The history of St Swithun’s School is a story of Winchester’s community spirit, public support and the 19th-century enthusiasm to improve girls’ education.
In 1883 a campaign was organised by Anna Bramston, daughter of the then Dean of Winchester, with the purpose of establishing a school to provide a “sound and thorough” education for girls in Winchester and its neighbourhood.
The idea found support across the local community: the cathedral, Winchester college, the professions and trades were all represented on the committee of men and women who set about raising the necessary funds to start the school. On May 5th 1884, Winchester High School opened with seventeen pupils. The original seventeen soon grew to over sixty day pupils and boarders: the boarding houses were situated in different areas of the town, so there was a great deal of walking to and fro and the pupils became a familiar sight.
Academic results were important from the start – as early as 1897 scholarships were being won to universities – but the arts and sports were also important and hockey was soon replaced by lacrosse as the main winter game.
Community service and involvement with the town were considered essential aspects of the girls’ lives. All rallied to support the cathedral restoration and in 1906, through linen sales and providing entertainments, the girls raised £181 which paid for several thousand bags of cement to reinforce the cathedral’s sub-structure.
In 1909 the school rented ten acres on Magdalen Hill for sports. The school’s name was changed to Winchester Girls’ School and then, after World War I, to St Swithun’s School: the recorded virtues of this saint – Caritas, Humilitas, Sinceritas – were adopted as the school’s motto in 1928.
In spite of its modest start St Swithun’s grew to such an extent that by 1929 it was decided to move the school from its site in North Walls and 20 further acres of land on Magdalen Hill were bought with a huge mortgage. The cost of building the school was £48,352 and of that £40,000 was borrowed. Having been part of the school’s life for 47 years, Anna Bramston died in 1931, just after the laying of the foundation stone.
Princess Mary the Princess Royal opened the new buildings formally in 1932, but the outbreak of World War II saw the school turned into a hospital and by 1942 St Swithun’s became an American casualty clearing station. D-Day brought a huge influx of patients – as many as 700 a day, some of whom were German prisoners.
The austerity years saw little development of the school but by 1959 St Swithun’s was ready to celebrate its 75th anniversary and the Duchess of Gloucester visited. In 1984 the Hampshire Chronicle reported on the school’s centenary celebrations and noted: “The Royal prerogative enabled Princess Anne to boldly park where no man has parked before – on the front lawn of St Swithun’s.”
Hundreds of former pupils gathered both in Winchester and London to pay tribute to the school's 125th anniversary and each year the school's community celebrates the vision of our founders. St Swithun’s School celebrated its 135th birthday in 2019.
History of the prep school
There were juniors in St Swithun’s school from its beginnings in 1884. In 1947 the juniors moved to their own site when the Holy Trinity rectory in St Peter’s Street was rented.
In 1953 the junior school moved to Medecroft, a large house in Sparkford Road, where it remained for 12 years, eventually moving to the Magdalen Hill campus in 1966.
In 1974 a fire swept through the junior school and most of it was destroyed; the rebuilt school was opened in 1975.
Construction of a new junior school on the east of the main school campus was completed in September 2015 and the addition of a performing arts hall and sports hall was completed in March 2016.