We were absolutely delighted this week to receive inspiring news from one of our Old Girls, Fran Clemmow (née Gillison). Fran’s story about a lifelong love of reading and learning is the perfect bookend to our World Book Day celebrations .

Fran was a pupil at Walthamstow Hall from 1938 – 1950 and last June, after five years and four months of study as an Open University student, she graduated with a BA (Hons) Art and Humanities (English Literature) when she was 87 years young!

Fran’s studies encompassed modules on creative writing, English grammar, and, her favourite, English literature. Speaking about her degree, Fran said ‘”it had been a challenge’ but “all great fun” and concluded that, “…my advice to anybody is that if the opportunity arises for you to become a mature student, even if you are a very mature student – grab it. As the TV advertisement almost says, “It’s worth it!””

Our picture shows Fran at her graduation, she writes, “The graduation ceremony took place last November and as I waited to shake the hand of the Vice Chancellor, I was curiously reminded of my last Speech Day at school, when I waited at the steps of another platform of VIPs, In 1950, there was nowhere big enough in school to accommodate visitor numbers for such an event, so a marquee was hired annually for the purpose. The flapping canvas and the tripping guys of the marquee on the school playing field was a far cry from the venue the Open University booked for their vast graduation ceremonies – MK Dons’ football stadium, a huge complex of multi-facilities and vast halls.”

Fran is no stranger to writing. Her book, Days of Sorrow, Times of Joy, was self-published in 2012 and then taken up by a publishing company in 2016, with a foreword by the Historian and Broadcaster Michael Wood. The book, (which pupils can find in the School Library) is based on family letters written between 1859 and 1937 and tells the extraordinary story of Fran’s family, notably that of her Grandfather, who, as a medical missionary in Hankow (now Wuhan), founded the city’s first hospital. The letters give a fascinating reflection of the social history of the time and, in some instances, provide first-hand accounts of historical events such as the commencement of the Chinese Revolution of 1911 and an account of a major battle of the Boer War.

In his foreword, Michael Wood writes, “Readers of this impressive and enjoyable book will surely long remember the vivid scenes in which one family’s commitment enabled its members to play a part in events that have helped to shape our world”.

Many congratulations to Fran on this amazing achievement, an inspiration to us all.

Old Girls will be able to read a full account of Fran’s experience as a ‘very mature student’ in the forthcoming 2020 edition of the Old Girls’ Magazine, to be published after Easter.