“The beginning of the 1980s was uneasy for Tiffin Girls’. Miss Elizabeth Davies, the successor to Miss Weedon, was forced to retire due to ill-health, and Dr Hillary Nicolle, her deputy, was appointed as headmistress in 1982. At 37, she was the youngest headmistress this century and certainly the first to have children of her own. A period of rapid modernisation began.
Under Dr Nicolle, The Tiffin Girls’ School outgrew its premises for the third time. 30% of classes were being taught in temporary huts, so when the former Rivermead School building became available, plans began for the school to move ‘next door’. The staff and girls appreciated the extra space including a dining hall and large assembly hall following the move in 1987. The Sixth Form was now even allowed to sit on chairs during assembly.
But how many of Tiffin Girls’ School’s current pupils and staff are aware that the move in 1987 to the school’s current site nearly didn’t happen? One late Spring morning in 1987, during the daily assembly, the school was informed by Dr Nicolle that there was a strong lobby in the council to block the move from the old 1930s site to the more modern and spacious premises next door. The move had been planned for months and corridors were full of crates of books, equipment and furniture, ready for the move.
I remember Dr Nicolle with great fondness, she was an imposing figure with a cool professionalism honed during her years at the Foreign Office, but she was uncharacteristically emotional that morning. I was 16 and had just been appointed Head Girl. Along with my Deputy Joanne Edwards and our team of prefects, we immediately saw that it was time for action. We were told that there was due to be a council meeting to decide our fate. Some feared the school might opt out of Local Authority control and take the new building with it.
As schoolgirls our understanding of the politics was limited at the time, but we knew we had to step up and take a stand. We therefore decided to organise a silent protest by the whole Sixth Form outside the Guildhall in Kingston, with the tacit agreement of the staff. We announced our plans to the girls in the next assembly, and were given permission for the afternoon off. We made a series of banners and placards to take with us on our march down the Richmond Road. Joanne contacted the local BBC TV news and I rang the Surrey Comet. Many of us went to the antiquated toilets to put on our lip gloss and eye liner (don’t forget, this was the 1980s after all!) and we set off brandishing our placards. I remember the fun we had on the walk down to Kingston, with its atmosphere of great excitement but with us also demonstrating steely determination to be seen and heard, and to ensure the school’s plans to gain better facilities would not be thrown into disarray at the last moment.
The sun shone down at the Guildhall as we stood as a group in poised silence, our placards and banners proudly held high. We attracted a great deal of local interest and were headline news that week in the Surrey Comet as well as appearing on that night’s BBC London TV news, much to the delight of girls, staff and parents alike. A particularly proud moment occurred when Dorothy Judge, a formidable former Chair of Governors, walked past us, with a rousing call of “Go on, girls!”. The council meeting took place and the move went ahead. How far our protest influenced the decision makers will never be known. What we can say for sure is that, as well as helping to ensure the new site became the current home of our great school, the protest strengthened the enormous bonds of affection our Sixth Form had for each other which will never be forgotten, and we made the staff and Dr Nicolle proud. It also reinforced in me a strong sense of fighting injustice: for the last 30 years I have been a Family Law barrister, standing up for those with no voice, against the sometimes arbitrary actions of local authorities.”
After leaving Tiffin Girls’ as Head Girl, Lisa went on to Cambridge University where she gained an MA in Law. Now a barrister in her 30th year of practice, Lisa specialises in all aspects of Family Law, and heads the Family Team in Chambers. She is ranked as a Leading Junior in Children Law in the Legal 500 2022 edition. In addition, Lisa is a School governor and an Ambassador for the charity, Home Start, in Richmond, Kingston and Hounslow.
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