The school was founded in 1916 by Miss Margery Bray and Miss Elsie Bourne
Co-founder Miss Margery Frances Bray (born 1895)
Co-founder Elsie Margaret Spencer Bourne (born 1879)
(extract from Prizegiving address 2000 by Dr Rosemary Northfield)
“To Miss Bray, the spirit of adventure was one of the essential ingredients of life. Many of you will know that her sense of adventure and of service showed themselves early in her life. At the time the first world war broke out in 1914, Margery Bray was 20 years old. She wanted to serve in the war by nursing wounded soldiers in the front line. Because she was too young to join the British Red Cross, she joined the Belgium Red Cross. Even then there were difficulties, because young women were not then allowed to nurse in the front line. Undaunted, she and some other young women disguised themselves as wounded soldiers and were transported by ambulance to the front line. Once there Margery was found to be very useful because she could speak fluent French and could therefore understand the surgeons – so she was soon helping in the operating theatres. While she was there, her fiancé, who was an officer in the Royal Flying Corps, was shot down and brought to the same hospital. He later died there.
You can imagine how hard and harrowing the work must have been, but there was a lighter side too. I particularly like the story about Margery at the time the Belgium hospital was being evacuated because the Germans were closing in. Margery was being very busy and helpful and, when she saw a man standing idle in one of the wards, she asked him to help with the stretcher cases. It wasn’t until afterwards that she was told that she had been giving instructions to Albert, the King of the Belgium’s. After a time, Margery developed a serious infection in one of her arms, and her general health deteriorated so that she had to return home. In 1915, she was approached by William Webb, the planner and builder of the local Webb Estate, who asked her if she would start a school for girls; and so it was that Commonweal came into being in 1916.”