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Old Bedans go back to class

(front) June Apps, Moira Cuddeford (now) Dixon, chairwoman of the Guild of Old Bedans Committee, and Lynne Clewes with past pupils from Bede Grammar School for Girls

A Wearside school which closed 50 years ago has thrown open its doors to past pupils for a trip down memory lane.

More than 140 former students of Bede Grammar School for Girls – now part of Sunderland College’s Bede Campus – attended a reunion to mark the milestone.

People travelled from across the UK and as far afield as Norway, Israel and New Zealand for the special event, with the oldest guest in attendance aged 94.

Ex-pupils June Griffin, now Apps, and Lynne Colling, now Clewes, organised the 50th anniversary reunion, which was originally only aimed at students who left the grammar school in 1967.

But the event quickly snowballed and the number of ‘Old Bedans’ attending the reunion grew six-fold in a short space of time.

June, 68, who was the school’s last ever head girl, said: “It went absolutely brilliantly. The buzz of excitement as people walked up the steps and into the hall was incredible. As people walked around the corridors, memories came rushing back many of which had lain dormant for many years. We didn’t stop talking for the entire event as so many memories came flooding back.

“We are so pleased we made the event into a 50 year anniversary celebration for all ‘old girls’ with our shared history, instead of simply a reunion for the 1967 leavers. The camaraderie of several decades of learners was clearly evident and very emotive on the day.”

Now housing Sunderland Sixth Form, which is part of Sunderland College, the historic building was the girls’ grammar school from 1929 until 1967, when it combined with the neighbouring boys’ grammar school to form the co-educational, and later, comprehensive Bede School.

Some of the former pupils who attended the reunion are members of the Guild of Old Bedans, an organisation which celebrates its 90th anniversary next year and was set up to keep the ‘old girls’ in touch with each other after they left school.

Lynne, 67, who travelled from Surrey for the event, said: “The guild has played a significant role, not only in helping older members keep in touch with their school friends, but also in preserving an awareness of the history of the school and its significance in Sunderland over the years.

“We have been working closely with the guild while organising this reunion and we have been very pleased that they have been very supportive and have offered to help. It is my hope and theirs that as a result of the reunion, more former pupils will join the guild.”

The reunion featured a display of memorabilia including textbooks, exercise books, school magazines, a copy of the school rules, a school uniform from the 1960s, school blouses from the 1930s, a satchel, formal school photographs and pictures taken on school outings.

It also included an interactive exhibition of photographs set up by Sunderland College’s learning technology team which is compiling an in-depth digital archive of the history of the college and its buildings.

June, who now lives in Leeds, added: “The older Old Bedans were fascinated by and enjoyed using the visual technology that current students take for granted. Education really has metamorphosed since we all went to school. I’m delighted to see that education on the Bede site is alive and well.”

Guests were given guided tours of the building which the girls’ grammar school once occupied and they were shown around the rest of the campus, which now houses new facilities including the college’s Arts Academy and Sports Academy.

Ex-pupil Jan Barr, now Miller, who has been an art lecturer at Sunderland College since it was founded in 1996, was one of the tour guides.

Both Jan and her former school pal Margaret Sneddon, now Humble, helped June and Lynne to organise the reunion.

Jan studied at the grammar school from 1961 to 1968, returning as an art teacher in 1971 to teach at Bede School until it closed in 1991.

She said: “Everybody was so impressed with how the buildings were so well preserved and they were very enthusiastic about all of the changes and new facilities we now have. When we went to school, all we could study was traditional O-levels and A-Levels, so the fact we now have so many different courses and subjects, which appeal to such a wide demographic, really struck a chord as there is now an opportunity for everybody to study.”

After the reunion at the former grammar school, the Old Bedans continued their celebration at the Stadium of Light where they enjoyed a three-course lunch and closed the event with a rendition of the school song.

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