This feature was first published on January 16, 2004

TWO months ago, Costello Technology College in Crossborough Hill, Basingstoke, was counting the cost of a serious fire which damaged part of the building.

Now the shock of that blaze is diminishing and soon the establishment will be back to normal.

The event will be recorded in the history files of the college with all the other items of reference to the building’s past. It was in a large private residence called Brook House, in what was once Brook Street, that 41 young girls began their high school education on April 1, 1908.

Basingstoke Gazette: Brook House, Brook Street before its demolition in 1967

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The ivy-covered house had been converted into a school by Hampshire County Council, under the authority of which the school was run. At the rear, an additional single-storey building was erected, which later became known as “The Iron Hut”, where indoor recreation took place, including physical training and singing lessons.

The headmistress of the school was Miss D L Hinton, who had three full-time teachers and two instructors in gardening and cooking. Over the following four years, 19 more girls joined the school, their ages ranging from eight to 19 years.

The governors of the school were headed by Mr W E Lefroy, who was musically talented and who wrote the words of the school song, which people passing along the street could hear pupils singing.

Over the years it was realised that the building was not big enough to take the steady increase of pupils, so a site was acquired in Crossborough Hill, off London Road, for a new school, and this was opened on September 24, 1912.

Brook House went back to being a private house until its demolition for town development in January 1967, while the “Iron Hut” became a small residence called “Swiss Cottage”, which was also pulled down in 1967.

Three years after the new school was opened in Crossborough Hill, a new headmistress arrived by the name of Miss Harriet Costello and, during her 20 years of being in charge, she became well known for her human and sympathetic way of life. Her personal interest in each pupil and teacher she came into contact with brought much admiration from everyone when she retired in July 1935.

Basingstoke Gazette: The 'Iron Hut', which was part of the girls' high school

Among her many kindnesses, she endowed a sum of money as an award for pupils who were moving on to further education. When Miss Costello retired, she moved to Ireland and spent many years as a writer. She died in September 1953. Her name lives on in the title of the college, which was previously called Harriet Costello School.

During the Second World War school life continued to include examinations, games, and extra-curricular activities, although the air raids of the 1940/41 period did interrupt lessons at times.

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Several incendiary bombs fell around the school, but no damage was done. Air raid shelters were supplied for the school, to house a maximum number of 217 people. Unfortunately, there were 253 in the school!

The school grounds were dug up and later yielded good crops of potatoes and sprouts to help balance the mid-day meals. In addition, the school joined the British Ship Adoption Society and the girls wrote letters and knitted socks, gloves and other comforts for the men, then sent them to the crew of the ship the “SS Koolga”. They also sent a dartboard and a football.

In 1945, the year the war ended, another headmistress, who became popular with both staff and pupils, arrived. This was Miss Hilda Wood, who, during her years at the school, initiated school study trips, including several to the Lake District where she spent many happy hours walking the fells and teaching the girls the wonders of nature.

When Miss Wood retired in 1964, she continued to live in Basingstoke until 1992, when she moved to Holybourne. She died at Alton Hospital aged 95 in January 1998.

Basingstoke Gazette: The girls grammar school in Crossborough Hill in 1920

Over the following years, the school saw additions to its premises, including six laboratories, a rural studies unit, a library, a music suite and a solar-heated swimming pool.

The school was included in Hampshire County Council’s policy of comprehensive education in 1971, after the abandonment of the 11-plus examinations.

The school became a college and in recent years changed its name. There is now an active and flourishing parents and old pupils’ association, which gives much support to the establishment.

It is this enthusiasm which helps to make the college a popular place to attend, for without the education of our youth, this country would not have the skilled workers which we are so proud of.