from the staff photograph 1938
Alice Jane Prothero was the first permanent teacher of biological subjects appointed to Aberdare Intermediate School for Girls. She arrived in September 1916 and took over from Mr. A.W. Elliot who had been seconded temporarily from the Trecynon Intermediate School when it split into single-sex institutions in 1913, with the girls transferring to a new school in Plasdraw. Miss Prothero stayed for 33 years and established a high quality biology department.
Miss Prothero was born on July 9th 1889 in Pontypridd to Isaac Prothero and his wife Catherine Mary (née Francis). Isaac Prothero was born in Blaengwawr, Aberdare into a mining family, but very soon moved to Pontypridd when his father became a grocer. In time, Isaac became a grocer in his own right and became a leading businessman in Pontypridd. The family eventually moved from Taff Street to a large house in the prestigious Tyfica Crescent.
Alice won a scholarship sufficient to pay her school fees to Pontypridd Intermediate School in 1903. She moved from there to U.C. Cardiff in 1908, and was there until 1913, graduating B.Sc. having studied Botany, Zoology and Geology. Her first post was at Slepe Hall Girls’ School in St Ives where she stayed for two years. Then followed her long sojourn in Aberdare. As well as being senior biology mistress, she was promoted to Senior Mistress in 1923 when Jennie Griffiths, (The Poplars, High Street), vacated the post.
During her 33 years in Aberdare, she travelled daily from Pontypridd. She lived in a large house, Coed Ilan, Ty Gwyn Road, with four of her unmarried sisters—three of whom were also teachers. (There were six daughters and two sons in the family).
Miss Prothero enjoyed a long retirement, from 1950 until she died on 16th May 1979.
The following article appeared in The Aberdare Leader of April 22, 1950, shortly after Miss Prothero retired.
A FTER 33 years as biology Mistress at Aberdare Girls’ County School, Miss Alice Prothero retired last term. The Old Girls’ Association at their annual reunion and general meeting on Thursday, presented her with a handsome string of pearls as a mark of appreciation of her services to the Association as well as to the school.
Mrs. Katie Beaman made the presentation and welcomed Miss Prothero as an “Old Girl” of the school for the first time. Miss Beaman said that when the Old Girls’ Association was first formed in March, 1927, she was the first secretary, and Miss Prothero was elected as the staff representative on the committee.
“Twenty-three years later we are honouring her,” said Mrs Beaman. “She has proved a faithful and loyal member of the committee. Her wise counsel was always ready and acceptable, and she always took a kindly interest in the girls, their work, their courting, marriages, and children.”
Pangs of nostalgia were obvious among the older members present when Mrs. Beaman reminded them of former outings to Rhosilli, the Cotswolds, and Evesham, and delicious ham-and-egg suppers at Penderyn.
On behalf of the four members who comprised Miss Prothero’s first higher biology class, Mrs. Katie Davies, M.Sc., Pontycymmer (formerly Miss Katie Griffiths, Trecynon), presented her with a cut glass bowl. Mrs. Davies referred to Miss Prothero’s high standard of knowledge of her subject, which she imbued in her pupils. As her only pupil for a year, Mrs. Davies felt she had really got to know Miss Prothero. The other three pupils were Miss Edith Evans (senior mistress at Gadlys Girls’ Secondary School), Peggy Jones, now a doctor, and Blodwen Fox, who assists her husband as a lecturer at Aberystwyth University College.
Dr. D. L. Graham, headmistress, presiding, emphasised Miss Prothero’s fine qualities, which were not only a complete understanding of her subject, but “straightness,” attention to detail, and absolute accuracy. She had been an outstanding mistress, and a great help to the Old Girls’ Association.
Miss Prothero enthralled all the members with her reminiscences over the past thirty-odd years. She was quite definite when she said that the girls themselves had not changed intrinsically, but that the school and its surroundings had altered gradually, but perceptibly over the years. There were girls who didn’t care thirty years ago, and the same could be said of last year’s pupils! Then there were those who took school work very seriously.
“I remember my first higher class,” she said. “They were so keen on their work that nothing was too much trouble. And my class of last year was just the same. The tradition of the Aberdare School was built up many years ago, and I hope we will still keep it.”
She vividly remembered her first day at the school, and saw among those present, the first girl who spoke to her in the corridor—Kitty Jones. “I came as a young girl, meaning to stay here for a short while, as all new young teachers do. I was happy right from the beginning and together with the late Miss Bessie Williams, I soon got to know the district well, and found the right places for my flowers and specimens,” she said.
There were 143 pupils on the first register, and 280 when Miss Prothero came. When she left, there were over 400.
Miss Prothero said that of her many memories, it was the little things, seemingly trivial at the time, which stood out in her mind. Two girls, not related, but bosom friends (both present) were Kitty Jones and Bessie Jones, “the inseparables.”
Bessie had a little girl in school now. In her first year at school, she and Kitty took part in the play “The Bluebird.”
Among her souvenirs, Miss Prothero had found a programme of the performance by the school in 1918 of “Demeter and Persephone” (and several of the “older old girls” remembered it well). She found a copy of Miss Cook’s first annual report and her twenty-fifth, and a copy of the first school magazine.
Accounts of the Old Girls’ outings to Rhosilly, Porthcawl, Weston and Southerndown (where it rained all day, and she had to stay in the doorway of a butcher’s shop!) were among other things she remembered.
Among other memories of trivialities, was that of a girl creeping around the corridors with her shoes in her hand, because there were exams in the hall. (A far cry indeed from present-day behaviour!).
Living as she does in Pontypridd, Miss Prothero used to come to school by train, then bus, and when there were transport strikes, in a pony and trap!
One great difference between the girls of years ago and the modern generation was that entertainment had to be provided for them nowadays, whereas they had to make their own entertainment before the cinemas became so popular.
Miss Prothero appealed for more members for the Association. Well over two thousands girls must have left the school, and membership should be a good many hundreds. The Association was not as “living” as it should be and indeed, it relied on the faithful few, both young and old.
She wished there were more old girls on the staff of the school (the secretary is one example), as girls had qualified for the teaching profession in every subject. The time to join the Association was when the girls were still in school, and life-membership cost only one subscription of half-a-crown.
Thanking everyone for the gifts, Miss Prothero said that even without tangible evidence, she would never forget any of the happy years she had spent at the school.
Her saddest moment was when she left her biology laboratory for the last time, and realised she would never again see her trees from the conservatory window, flowering then dying. She felt she ought to have taken the room away with her. She hoped to see many of the girls and staff whenever they came to Pontypridd.
Miss M. S. Cook, M.A., the school’s first headmistress, reminded Miss Prothero that she had been appointed to take the place of a male member of the staff, whose departure had been much regretted by the girls! The school was one of the first in Wales to build up a pure science group.
Miss Prothero, who was a born teacher, acted as head when she (Miss Cook) was ill for six months, and she would have been a very good headmistress. They had been personal friends for years, and Miss Cook thought that Miss Prothero certainly did not look like one who had been at the school for 33 years. She was fortunate in retiring into the friendly atmosphere of her own home, and Miss Cook wished her a very happy retirement.
Miss Annie Rees, for twenty-one years a member of staff and a former pupil of Miss Prothero, said that in her day the laboratory had been in its infancy. Although her form had not perhaps been an ideally-behaved one, the girls soon came to value the personal interest that their biology mistress took in them. Miss Prothero really loved her work and loved the girls whom she taught.
Miss Rees said she came back to school to teach side by side with mistress [sic] who had taught her.
Representing the younger generation, Gwyneth Williams, who was head girl in 1943‒44, thanked Miss Prothero for always having been ready to give sound advice, in addition to her excellent teaching.
Miss Ethel Williams, who was her herself gym mistress a few years ago, said she entered the school in 1923, when Miss Prothero first became senior mistress. She was never taught by Miss Prothero, and held her in awe. It was not until she came on the staff that she really got to know her. There were only four on the staff who had not taught the speaker. That ended the speeches.
Refreshments were served after the meeting.
FOOTNOTE from a former pupil of Miss Prothero’s: Admittedly we held her in awe. To us, especially as juniors, she was, metaphorically, several sizes larger than life. We felt suitably small when we did something wrong. (I have memories of tipping over a large jar of something-or-other while climbing down from opening the laboratory window. I would willingly have fallen through the floor!).
But she was a wonderful teacher, sparing no pains to explain the smallest detail. She rarely had a failure, and many girls who were not scientifically-minded, passed well in biology. She rarely punished, and if she did, it was really merited. Her best punishment was making us feel very small and very foolish before others! R.D.
Officers re-elected for the coming year were: President, Dr. D. L. Graham; honorary president, Miss M. S. Cook M.A; secretary, Miss Doreen Kellow, 2 Arnot Place, Aberdare; treasurer, Mrs Idwal Rees.
Newly elected: Vice-president, Miss Betty Carter; auditor, Miss Annie Rees, B.A; assistant secretary, Miss Joan Harvey, 9 and 10 Commercial Street, Aberdare; staff representatives, Miss Winifred Rees, B.A. (senior mistress), and Miss Betty Ferguson (domestic science mistress); honorary president (with Miss M. S. Cook), Miss Prothero; new committee members, Miss Megan Davies and Miss Rhiannon Davies.
The finances were reported to be in a sound position.
The secretary would like all members who have given their names for the proposed outing to Stratford, to get in touch with her and confirm this. Many names are unknown to her, and the addresses have not been given.
O NE of the most entertaining passages in Miss Prothero’s speech was that in which she commented on changed school fashions — and came down in favour of the modern style in schools.
In the old days, she said, the seniors wore blouses and skirts and whatever styles they liked. Often the only way to differentiate between a young member of staff and a girl was by looking at her hair! If it was tied back, she was a pupil.
But nowadays a mistress had to look at the legs and not at the hair, because even the juniors had the most elaborate “perms” and the seniors often had more unusual hair styles than the staff!
She considered that the present-day school uniforms had changed for the better. The “horrible black stockings” had given way to socks, and gym tunics were far more comfortable and practical.
“When I was in school we wore drill tunics padded with flannel to guard our chests from the cold, and when not actually drilling, wore one or two petticoats underneath!” she said.
Great occasions were the meetings held to decide whether or not the school should have summer dress. The questions of style, shape, colour, pattern and material were burning ones, and no cabinet could have held more earnest and important meetings!
Hats, she thought, had altered for the better without a doubt. From the ugly cloche hats, through the panama and velour stages, to the most comfortable of all, berets! Headscarves, unfortunately, seemed to be returning.