My School Memories – Linda Grant

Multi-award-winning author and journalist, Linda Grant, tells tales of her Belvedere school days, during a time when the world was changing and girls’ heads were full of the Merseybeat.

I started at Belvedere in the autumn of 1962 having graduated from the junior school along the road, passing a test taken in addition to the 11+ called the ‘promotion’ in which I excelled in English and failed at maths. On my first day I was called into the headmistress’s office and told that the Board of Governors had to decide whether or not to admit me. I was there on probation.

“It was a momentous time to be nearly a teenager in Liverpool.”

It was a momentous time to be nearly a teenager in Liverpool. The school, which occupied a row of Victorian houses next to a convent, was in Liverpool 8, close to what is now called the Georgian Quarter. A short bus ride away was the art school and NEMS, the record shop owned by Brian Epstein who had just appointed himself manager of the Beatles. The city was swarming with rock and roll clubs: the Jacaranda, the Mardi Gras and the Cavern, a cellar that smelled of damp and rotting vegetables. A month after I arrived in regulation school uniform of gymslip, blue shirt and blue and green striped tie,The Beatles released their first single, Love Me Do, and all hell broke loose in this self-consciously elite establishment which educated the city’s daughters of professionals and businessmen.

At lunchtimes we took over the school hall and had an impromptu disco, doing the hand-swinging dance called the Cavern stomp. Come Christmas the senior Sixth Form girls performed a series of skits in which four girls, one of whom was reputed to be a girlfriend of George Harrison, dressed in The Beatles’ borrowed Hamburg leather jackets, miming to the new single.

Being a direct grant school, a proportion of the intake were on scholarships from the city council, awarded for high grades at the 11+. In an attempt to flatten out any class differences between us, in the first term there were compulsory elocution lessons given by the speech and drama teacher, Miss Dodsworth. In our navy blazers and berets we were considered to be ambassadors for the school on the various buses that took us home to the suburbs.

The teachers were mostly what were known then as spinsters, housesharing with other teachers and seemed to be to be several hundred years old. I think they were in their forties and fifties. They came from a generation who had to give up their careers when they married and for whatever reason, had stayed single, whether they liked their profession, or had not met the right man (or the right woman). We assumed they knew nothing whatsoever about sex.

But these unmarried teachers exerted an influence of which we were not, at that time, conscious. While the school was not then an academic hothouse, they gave us the breathing space to develop an independence of mind so that feminism came naturally to us.

“The teachers gave us the breathing space to develop an independence of mind so that feminism came naturally to us.”

We were charged to go out into the world and do something. My probationary period at the school came to end when I encountered our form teacher, Miss Smith. Vera Smith, born in 1910, an Edwardian. She was less than a decade away from retirement when I started, with fine, fair hair, dressed in tweed skirts, sensible shoes and lace-edged cream blouses. She had studied English at Liverpool University, graduating at the beginning of the Thirties, and was the first teacher to make me see that there was a world of literature out there in which I might find a place.

It was Miss Smith who made me a writer. I could write, I couldn’t and still can’t do much else. It was a tragic loss to me when she died not long after she left the school.

In the sixth form, we girls who were no good at games were given the option of going on a cross country run, around Princes Park which the school backed onto. They knew they were giving us a ticket to ride: as soon as we got out of sight, we dropped our gait to a leisurely walk and meandered towards the swings. We felt louche and sophisticated. We would soon be leaving – for university or teaching training college or for me, to a job as a trainee reporter on a local newspaper.

I am older now than the oldest of our teachers. All are long dead. Still, they appear in school photographs – rows of independent women grappling with the minds of unformed girls, whose heads were full of the Merseybeat.

Linda Grant

Linda Grant is an alumna of The Belvedere Academy (formerly known as The Belvedere School). After her studies, she worked as a journalist, writing for The Guardian and Independent on Sunday. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and holds honorary doctorates from the University of York and John Moores University. Her first novel, The Cast Iron Shore (1996), won the David Higham First Novel Prize and was shortlisted for The Guardian Book Prize. Her next book, Remind Me Who I Am, Again (1998) a family memoir about her mother’s dementia, won the Mind Book of the Year award, and the Age Concern Book of the Year award. When I Lived in Modern Times (2000) won the Orange Prize for Fiction and Still Here (also 2000) was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Her non-fiction book, The People on the Street: A Writer’s View of Israel (2005) won the Letter Ulysses Prize for Literary Reportage, and her next novel, The Clothes on their Backs (2008)
was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Her subsequent novel, The Dark Circle (2016) was shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize and Wingate Prize, and A Stranger City (2019) won the Wingate Prize in 2020. Her latest novel, The Story of the Forest, was published in 2023.

GDST Life Alumnae Magazine 2024/25

Linda is featured in our 2024/25 edition of GDST Life alumnae magazine, where you will find a whole host of features and articles including stories, tips and viewpoints from a range of alumnae contributors, GDST and school news, our latest alumnae book listings, and how you can keep in touch.

Read the full GDST Life Magazine