Wendy Joel opened up her old St Helena’s Grammar School hymn book and out fell another piece of history: a ticket to the Moulin Rouge nightclub in Chesterfield...
It was the perfect way to encapsulate her years at the Chesterfield girls’ school, which from 1982 to 1987 saw her have a great education – and a great time – in the builing which re-opens as the University of Derby’s Chesterfield campus next year.
Wendy said: “It was very much a Hogwarts kind of place, with hidden passages and spiral staircases and panelled rooms that you could only use by going across a courtyard and places like that.”
Marian Redmayne, who was at St Helena’s from 1955 to 1962, said: “Being the youngest with five brothers, going to a school of all girls was quite an eye-opener.
“We had an enormous gong outside the headmistress’s office which sounded at the start and finish of lessons,” said Marian, whose school days saw her form a lifelong passion for biology, which she taught as a supply teacher in the north Derbyshire area.
“It was very formal – you never attempted to speak unless your hand was up and then you were invited to speak.”
Her three daughters, Emily, Catherine and Alison, also went to St Helena’s.
“It was a very different establishment to the one I went to. They dared to speak up! We were very, very sedate,” added Marian.
Even in the 1980s, girls had to buy the material from the school for their uniforms – a choice of pink, green or yellow gingham – and either make them themselves or have them made.
And all the ex-pupils remember kneeling down in front of teachers to prove their skirts covered their knees.
“We’d all be rolling our skirts up later to make them shorter,” said Wendy, who also subverted the dress code by pulling threads out of her school tie to make extra wide stripes.
Work to transform St Helena’s on Sheffield Road into the town’s university campus is expected to begin in August.
The university will launch there in summer 2016.
Students will be able to study engineering and nursing courses at the campus, building on the town’s industrial heritage and the university’s existing strong links with training at Chesterfield Royal Hospital.
New jobs are also expected to be created with the move.
St Helena’s opened in 1892 and taught 11 to 18-year-old girls.
It closed in 1991 and Derbyshire County Council used the Grade II listed building as offices until late 2013.
Major refurbishment will be required to bring the 2.2 acre site up to standard.
There are currently many hazards, several areas of damp and lots of unpleasant smells inside the building.
Dr Peter Dewhurst, the university’s strategic director, said the historic site would be “sympathetically renovated”.
He added: “We are desperate to breathe new life into it.”
Hari Punchihewa, the university’s deputy chief executive and finance director, added: “This acquisition extends our options to be of service to Chesterfield and to help create jobs and bolster the higher education offer already in place in the town.
“The building is a wonderful structure which sits in a perfect location, being so close to town and the college.”