The written records relating to the history of our school are, disappointingly, very thin on the ground. Because the school was privately owned for the first 70 or so years of its existence, there are practically no official records of its early years and its successive owners were, alas, not foresighted enough to preserve the kind of material which might answer our questions about that period of its life. A proper, academic, history of the school is not really viable, therefore, but I hope the bits and pieces that we do know, combined with the slightly fuller records of the second era of the school, will be of interest and help readers to understand something of the unique character of St Margaret's.
In the circumstances, I thought it best not to stick to a strict, chronological format for this brief history, but to tackle it by looking at a series of themes.
St Margaret's is not the oldest school in Hampstead, but it is one of the oldest. What gives it its genuine historical significance, however, is that it is the last remaining "proprietorial" school in the area. In the second half of the 19th century, there were literally dozens of such schools, based in ordinary houses in the leafy residential streets of Hampstead. Most took only a handful of pupils - both boarding and day - and were owned and presided over by the spinster ladies who often had limited qualifications but no other way of providing for themselves. The vast majority lasted only a decade or two, fading away as their owners retired or died. Most of those which did manage to survive for longer were forced to close because of dwindling numbers during the turmoil of the World Wars or by the demand for better facilities and more advanced educational methods as the 20th century progressed. But somehow, very much against the odds, St Margaret's survived. 128 years on, it is now in its fifth home and in the hands of its tenth Principal.
Although the school is celebrating its 128th anniversary, the name "St Margaret's" is quite a little bit younger. It was normal practise in the 19th century for private schools to have no particular name - they would be referred to by the name of the owners or the houses they occupied. So our school was probably known simply as "Miss Tulloch's" or (possibly) "Chester House". The first mention of "St Margaret's" is in 1898, when a newspaper advertisement appeared, announcing that Miss Tulloch would be moving the school to "St Margaret's, Oak Hill Park". So the name probably came from the house which was to become the school's second home, though we know (from the memoirs of Daphne du Maurier, a former pupil) that even in 1915 it was still referred to as "Miss Tulloch's School". If the name St Margaret's was accidentally given, then it was the most appropriate accident.
Elizabeth Isabella Tulloch was born in the village of Logieraid in Perthshire, Scotland on 9th September 1850, the second child (of 10) of the Revd. John Tulloch, a Minister in the Scottish Free Church. She was almost certainly educated at home, as were most middle class girls at that time. In her early 20s, she spent some time as a Governess to a family in Tunbridge Wells, but returned to Scotland after the death of her mother in 1873. We have no way of knowing when or why this Scottish spinster lady decided that it would be a good idea to open a school for girls in Hampstead, but that is what she did, in 1884, in a newly built house called Chester House, on a newly built street called Westcroft Road, in West Hampstead. She didn't embark on this adventure alone, as the 1891 census shows that her father and sister, Miss Tulloch was Principal of the school, as well as being it's proprietor, for 44 years. In her final year, the Board of Education inspectors described her as "a woman of culture and ideals to whom the school is much indebted for all her educational work". Her pupils, were, I gather, pretty terrified of her.
In 1920, Miss Hilda Jean Copinger joined the school as joint Principal, in charge of boarding arrangements and the teaching of domestic science. On Miss Tulloch's retirement, in 1928, she took over the school, but brought in as her partner and co-principal Miss Margaret Macrae, to oversee the academic side. It appears that the Misses Copinger and Macrae did not exactly hit it off, and the partnership was formally dissolved in 1933. I wonder whether their lack of mutual sympathy and understanding might have been related to the fact that, as we can see from the picture (taken in 1931), Miss Macrae was a dog lover, whilst Miss Copinger seems to have preferred cats.
Miss Copinger was also the daughter of a vicar, and was born in Brighton in 1879, the daughter of the Revd Hebert Copinger and his wife Annie. Hers was also a large family and one of her brother's, Wilfrid Herbert Copinger was, for a time, vice principal at The Hall School in Hampstead.