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News > Memories > Remembering the Fire

Remembering the Fire

The most dramatic event in the history of The Tiffin Girls’ School occurred 20 years ago, on 15 December 2003 when a major fire swept through the roof and second floor of the main teaching block.
4 Jan 2024
Written by Katie Donaldson

Lyra da Cruz (1990-2012) was a physics teacher and Assistant Head at the school at the time. Lyra had previously worked at Haberdashers and at Croydon High School. She loved the “warmth of Tiffin Girls’ and the relationships between the staff and students.”

She recalls that night in December and how with true to The Tiffin Girls’ School character, the school community came together to ensure that the education of the girls barely missed a beat.

"It was December 15 and we were all at a carol concert in Kingston when we heard the news. The fire alarm went off at 8.41pm and the signal went straight to the fire brigade. We rushed to school and just stood watching the school being consumed. There were curtains crashing down and windows exploding. 23 fire engines attended the scene. Earlier that day Bettina Hunter, teacher, had reported that the lights had gone out in her classroom and as we later found out the fire was an electrical fault in the roof above that room 14.

Chris Norcott, the librarian, saved the rest of the school from burning down. She was known for religiously locking the library and it was this action that stopped the fire from spreading. Not one of the books was scorched. Every fire brigade manual now includes the story and shows a picture of Chris’ door!

“After the fire, all of the staff worked incredibly hard. Pauline Cox, Headteacher at the time, used to sleep with a notepad by her bed. We were determined to get the girls back in to school as soon as possible. Ahead of its time, there were learning platforms on IT and temporary accommodation, or ‘the Tiffin village’ as it came to be known, of 20 classrooms craned in. Neighbours complained about the noise of the generators and the need for a 5am start for the cleaners. The dining hall and gymnasiums were also used as classrooms. There was a full day of education for all the students within six weeks.”

In the months following the fire, the ‘Fire Appeal’ was established. It encapsulated the Tiffin Girls’ spirit of determination and resilience. Students undertook charity challenges, there were craft fairs and dinners, an auction of promises, a lecture from David Attenborough, ‘An Evening with...’ which included supporters such as Jaqueline Wilson, Rory Bremner, Simon Hoggart and Lynne Truss, Sir Matthew Pinsent and Lawrence Dellaglio to name just a few.

The Holdsworth Wing, replacing the fire damaged section of the school was opened by Sandra Holdsworth, the retiring chair of governors.



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