last: 'The Amalgamation' stamped as a success – in terms of disbelief a boy actually says, "Do you really mean the boys and girls of Watson's were once kept in separate schools?"
In Roger Young's annual report in 1976, he paid fulsome tribute to the team of people involved in the nine years of the amalgamation exercise. All contributed to the process of creating a school with special qualities to offer, not only to education in Edinburgh, but also to the wider community of Scotland and Europe: "Qualities which will be distinctly constructive, distinctly caring, distinctly excellent and distinctly Watson's."
Extract from George Watson's College: An Illustrated History – Editor Les Howie.
1982 marked the The Golden Jubilee of the move from Archibald Place to Colinton Road. The celebrations of this event culminated with a visit from Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II on 29 June. During her visit, The Queen spent two hours on campus and was treated to a short concert in the Assemble Hall. The ceremony concluded with the Queen presenting prizes to senior pupils and the unveiling of a comomorative plaque.
George Watson’s Ladies’ College was a cloistered world of three historic houses joined together – our cloakrooms were off the Dark Passage, we ate our packed lunches in the Admiral’s Kitchen, the School was haunted by the Grey Lady, and if you misbehaved you awaited punishment in the Tiled Hall. Our School was something straight out of Muriel Spark’s Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. It was an almost exclusively female environment, with just one male teacher, Mr Bowman who taught Religious Education. Outward appearance and representing the School was all-important: I nearly wasn’t allowed on the end of term treat to the cinema because I had forgotten my beret, we walked in crocodile down the street, members of the public phoned the School to complain if they caught sight of a Watson’s girl eating on the bus. We arrived in outdoor shoes and changed into indoor shoes. We wore dance tunics in the colour of our houses. At lunchtimes we were allowed out into George Square gardens – having first changed into our outdoor shoes, of course – but we weren’t allowed to speak to the George Heriot’s boys who sometime strayed down there, and certainly not the university students. The Junior School was a bus ride away in St Alban’s Road, and our playing fields were inconveniently out in Liberton. Just a few years ahead of us Girls used to have to take their dresses into School to be checked for decency before being allowed to go to the School ball. But that aside, the teaching was rigorous and stretching, and our teachers were dedicated to ensuring that we had the opportunities in life which weren’t available to our mothers’ generation.
Then, in early July 1975, we had a final emotional singing of Ex Corde Caritas, many of our teachers retired or promptly left, rather than find themselves teaching boys, and we said farewell to George Square, never to return. Soon afterwards our School became the Psychology Department of the University. When we went back to School, we came to Colinton Road. And everything was different. It was an assault on the senses. First there was the noise, the boisterous banter of boys in the corridors, the shouts, the scuffles breaking out. Everything smelt different, and not in a good way – a boys' School has a very different smell to an all-girls' School. Everything was on a vast scale, we were now the biggest School in Europe, everyone was on the same campus, from nursery to sixth year, all the hockey pitches, the rugby pitches, and there was even a swimming pool. The facilities were astonishing to us – there was a purpose built Music School and an Art & Design building. And everything was confusing. It took ages to arrive at lessons. No longer was Monday ‘Monday’ – it was now Day 1, or Day 6, then the following week it was Day 4.
And we were outnumbered – there were far more boys than girls, and far more male members of staff than female. The boys seemed to have a different, more equal relationship with teachers. They spoke out at lessons far more readily than we did, intimidating at first until we realised that this didn’t necessarily mean they were better at essays or exams than us. We were made welcome and certain accommodations were made – we may have lost our building but the boys lost their School song. Our houses – Lauriston, Greyfrairs, Falconhall and Melville merged with the Boys’ houses. Some girls took a long time to settle, missing the intimacy and familiarity of George Square and nowhere felt safe. This was a School already with its traditions, and the sixth year had waited all their school lives to be top dogs, and initially it was hard to know how to share. David Scott was born to be Head Boy, admired and loved throughout the year groups as captain of Cricket’s First XI. The Deputy Head Boy was also a notable sportsman. The office bearers ruled the School with easy authority by handing out detentions and lines for misdemeanours like skipping the lunch queue, shirt tails hanging out, running not walking down the corridor. Assemblies were brought to order by blowing on a whistle. Neither the Deputy Head Girl nor I could catch a ball to save our lives, we were both arty literary types and we liked nothing better than to go to Henderson's of an evening, which was and still is a vegetarian café. I fear we lacked natural authority when it came to discipline and besides, it took us a good month to remember just where the lunch queue was.
It may have been confusing, but it was so exciting too. We all got to know each other, first at School and then we took to going for coffee after School – McVities (now Costa) at Holy Corner, The Jester in Morningside. Then there were parties. A lot of parties. Relationships started, couples formed.
By January it seems we were getting the hang of things and I was confident enough to be saying these rather arrogant words at the Burns Supper in reply to the Toast to the Lassies speech:
“We are aware that our coming has improved the quality of life at Colinton Road beyond all recognition. We have brought discipline to the dinner queues, courtesy to the corridors, added spice to Spanish, and a frisson to French, not to mention dallying in the dark room. It has taken a long time for such a happy state of affairs, but evolution in all things tends to be slow. It has taken Watson’s over 100 years to recognise that women weren’t merely spare ribs, but a superior creation’
Our diaries – not yet called Pupil Planners - were full to bursting. As well as the Burns Supper, here are just some of the activities I did in sixth year:
House Shakespeare, Carol Service, Cricket match tea, Office Bearers’ Tea Party, Prefects Dinner, Mad March Hare, Founders Day, House Assembly, House Debating, Junior Assembly, Sports Day, School Dance, judging Primary 4 Fancy dress competition, Sixth Form Revue, School Musical, Leavers’ sherry party with staff, Sixth Year work experience. How did we have time to go to classes or do any work?
By the end of our sixth year the School was completely integrated, co-education felt normal and natural, George Square and its quaint ways felt like a distant memory, and all the initial niggles had settled down. We left our newfound fellow sixth formers with genuine sadness, wishing we had had longer together. I never did get to summon the School by blowing the whistle, but I did find this note in my pigeon hole at the end of session, which suggests that our experience of co-education ended not just with acceptance, but real friendship too:
The Head Boy and Deputy Head Boy request the pleasure of the company of the Head Girl and Deputy Head Girl at 8pm on Thursday 8th July at Henderson’s Salad Table.
Jenny Brown (Class of 1976)
I was a member of the first co-ed Primary 1 in the new Primary School building. I remember my first day at GWC surprisingly clearly: I came in to do my entrance test. I had to sit and wait in the Junior library (Mr Currall's pride and joy, which later became the theatre) until my name was called, then take the muckle hand of George (who was dressed in his uniform – he looked like a policeman) and walk along a dark corridor to a room that was literally full of toys: I was very impressed! Two ladies sat me down and asked me if I could count to 10 and I was very proud that, for the first time, I didn't forget 7! I had visited several other schools and Dad asked me which one I would like to go to. I remembered the room full of toys and straight away said 'Watson's!' Of course what I hadn't realised was that all the play equipment was from George Square and that it was being stored in the Junior School until the new Primary School building was finished. It would ultimately be divided out among several classes, and in fact I was very sorry that there weren't more play opportunities once I started at the school!
On my first day as a pupil I was put in Mrs Fraser's class. Mrs Fraser was the type of lady who was firm yet lovely until you crossed a line. I was never quite sure were the line was, but one day I definitely crossed it because she really tore a strip off me and I remember being so shocked! I never wanted her to shout at me again because I did like her (she never forgot who I was, even once we had both left Watson's). I was seated at a little round orange table with several other children and I looked around in vain for a familiar face. Later on Catrina Fletcher arrived and I knew her from playgroup and was really glad. At playtime Mrs Mitchell, who was later Mr Smith's secretary, took us to play 'What's the time Mr Wolf?' with some of the older children. It never occurred to me that it was odd for boys and girls to be playing together at Watson's, although I think some of the older children had a bit of a laugh about it. The new classrooms each had a little area that was curtained off which was called a base. We would spend some time in the base every day, where we would sit cross-legged on the floor, trying not to wriggle too much as our bottoms got numb on the scratchy carpet. Mrs Fraser would read to us or ask us questions and we would strain with our hands in the air, desperate to be called on to share our experiences. Very early on Mrs Dickie's class were sitting in their base when a water pipe burst in the ceiling and flooded their classroom! They were still sweeping the water out of a side entrance when I went home.
Mrs Fraser was great friends with Mrs Stewart, who had the classroom next door. The classrooms were open plan, which probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but very quickly it emerged that there was a problem: if Mrs Stewart was telling off a naughty pupil in her classroom, it was very difficult for Mrs Fraser's class not to start listening with interest to find out who was in trouble! The classrooms were arranged around a small courtyard garden, but it was difficult to use this very inviting area without disturbing other classes - I often looked out wistfully and wished I could go and play there. The playground itself was a small area of paving stones in between the P2s on one side and the Junior School on the other – no soft play area or outdoor equipment: it was definitely a case of 'imagination required' (plus resilient knees).
Once a week we would go to the parquet floored hall and take off our shoes and socks: this was the Music and Movement lesson, which was about expressing ourselves to sensible music played on a large reel to reel. No burly PE teachers like Mr Mack until P3! We also had our school lunches here - large folding tables with stools attached would be wheeled in and the serving hatch would open. There was no cafeteria service in those days - it was cooked lunch and you liked what you were given. A surprising favourite was semolina with boiled jam. We would also have assemblies led by Miss Dilby, with Mrs Stewart teaching us to sing by rote on the piano - she was a formidable woman! Next door was the room where the audio-visual equipment was kept and on rare occasions we would go and watch a live school broadcast - no video or streaming in those days!
Many years later I did part of my teacher training at GWC and I snuck into the primary school to have a look at my old P1 classroom. I think it lacked some of the Ladybird book charm of the 1970's - there was probably a computer and printer where the nature table used to be. No teachers in pearls and twin-sets, no class gerbils, no gabardine raincoats, or milk bottles at break: the kinds of things which nowadays would be known as 'vintage' (sigh).
Fiona Barker née Fiona Dale (Class of 1987)
(pictured middle row, third from left)
Following the merger of the Boys' and Girls' Schools, the College dropped the Boys' School song in favour of the Girl's hymn, Ex Corde Caritas.
Hail to the old school that claims our allegiance
Gladly we yield it wholehearted and strong
Here we acclaim her with loyal devotion
Queen of our hearts and theme of our song.
Watson’s the name we sing
Long let the echoes ring
Dear to her sons are her name and her fame
Neath home or alien skies
Loud shall the chorus rise
Watson’s for ever again and again.
Days that are bygone have crowned her with honour
Days that are coming fresh laurels will yield
Let us uphold them her fame and her glory
First in the forum and first in the field
GOD of our Youth, Creator, Friend,
Accept the praise we bring to-day;
Thy pillared flame and moving cloud
Have marked for us the unknown way;
Let courage still our steps attend,
And love enfold us to the end.
Steadfast, united, may we stand,
To right the wrong, to conquer sin;
Nor fail through quest of selfish ends
The nobler victory to win –
Rejoicing in another's good,
With generous glow of brotherhood.
Guard those who own in lands afar
The common tie that makes us one;
May they the heavenly wisdom find,
The race decreed with patience run,
And gentle both in thought and deed,
Bring succour to another's need.
God of our life, no gifts we crave
Of fleeting wealth or idle fame,
No angel tongues with clarion note,
Nor palms that crown the martyr's shame;
Fill Thou the hearts we lift to Thee,
With quenchless fire of charity.
Music by Dr W B Ross, Words by Dr C E Ainslie