WHEN head-teacher Debbie Anness held an assembly for year 11 students at Belle Vue Girls’ Academy in September 2022, little did she know that a little over 12 months later the brief history of the school she referred to would be turned into a glossy 180-page tome by the school’s head of geography and local author, more accustomed to writing about the history of local sport as well as music from the 1980s.

One of Bradford’s oldest educational establishments, Belle Vue turns 150 years old in 2027 and has enjoyed a rich and varied history over that century and a half.

It has certainly come a long way since its inception when it was housed in the back of a Wesleyan chapel on what is now Carlisle Road for its first two years, before its removal to Manningham Lane and the iconic building shared with the Belle Vue Boys' school that still stands today as memory of times past.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The school's former home on Manningham LaneThe school's former home on Manningham Lane

After 90 years there, in 1972 - the boys had moved out some years earlier - the then education secretary Margaret Thatcher opened the current building high up on the hill above Heaton.

I managed to gain access to many old records stored at the West Yorkshire Archive Service in the city centre, such as the old log book that the original head teacher Miss Emily Holmes would fill in every Friday.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Belle Vue Girls' School in1993Belle Vue Girls' School in1993

Inside there were reports of rather poor conduct by some junior members of staff as well as students in those early years, although thankfully instances of both have diminished since then. It wasn’t too long before the school was being referred to as ‘Bradford’s Best Kept Secret’ by local inspectors.

A few years ago I came across one of the world’s oldest football cards, which were produced by J Baines & Sons in Bradford between 1890 and the 1920.

One of their later rugby shields depicts Belle Vue Girls but I am 100 per cent sure that there was no girls rugby team at the school in the 1920s. It would have been just too unladylike: tennis, swimming and hockey, plus a bit of running and plenty of gymnastics was the fare for young ladies at that time.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The Baines & Sons rugby shieldThe Baines & Sons rugby shield

The book also details the changing nature of women’s education in Britain, with both staff and students at Belle Vue having been at the forefront of the rising status of women in society. Girls originally received an education that would enable them to be good housewives, with perhaps one or two going on to enjoy successful careers.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Teachers and pupils on a music trip, 1970Teachers and pupils on a music trip, 1970

Sarah Louisa Beasant was the school’s head for almost 40 years, between 1884 and 1923, and in that time Belle Vue became known as a leader in women’s education. She was also an adviser for the local authority and co-wrote a book on the teaching of physics with the then head of the boy’s school Richard Leishman. She was only 23 years old when she took the post and legend has it that she parted her hair down the middle and wore a red bonnet at her interview in order to look older.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Former headteacher Sarah Louise BeszantFormer headteacher Sarah Louise Beszant

Former student Reet Jarvik had no idea her poem had been read out at the school’s centenary service at The University of Bradford in 1977 until I contacted her to ask her about it. She contributed some great tales, including the official unofficial sixth form smoking room, which was ‘hidden from view’ when visitors came to look around. Several former headteachers have contributed, as well as other past students and teachers. Art teacher Jeff Singleton designed the front cover, emphasising the massive team effort that has gone into producing the book.

Among the photographs in the book are those covering school trips around the globe, including those to Shanghai, The Gambia, Egypt, and a headline grabbing tour of Europe by the school’s choir.

Other highlights include Prince Charles’s visit in 2010. On top of that, the school’s musicians have performed at the Royal Albert Hall and there is a section dedicated to the many awards and accolades afforded the school.

Two long-forgotten Olympic medallists were also pupils at the school: gymnast Carrie Pickles, who earned a bronze medal at the 1928 games in Amsterdam and Carole Tetley who won bronze in the disabled table tennis event in Tokyo in 1964. Additionally, many people involved in primary and nursery education will know the name of the pioneering Miriam Lord OBE, another former pupil at the school in its early years.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Former pupil, Olympic gymnast Carrie PicklesFormer pupil, Olympic gymnast Carrie Pickles

In more recent times, Ambreen Sadiq gained national recognition as Britain’s first female Muslim boxer and was the subject of a Channel 4 documentary.

There’s been a fantastic response to the book already, before it’s even been officially launched, and it’s great that today’s generation of students can read lively and interesting stories about their predecessors. Belle Vue Girls’ School has, for the most part, been a happy place for learners over the years and it’s nice to say that it certainly has been in the 13 or so years that I’ve been there.

*Bradford’s Best Kept Secret - The History of Belle Vue Girls' School is priced £12.99 and will be available from November 8 on Amazon and via the school’s website bvgacademy.co.uk.