Lady Mabel "old girls" to be reunited at 70th anniversary celebration at Wentworth Woodhouse this week

Lady Mabel "old girls" to be reunited at 70th anniversary celebration at Wentworth Woodhouse this week

By Michael Upton | 13/01/2020

Lady Mabel 'old girls' to be reunited at 70th anniversary celebration at Wentworth Woodhouse this week
Ex-Lady Mabel students Jo Owen and Sue Gravil

OLD GIRLS of what is probably Rotherham’s most spectacular seat of learning will reunite this week to discuss their school days.

Wentworth Woodhouse is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the first students starting at Lady Mabel College, which was based in the stately homes grand rooms and spacious grounds.

The Lady Mabel College of Physical Education began at Wentworth on January 17,1950, named named after the woman who came up with the idea — Lady Mabel Smith, aunt of Peter, the 8th Earl Fitzwilliam.

She had grown up in the grandeur of the Big House, but having seen how modestly estate workers' families lived, Lady Mabel had a strong social conscience and became a Socialist politician.

The college enabled nearly 2,000 to take up PE careers before its closure in 1977, before beginning a new era as Sheffield Polytechnic until 1986.

Students wore a cherry-red cloak as part of the uniform and made firm friendships at the Grade I listed stately pile.

Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust, which now owns the house, is hosting a week of events to welcome former students and enable others to explore the history of the house in its college years.

Highlights of Lady Mabel Week include a display in the Pillared Hall, and a lecture on Thursday about Lady Mabel Smith by house volunteer and historian Julie Banham from 6pm to 8pm, with tickets priced at £20.

Trust chair Dame Julie Kenny will hosts a celebratory lunch on Friday, with the college’s official firsy student, Sybil Wilbraham, as guest of honour.

Sybil Wilbraham, who was 19 on January 17, 1950, had her 21st birthday party at the house and she will celebrate her 89th in familiar surroundings, as the Low Drawing Room, where the lunch is being staged, was an early student dining room. 

Sybil, who lives in Macclesfield, was treasurer of the Lady Mabel College Old Students’ Association for over 60 years and has maintained her fitness, still running two keep fit classes.

The lunch runs from 11.45am to 3.15pm, priced at £30 with speakers and presentations). 

Ex-Lady Mabel students will be attending but the event is open to everyone.

Wentworth Woodhouse has monthly Lady Mabel Tours, devised by former student Sue Gravil, who has met many other former students since the tour was launched in September.

Sue, a student from 1967 to 1970, said: “We’ve also met people who came for PE lessons here as children and visitors with no Lady Mabel link, but a huge fascination for the story.

“I have so many happy memories of the wonderful friends I made. 

“But it’s not just the camaraderie which lures us back — it’s our empathy for a wonderful building which was a place of calm and opportunities we didn't know existed for ordinary folk like us.”

On May 16, the Old Students’ Association, which was formed in 1952 and has 250 members around the world, will be staging its first annual meeting at the house in 30 years.

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