Miss Musgrove: Prep Concert 140

It takes a whole team to create a school production and, as you can imagine, the planning starts months in advance. It uses every single superpower and the detail consumes your mind and through hard work, a performance to remember is created. School concerts and plays create memories for a lifetime. They bring joy, build confidence, develop bravery, quite simply, they are worth it.

Last year, our Spring Concert, to celebrate the opening of Fernwood House, was a triumph. Even Robert Macfarlane thought so as otter swam into Lees Hall and Fern unfurled. It was always going to be a hard act to follow but I think we triumphed, again, with Concert 140, a celebration of 140 years of Sutton High School.

The planning started last summer when I searched from Weybridge to Tunbridge Wells to Jersey, every town I visited, I found the bookshop and the poetry section. I wanted to discover poems and songs that embodied courage, truth and joy. It was in the National Theatre’s book shop, waiting to see Dear England, that I discovered ‘And Everything Will Be Glad to See You: Poems by Women and Girls’. Author Ella Risbidger and illustrator Anna Shepda. I felt like a golden ticket winner in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It felt like it had been written for us and parts of the prologue and epilogue are extracts from the book.

Concert 140 celebrates 140 years of Sutton High School. It splits the performance into four sections ‘Be You’, Courage, Truth and Joy. Poems and songs take us through the journey. It truly is a joy to see and hear the results of the talent of every single pupil in the school. Through the extracts in our Concert 140 booklet along with images from celebrating Hannah McVicar’s beautiful doors in Fernwood House. I can imagine the pride when future generations open the school archive in 100 years’ time. The spirit of Sutton High School – with courage, with truth, with joy.


Welcome to our concert in celebration of 140 years of Courage, Truth and Joy at Sutton High School.

Two of the women who founded the GDST in 1872 were Emily Shirreff and Maria Grey. They had led the type of life expected of a middle-class Victorian female. Initially their education was in the hands of governesses. However, they were largely self-educated, encouraged by their father, at times living abroad, and learnt languages. Both of them were aware a woman’s life could be greatly enriched by a good education.

Sutton High School was established in 1884 and in a GDST book of 1923 it was explained, ‘We sowed Greater London with seats of Learning’.  Sutton was a town with a swiftly expanding suburb due to the extension of the railways. There was a variety of local trades and small industries. Several boys’ schools were well established in the district but there were only a few girls’ schools.

At this time, Miss Whyte, the headmistress of Sutton High school, promoted the idea of duty and homemaking. In the register from 1884 she stated, Christina Mackereth who left to work as a teacher – ‘An example of what an excellent education will do for a steady girl.’

Miss Duris, the second headmistress, ‘Taught us to take pride in our work, to try to produce the best we could do, to be ashamed of giving something in inferior.’

The amount of travelling the girls undertook at a time when long journeys were still hazardous is quite striking.  One pupil, Miss Bergen, left Sutton High School in 1895 to work at a missionary in India she wrote a letter back to school, ‘Let us nerve ourselves to work with a will, resolving in a strength not our own, that the world will be a little better because we have lived it.’

Two inspection reports from 1907 and 1913 explained that academic lessons at Sutton High School took place in the mornings, with optional sporting and artistic activities in the afternoons. This also allowed for time at home, where household management skills could be developed by the girls, these were not part of the school curriculum.

Old girl, Dora Black wrote about her education at Sutton High School, in 1914 ‘Academic, intellectual, and literacy with, as was rare in girls curricular, quite good science.’ She also thought the GDST ‘An important, pioneering enterprise in women’s education.’

By 1921, Miss Bell was placing emphasis on selfless duty. ‘Girls’ interest should, she said, be in the spiritual realm, not seeking material gain for this will bring you increased strength of character’.

From the records on the 1934 Register you can see that many girls developed careers:

  • 168 became teachers, 15 of whom became headmistress.
  • 67 girls took up medicine, another caring profession – 6 doctors, 28 – nurses, 11 – radiotherapy.
  • 88 of the girls went on to higher education at university and college.
  • 10 girls went to Girton, Cambridge and 17 to University of London.
  • Over 120 girls followed a career in the Civil Service
  • 93 girls pursued professional artistic careers

Caring was central to the Victorian ideal of womanhood; a paid career, it was felt, was the direct opposite of it. The Headteacher and teachers had to work within the existing framework of society but the girls saw teachers and past pupils who gave examples of a different way of life and could act as the inspiration to redefining the future role expected of them by parents and society. The ideal of self-sacrifice gave way to a sense of purpose, which we still have today in 2024.

Through our 140 year history – courage, truth and joy have remained our motto and this will weave together our poems and songs tonight. Our poems this evening are by women. We have decided to select them to celebrate our girls’ school, supported by inspiring songs.


‘Woman haven’t always been allowed the space to think, and the peace and quiet to make those thoughts into something beautiful. Women have not always been allowed to explain why what they saw and what they thought mattered just as much as the things men saw and thought. Women couldn’t vote, so they couldn’t change anything. Women were not supposed to have a voice. Don’t ask us why. It doesn’t make sense to us either. But that was the way it was, for a very long time.

And one day, maybe you’ll see something, and want to tell the world about it, and you’ll write it down in a poem or song of your own. Maybe someone else will see it. Maybe the whole world will see it.

Whatever you do, we want you to be brave, and we want you to be lucky. We want you to be free to show the world what you want from it.’

Quote from book by Ella Risbidger


In 2024 our Head, Mrs Dawson has inspired us to be fiercely independent.

A girl who’s fiercely independent is a girl who believes in herself. And inspires others with that belief.

A girl who’s ready to discover what she wants. And then goes to get it.

A girl who feels that her words carry weight. And who’s determined to be heard.

We are Sutton High School girls.

Sutton High Prep School

86 Grove Road, Sutton,
Surrey, SM1 2AL
T. 020 8225 3072

Sutton High Senior School

55 Cheam Road, Sutton,
Surrey, SM1 2AX
T. 020 8642 0594