The Early Years

The school was founded in 1905 in the home of the Begley family – Merchiston, 443 Beersbridge Road. A year later the family and the School moved to Hawarden, 149 (now 163) Upper Newtownards Road. That site is now occupied by a retirement home. Miss Rosemary Rainey OBE, who was a former pupil, Head of English and Senior Teacher in the school, quipped that there are many girls and boys who spent both their formative and golden years in those grounds.

From the beginning there were specialist teachers for elocution and music with Saturday morning violin classes taking place. At public events the programme often included singing, dancing, recitation, drill and plays. By the 1909/10 academic year there were forty-nine pupils, increasing to sixty in 1910/11 and seventy-six in 1914/15.

At this time there was no school lunch; sandwiches and an apple or banana were carried in the front pocket of a pupil’s leather schoolbag. Often these were rather squashed by lunchtime!

Miss Annie Begley was the first Principal of Bloomfield. She belonged to a family with a strong tradition in teaching. From the beginning, the School was co-educational and her father, Mr George Begley, directly supervised the boys. Miss Nannie Walker BA became Headmistress in 1912. She lived with her family – mother, brother (who was killed in action in 1917) and her five sisters – in Hawarden. Her sisters, Miss Beth and Miss Barbara, also taught.

Bloomfield 2012
Bloomfield Garden Party

When Miss Nannie married and became Mrs Spencer in 1920, she was succeeded by her sister Miss Beth. Miss Beth had been educated at Victoria College and Queen’s University Belfast and, under her leadership the School grew and flourished. In 1925, she transferred ownership of the School to a Board of Governors and the Ministry of Education for Northern Ireland. There were 54 pupils at that time but as numbers grew, the premises became inadequate and in 1930 the School moved to Hillview, 144 Upper Newtownards Road, which had formerly been the home of Abernethy, the famous Victorian portrait photographer. By this time, there were over 200 pupils, including boys up to 12 years old.

The sisters lived in the School and one former pupil, visiting for the first time with her parents, was met by a lady scrubbing the front step. They asked to see the Headmistress. This lady put down her bucket and led them into the sitting room. It was Miss Walker herself. Girls remember her little white Highland Terriers, her Latin classes in the bath-room and domestic science in the former stables with the rings for the horses still on the walls.

Dorothy Andrews was appointed as the first Head Girl in 1934. Upon leaving, she presented the school with a silver badge in the shape of the school crest which has subsequently been worn by every Head Girl during her year of office. This tradition still holds and our current Head Girl wears the badge every day in school.

The number of pupils attending the school rose to one hundred and six by 1936/37. At that time, six full-time and seven part-time teachers were employed.

The War Years

Following the bombing raids on Belfast in 1941 after the onset of World War II, an air-raid shelter was built and parents asked to pay an additional 2/6 [121/2p] each term to cover the cost. Evacuation was also decided upon for those Bloomfield pupils whose parents wished it. Some 40 pupils moved to Ballinluig in Glenariff, Co. Antrim, where they lived as boarders and lessons were provided for them. When they returned to Belfast two years later, numbers again became a problem. A partial solution on this occasion was to use the halls of Bloomfield Presbyterian Church for the Preparatory Department (other than P7) and they moved there in 1944.

Merchiston
Merchiston

Dorothy Meharg recalls her arrival at Bloomfield: “During the early 1940s, I spent many nights fire-watching on the roof tops of London during the blitz. My family were anxious about my exposure to such dangers and urged me to return to Northern Ireland to teach. I travelled to Belfast… The docks glistened in the early morning, gantries, cranes and the hulls of several ships being built for the war effort. I dressed carefully for my homecoming interview and hailed a friendly Belfast cabby who dropped me with my case at the gates of Bloomfield at 144, Upper Newtownards Road.

“After mounting the steps, I was greeted by the Headmistress, Miss Walker, who gazed at my gas mask hanging from my shoulders saying: ‘My dear, that’s one thing you will not need to wear here’. That was the beginning of my memorable career teaching PE at Bloomfield Collegiate, until my retirement in 1975.

Joan Lingard MBE

Our library was named after one of our illustrious old girls, Joan Lingard MBE. She grew up in Belfast in Holland Gardens where she lived until she was 18. She attended Strandtown Primary and then got a scholarship into Bloomfied Collegiate. The author has written novels for both adults and children. She is known for the teenage-aimed Kevin and Sadie series, which have sold over one million copies and have been reprinted many times since. Her novel, “The File on Fraulein Berg”, was based on her experiences at Bloomfield.

Joan Lingard was awarded an MBE in 1998 for services to children’s literature.

After the War

Following the bombing raids on Belfast in 1941 after the onset of World War II, an air-raid shelter was built and parents asked to pay an additional 2/6 [121/2p] each term to cover the cost. Evacuation was also decided upon for those Bloomfield pupils whose parents wished it. Some 40 pupils moved to Ballinluig in Glenariff, Co. Antrim, where they lived as boarders and lessons were provided for them. When they returned to Belfast two years later, numbers again became a problem. A partial solution on this occasion was to use the halls of Bloomfield Presbyterian Church for the Preparatory Department (other than P7) and they moved there in 1944.

School Play
A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Last Years at “144”

Former Head Girl Margaret Mulholland looks back at the late-5os and early 6os, when life at Bloomfield under Miss Curran was some-what different to today: “I passed the Qualifying Examination in 1955 and eagerly awaited an appointment with the Headmistress at Bloomfield. The letter arrived for my interview and my mother accompanied me one afternoon to 144, Upper Newtownards Road. Mrs Drysdale met us and took us up the bare wooden staircase to the room on the right side of the landing. Miss Curran was seated behind a very large desk in a rather dark room.

I was a little nervous but was soon put at ease by this lovely lady. She was very gracious in her welcome and she told me about the school subjects and activities with great enthusiasm. She asked me if I knew what I would like to do and I had no hesitation as I had always wanted to be a doctor. She told me about science at school and the other subjects I would have to study. She smiled as she talked and I could feel tremendous encouragement even at that early stage of my schooling.

She advised that there were no school dinners and packed lunches could be brought or, in my case, I could go home because I lived so close to school. Punctuality was very important at all times and I have never forgotten this advice. I left the school feeling that she really cared and I looked forward to starting Bloomfield Collegiate School.

The green school uniform was purchased and tried on several times before the big starting day – I was so excited. I knew Only a small number of girls from Strandtown Primary, but very soon I became friendly with others. Here was a ‘family feeling’ and the big girls were very helpful to the new girls. I can recall Miss Curran remembering the names of pupils as she walked around the school She also inspired us to be well behaved in her presence.

Miss Curran was accompanied to daily prayers in ‘the hut’ each morning by the Head Girl. She stood on the long bench, so that she could be seen by everyone. She began prayers each morning with a special blessing and my favourite was let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight’. We sang a hymn, as one of the girls played piano. Announcements followed and often a pep talk about behaviour on the street, tidy uniform and the ‘beret’, which had to be worn outside always. At the end, the Head Girl and she left and we all followed in a very orderly fashion to go to class.

Miss Curran was always interested in classwork but she showed great enthusiasm for sports activities and attended hockey, tennis and athletic events as support. I was in the Dramatic Society and we used to practise in Room 8 each week and then, nearer the event, we crossed to the big church hall at Bloomfield church for stage rehearsals. On her way home from school she used to slip in at the back and listen to the production. It meant a lot to Miss Ward, the drama teacher, and to us, when she attended during these times.”

Astoria Gardens

Astoria Gardens
Astoria Gardens

By the mid-195os steadily growing numbers meant that the premises at 144 were becoming inadequate. This time a brand-new school was planned on the site of Magee’s Nursery, Astoria Gardens, where Miss Elizabeth Walker, a former Headmistress, laid the foundation stone on 30 March 1961. The school was officially opened in October 1962 by the Lady Mayoress of Belfast but was already filled to capacity by the three hundred pupils enrolled in that year.

A new, purpose-built Preparatory Department was opened on 30 October 1968. At that point, the Prep. was moved from its location in Bloomfield Presbyterian Church hall and all pupils were united on a common site.

An extension to the Grammar School soon became necessary and was completed by 1973.

The 197os and 8os saw major changes in girls’ education. Equal Opportunity legislation opened up a whole new range of career opportunities for girls. This was reflected a broadening of subject choice and virtually every girl staying on to complete A-levels. This, plus the continued popularity of the school, made further expansion necessary. In 1993 a new block was erected on the old tennis courts, the existing building was completely refurbished and a Sports Hall was built on the old hockey pitch. An all-weather surface for outdoor hockey practice, netball and tennis completed the programme, providing Bloomfield with state-of-the-art accommodation.

Miss Gray

Rosemary Jane Brangam (nee Miller) looks back on Miss Ethel Gray’s 20 years as headmistress (1962-1982): “In 1962, Bloomfield acquired a new Headmistress and new premises. Miss Ethel Winnifred Gray, MA, inherited a strong community and a successful girls’ school with up-to-date facilities.

She was a distinguished graduate of Queen’s University Belfast and had taught in Banbridge Academy and in her old school, BRA. Like her predecessors and successors, she led the school into a new era and steered the education of women to new heights, equipping them for a changing world. Everyone in the community knew of Miss Gray and respected her leadership and the excellence of her school. Her organization and administrative skills were faultless. She worked tirelessly, was always first in school and last to leave.

The welfare of her pupils was paramount – the timetable was reworked time and again to accommodate the subject choices of individual girls. She supervised the building of the Preparatory Department in 1968 and the extension to the main school in the 1970s. As a pupil, one realized that she knew everything and very little escaped her notice – her presence was everywhere.Extra-curricular activities played an important role in life and Miss Gray supported and participated in these events. She particularly enjoyed leading walking expeditions to Slemish and the Mournes and loved the witty pantomimes which took a cheeky look at school life. She has a wonderful sense of humour and valued the importance of fun as well as hard work.

Miss Gray ran a school where children could learn, develop and mature, receive appropriate moral guidance, the freedom to grow within strict guidelines and rules and most importantly, preparation for times ahead which would not always be easy or fair.

When she retired in 1982, she had many friends and interests. She threw a wonderful retirement party with lots of photographs and generously entertained those who had been associated with the school. Her quiet generosity has been enjoyed by many as has her kindness and understanding to those who experience tragedy or difficulty in their lives. She also found time to research a detailed history of the School, published in 1989. Countless former pupils have kept in touch with her and she continues to lead a busy and active life.

Miss Gray
Miss Gray

Rosemary Weir

The School had seen significant change under Miss Gray, but no-one could have foreseen the enormous upheaval in social attitudes that were to come in the years ahead. With either tremendous foresight or either amazing luck, the Governors chose to appoint a new, young and energetic Headmistress, Miss Rosemary Weir, to lead the school.

Joan Dark, former Head of Geography, remembers Miss Weir beginning a new ear and stamping her own distinctive brand on Bloomfield:

“It must be confessed that a tremor of apprehension ran through me when, in the spring of 1982, the identity of Bloomfield’s new headmistress became known… the Province’s youngest Grammar School Head.

Upper-Sixth
Upper-Sixth

It was largely due to Rosemary’s vision and determination that a massive fund-raising effort was undertaken and plans for building began to take shape – the grounds, the refurbished old building, the new building and, last but not least, the new sports hall.

Staff and pupils remember Rosemary for her friendship and her faith in their ability, as well as her drive and determination. This belief in others meant that both staff and pupils found themselves accomplishing more than they ever thought possible.”

David Neill

Dr Neill
Dr Neill

Dr Neill was appointed Head of Chemistry in 1983. Four years later, he was appointed Head of Science, a reflection of his interest in curriculum matters beyond his own subject. As with so many of the teachers, Dr Neill was able to strike the appropriate balance between being a figure of authority while also being approachable and open with pupils.

When Miss Weir retired in 1998, he was appointed Principal of Bloomfield Collegiate School.

As the school entered the twenty-first century, there were around seven hundred and ten pupils in the senior school and sixty girls in the Preparatory department. The School celebrated its Centenary year in 2006 with a series of memorable events including a Former Pupils’ Dinner in the opulent and appropriate surroundings of the banqueting room in the City Hall, a book launch of ‘100 Years of Memories’ in the presence of the Lord Mayor Cllr Wallace Brown and a  splendid Waterfront Concert which provided a magnificent showpiece of musical talent, verse-speaking and art in a worthy setting.

Centenary Concert
Centenary Concert – Waterfront Hall

Sadly, the Preparatory Department closed its doors for the final time in June 2011 as falling enrolment meant that the school was no longer viable. This momentous event was marked with a day of celebration entitled ‘Midsummer Memories’ on 21 June 2011.

Dr Neill brought to the post a wide knowledge of educational issues. This knowledge was based on a sound critical sense, which could sift out the significant from the unimportant. It was no surprise that Chemistry attracted the largest numbers of girls at A Level – something not common in a girls’ school!

Darrin Barr

The facilities in the Grammar School have continued to develop apace with a state-of-the-art Technology and Learning Centre opening in 2009 and a welcoming and modern refurbished canteen added in 2010. In 2011 new outdoor athletics facilities enhanced the onsite sporting provision. The School has plans to use the existing Preparatory Department buildings to enhance the Grammar School accommodation.

The School buildings have undergone extensive refurbishment. A new roof has been installed on the Gray building, state of the art lighting has been installed in the Gray and Weir buildings, along with upgraded fire detection systems. Enhanced security features have also been provided, which include the latest in biotechnology and CCTV. The biotechnology will be used for entry into the buildings. The new features will enhance the teaching and learning areas in School and provide for safer and brighter environments. The School is grateful to the Education Authority for providing the finances for the work.

Although relatively young in terms of the school’s history, our mission statement reflects the aims promoted by the school since its inception one hundred years ago. As we face our second century, our mission remains:

‘Excellence in a Caring Community’

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