120 years of family at Helvetia House School

BACK in 1889, a small school in Elizabeth Place, set up by Miss Eva Joste, opened its doors to its first intake of just five pupils.

BACK in 1889, a small school in Elizabeth Place, set up by Miss Eva Joste, opened its doors to its first intake of just five pupils.

One hundred and twenty years later, Helvetia House School is celebrating its anniversary, having grown considerably over the years.

The school marked the anniversary with, among other events, a show in which all the students, who range in age from four to 11 years, were involved. It took place at the Jersey Arts Centre.

Temps passé, the school building in Elizabeth Place on the corner of Rouge Bouillon and Parade Road was a private house when, in 1885, Captain Elias Joste bought the property for his elderly parents, Etienne Joste and Jeanne Le Bas of St Brelade, and his sister, Anne Joste, to live in.

With the family’s Swiss ancestry, it was no surprise that they named their new home Helvetia (the Roman name for Switzerland).

The first member of the Joste dynasty to arrive in Jersey was Etienne, who came originally from Les Grisons in Switzerland.

He had lived for a time in Paris, but fled to escape the Reign of Terror and settled in Jersey, where he met and married Jeanne. He was later naturalised as an Englishman in 1801.

His son, Stephen, married Anne de Ste Croix, in 1825 and it was their 12th child, Elias – a sea captain who was awarded the Royal Humane Society Medal for bravery after jumping overboard to save a passenger from drowning in rough seas – who bought the house that is the school of today.

After the death of his last surviving brother, Capt Philip Joste, Capt Elias took on the responsibility of his two nieces, Eva and Annie Joste.

It was Eva who in January 1889 decided to set up a little school in the house in Elizabeth Place. The school got its name almost by chance, after a school book salesman sent exercise books to Miss Joste’s school, with the gold impression ‘Helvetia House School’.

Eva was later joined in partnership by Annie (who later married Hugh Haines) and when Eva retired in 1895, on her marriage to solicitor Lyndon Rive, Annie took over as headmistress and ran the school for 35 years. She retired in 1939, Helvetia’s Golden Jubilee year, and died in November 1950.

It was Annie’s daughter, Phyllis Haines, who picked up the reins for the next generation – and it was she, too, who kept the school going through the years of Occupation, with the assistance of her sister, Miss Norah. Around 45 pupils attended Helvetia during the Occupations years.

Former pupils have written of the effects that Occupation wrought on staff and pupils between 1940 and 1945.

Thelma Durley wrote: ‘Spring Term 1941 got off to a late start. The weather was so cold and fuel so scarce we did not go back to school until the end of January. By that time, two black combustion stoves had been installed ... It was amazing how a fairly complete uniform was maintained, mostly hand-me-downs, false hems and pieces of old dresses let into ‘not-so-olds’.

On another occasion: ‘We went carol-singing in West Park Avenue and Parade Road. Before starting out, Miss Phyllis told us, in no uncertain terms, that we would sing carols in English and French – but not in German!’

Jill O’Neil recalled her fellow-pupils arriving at school wearing as many layers of clothing as they could find, once fuel became scarcer. She wrote: ‘Everything became slightly more relaxed at school during the Occupation years, due to the fact that we were all rather under-nourished and had to do rather a lot of walking.

It was decided that school would start at ten instead of nine ... I remember one girl, a farmer’s daughter, falling asleep in class and snoring loudly. When we giggled the teacher said: “Let the poor child sleep. She has been up since six helping with the cows”.’

Despite the difficulties, the school continued, and after the Occupation it prospered. Miss Phyllis remained as principal until her death in 1985. She was succeeded by Ann Atkinson, Eva’s grand-daughter, who had been teaching at the school since 1976 and took over as head teacher in 1985.

And it is Ann’s daughter, Lindsey Woodward, who is now Helvetia’s principal. Today, there are 71 girls at the school, from four-and-a-half to 11 years of age, and many of them are daughters and grand-daughters of Old Helvetians.

Although many things have changed over the last 120 years, traditional values remain.

The family atmosphere and ethos of Helvetia are little changed, with the three Rs still regarded as important, and good manners and respect are instilled from an early age.

Mrs Woodward, a pupil herself in the 1970s, said that in essence the school hasn’t changed much at all.

‘We still believe very much in good manners and behaving kindly to each other, it’s not just about the academic, it is about developing the all-round child.’

‘When I was at school here, Miss Phyllis and Miss Norah (Mrs Woodward’s aunts) still lived in the house – and Miss Phyllis was a bit scary!’ she said. ‘And the uniform is exactly the same. In fact, my daughter now wears my old winter hat to school.’