When Miss Florence Dyas arrived as Headmistress of St Mary’s in 1888 she recorded all the pupils who were at the school, and she continued to add to the list year by year as new pupils came in, until her retirement in 1911. Despite being a small document it is extremely useful as we have no formal school register from this time. Although there are mainly girls on the list, there are also some young boys, often siblings of girls in the school. Many of the names are from families that were part of the fabric of Calne, the grocers, solicitors, stationers, bakers, butchers, cabinet makers, foundry owners and farmers. Beside some of the names are small red crosses signifying the children that died in early life.
Florence Dyas was the fifth Headmistress of St Mary’s arriving in 1888 following four years teaching in Germany and two in Belgium. Born in Plymouth in 1861, she was educated at St Anne’s School, Abbots Bromley. She gained a certificate in education and German through a distance learning scheme, the LLA (Lady Literate in Arts), run by St Andrew’s University at a time before women were admitted as students to the university itself.
Florence Dyas’ gifts as a teacher, her enthusiasm and her powers of sympathy were commented on by one of the founders, Penelope Murray. Pupils saw her as “motherly, affectionate and kind, someone you could always go to”. One remembered bike rides accompanied by Miss Dyas on her tricycle, and Sunday evening readings in the sitting room decorated with peacock feathers. A school inspector from that time reported: “The school goes forward under Miss Dyas’ able leadership. The students are evidently conscientiously and intelligently taught without cramming”. Under Miss Dyas’ headship the school numbers soon doubled leading to an expansion into adjacent properties in 1890. By 1907 the school needed further additional space and Florence Dyas oversaw the move to St Mary’s current site.
In 1911 Florence Dyas left St Mary’s and moved to Chipping Sodbury where she set up a private girls’ school of which she was head for twenty-five years. She died in 1937 following a motor accident.
St Mary’s now has a Lower Sixth boarding house called Florence Dyas. It is a fitting recognition of a headmistress who guided the school through a formative period.