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Phyllis Maud Robinson.....

                                                                   ‘Philippa’
                                                               1909  -   2003

                                      Head Mistress at St. Elphin’s 1957 – 1975

Philippa Robinson - Head Mistress at St Elphin's School photoMost of my time as a pupil at St. Elphin’s was under the headship of Miss Stopford. I was in my middle teens when she retired and Miss Phyllis Maud Robinson (Philippa) arrived as our new Headmistress.  What a forceful “new broom” she was!  Both staff and pupils were very much in awe of her and I seem to remember tears being shed all round at times, but beneath a rather fierce, even tyrannical, exterior there was a very kind heart.

Maud (as she was often referred to by pupils) presided over St. Elphin’s during its most flourishing years.  This was partly due to boarding being very popular at that time and nearly all the pupils were boarders.  The day girls were in Fletcher house while the boarders were divided between Kennedy, Wilson, Gresford, Powys, and Selwyn.  The junior house, Margaret Flood, was created during this period.

Miss Robinson was a great scholar herself being fluent in Greek and Latin, and had high academic standards for “her girls”.  She expected pupils to be well mannered and I remember serving her at top table at lunch time, something senior girls had to do from time to time, and learning to do it all correctly.

It was she who brought in cloaks and grey suits and girls had to kneel on the floor for Miss Robinson to make sure the hem of their skirt touched the ground, then it would not be too short when one was standing!  Everyone filed past the head girl before meals for her to check that each pupil had with her her table napkin.  Boaters were part of the uniform and woe betide any girl seen outside school premises without her boater on her head!

Emma and Sophie Cavendish, daughters of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, were both pupils at St. Elphin’s during this era and Miss Robinson is remembered with affection by the Duchess who remained in touch with Philippa throughout the latter’s retirement.  She was also highly regarded by her Governors and I know my father, a Governor at this time respected her and knew her to be extremely capable.  She had a great sense of humour, was a keen golfer and enjoyed company.

A whole new life began for Miss Robinson upon her retirement from St. Elphin’s.  She moved back to Dorset where she continued playing golf and was very involved in her local community and Church and became a Deaconess.  She died aged 94 on the 17th August 2003 and I attended her funeral service eleven days later.  It was held at the Church of St. Aldhelm, Branksome, and was taken by Rev. Canon Stephen Lake, Canon of St. Alban’s Abbey.  He had been instructed by Philippa for his theological examinations and he and his family had become very dear friends of hers.  I understand that, to celebrate one of her birthdays, she took the whole of his family for a flight on Concorde for a treat!

Her funeral service had been arranged to the last detail by Miss Robinson herself and was conducted with feeling, humour and great affection by Canon Stephen.  I was very glad I had travelled to Dorset in order to represent St. Elphin’s on such an important occasion.  Perhaps not all her pupils and staff have entirely happy memories of her – she could indeed be a bit fierce at times – but many owe her a debt of gratitude for all she did for the school and the girls she loved.

Rosemary Chambers (nee Thornton)
Reprinted by kind permission of Rosemary Chambers

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