Shrubland Hall © Alan Griffin

Shrubland Hall © Alan Griffin

When the last member of the Wise family died in 1924, and the handsome contents of Shrubland Hall had been sold at auction by Loveitts, a teacher by the name of Miss Nellie Gurney Callier came from Daventry to take the house and grounds to run as a “High Class Boarding School for Girls”.

Miss Gurney Callier had a long pedigree: born the daughter of an English Methodist minister in British Guiana, she had lived in Shetland, Norfolk, Yorkshire, Cornwall and later taught in Monmouthshire before settling for a number of years in Daventry.  Her school there was well-subscribed, and with forty boarders, outgrew first one house in Daventry, then a second.  Miss Gurney Callier was a popular figure.  She took a great interest in town and church affairs.  She was a captain of the Girl Guides and during the Great War worked alongside one of her sisters, Gertrude, as a VAD at the smaller military hospital in Daventry. After the war she became Lady Ambulance Officer of the town, – and all this whilst running a highly successful school.

Shrubland Hall School prospectus © Alan Griffin

Shrubland Hall School prospectus © Alan Griffin

Once Shrubland Hall became available, she seized the opportunity to take it, advertising her intention in a number of local papers.  Its location, “situated on high ground” (thereby implying “healthy”), its extensive grounds tennis courts and gardens could not fail to appeal.

The School’s prospectus, endorsed by notable clerical and medical families from all over Britain and some from India, boasted lawns and windows with “uninterrupted views of woodland country, with Warwick Church and Castle in the distance”, and, significantly, was “open to the daughters of Professional men.”

Shrubland Hall School prospectus © Alan Griffin

Shrubland Hall School prospectus © Alan Griffin

Miss Gurney Callier offered tuition in English, Maths, Science, French, Latin, Hygiene, Scripture, Drawing, Needlework, Domestic Economy, Class Singing, Elocution and Drill. If parents so wished, girls were prepared for public examinations such as the Oxford and Cambridge Locals, the Civil Service, those of the Associated Board of Music, and of the Royal Drawing Society.  School colours were navy and white, and tuition was 8 guineas (Upper School, Girls 10-18 years) or 6 guineas (Lower School, Pupils 5-9 years) per term.  Boarding fees varied from 20–30 guineas depending on accommodation.  Laundry, games and music tuition were extra.

The school flourished under Miss Gurney Callier’s eagle eye, until the South Leamington Housing Development Plan came into being in the mid-1930s.  The girls helped at Fetes and Tennis Tournaments in the grounds, raising money for local charities.  They gave concerts and plays at the Colonnade Theatre, and at their annual prize-giving at the Town Hall each December.  In 1928, Miss Gurney Callier published a book of poems, reviewed in glowing terms by the Leamington Courier, where it was noted,  “It is … pleasant to find such convincing proof that a woman can be the successful principal of a school without developing any of the “school marm” tendencies popularly associated with her position.”

There were, however, occasional clouds on the school’s horizon: in September 1931, the 27 year-old Cook, Alice Louisa Jones, returned from holiday complaining of a boil on her shoulder.  She was taken ill the next day, and a doctor was summoned, but she died of septic pneumonia in Warneford Hospital the following day.  A year later, an 18 year-old domestic servant stole a diamond ring from the room of the Senior Mistress when she was cleaning.  The ring was recovered after investigation by Detective Toone, and the case went to court, where they maid was found guilty and dismissed.

For thirteen years, Miss Gurney Callier ran a successful establishment, chalking up notable successes in music and School Certificate examinations, social events and fund-raising.   When the Shrubland estate was sold for housing, Miss Gurney Callier found an even more palatial setting, – Cawston House, Rugby, once the home of Lord Inchcape, and set in grounds of over 400 acres of farmland, with a swimming pool, hard and grass tennis courts, a squash racquets court, and a nine-hole golf course.  She took with her about thirty Boarders and some Day girls, and continued to run her school for a further twenty years.  She held a reunion at Cawston House for Shrubland Hall girls in May 1954, and died there in the autumn of 1959 aged 83.

Margaret Rushton

August 2016