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Research for book was real education
Author Marilyn Yurdan with a copy of her book outside Wheatley Park School – formerly Holton Park Girls’ Grammar School
A glance at the cover of Marilyn Yurdan’s new book School Songs and Gymslips brings to mind a certain riotous school for young ladies.
But don’t let the title and sketches of tearaway hockey players fool you.
Mrs Yurdan, a well-known local historian who has previously written about Oxfordshire customs, traditions and gravestones, said: “It’s nothing to do with St Trinian’s.”
Her new book does focus on a girls’ school, recalling some comical episodes involving pupils in a long- gone educational era, but its purpose is serious.
For it is a carefully researched study of girls’ grammar schools in the 1950s and 1960s, which helped shape a generation of women.
And at the same time it is a warm memoir of the author’s own time at Holton Park Girls’ Grammar School, where she was among the hundreds of girls taught in idyllic surroundings of the historic Holton Park estate, near Wheatley.
Mrs Yurdan decided in 1984 to write about her old school, which closed in 1971, when it merged with the Shotover School in Wheatley to form Wheatley Park School.
Among those to help her was Theresa May, now Home Secretary and Minister for Women who attended Holton Park Grammar School in the 1970s.
She agreed to write the forward for a book which she describes as “a charming piece of social history that serves as a reminder of how different life was in those days”.
She added: “It brings back so many memories – from sherbet fountains to Corona, from Tommy Steele to Z Cars, from stodgy puddings to Vesta curries; and that’s not to mention the education.”
Mrs Yurdan, 65, who lives in Abingdon, said: “It started off being about my experiences at school, and other pupils at Holton Park.
“When I went to the publishers they suggested expanding it to include girls from other grammar schools from all over the country. Now it covers 1955-65.
“I wanted to write about the experiences of pupils in grammar schools before it is too late.”
She questioned pupils from 16 other schools who responded with insights into school life, including the ordeal of the 11+ exam, sat by pupils in their final year at primary school, to determine who went to grammar school and who didn’t.
“If we didn’t get through, we went to the secondary modern, but there was no indication of the seriousness of the results of this exam and how it would change our lives forever,” said Mrs Yurdan.
But the memories many really wanted to share concerned school uniforms and food: eating custard and semolina, finding ways to shorten skirts, being allowed to play records when it rained and creating beehive hairstyles. School Songs and Gymslips: Grammar Schools in the 1950s and 1960s (History Press) £9.99