History of Clifton

The history of St Peter’s School is a story almost 1400 years old, with its roots in Dark Age Britain. Clifton School and Nursery is a younger establishment, dating back to Victorian times.

The school was founded by a Miss Gertrude Singleton in 1890, three years after Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Miss Singleton was dissatisfied with the education of younger children in York and decided to set up a school at Avenue Terrace, not far from the current school site. The children wrote on slates and wore austere black uniforms. They would get to school by foot or pony and trap – deliveries were made by bicycle.

The school was a success. As it expanded, Miss Singleton and her sister Susannah oversaw the transference of the school to larger quarters in Bootham.

Clifton 1922

Clifton School, Bootham, 1922. Click to enlarge.

In the 1930s, Gertrude became ill and left the school in her sister’s care. York directories from this time mention ‘Clifton School for Girls and Preparatory School for Boys’ at 110 Bootham, although colloquially it was known as ‘Miss Singleton’s’.

Miss Meaby was Headmistress from 1935 to 1963. In 1943, as York was being bombed in air raids, Miss Meaby moved the school to a large Edwardian house she had bought in the Avenue, Clifton. This was the school attended by a young Dame Judi Dench.

Judi Dench in Alice in Wonderland

Miss Meaby was followed by Miss Robinson, who was Head between 1963 and 1983. Between them, these two women had a tremendous impact on the reputation, strength and growth of the school.

The relationship between Clifton, St Olave’s and St Peter’s was very close during Miss Robinson’s tenure, with progression through the schools commonplace; just for boys however, St Olave’s did not start taking girls until 1987.

In 1990, the Headmistress Miss Appleby organised a centenary celebration to mark 100 years since Miss Gertrude Singleton founded her little school.

former head mistresses

Pictured: Former Headmistresses (l-r): Miss Robinson (1963-83), Miss Meaby (1935-63), Mrs Appleby (1983-93)

Clifton School was purchased from Miss Appleby by St Peter’s School in 1994. Not fully integrated right away, it continued to be independent and separate. Over the next few years however, co-operation between Clifton and St Olave’s meant that continuity of education could best be provided for youngsters if a smooth transition between the schools could be made, and so the overlap in teaching was phased out. During these transition years the school was led by Mrs Jean Greenwood and then Mrs Paula Arkley.

Clifton moved into its current building – the Chilman Building – in 2001, where it continues to provide a happy and safe environment to teach children between the ages of 3 and 8 from across the city of York and further afield. In 2011 the school had its first male Head teacher, Mr Philip Hardy, who is currently leading the school through its next exciting phase of transition and development.

A more detailed account of the history of the school can be found in D H Hamilton’s book ‘A History of St Olave’s School, York and Clifton Preparatory School’.

Pupil reading in the new library

Recent developments have meant that Clifton continues to grow and improve. A fresh new entrance and vestibule has been added, as well as a brand new library.