The Godolphin School was founded in 1726 from a bequest made by Elizabeth Godolphin (1663 – 1726) “for the better education and maintenance of eight young gentlewomen to be brought up at Sarum or some other town in the County of Wilts under the care and direction of some wise and prudent Governess or Schoolmistress”.
The Dean and Chapter having refused to act as trustees of this property, the money was invested under the authority of the Court of Chancery, but nothing was done to put Elizabeth’s scheme into operation till 1784. In that year the Godolphin School was opened in Rosemary Lane in the Cathedral Close, but it was not until March 1831 that the full number of eight orphan gentlewomen was entered, in addition to private pupils who could be admitted at the will of the Headmistress. The original task of the school was to teach the girls to dance, work, read, write, cast accounts and become proficient in housewifery. The curriculum was enlarged during the 19th century to include French, Geography and music.
The School remained in the Close for fifty-four years, occupying Arundels House and King’s House, but in 1848, owing to an outbreak of cholera in the city, the school moved to Shady Bower, to the house now known as Milford Grove, “with great benefit to the pupils’ health”.
So far the School had been housed in the private residence of the Headmistress, but the time had come for the erection of a school building to be the property of the Trustees; accordingly in 1867 “Fawcett House” was completed, the little school was installed there and given the name of Godolphin School.
Another innovation at the same time was the admission of day-girls, though few at first seem to have taken advantage of the permission. By 1876 the numbers outgrew the accommodation and plans were made to purchase a site on Milford Hill and build a new and larger school there.
In January 1890, the school passed into the hands of Mary Alice Douglas, who may rightly be called its second founder. Under her the present school building was opened in October 1891. It consisted of the present hall and two classrooms on either side. During her thirty years as Headmistress Miss Douglas saw the numbers increase to 230 and was responsible for many notable additions to the original building.
In 1904 an additional six acres were purchased in order to extend the school grounds, which were then landscaped on the Laverstock-facing side; in 1914 the oak panelling, which gives the Hall its unique atmosphere, was installed; and in 1925 an open-air swimming pool was opened. Post-war additions to the School have included a library block, several new boarding houses, a science and technology block, a prep school, a performing arts centre, an indoor swimming pool, with fitness centre, a new boarding house (Cooper) and a Sixth Form Centre.
Miss Douglas was, moreover, one of the great pioneers in the education of girls, and her belief in the right use of freedom, in the absence of petty rules, and in self-discipline has left its impression on the School for all time.