Head Mistresses


The Head Mistress (so termed, by tradition and as with Head Master, rather than Headmistress) was responsible for running the Christ’s Hospital girls’ school, reporting to the Council of Almoners (from 1891) and earlier the Court of Governors. Before 1875, the Head had been called the Upper Mistress. The names of those in post are known only from 1626, although there will probably have been relevant appointments going back to the founding of the School in 1552.  A list of Head Mistresses can be reached by clicking the icon on the left.

Up to 1778, the Head was located in London. There, one Ward (Boarding House), with space for about 40 pupils, was given over to the education of girls, this number being increased with rebuilding work following the Great Fire in 1666. From 1707, after the School had acquired a site at Hertford - essentially to house boys - up to 50 girls were also accommodated there, indeed the first half of the 18th century saw peak numbers of around 100 girls being educated (roughly split between London and Hertford), but compared with around 800 boys. Then, in 1778, further building in the south aspect at Hertford allowed about 70 girls to move there from London, the Upper Mistress moving at the same time. Numbers remained at around this level for the first half of the 19th century, but fell back sharply in the mid-1860s when there were only 16 girls at the School.   

In the mid-1870s, the Court of Governors decided to increase the numbers of girls at the School. Other important changes were made, in particular to introduce a more academic curriculum and giving more freedom to the Head, these developments being further enhanced by the Scheme of Administration in 1891 and the appointment of Miss Ethel Robertson as Head Mistress in 1893. From 1902, when the boys moved to Horsham, and Hertford became solely a girls’ school, numbers rose further, increasing to about 280, before the School closed in 1985, with Horsham becoming co-educational.

With fluctuating and often small numbers, the Upper Mistress might have had the support of just one or two staff, and the job at times was onerous, taking toll on ageing incumbents. Around 1765, the Court decided that postholders should be between the ages of 35 and 50 and not be married, this latter condition being later relaxed in respect of one appointment. Special mention is made of the long tenure of Miss Dorothy West (1942-1972), whilst the Upper Mistress from 1826 to 1852, Miss Elizabeth Thompson, was an Old Blue, a notable achievement given the lower emphasis then placed on academic subjects.