History of College

Founded in 1853, Cheltenham Ladies’ College was established to provide “a sound academic education for girls”.

Initially, there were just 82 pupils, almost all of whom were day girls. In 1858, Dorothea Beale was appointed as Principal. Only 27 years old at the time, Miss Beale would go on to devote nearly 50 years of her life to College and it was under her leadership that College began to prosper.

In 1873, College moved to its present location, the site of the original Cheltenham Spa. Initially the site consisted of only a boarding house (previously boarders had resided with private landladies), the Lower Hall and a few classrooms, but as years went by the growth of the school and the need for specialised facilities prompted further expansion, including classrooms, music rooms, a library and laboratories. 

Miss Beale introduced subjects such as maths and science, despite parental opposition that these were not suitable or necessary for girls, and promoted the fact that her pupils could gain qualifications.

External examiners were brought into College as early as 1863 and, over time, girls were encouraged to take public examinations, notably the Oxford Senior and the Cambridge Higher Local, which were broadly equivalent to today's GCSE and A Level qualifications. For those who wished to study further, Miss Beale also founded St Hilda's College, Oxford, in 1893.

As College grew, its reputation spread both in this country and, eventually, throughout the British Empire. By 1900, the small and initially struggling day school had become a thriving community of over 1,000 pupils, with boarders, day girls and part-time students, studying from Kindergarten to Degree level. Miss Beale also established a teacher training school and by the end of her life in 1906, most of her teaching staff were former CLC pupils, as were 40 Head Teachers of girls' schools in Britain and around the world.


Lilian Faithfull, formerly President of the All-England Women's Hockey Association, was appointed Principal upon Miss Beale’s death. She was tasked with preserving her predecessor's great legacy, while managing the inevitable changes to come as College moved into the 20th century.

Miss Faithfull did much to develop sport in College and introduced the first College uniform. She also had the difficult task of steering College through the First World War. With characteristic energy and pragmatism, she threw College into war work and converted one of the College boarding houses into a Red Cross hospital.

As part of the Cheltenham Remembers project, in 2018 Cheltenham Ladies’ College History Department and Archives Service developed a teaching pack to illustrate the female contribution to the WWI war effort. Aimed at Key Stage 3 students, it consists of four lesson plans, two of which also focus on the lasting effects the war had on female emancipation and increased participation of women in the work place.

The period between the two wars saw more girls than ever considering careers and it was the task of Miss Faithfull’s successor, Beatrice Sparks (Principal 1922 - 1937), to modernise the curriculum in line with the introduction of the School Certificate and Higher Certificate. In 1935, College's continued success was marked by the granting of a Royal Charter; it was the first girls' school to receive this honour since Queen Anne's reign.

The Second World War, like the First, had a major impact on College life. In September 1939, all College buildings were requisitioned by the War Office and lessons were relocated to army huts and on top of the temporarily boarded over swimming pool! In December 1940, CLC boarding house Bayshill Lawn was bombed, although fortunately it was empty at the time.


With the passing of post-war restrictions and shortages there was renewed scope for development and modernisation in College. The 1950s and 1960s saw refurbishment and the addition of new Science laboratories, along with the introduction of the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, work experience and community service. The curriculum continued to develop and in the 1980s Computer Science was also added.

The College estate saw many changes throughout the second half of the 20th century. The tenure of Margaret Hampshire (Principal 1964 - 1979) saw the building of the Sixth Form block opened by HM The Queen Mother in 1971, whilst Joan Sadler (Principal 1979 - 1987) oversaw the opening of two boarding houses. In 1994, under Enid Castle (1987 - 1996), College's sports facilities were improved with the addition of a synthetic hockey pitch, a new sports hall and a modern swimming pool, while a new Art and Technology Block opened two years into the tenure of Vicky Tuck (Principal 1996 - 2011).

Since the turn of the 21st century, College has continued to develop and follow in the innovative and pioneering footsteps of College’s early Principal, Dorothea Beale. The Parabola Arts Centre with a 325-seat auditorium, gallery and teaching spaces, opened in 2009 to further enrich the artistic and dramatic life of College and the community. More recently, under our current Principal, Eve Jardine-Young, the 2015-16 academic year saw engineering added to the curriculum, with the launch of a new Engineering, Enterprise and Technology Department, and the introduction of a formal Wellbeing Programme to help prepare girls for the challenges of the current generation.

Following this, the new Health and Fitness Centre was opened in 2018. The facilities include two sports halls, a climbing wall, a refurbished 25m swimming pool, a multi-purpose activity studio, dance studio, five squash courts and a 58-station fitness gym with free weights, spin, rowing and erg areas. 

For more information about upcoming projects, please visit our Investing in the Future page.