Bolton School Former Pupils
Dr Christine Cottam (Class of 1968)
Christine wrote to us in August 2020, with her reminiscences of Girls' Division life in the 1960s and her reflections on the influence Miss Higginson had on her life and career:
"I've spent my life fighting injustice: legacy of Miss Higginson, Girls' Division Headmistress during my schooldays. To explain the oncoming UN Women's Decade, she regaled us with stories of her Aunt Nellie: a suffragette who torched The Bungalow at Rivington [Lord Leverhulme's residence] to combat the patriarchy.
"When Comprehensive education was proposed, she went to teach in London's East End. On return, joint activities with the Boys' Division were instated: clubs and societies, plays and concerts, including a satirical revue in which several of us participated. On Friday lunchtimes, Sixth Form boys could visit the Girl's Sixth Form Common Room.
"One initiative was coaching together everyone requiring Statistics for the Oxbridge Entrance Exams. I was a shy, timid girl Lady Godiva couldn't have felt more eyes on her at walking over for those classes. Five years later, newly enrolled in the Boys' Division, my brother was astonished to find his bookish sister recalled as an Amazonian trailblazer.
"Someone dreamt up signifying the Decade by an inter-Division Lacrosse Match, probably since it was gender-neutral. Long-sighted (maybe partially-sighted, even then) I was useless at team games. At the end of the Upper Fifth, I sold my lacrosse stick in the annual Jumble Sale. Upset, the Games Mistress escorted me to see 'The Head'
"She elucidated that generations of girls agitated to play the same sports as boys. I rejoined that, in law, at 16 years old, I was deemed old enough to consent to sex so I certainly knew if I consented to lacrosse - and I didn't! Typically, she laughed and set me to report Sixth Form wishes for PE in the Permissive Society.
"Some girls fancied yoga, others trampoline. I missed dance and swimming: like the Scottish Dancing Society, for juniors only. As the Sixth Formers in charge took us Youth Hosteling, my Mum (a teacher) encouraged me to organise this for my friends. It led to being a field leader on the first Bolton School Joint Field Trip, ever. I've trekked in the Himalayas since. I still go fell-walking.
"My own wish-list included cross country running: not for girls, then. My Dad (a Headmaster and Lancashire's Cross Country Running Champion while at Grammar School in Rossendale) supported the idea. Miss Higginson agreed. Later, I ran on the diplomatic circuit in Africa and Asia. He also argued holding the RAF Assault Course for all-comers on my last Sports Day. I took the prize.
"Revenge tastes better cold. When 'The Match' materialised, Miss Higginson 'invited' me to play: an offer I couldn't refuse. In vain, lack of talent (and kit) was protested. She said all I'd to do was get in my partner's way. He was Steve Gorski (Class of 1969): Boys' Division Rugby star. The Girls' team routed them. They then challenged us to a Rugby match. They were routed again.
"Amazingly, at Oxford, my College Lacrosse Captain tried to sign me up. Declining the distinction forced disclosing skulduggery-in-the-shrubbery when shoulder-charged off the field, over the embankment and into woodland. St Trinian's would have applauded. Doubtless, Miss Higginson anticipated it. She was on the Foreign Office Selection Committee.
"Bolton School Girls' Division set me up for life. How could a year alone in the Rajasthan Desert, for my Doctorate in Anthropology, be a problem after this. It led to appointment as a Teaching and Research Fellow at SOAS, Ford Foundation's Visiting Professor to Pakistan, the UK's Visiting Professor to Pakistan in International Development and being an Adviser / Consultant to the European Union and United Nations in Humanitarian Assistance.
"Writing had to stop on suddenly going blind, 20 years ago. Since then I partially regained some sight, became a Local Government Councillor and lost it again. Surviving the experience inspired founding DEKNA: helping refugee women with lost eyesight in Pakistan.
"Presently, I'm convalescing from a year of major eye surgery. The hills beckon. Bequeathing money for Outdoor Pursuits for girls is my way of repaying the Girls' Division. May others too."