The celebration of a major anniversary is naturally a time for reflection on the past as we remember everything that has brought our School to where it is today. Over the years there have been several histories researched and written by members of staff and we are fortunate that they felt it important to chronicle the major events in the life of the School and stepping stones in its development. As any true historian will tell you, though, it is the little insights, candid memories and anecdotes that truly bring colour and life to a story. In gathering information for the assemblies and talks that I’ve given to launch our 130th celebrations I’ve been able to spend some fascinating hours in our archive, uncovering not only the facts and figures, but also some of the personal stories of our School.
Some of our treasured archive items are diaries which have been left to us. They are wonderful reminders that some things endure – Alice Butler recorded the triumph of beating Kensington in House Tennis in 1924, and also remarked that her end of year grammar exam was “simply horrid”. There are also windows on the world at the time: a diary from another girl in 1916 notes that her brother Arthur is home on leave from serving in the war, but that due to the conflict there was no lawn tennis competition or Henley Regatta. There are lovely observations about her ‘daddy watching the dance competition’ and a ‘rehearsal for the school play,’ little things that tell us today how The Abbey now and then provides a haven and place of refuge even in times of war.
While I imagine that fewer people keep diaries today than did in the first half of the twentieth century, technology has given us new ways in which to record our lives and to reminisce. I love seeing the responses to our posts on the Abbey Alumnae facebook page when we mention a school event. They offer a wonderful insight into school traditions, staff peculiarities and above all the impact that these events – perhaps encompassing just a single day in the long history of our school – had on those who were there.
As one of our Head Girls put it when asked what was the best thing about The Abbey: “It’s the little things like spending time with your friends or taking part in a production which make up the special memories of your time at The Abbey.” So as we mark our “big” anniversary, I’d like to ask everyone to remember and celebrate the little things that build up to make our lives at once both unique to us as individual, and a shared experience with our Abbey friends.
Be mindful. Be thankful. And particularly in these very difficult times, know that The Abbey is a haven that will endure as a place of tolerance, understanding and hope.