Early Boarding at St Matthew’s

Early Boarding at St Matthew’s.

   The ability to offer suitable accommodation for “pupils from the country” had been a priority for the Trustees of St Matthew’s School for Girls seeking to grow the school roll in those early formative years. In May 1917 that aspiration was realised with the Trustees announcing that 24 Lincoln Road had been secured for the school to rent as a Hostel and that applications were open for the new term starting 29 May.

The Lincoln Road property with its attractive gardens was within short walking distance of the school housed in the St Matthew’s Church Sunday School hall on Church Street. The Hostel was under the day to day management of Gertrude and Herbert Thirtle, with resident school staff providing supervision for the boarders.

Trustees for the school had reason to be quietly confident of its prospects as 1918 dawned. An item in the March edition of the St Matthew’s Parish Magazine noted that “We have this term eleven boarders in residence at the School Hostel, which looks hopeful for the future of the school

Yet the routine of the hostel was to be thrown into disarray as 1918 drew to a close. Coming hard on the heels of jubilation at the end of the First World War was the catastrophe of the flu pandemic sweeping the country. The St Matthew’s Parish Magazine of December 1918 noted that “The School was closed for the last few weeks of the term, owing to the flu epidemic. The whole of the staff was engaged in nursing at the emergency hospitals.” The Hostel was then made available as a convalescent home. The Wairarapa Daily Times for 24 December 1918 records that the “thirty-nine influenza patients who passed through the convalescent stage at the St Matthew’s Hostel all speak highly of the kind and efficient treatment received.” One could surmise that nursing during the epidemic lead Miss E. Fairbrother, 1st Assistant at St Matthew’s School, to leave in order to pursue nursing at New Plymouth Hospital.

The passing of the pandemic and the start of 1919 did not see a return to duties for the staff at the Hostel. In January Mr Thirtle informed the Chairman of the Trustees that he had received notice from the owner to vacate 24 Lincoln Road by the end of February.

A scramble to find alternate accommodation for the hostel was unsuccessful, and the Vicar and Chairman of the Trustees, John Walker, offered to step in to fill the breach and take boarders into the vicarage so that attendance at the school would not be adversely affected. The need to forge ahead with the school and boarding facilities on the recently acquired Pownall Street site was now more urgent than ever.

No examination of this first foray by the school into boarding would be complete without an addendum to the Thirtle family. Herbert Lestor Thirtle held the position of school secretary from January 1918 until June 1919. Edith, the daughter of Herbert and Gertrude Thirtle, (christened Percival Edith) was a pupil at the school. The St Matthew’s Old Girls’ Association database records her years of attendance at St Matthew’s as from 1927 onwards but newspaper and church records appear to indicate that 1917 is a more credible first year of attendance. Edith is one of two students who gained their proficiency certificate at the December 1919 prize giving, at which the principal, Miss Isaacson was able to report that the school had seen a roll increase of twelve, to end the year at a total of fifty-four.

Elsje Neal, SMS Archivist