Historic Sheffield dress wears well

High Storrs head girl Amy Wilson in the 1913 May Queen dress.
High Storrs head girl Amy Wilson in the 1913 May Queen dress.
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It is a relic from a era long since lost – a dress last worn a century ago by the belle of the ball at a famous Sheffield school.

For decades, the May Queen outfit has been carefully preserved but forgotten – until now.

The dress, worn by sixth former Edith Willey in that fateful year before the outbreak of the Great War, was shown to today’s students at High Storrs School.

It was modelled by current head girl Amy Wilson – the first time it had been worn by anyone but Edith.

Edith was a pupil at one of High Storrs’ forerunners, the Central Secondary School for Girls, then based on the corner of Leopold Street and West Street in Sheffield city centre.

David France, editor of the Old Centralians Newsletter, said: “How the dress has survived all this time is still something of a mystery, but it is thought it was kept by a Miss Furtado, who was head at High Storrs in the 1950s and 60s and is known to have been a bit of a hoarder.

“The dress was acquired by our archivist Mary Hickes – it was still sealed in its original box with Edith’s name on it.”

The May Queen was elected by her fellow pupils, crowned at a ceremony at the old Albert Hall in Barker’s Pool and then went on to serve as head girl. Every year, the dress was dedicated to a different flower - in 1913 it was the apple blossom.

Mr France said: “The dress is actually an ensemble which had to fit the largest girl in school as no-one knew who was going to be elected.

“It was hand-made and was embroidered by pupils and staff. There is also a very elaborate head dress.”

The May Queen celebrations began at the school in 1907 and lasted until 1939 – the ceremony was then abandoned as too ostentatious for wartime and at a time of clothes rationing.

Edith herself is an important figure in Old Centralians history, going on to be one of the first women to go to Oxford.

She studied history at Somerville College during the First World War, but only received her degree in 1920 when rules were changed to allow women to graduate. Edith was later a teacher and headteacher.

Mr France said it was amazing the dress had survived. He said: “The lighter materials have decayed to some extent and it is very fragile.”