Newstead Girls’ College The origin of Newstead Girls’ College, Negombo go back to the year 1815, when the first Methodist Missionaries Started a Sunday School. The desire for learning, however, among the local population was so great that teaching, continued on week days too. And by 1816, what started as a Sunday School became a Day School as well catering to about 70 students. It is interesting to note that what is today an eminent girls’ school, had then functioned as a boys’ school, and one stage of her past history, had also housed a boarding for junior boys.
From these small beginnings, the school expanded and established herself as a recognised school in Negombo. Association with the inception and development of the school at this early stage, are the names of Mr. L. E. Perera, Rev. Don Daniel Pereira and Rev. RobertNewstead, after whom the school was later named.
As the school expanded, the original cadjan classrooms were replaced by more permanent buildings in 1883, and preparation to build a boarding house on the premises were commenced by Rev. H. W. Righby and Rev. H. S. Sanford. The foundation stone for this building was laid by Rev. Marshall Hartley in January 1899 and the building was declared open by Rev. H. W. Righby in August the same year.
Judging from past records, it is obvious that the only two solid buildings on the premises at the close of the 19th century were the Mission House at one end and the boarding school at the other. The present Primary School grounds had not yet been acquired. Two or three semi-permanent structures, grouped on and around the site of the present office block served as an assembly hall, classrooms and perhaps a boarding house for junior boys.
The school passed through a difficult phase from 1901-1913, but the dedicated efforts of Rev. &Mrs. C. H. S. Ward assisted by Miss. E. M. Lawrence and Miss. Laura Ferdinando, lifted the school out of the doldrums and with the appointment of Miss. Annie Dora Dixon in 1919 as the Principal, the school Newstead forged on rapidly from strength to strength.
Miss. Annie Dora Dixon was at the helm of Newstead from 1919 to 1943, and the many improvements introduced by her made Newstead one of the leading educational institutions of her time. Junior and Senior Cambridge classes and Junior and Senior Domestic Science classes were started and the Past Pupils’ Union and the Parents’ Days were introduced. Her regime also saw the introduction of Tennis and Netball to the school; and the first Negombo Wolf Cub Pack for the junior boys was formed. The House System with two Houses to begin with Ward and Lawrence, and later Hartley took shape during her time, and the School Committee was first formed. The school uniform was introduced during her time and the very attractive and meaningful school crest and the school motto More Beyond came into use. The first Newstead magazine too was published during her time in 1926.
A special feature is, Miss. Dixon’s interest in the education of Muslim girls, and her bold thrust through accepted social barriers, enabled her to persuade Muslim parents to send their daughters to Newstead.
Miss Dixon also realised the need for more and better accommodation, and embarked on an ambitious building project.
The Main Hall and the surrounding classrooms were built and completed in January 1924, and the Domestic Science block in 1935. A new wing was added to the hostel to serve as a sick room in 1928. The Primary School grounds were acquired, and the bungalow which was part of the property was re-designed to house the Kindergarten classes in 1940. Some of the former semi-permanent structures were demolished, and in their place the foundation was laid for the construction of the present office block containing the small hall and the dormitories upstairs. This was done in 1923. However, this building could not be completed by Miss. Dixon due to the lack of funds, and only the portion comprising the small hall and upstairs dormitories was completed and commissioned for the use in 1930.
So it was, that through Miss. Dixon’s zeal and leadership, the foundations of modern Newstead were laid, and traditions nurtured. In this effort, she was assisted by a loyal band of dedicated co-workers, among them, Miss. Cecile De Vos, Miss. Laura Ferdinando, Miss. Elsie Solomons, Misses Daisy and Rosie Perera, Miss, Eda De Zylva, Miss. N. P. Jayawardena, Miss. Elizabet De Silva and Mrs. R. Ponniah.
Miss. GraceRobbins took over the school in 1943. The school was well established by then. She carried forward the traditions of service and loyalty and continued and farther expanded on the work of her predecessor. A fourth House named Dixon House was introduced when numbers increased. She collected the required funds to complete the half-constructed office block, and this was declared open in 1950 by Mrs. R. N. Bond (nee Dorothy Ward, daughter of Rev. &Mrs. Ward). It was also during Miss. Robin’s time that the Sinhala stream was introduced to the Primary School.
On Miss Robin’s departure to take up the Principalship of Methodist College in 1951, Miss. D. K. Williams was appointed Principal of Newstead. She was a strict disciplinarian, who insisted on perfection. But her strict exterior was a cover for a kind heart. She ably guided the destinies of the school for a period of four years, and it was her Principalship that Newstead , along with other Methodist schools, became an Assisted School.
Miss. A. P. M. Orloff who had been on the Staff of Newstead and teacher and Vice Principal from the time of Miss. Dixon took over the reins of office on the departure of Miss. D. K. Williams in 1955. The melodious School Song with the inspiring and challenging lines, Ours the call of yon horizon, composed by Mrs. Annie de Silva and set to music by Rev. Roy de Silva, was sung for the first time at a Prize Giving during her time, along with the much loved old School Hymn, We build our school on Thee, O Lord.
It was also during Miss. Orloff’s time, in 1959, that the Sports Meet which so far was held on the school netball court was first held on the Negombo Esplanade. This shifting of venue was certainly a decisive step in the history of school athletics and paved the way for the athletic achievements of the future.
Miss. Edith Ridge followed Miss Orloff as Principal of Newstead, and looked after her destinies from 1960 to 1962, when the school came to be vested in the government. It was Miss. Ridge, who looked into everything when it came to the task of handing the school over, and had everything recorded and attended to with meticulous care and protection.
From 1815 to 1962, a period of 162 years, is a long time in the history of Newstead, a period when the school was run by the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society. Much was accomplished during this time. Traditions were established and foundations were laid and built on, girls and boys had spent formative years of their lives within her portal years they would never forget, where they gained not only knowledge but also ideals that would guide their future lives.
The time for change had, however, arrived and Newstead along with the many other schools that had been run by the Methodist Church, was vested in the government in 1962.
The nineteen sixties were a difficult period, perhaps a different period from any other, when the school had to make major adjustments to fit in with the new policies and trends of the educational set up of the country. This was a period when many long-standing and reputed school lost even their very identity in the turmoil of reaction and change. In such a situation, we thank God that Newstead had at her helm a lady of the calibre of Mrs. Clarice De Mel (wife of Rev. W. S. De Mel) to guide her destinies. Mrs. De Mel’s task was certainly not easy. It was a continuous struggle against many odds and much criticism, but her tenacious loyalty and devotion to her task saw her through, and thanks to her determined effort, the school was able to emerge from this period of change and turmoil with her old valued traditions and individuality intact, yet having made the necessary changes and improvements, to enable her to task her place in the main stream of the new educational set up in Sri Lanka.
At the time of vesting, the school though possessing a long history and valued traditions, had classes only up to Senior or GCE (Ordinary Level) and though Science and Arts subjects were taught, the emphasis was more on Home Science. Academically, this was a major drawback and Mrs. De Mel set about remedying this situation by introducing almost immediately the Advanced Level classes. The Advanced Level Arts and Home Science classes were started in 1963. A proper Ordinary Level Scvience class in the Sinhala medium was begun in 1964. On the strength of the good results obtained by these students, it became possible for the school to request for an Advanced Level Science class. Getting an Advanced Level Science stream into the school was not that easy as considerable red-tape was involved, and much lobbying with the Department was required to get the school upgraded of a BalikaMahaVidyalaya (BMV) before permissionto start an Advanced Level Science class was granted. In this instance, we cannot forget the members of the Parent-Teacher Association, Mr. D. E. S. Karunaratne, Mr.Reginold Fernando, Mr. A. Ratnayake and Mr. M. D. W. Jayawadene who gave their fullest co-operation to Mrs. De Mel, and helped whole-heartedly in the work that was involved. The required Departmental approval was finally obtained, and the Advanced Level Science class commenced in 1968 and the Advanced Level Commerce stream followed later. Thus, Mrs. De Mel paved the way forNewsteadites to continue their education up to University Entrance Level at Newstead. Since then many bright students have entered institutions of higher education directly from Newstead and qualified as doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, educationists, accountants and other professionals.
The school was thus rapidly growing in numbers, and more accommodation was becoming very necessary. Mrs. De Mel was successful in getting more up-to-date science Laboratory equipped for teaching of Science up to GCE ordinary Level class stands facing the netball court today. Mrs. De Mel was also responsible for the extension of the main hall, and the construction of the balcony. Two single-storey classroom blocks, each able to accommodate about three classes were constructed by her with government aid. The first is the row of primary classrooms, running parallel to the 2nd Cross Street and presently occupied by the grade 1 students; the second is the similar classroom block just adjoining the Mission House. The school dental Clinic was opened during her regime.
Another pressing need of the school was met with when the Past Pupils built and equipped the Dixon Memorial Library in 1970. Mrs. De Mel was also responsible for setting up the Junior and Senior Western Bands of the school, the first of their kind in Negombo, and making provisions for teaching other religions other than Christianity in school. Thus, Buddhism, Islam and Catholicism became a part of the school curriculum. She also introduced the Sinhala School Song following closely the theme and meaning of the English one. All this was accomplished by Mrs. De Mel while maintaining and expanding the activities that were already a part of Newsdtead. Thus, Newstead College today, owes a great deal to Mrs. De Mel, who through her zeal and foresight so structured the school to enable Newstead to take her place proudly in the main stream of education in Sri Lanka.
The school is also thankful to Rev. W. S. De Mel without whose encouragement and support Mrs. De Mel could not have undertaken and accomplished so great a task. Thanks are also due to Rev. Fred S. De Silva, then President of the Methodist Conference in Sri Lanka, who had a wider vision for Newstead, and enabled Rev. W. S. De Mel to serve in the circuits around Negombo to make it possible for Mrs. De Mel to continue her work at Newstead.
With the retirement of Mrs. De Mel in 1975, Mrs.Wimala Rodrigo was appointed Principal. Though to begin with, she was a total stranger to the school. She made it a point to understand the whole set up, and before long was as loved and accepted by the staff, students, past pupils and parents alike, as were the Principals of the past. She continued the good work of Mrs. De Mel. Not only did she respect the traditions that Newstead stood for but also upheld and nurtured them.
The much needed protective boundary wall beginning from the sickroom end along the seaside boundary and right up to the main gate was completed with money collected from efforts made by the students themselves. Mrs.Wimala Rodrigo was marvellous when it came to organising fund-raising projects drawing on the talents of students and the staff, and good portion of the funds required for building projects was thus collected.
First, a single-storey block of three classrooms was put up in the area behind the Home Science block, and was declared open by Miss. Ridge on the 5th of July 1976.
Newt, a two-storey block, capable of housing six classrooms: three upstairs and three downstairs, was put up immediately to the right of the main entrance to the school, and was declared open after a service of blessing conducted by Rev. Fred S. De Silva later the same year. An additional block of classrooms was put up parallel to the office block in the Primary School and was completed in June 1977. It was also during Mrs. Rodrigo’s period of office that the foundation was laid for the two-storey block of classrooms at the farther end of the compound, beyond the Mission House by the Hon. Minister of Industries and Scientific Affairs and the MP for NegomboMr.Denzil Fernando. This structure was to be funded with moneys allotted by the Hon. Minister from the decentralised budget funds. The ground floor portion of this building was completed by the time Mrs. Rodrigo retired in 1982.
Another most important feature of Mrs. Rodrigo’s regime was the setting up the school-leavers activity course in July 1975, a course from which many young people have been benefitted. Though conducted under the auspices of the adult education unit of the Ministry of Education, the success of this programme at Newstead was due to the keenness and enthusiasm of Mrs. Rodrigo herself, who saw in it potential for young school-leavers to find employment or self-employment. Many practical courses such as dress-making, cookery, hotel-craft, book-binding, paper-craft, shoe-making, batik and fabric painting and orchid culture were introduced into this programme by Mrs. Rodrigo.
Sport activity, especially athletics, reached a very high standard during this period. Shortly after the retirement of Mrs.Wimala Rodrigo, Mrs. J. M. Sumanasinghe took over. She was Principal of Newstead from May 1983 to January 1985. Though her tenure at Newstead was brief, yet it was a period of intense activity. She completed the boundary wall round the entire Primary School, and put up the open-air stage. With prompt efficiency, she procured for the school the full complement of qualified staff. Many essential extensions and alterations to the existing buildings were made. She saw to it that the Dental Clinic, which was housed at the Mission House end of the school was shifted to a more satisfactory location in the Primary School after constructing a suitable room for the purpose. She also got for the school the equipment to set up a Public Address System (PAS). The rapid extension of the school had made this an absolute necessity. Instruments for the Oriental Band were purchased and the Band was set up by 1984. Life was made more comfortable by the installing of ceiling fans in the main assembly hall and the upper and lower school staff common rooms. Thus, her contribution to the school during her brief one-and-a-half years’ term of office is truly remarkable.
Mrs. Ruth Senaratne, who was serving in the capacity of Deputy Principal since 1983, took over as Principal in January 1985 on Mrs.Sumanasinghe’s retirement. Under her quiet and able guidance, Newstead continued to grow from strength to strength. When the cluster school system was introduced, Newstead came to be placed as a school in the Negombo West Cluster. A major achievement under Mrs.Senaratne has been the upgrading Newstead to a National School. This was achieved in November 1989.
The school continues to grow, and Mrs.Senaratne has already started tackling the resultant problem of finding adequate accommodation. Fortunately, the two-storey building beyond the Mission House was at last completed, and in early 1985, it was declared open by Ho. Minister Mr.Denzil Fernando, the then Minister of Industries and Scientific Affairs and and MP for Negombo, who as mentioned earlier had provided funds from the decentralised budget towards its construction. This houses six large classes and a very spacious Physics Laboratory.
Foundations were laid for another two-storey classroom block in the Primary Section along the western boundary wall in 1987. This building was funded entirely by the School Development Society (or PTA) and built with money and materials contributed by parents of the school. Six Primary classes moved into occupy this block early this year, thus easing to a certain extent the problem of over-crowding. A fully-equipped Advanced level Science Laboratory was also completed in 1989 with funds obtained from the Ministry of Education. Ministry aid was also utilised to renovate two very old buildings: the Mission House and the Kindergarten premise. The Past Pupils too have stepped in to do their share. With funds collected from the twoday Fete and Fair and other efforts, they repaired the main assembly hall, provided it with proper doors and windows, and fitted up a brand new stage curtain to replace the old one, which was the one got down in the nineteen forties by Miss. Robins. This has been the Past Pupils’ 175th Birthday Gift to their Alma Mater. They have also provided furniture for the stage.
New activities introduced to the school are Cadetting, Basketball and Swimming. All this has been achieved under Mrs.Senaratne’s able guidance, and is proof of her ability. Newstead looks forward with confidence to many more years of advancement under her capable leadership.
This brief outline of a school 175 years old will not be complete without a word of tribute all those numerous people whose quiet but the dedicated service has contributed to make Newstead what it is today. We thank God for their service of love. Of them, some have passed on to their reward, some are living in retirement, and others are serving elsewhere. The present staff, to whichever category they belong, permanent, temporary, part time, tutorial or minor, day school or hostel, are all working together, and against many odds, to maintain the high standards of study, achievement and discipline which have been a part of Newstead. May God bless their efforts, and may Newstead always reach out to the future, true her motto, More Beyond.
On Mrs.Senaratne’s retirement, Mrs BimbaMaheshiWeerasuriya assumed duty as the Principal of Newstead Girls’ College in November, 2003. It was during Mrs BimbaMaheshiWeerasuriya’s tenure that the Tsunami devastated most of the coastal area of Sri Lanka killing thousands of Sri Lankans. Newstead being situated on the coastal belt of Negombo, Tsunami did not leave the school undamaged. School premises were inundated with sea water and debris. Mrs.BimbaMaheshiWeerasuriya encountered this natural disaster bravely and she rebuilt the school within a few days so that nobody could say that Tsunami damaged the school.
The present canteen was built under Mrs. B. M. Weerasuriya’s regime and it was declared open on the 22nd of January 2008. The gate at the entrance was constructed when she was at the helm of Newstead Girls’ College. The landscaping of the college was carried out and thereby the appearance of the college was elevated to a very attractive and fascinating outlook. In all these construct ructions, it was Mr.ShiranCroospulle, a Teacher of English in the Staff,who gave his fullest support and co-operation to Mrs.Weerasuriya to make all these successful.
s It was Mrs.Weerasuriya who introduced Communication and Media Studies subject for the GCE (O/L) class in 2008, and she entrusted Mr. Ivan Kiriella,a Teacher of English in the Staff, with the task of teaching this subject. And it was Mrs.Weerasuriya herself who entrusted the responsibility of Teacher-in-charge of the Media Circle toMr. Ivan Kiriella. It is also during her tenure, the students of Media Circle achieved great victories in competitions held among the schools islandwide. Mrs. H. M. G. P. Herath was the Deputy Principal at that time.
Mrs.B. M. Weerasuriya got a transfer to VishakaVidyalaya, Colombo in 2008 and thereupon Mrs. H. M. G. P. Herath took over duty as the Principal in the same year.