Students resurrect old uniforms to mark school’s 175th anniversary

Wesley College's past pupils include George Bernard Shaw, singer Florence Forsyth and prize-winning swimmer Reginald Arthur Dench

 

School uniforms are designed so everyone is dressed the same in class - so heads turned recently when students at one Dublin secondary school arrived into class in the historic garb of past pupils from the 1890s to the 1960s.

The old uniforms from the archives of Wesley College in Ballinteer were resurrected to add a bit of fun to the school’s 175th anniversary celebrations.

And, to add further drama, the students took on the persona of some of these past pupils.

The characters included Florence Forsyth – one of the first girls to enrol at the Methodist day and boarding school in 1912 (it became co-educational in 1911).

A talented singer, Forsyth set up the Pembroke School of Singing and worked in 2RN, the forerunner of Radio Éireann.

Renacted

Another character re-enacted was that of, Eileen McKew, a diligent academic student who went on to become the first female Registrar of Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital in 1939.

No one was quite brave enough to take on the role of the school’s most famous past pupil, playwright, George Bernard Shaw but one student dressed in the wool swimming costume of prize-winning swimmer, Reginald Arthur Dench, who met his wife-to-be Eleanora Olive Jones at Wesley College and they later became the parents of actress, Dame Judi Dench.

The students seemed to enjoy stepping back in time. Daisy Forte who dressed in 1920s white tennis dress and blazer says that she realised how lucky students are now.

“In the 1920s, girls couldn’t take the same subjects as boys and had to study elocution, painting/drawing and domestic science instead. They couldn’t eat in the same dining room either,” she said.

Ruby Meira, who wore a gingham dress, blazer and a beret which was the summer uniform of the 1960s says she loved wearing the beret.

The school was then on the corner of St Stephen’s Green and Harcourt St and the berets – which only the junior students had to wear - were thrown in the nearby Grand Canal as a rite of passage into the senior cycle.

“I wanted to be a student from the 1960s because this was the first generation of teenagers and a time when boys and girls became friends rather than being fascinated or scared of each other.”

The school was then on the corner of St Stephen’s Green and Harcourt St and the berets – which only the junior students had to wear - were thrown in the nearby Grand Canal as a rite of passage into the senior cycle.

The current school, designed by architects, Scott, Tallon, Walker, was built on a 50 acre farm in Ballinteer in the 1960s.

Raheem Olatunde wore a suit with short pantaloon trousers, a waistcoat and woven tie and took on the persona of Harry Brown, a final year boarder from 1895.

“The boys had to get up at 6.30am and do one hour’s study before school started at 9am. I’d be sleeping in class if I did that. Also there were no girls in Wesley at that time and I find that strange as a lot of my friends in school are girls,” says Olatunde.

Pinafore

Other historic uniforms included a homemade pleated pinafore from the 1950s, a white smock and chef’s hat for the girls’ domestic science class in 1925.

The boys’ uniform from the 1940s was a double-breasted blazer with baggy grey flannel trousers, a narrow school tie and braces – which Bosola Ojewale says he enjoyed wearing.

Wesley College principal, Christopher Woods is only sorry one of the students didn’t choose to take on the persona of former student, Sir Robert Hart who was responsible for financial reforms in 19th century China.

“He was the only western named by Empress Dowager Cixi among the 50 most important people in China at that time,” says Woods.

Maybe a student will enact this crucial character in Sino-Irish relations for the 200th anniversary celebrations.

And, regarding the debate on whether girls should be allowed to wear trousers as part of their uniform – the Wesley girls seem nonplussed.

“We can wear trousers if we want but they aren’t that comfortable so most girls prefer to wear skirts,” said Forte.