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News > Alumni > Isabel Haigh – Class of 1958

Isabel Haigh – Class of 1958

An insight into the life of a NGS girl in the 1950s – Isabel Haigh (Clack), a self-proclaimed student of frequent misdemeanour.
Isabel Haigh (Class of 1958) visited NGS in 2022 with stories and memories of her time at School.
Isabel Haigh (Class of 1958) visited NGS in 2022 with stories and memories of her time at School.

Isabel Haigh (née Clack) lived with her family at 118 Church Street, and every morning her father would walk her and her sister, Louise, to Church of England Girls’ Grammar School (CEGGS), then go on to his office in Bolton Street. In time, her younger brother, Rupert, joined them.

Not long after Isabel began at the School, her family acquired new neighbours in Church Street. A family from Czechoslovakia (displaced by the war) bought the adjacent house with the intention of opening a restaurant, which they did. Isabel’s father was instrumental in helping them obtain a liquor licence and they were very grateful. The restaurant was called The Alcron (the name of a famous restaurant in Prague) and was one of the most popular restaurants in its day.

“It was our second home,” Isabel recalled. “We would wander in and out, sampling exotic dishes such as Weiner schnitzel and potato salad, followed by Chef Charlie’s superb continental cakes. Newcastle had never seen such sophistication and The Alcron flourished.”

It was the late 1940s. Miss Zoe Martin was the Headmistress of CEGGS then, and her sister, Rita, ran the office. There were strict uniform regulations which were enforced by prefects at the school gate: hats had to have brims turned up all the way around, school jumpers were fine at school but were not to be worn outside school unless covered by the blazer, and gloves were always to be worn when leaving the grounds.

“There was a bench outside Miss Rita’s office, and I was often sitting on it, waiting to be ushered into Miss Martin’s inner sanctum for a regular dressing down because of some misdemeanour.

“The high (or low) point of my frequent misbehaviour was in 1953, the year of the Coronation. In Art, we had constructed replicas of the crown jewels used at the Coronation – crown, orb and sceptre. I thought it was a pity not to use them, so I decided I would stage a re-enactment of the Coronation with myself playing the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. My mother had a splendid gold evening cloak which I borrowed for the occasion.

“We had a full house and everyone had paid 6d to come in; money which I intended keeping for myself. Unfortunately, the whole ‘ceremony’ was over in about five minutes and I was left with a very unhappy and restless audience. I decided we would finish off with community singing, so led the School in I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts, followed by Yes, We Have No Bananas and other songs of that era. Happy audience! Miss MD Roberts was Headmistress by this stage, and she was NOT happy. All the money had to be refunded and I am quite sure that if my mother had not been President of the Parents and Friends Association and if my father had not been closely involved with the Cathedral, I would have been sentenced to even more weeks of detention than the fortnight I had to endure.”

Following her ‘success’ with community singing, Isabel entered a talent contest run by radio station 2KO. The sponsor was the Victor Ice Cream Company and prizes were blocks of ice cream, then packaged in waxed cardboard. Isabel sang a rousing rendition of I Didn’t Know the Gun was Loaded and received a large block of vanilla ice-cream. However, she had performed while wearing school uniform and once again Miss Roberts was displeased. Isabel went on to win the prestigious Royal Empire Society Public Speaking Competition – on more than one occasion. “I recall that as a 14-year-old I addressed their annual luncheon in City Hall and the subject of my winning speech was ‘The Extension of Self-Government to Dependent Peoples Within the British Empire’. My parents were beaming with pride. At last, their troublesome daughter was the centre of attention for all the right reasons – for a short time anyway.”

“I was a child who liked the sound of her own voice, refused to ever let a teacher have the last word and had a dislike of authority. Amazingly I lasted at school until 1958 when I completed the Leaving Certificate. I have no doubt there was a collective sigh of relief as the school gates closed behind me!”

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