GENE BRODIE, education correspondent, speaks to Old Palace old girls about their time at the school, finds out who their favourite teachers were, what it was like to have lessons in the bedroom of Good Queen Bess, and delves into the mysterious, ghostly presence of The Green Lady
Unmentioned in the Whitgift Foundation’s announcement yesterday that they are to close Old Palace School was the likely burdensome cost of the maintenance of Grade I-listed buildings.
Because while the school’s “Cathedral Block” was built only 20 years ago, many of OP’s other buildings date from the Tudor period, and were part of the palace of the Archbishops of Canterbury, including the eponymous John Whitgift, Elizabeth I’s favourite prelate.
There has been something on the site where Old Palace stands today, nestling alongside Croydon Minster, since the 9th Century, possibly even earlier. It wasn’t until around 1443-1452, during the time of Archbishop Stafford, that a Great Hall was constructed, and apart from some remedial work in 1741 and 20th-century fire damage, that building is still largely intact, used by the school today.
Good Queen Bess stayed at the Archbishops’ Croydon palace on numerous occasions, her bedroom having been used as a classroom – known as QER – for generations of Old Palace girls.
The palace’s old Banqueting Hall is now the school hall, the palace’s 15th Century guardroom serves as the school library, the Long Gallery is a Sixth Form study area, while the chapel is noted for being the best-preserved Tudor building of its kind outside Hampton Court. Old girls used to be allowed to hold their wedding services in the chapel, as a special perk.
“I fucking hated it there,” said one usually very polite OP old girl, who assured us she had never got married in her old school chapel.
“But I’m sorry to hear it’s closing. It was an excellent school academically, but they fucked a lot of girls up by massaging the league tables.”
The practice of exclusion is suspected to be widespread among many secondaries, including state academies. “If you weren’t on track to get good grades, they didn’t put you into the exams,” according to our OP OG. “So the A*-C pass rate was high.
“They really pushed us very hard indeed.”
Another, more recent, former pupil told Inside Croydon, “People knock single-sex schools but Old Palace produced fearless women who went on to becomes fantastic dentists and marketing managers.
“The opportunity to learn Tudor history in a genuine Tudor palace was something I definitely under-appreciated at the time. I hope that once it is no longer a school, the historical splendour of the place will be better recognised and valued by the public.”
They recalled their time at the school with a fondness. “There was a lot of silly behaviour in my day, we were a feisty bunch with no boys around to get us to act ‘pretty’.
“It felt like there was a good mix of backgrounds with a number of bursary and scholarship students.” She also remembers that the school’s town centre location, not far from the High Street, earned Old Palace the nickname of “Virgin Megastore”.
The girls hated their brown uniforms, she remembers. Old Palace has in more recent times adopted green blazers.
She said, “I was sad to hear the school was closing, it has been a school for so long and many of its traditions probably haven’t changed a lot, with the annual Founder’s Day service in the Parish Church, and assembly in the Tudor Banqueting Hall. We used to be made to wear Michaelmas daisies on Founder’s Day.”
This particular former pupil had been at Old Palace from her primary years. “I bumped into one of the primary teachers who taught me the other day, she didn’t seem to have aged at all. Teaching there seems to have kept them all young, so that’s good to hear.”
For another OP former pupil, there is little doubt who her favourite teacher was: Mrs “Geography” Jones – the mother of Sarah Jones (another former pupil), who is MP for Croydon Central.
Mrs “Geography” Jones (to distinguish her from Mrs “English” Jones, who had an unfortunate habit of flinging books around her classroom) would teach her class about glaciers “by running through the Panelled Room – another of the old rooms – waving her arms and saying, ‘I’m being a glacier’… You had to be there. Absolutely fantastic”.
There are other presences in the Old Palace that were not quite so welcome, however. Such as “The Green Lady”, whose grim fate, so the legend goes, saw her throw herself and her infant baby down one of the Palace’s Jacobean staircases.
The Green Lady was causing so much concern and made so many appearances that exorcisms were being conducted as recently as 100 years ago, but girls attending the school still learned of a way of summoning up her spirit.
“If you stamp on one of the stones five times… I think it was five… her ghost would appear and fall down the stairs again.”
This was not quite Croydon’s answer to Scooby Do0 and “them pesky kids” who always seem able to solve the supernatural mysteries, though. “Of course, we all tried it and never saw her.”
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