Royal Masonic School

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Royal Masonic School for Girls
Circumornatae ut similitudo templi
"To be as the polished cornerstones of the temple"[1]
United Kingdom
Type Independent Girls' school
Established 1788
Founder Bartholomew Ruspini and others
Grades 1–13
Colour(s) Navy, blue, and yellow

The Royal Masonic School for Girls is an independent school in Rickmansworth, England, with both day and boarding pupils. The school was instituted in 1788, with the aim of maintaining the daughters of indigent Freemasons, unable through death, illness, or incapacitation to support their families. Today, the school accepts the children of both masons and non-masons.

It began in 1789 with fifteen pupils and a Matron in Somers Town, St Pancras, Middlesex. During its history, the school has moved between premises three times, twice within London and finally in 1934 to Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire, where it still is today.

The school occupies a 316 acre site in Rickmansworth Park. It is a day school for girls 4-18, a boarding school for girls 7-18 and since 2009 also a nursery opened in 2009 for boys and girls aged 2–4.

In the beginning

In 1788, Bartholomew Ruspini and nine fellow Freemasons met to discuss plans for establishing a charitable institution for the daughters of Masons who had fallen on hard times or whose death had meant hardship for their families. On 14 May 1788, a committee met at the Freemasons' Tavern in Great Queen Street to thrash out the details of the proposed institution. An advertisement for the position of Matron was put in the papers, and the committee set about finding suitable premises from which their charity could operate. The house at Somers Place East in Somers Town was a suggestion from Dr de Valangin, and was taken in October at a rent of £35 per annum to house 15 children. The property has since disappeared but was between the present day Euston and St Pancras stations, near where the British Library is today.

The original advertisement for the Matron read as follows:


Little Chelsea

Wanted a Matron to reside in the House and instruct the Children in Reading, Writing, Housewifery, and every necessary use of the Needle. She must be of the Established Religion of the Church of England. A middle Aged, Well Educated Single Woman will be preferred. Proposals in writing to be sent to the Secretary, 121, Pall Mall.

Twenty replies were received, of which five were shortlisted. The decision was arrived at by means of ballot, and Mrs Ann Le Clerc was duly elected. She is referred to in the minutes of the meeting as a governess, and her address is given as 11 Wells Street, Marylebone. The term "Mrs" was used for single and married women alike, so it is unknown as to whether she was married or not.

On 5 January 1789, the children met at Ruspini's house and walked in procession to the house. The ceremonial procession was reported in the Morning Post (later to become absorbed by the Daily Telegraph) and the Daily Advertiser on Saturday 10 January. The names of the children were listed with their birth and baptismal records.

  • Harriet Ann Vinet—17/04/1782
  • Sarah Jane Sitgraves—23/01/1780
  • Ann Kane—27/11/1780
  • Margaret Burgess—08/08/1781
  • Catherine Charlotte Baes—12/07/1783
  • Sophia Riches—14/04/1780
  • Mary Ann Ruscoe—16/07/1780
  • Mary Ann Fiske—16/10/1782
  • Frances Sansum—25/12/1780
  • Sheila Proctor—20/01/1779
  • Mary Ann Wolveridge—05/11/1779
  • Charlotte Richardson—01/04/1781
  • Sophia Kewney—29/01/1780
  • Ann Martin—17/07/1781
  • Elizabeth Lowe—21/08/1782

Of the fifteen, Charlotte Richardson was removed from the school by her parents within a couple of months. She was replaced by Charlotte Hatton. Also, Mary Bagley had petitioned for a place at the school but had been rejected, having been found to be too old. The governors, however, decided to keep her on as an assistant servant, getting maintenance, clothing, and her education in return.

Although called a school, the institution was not what we might call a school until the mid-nineteenth century. In its early stages, it was more of an orphanage, although many of the girls had at least one parent living. At the end of their school life, girls were either returned to their family or supporters (known as Friends) or apprenticed and supported until they could establish themselves.

The children could be from any part of the United Kingdom and had to be between the ages of six and nine. They had to be the daughters of freemasons and were required to be in good health, having already had smallpox or cowpox and "be free from infirmity of deformity." It is known, however, that Frances Sansum from the first fifteen had only one leg.


St George's Fields

Although Ruspini and his fellow freemasons had intended the school to be a permanent establishment, even they had no idea how successful it would be. The house originally intended for 15 girls, a matron and a maid soon became too small with the addition of 5 new pupils at the end of the first year and a further five after that. By 1790 discussion of finding a bigger site had begun. It was decided that a new building would be built.

The place for the new school was St George's Fields, that is today 28 Westminster Bridge Road.

Battersea Rise ("Clapham J")

St John's Hill, Battersea Rise was the school's third location, although there seems to have been some confusion as to whether the school was in Battersea, Clapham, Wandsworth, or Putney when its address was written down. The girls, however, referred to it as Clapham J. In 1853, when the site was purchased, it was because of its wide open aspect and country air, qualities that would later be lost. The school, however, was still expanding; and in 1918, the junior girls moved to a new junior school in Weybridge, Surrey.

The girls of Alexandra house 1966

Rickmansworth Park

File:Royal Masonic School for Girls, front entrance.jpg
The front entrance of the current Rickmansworth school.

By June 1926, the school was again ready to move, to a site in Rickmansworth standing in 204 acres (0.83 km2) of land with a mansion (although reports suggest this was in a state of disrepair.) To ensure that the site would be suitable for many years to come, a lot of thought was put into the design of the new school buildings, and the following recommendations were made:

  • the buildings should be appropriate for 400 girls
  • the boarding houses should house 50 girls, with each dormitory sleeping 16
  • classrooms should be suitable for classes of 30
  • there could be a central dining room capable of seating all 400 at one time
  • that a gymnasium, swimming bath, and chapel were required

John Leopold Denman, an architect from Brighton, won the commission to design the school.[2]

The Weybridge Girls

File:Rms weybridge 1963.jpg
RMS Weybridge 1963

Originally, RMS Rickmansworth was just for the senior girls (aged 12 and above); but in 1973, it was decided that RMS Weybridge, where the junior school was, would move to join their older sisters, forming the combined site that it is today.[3]


Food and clothing

We understand far more about nutrition now than was understood when the school began.[citation needed] A diet table was drawn up for the girls that was partly transcribed from other charities and partly based on the observations of Mr Boys, a governor and surgeon.[when?] The diet allowed a ration of 21/2 pounds of meat per child per week. Below shows the menu for breakfast, dinner, and supper.[citation needed]

Sunday—Rice milk; Roast beef, vegetables, bread; Bread, butter

Monday—Water Gruel; Suet pudding ; Bread, cheese,

Tuesday—Milk Porridge; Boiled mutton, vegetables, bread, ; Broth and bread

Wednesday—Rice Milk; Suet puddings, potatoes, bread; Bread, butter

Thursday—Water Gruel; Boiled beef, vegetables, bread; Broth and bread

Friday—Milk Porridge; Rice puddings; Bread, cheese

Saturday—Rice and milk; Boiled beef, vegetables, bread; Broth and bread

The war years


Unlike the Second World War, much of what went on was away from home and life at the school continued pretty much as normal. Two exceptions include an incident in 1917 where the school was damaged by anti-aircraft fire, and 1919 when the girls gave up their prizes on prize day so that the money could be given to charity.


In order to protect the girls from the expected aerial bombardment, an air raid shelter had been dug out. This was behind the boarding house formerly known as Ruspini and now known as Alexandra. The shelter was commonly referred to as the trenches and consisted of underground tunnels that zig-zagged with a room at intervals for boiling a kettle or dispensing medicines. The tunnels were lined with benches 13 inches (330 mm) wide and each girl was allocated a place she must find in a raid. They were all kept together in houses, and each section was given a name such as Ruspini Row, Atholl Square, Cumberland Place, and Moira Mansions. The girls themselves wanted to play their part and formed their own land army, tending the kitchen gardens at the school to provide fruit and vegetables and helping out with domestic duties. They also adopted 3 ships, but most notably[citation needed] the Ocean Courier. The girls knitted socks, gloves, and other items which were sent to the ship at Christmas. In return, Captain Crastion, the ship's captain, sent the school 36 pounds of toffee. The captain visited the school, and he and his ship also took part in the action on D-Day, carrying men and munitions.

Headmasters & Mistresses

  • Sarah Louisa Davis—Head Governess—1861–1896
  • Emily Redgrave—Head Governess—1896–????
  • Maria Elizabeth Flintoff - 1911
  • Elizabeth Hutchinson—Head Governess
  • Florence Mason—matron and headmistress of the junior school—1915–1935
  • Bertha Dean—1915–1938
  • Mary Calway—1938–1940
  • Audrey E Fryer—1941–1959
  • Una Jessie Campbell—1959–1972
  • Miss Thompson—1972–1980
  • David Curtis—1980–1991
  • Irene Andrews—1991–2001
  • Diana Rose—2001–present

Film and TV

The school has been used as a filming location on a number of occasions for films and television, including Raiders of the Lost Ark,[4] Supergirl, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade[5] and Me and Orson Welles.[6] Others include the children's TV series The Demon Headmaster, Inspector Morse[citation needed], and EastEnders[citation needed]. It was recently the venue for 'Skate Camp' on CBBC show, Skate Nation and on the Kevin Bishop show for British High School Musical

RMS Traditions

The School Badge

File:Old badge.JPG
Traditional crest taken from a school bookmark
RMS Badge taken from a school blazer as from 1990

At each side of the design are two pillars. In the centre is a five-pointed star. At the bottom of the new badge, and centre of the old badge is the “smooth Ashlar”. At the top of the old badge are the letters R.M.I.G standing for Royal Masonic Institution for girls. On the new badge is the school motto, Circumornatae ut similitudo templi, which is the Vulgate version of a phrase from Psalm 144:12: “That our daughters may be as the polished corners of the temple.”

School Drill

The school drill is akin to something expected on an army parade ground. Some of it originates in Swedish Drill, and some is based on callisthenics. When exercising began to be incorporated into girls' education there were no trained women P.E. teachers, so drilling was under the guidance of an Army drill instructor. The marching, counter marching and arm stretches were considered the only exercise suitable for a young lady.

Drill was described originally as callisthenics, exercises and marching but no one is entirely sure when school drill began. In an extract from the school magazine Machio in 1962, school drill is purported to be a hundred years old. There is a reference to it in an account of prize day 1876 although it is not referred to as drill.

It was performed to music on a piano, later 2 grand pianos, and consisted of 180 girls (the number of degrees in a semicircle). In 1980 the music was recorded and the spoken commands gave way to a whistle. The girls learn their positions (based on their height, and thus changing from year to year and needing to be re-learned) and move in time to the music from one point to the next. The end of the performance is marked by the girls producing the Masonic emblem of set square and compass, and the point, the smallest child in the performance marching forward alone to complete the symbol.

Duos and Trios

Duos and Trios are a tradition upheld at prize day. 6 pianos in a row are played by either 2 (duos) or 3 (trios) girls simultaneously.


The Ashlar silver badge of the RMS School.

The Ashlar is the silver badge that all RMS girls strive to achieve by the end of Year 11. The award of the Ashlar shows that a girl has been recognised for her contribution to school life, her sense of personal responsibility and her responsibility to others.

The school motto comes from Psalm 144, “That our daughters may be as the polished cornerstones of the Temple.”


The Royal Masonic School for Girls occupies a site of 315 acres (1.27 km2), 176 acres (0.71 km2) of which was once Rickmansworth Deer Park. It is a haven to a wide variety of flora and fauna, almost an island of tranquillity within the M25. There are two Dells, over 40 feet deep, in which the herd of fallow deer, that were on the estate when it was a Deer Park, used to be wintered. The Dells were originally dug for the limestone that was used as road bottoming.[clarification needed]

RMS Today


The school follows the UK national curriculum with students taking their GCSE'S at age 16 and A-Levels at 18. Subjects taught include:

  • Mathematics
  • English Language
  • English Literature
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • History
  • Geography
  • French
  • German
  • Spanish
  • Chinese (Mandarin)
  • Latin
  • Classics
  • Art
  • Textiles
  • Technology
  • Home Economics
  • Drama
  • Performing Arts
  • I.C.T.
  • P.S.E (Personal and Social Education)
  • P.E
  • Religious Studies
  • Music
  • Applied Business
  • Government and Politics
  • Health and Social
  • Psychology

and various areas of sport such as;

  • Hockey
  • Netball
  • Rounders
  • Tennis
  • Badminton
  • Basketball
  • Fitness
  • Sports leadership
  • Athletics

Some of these sports will be played in the winter whilst others are played in the summer.

Extracurricular activities

  • The Duke of Edinburgh's Award
  • Girl Guides
  • Brownie Guides
  • Young Enterprise
  • Orchestra - Sinfonia and RMS Orchestra
  • Speech and Drama
  • Dancing
  • Music (individual lessons are also available)
  • Fencing
  • Debating
  • Squash
  • Trampolining
  • Badminton
  • Hockey
  • Swimming
  • Science Forum
  • Gymnastics
  • History Film Club
  • History Society
  • Public Speaking
  • Rugby (Tag And Full Contact)
  • Maths Clinic
  • Science Clinic
  • Street Dance
  • Chapel Choir
  • Creative Writing
  • Netball
  • Drill
  • Film Society
  • Theatre Club
  • Forum
  • Constante Productions
  • Critical Thinking
  • Kickboxing Club
  • Book Club
  • Art Club
  • Biology Clinic
  • Semi tones
  • Aqua Group
  • Manga Club
  • RMS Voices
  • Choro
  • RMS 7
  • Bridge Club
  • Japanese Club


Although girls of any religion are invited to attend, the school is based upon the Church of England and girls attend chapel assemblies once a week in the afternoon. A Chapel service is also held on Sundays for the boarders.

The Old Girls Prayer

Bless oh Lord we pray thee, all those who having here been trained in thy faith and fear, have now gone forth to do their duty in the world. Grant them thy grace that they may remember the lessons that they have here been taught, and may never fall away from thy service, but bravely fighting against sin, the world and the devil, may continue faithful unto death and so at length receive the crown of life, Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

The words originally read "manfully fighting against sin" but were changed to "bravely fighting against sin".

Notable former pupils


  1. This is Latin, which all girls in year 7 study; but pupils are also able to study it in other years. Lorna Cowburn. Polished Cornerstones: a history of the Royal Masonic School for Girls 1788–2000. Raithby, Lawrence & Company Ltd.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Chapel at Rickmansworth Masonic School, Chorleywood Road (east side), Rickmansworth, Three Rivers, Hertfordshire". The National Heritage List for England. English Heritage. 2011. Retrieved 28 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Barbara Kelland. "This Time Next Week: the engaging story of a little girl, brought up in the care of the Freemasons, before and during World War II". Epona Publishing (21 July 2005).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. [1]

External links

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