Schools: The North London Collegiate School

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1, Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, the Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes To 1870, Private Education From Sixteenth Century. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.

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, 'Schools: The North London Collegiate School', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1, Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, the Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes To 1870, Private Education From Sixteenth Century, (London, 1969) pp. 308-310. British History Online [accessed 22 May 2024].

. "Schools: The North London Collegiate School", in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1, Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, the Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes To 1870, Private Education From Sixteenth Century, (London, 1969) 308-310. British History Online, accessed May 22, 2024,

. "Schools: The North London Collegiate School", A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1, Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, the Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes To 1870, Private Education From Sixteenth Century, (London, 1969). 308-310. British History Online. Web. 22 May 2024,


In April 1850 Frances Mary Buss opened the North London Collegiate School for Ladies at 46 (later renumbered 12) Camden Street. Camden Town was then a professional neighbourhood near both Hampstead and the City, and 35 daughters of gentlemen and 'the most respectable' tradesmen assembled on the opening day. The Vicar of St. Pancras, Canon Thomas Dale, who already had a similar school for boys in his parish, lent his interest and support, and David Laing, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Kentish Town, acted as Honorary Superintendent. The girls received an education which from the first included Latin, French, natural science, and periods of recreation; German, Italian, and music were extras. The teaching encouraged thought and observation rather than learning by rote, and its success was immediate. By December 1850 there were 115 pupils and Miss Buss had founded 'the model for girls' Day Schools throughout the country'. (fn. 1)

At this time there were no public examinations for girls, but in 1863 Miss Emily Davies prevailed upon the Cambridge authorities to allow girls to take the Local examinations unofficially. After only six weeks' notice 84 candidates sat the examination; of these 25 were from the North London Collegiate School. Contrary to the expectations of the critics the girls worked at their papers in a business-like way and showed no sign of physical strain. Fifteen pupils of North London Collegiate were among those who passed. As a result of this experiment girls were soon admitted to the examinations on the same terms as boys except that, to avoid the supposed evils of emulation, their names were not published. (fn. 2) The next step was to gain public recognition for girls' schools. The terms of reference of the Schools Enquiry Commission did not specifically exclude the education of girls, and several women teachers, among them Miss Buss, gave evidence. Her pupils, she said, were mostly upper middle-class, but any girls of good character were admitted; they came to the school extremely ignorant but she was sure that they could learn 'anything that they are taught in an interesting manner and for which they have some motive to work'. The science instruction, she feared, was 'too much perhaps the means of interesting knowledge rather than of mental training'. Full mathematics was not taught, only arithmetic, but all the girls learnt French, 50 learnt Latin, and some studied political economy. No girl was excused any part of the syllabus except for reasons of health. There were 200 girls, 11 governesses, 8 visiting women teachers, and 13 visiting masters. Fees ranged from 9 to 12 guineas and salaries from £24 to £80 a year. (fn. 3)

In 1870 Miss Buss decided to transform her flourishing private venture into a public grammar school for girls by transferring it to a trust which would carry on the work when she was no longer able to do so. New premises were acquired at 202 Camden Road; (fn. 4) here there was a large schoolroom which could be partitioned by curtains, a similar room upstairs, two classrooms, and long passages for 'musical gymnastics'. (fn. 5) The move allowed Miss Buss to found a second school, the Camden School, in the accommodation left vacant in Camden Street. (fn. 6) Unfortunately Dr. John Storrar, chairman of the trust 1870-4, was a man accustomed to command, and his relations with Miss Buss, who had exercised independent authority for twenty years, were often difficult, although she got on better with his successor, Canon Anthony Wilson Thorold. (fn. 7) The changed status of the school was confirmed in 1875, when a scheme for its administration was prepared by the Endowed Schools Commission. An appeal for an endowment fund for the two schools brought in gifts from several City companies, notably the Brewers' Company, which provided £20,000 for buildings and £600 annually from the Platt Charity, a Brewers' charity, while for scholarships there was an additional £2,000 from Dame Alice Owen's Charity. (fn. 8) This enabled Miss Buss to proceed with her plans for a new school building in Sandall Road. The Clothworkers' Company granted £105 a year for scholarships and £2,500 for an assembly hall, which bore the company's name. The new school was opened in 1879 by the Prince and Princess of Wales. The latter had been the patroness of the schools since 1871. Meanwhile the Camden School had moved into new buildings in Prince of Wales Road in 1878.

Satisfactory inspection reports by the College of Preceptors in 1874 and the University of London in 1876 testified to continued academic progress. (fn. 9) But Miss Buss was a pioneer in other directions, encouraging gymnastics, swimming, skating, hockey, and athletics. She incorporated in the new buildings the first gymnasium designed for a girls' school and obtained the use of the St. Pancras baths, but her proposal to make the girls 'really bold swimmers' by capsizing a boat in open water was not adopted. She started a school sports day, and in the interests of dress reform organized a tug-of-war between girls who wore stays and those who did not; the latter won. Miss Buss had little time for fainting girls, for whom she recommended the cold water treatment. She also encouraged the more usual accomplishments such as art, music, needlework, cookery, and handicrafts. (fn. 10)

By present-day standards discipline appears to have been very strict; talking seemed to be the main evil, and 'every moment, almost every movement, was ordered'. There were many rules, breach of which involved signing the 'Appearance Book', but any form which went for half a term without a signature was allowed a 'gratification'-half an hour's free time-as a reward. Elaborate measures were taken to ensure that the assignments of homework were properly done and that cheating was prevented. Ink was normally prohibited in school, and a Saturday morning might be spent in removing an accidental stain from the floor. It must be remembered, however, that many of the staff and pupils felt themselves to be pioneers in a great campaign against sex discrimination in education. (fn. 11) Miss Buss wrote to Maria Grey (fn. 12) in 1881 'there is no such thing as a woman's education question', (fn. 13) and she intended her girls to prove it; moreover, many former pupils testified not only to her discipline but also to her kindliness and generosity. Although an authoritarian, she was prepared to delegate authority to prefects and monitors, and she encouraged self-governing clubs and societies. (fn. 14)

Miss Buss's influence outside her own school was extensive. She had a deep concern for the dignity and status of the teaching profession. Believing that academic qualifications alone were not sufficient for a teacher, she arranged lectures for her own staff on the theory and practice of education. Her belief in the value of training made her an ardent supporter of the first Training Colleges; she was closely associated with the foundation of both the Maria Grey and Cambridge Training Colleges. She also considered that association between members of the profession was not only valuable but essential. It was, therefore, quite natural that it should have been at a meeting at her house that the Association of Head Mistresses was inaugurated. Nine headmistresses were present; Miss Buss was elected as President of the Association and held the office until her death in 1894.

Her successor at North London Collegiate, whom she had designated as early as 1878, was Mrs. Sophie Bryant, a mathematician and a brilliant teacher. In 1884 she had become the first woman D.Sc. and in 1894 she was one of the three women appointed to the Bryce Commission on secondary education. She was also a member of the Senate of London University and the L.C.C. Technical Education Board, a governor of two training colleges, president of the Head Mistresses Association 1903-5, a member of numerous other committees, a worker for Irish Home Rule and for women's suffrage, an oarswoman, an alpinist-she climbed the Matterhorn-and a prolific author. (fn. 15) Despite all these activities she devoted much time and thought to the school, keeping both staff and pupils in touch with the problems of the outside world. In the face of considerable criticism she introduced pupils from elementary schools. Early in 1918, wearied by wartime anxieties and wishing to devote more time to educational writing and political work, she prevailed upon the governors to accept her resignation. (fn. 16)

Miss I. M. Drummond, who was appointed to succeed Mrs. Bryant, was a former member of the staff of North London Collegiate and had been latterly headmistress of the Camden School. Miss Drummond relaxed some of the regulations and encouraged the free choice of creative activities in the arts and in school societies. (fn. 17) In 1929, with the assistance of the Middlesex County Council, the school acquired 'Canons', (fn. 18) a Georgian house standing in extensive grounds at Little Stanmore, and soon a section of the school was travelling there each morning of the week for lessons and games. Eventually it was decided to move the whole school to Canons, and the foundation-stone of a new building extending behind the house was laid in May 1939. The work was sufficiently advanced by September 1939 for it to be continued despite the war. (fn. 19) After a period of evacuation at Luton it was possible in June 1940 to open a united school within the bare walls of the new building. (fn. 20) Having re-established the school, Miss Drummond retired in the following December. (fn. 21) Her successor, Miss E. G. Harold, dealt competently with the problems of wartime and had the satisfaction of seeing numbers rise to over 650 before she resigned in 1944. In 1941 the Sandall Road building was severely damaged in an air-raid. (fn. 22)

After the war the new headmistress, Dr. Kitty Anderson, made every effort to restore normal conditions of work. (fn. 23) The school was decorated for the first time, and tennis courts and games fields were properly laid out. Recognition as a direct grant school was continued. In 1955 the Mary Done swimming-pool was opened by the Duchess of Gloucester, President of the school, and in 1959 a new Drawing school was erected. By 1964 there were 860 girls in the school, of whom 228 were in the Sixth forms and 109 in the preparatory department. Dr. Anderson was President of the Association of Head Mistresses from 1954 to 1956, and served on several educational committees. She was awarded a D.B.E. in 1961. (fn. 24)


  • 1. The school possesses full and well-catalogued archives dating from the time of Miss Buss, and these are housed in a special room; North. Lond. Collegiate Sch. 1850-1950, ed. R. M. Scrimgeour, 25-29, 208; Public Schs. and the General Educ. System (Fleming Rep. 1944), 82.
  • 2. N. Lond. Coll. Sch., ed. Scrimgeour, 33-34, 208-9.
  • 3. Schs. Enquiry Com. [3966-IV] H.C., pp. 252-7 (1867-8), xxviii (4); [3966-IX] H.C., pp. 288-92 (1867-8), xxviii (9).
  • 4. N. Lond. Coll. Sch., ed. Scrimgeour, 37-38, 203; Josephine Kamm, How Different From Us, 101-2; A. E. Ridley, Frances Mary Buss and her work for Education, 93.
  • 5. Mary Gurney, Are we to have education for MiddleClass Girls? (2nd edn.), 12-13.
  • 6. N. Lond. Coll. Sch., ed. Scrimgeour, 38.
  • 7. Kamm, How Different From Us, 127, 138-42, 145; Thorold later became Bp. of Rochester and, while still chairman, Bp. of Winchester.
  • 8. N. Lond. Coll. Sch., ed. Scrimgeour, 40.
  • 9. Ibid. 41-42; Kamm, How Different From Us, 149.
  • 10. N. Lond. Coll. Sch., ed. Scrimgeour, 45-46, 122; Ridley, Frances Mary Buss, 191; Kamm, How Different From Us, 137, 221-3.
  • 11. N. Lond. Coll. Sch., ed. Scrimgeour, 59-60, 68, 117, 162-92; M. V. Hughes, Lond. Family 1870-1900, 155- 92; Kamm, How Different From Us, 129; Ridley, Frances Mary Buss, 221.
  • 12. D.N.B. Second Supp., i. 166-7.
  • 13. R. L. Archer, Secondary Educ. in 19th Cent., 254.
  • 14. N. Lond. Coll. Sch., ed. Scrimgeour, 55-70, 117.
  • 15. N. Lond. Coll. Sch., ed. Scrimgeour, 52, 70, 74-78, 225; Kamm, How Different From Us, 179, 241.
  • 16. N. Lond. Coll. Sch., ed. Scrimgeour, 85-92.
  • 17. Ibid. 94.
  • 18. M. Robbins, Mdx. 332-4; Country Life, xxxv. 708; xl. 518, 615; cvi. 1950.
  • 19. N. Lond. Coll. Sch., ed. Scrimgeour, 101-3, 183.
  • 20. Ibid. 184-7.
  • 21. Ibid. 189.
  • 22. Ibid. 190-4; Kamm, How Different From Us, 259; this building was later occupied by Camden School.
  • 23. N. Lond. Coll. Sch., ed. Scrimgeour, 194, 130.
  • 24. Ex inf. the headmistress.