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The Foundation and History of La Retraite

La Retraite School was founded in 1880, in what used to be known as Clapham Park,  by Les Dames De La Retraite. They were sisters who had travelled from France with the aim of establishing a girls' school in South London.  Their religious order had been founded by Catherine De Francheville in Vannes in 1674.  They enabled women to go on retreat and thus escape from the burdens of their everyday life, contemplate their relationship with God, and return to their duties enlivened by the intercession of the Holy Spirit.  From the start the order had a special devotion to the Sacred Heart and this special feast day is celebrated annually at the school.  In 1794 one of the La Retraite Sisters was martyred for her devotion to the Sacred Heart. The new French Republic had tried to suppress any interest in this kind of devotion.

La Retraite soon gained an excellent reputation and the school began to grow. The sisters first bought Oakfield House, previously owned by the family of the Victorian portrait painter, De Lazlo. This now forms the heart  of the convent next door to our school.  By 1897, they had bought The Oaks which was pulled down in 1935 to make way for the new school chapel and dining room.  In 1904, a third house called Springfield House was bought from the family of the famous music hall artist, Dan Leno, who was known as "the funniest man in the world and champion clog dancer".  This house is now our Sixth Form Centre. The Sisters were also lucky enough to buy the huge field which is now our playing field.  The house next door, Burlington House, was soon purchased and linked with Springfield House.  La Retraite High School was now well established with a reputation for an innovative and challenging curriculum which inspired the girls to go on to university and study for the professions at a time when there were limited spaces for women.  In 1913, the Western Block and the gymnasium were completed.   In 1915, the school had 132 fee paying pupils who were either day scholars or boarders and when La Retraite was visited by inspectors in 1920 they wrote: "The school authorities are to be congratulated on the amenities of the school buildings and grounds"  The gymnasium was considered "the finest in London". 

During the Second World War the school was evacuated, via Clapham Junction Station, to Horndean, a village in Hampshire.  The La Retraite Sisters continued their work of education and organising retreats, and after the war, when the school returned to Clapham Park, it became a two form entry Grammar School recognised officially by the London County Council. 


Above: Picture of Nuns attending mass at La Retraite school chapel - Date unknown 

In the 1970s, when selective education was abolished in London, the school became a comprehensive school. Its status changed again with the changing political climate: in the 1990s, it became a Grant-Maintained school with a new name - La Retraite RC Girls' School, independent of the local authority.  However, in 1999, it returned to the local authority fold in Lambeth as a school in the Trusteeship of the RC Diocese of Southwark.  In 1997, while grant-maintained, it had set up its own Sixth Form and in time, it linked with the new Sixth Forms of two other Lambeth secondary schools - Dunraven and St. Martin-in-the Fields Girls' School. This collaboration became known as the South London Sixth - SL6.  In 2009, Bishop Thomas Grant School joined the collaboration.

The school has grown from strength to strength.  Year on year the building has been developed providing our students with the most up-to-date facilities with specialist areas for Science, Mathematics and Technology.  We opened a brand new Sports Hall in 2010.   In the summer of 2011, we converted our old gymnasium into two classrooms, a further ICT teaching room and three new offices.  In June 2011, we successfully secured a capital grant from the EFA (the 6th Form funding agency) to create a new Library and two new classrooms adding further to our rapidly expanding footprint.  Finally in 2013, again funded by the EFA, we had a new Performing Arts Block for Music, Drama and Dance constructed which has transformed our provision for the Performing Arts.

The tradition of La Retraite, reaching back to the 17th century, and our modern approach to the education of those students in our care intermingle to provide an atmosphere where students learn best, where they grow and develop into thoughtful and responsible Christian women determined to play a significant role in the 21st century.

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