Old Girls’ General News

Liverpool City Drinks 2017

This year’s annual Liverpool City Drinks took place at the historic Racquet Club Hotel in Chapel Street.  Over 60 former pupils (of all ages), former staff, parents as well as current school staff attended throughout the evening.  The event was organised by the Schools’ Alumni Relations department and sponsored by the Old Girls’ Association.  It was great opportunity for those working in the Liverpool area to network with people from the Merchants’ community and to catch up with old friends.

London City Drinks 2016

10th November 2016

On a crisp autumn evening, over 120 people called in at this year’s London City Drinks event held at The Merchant Taylors’ Company Hall.  For some, it has become a regular, informal meeting point with school friends, for others it was a first visit and a chance to not only appreciate the beautiful venue but also reconnect with the Merchants’ family.  Alumni, staff, parents and the recently appointed Chair of Governors, Beverley Bell, mingled to catch up on careers, school news and views.

If you live in the London area or visit the capital through your work, look out for the date of next year’s event and consider joining us.

However did we manage without the internet? Catriona Smith (née Carmichael)

…and where idle googling can lead you…be careful!

 Like many of you, I received an email in February or early March about the weekly archive items which would be featured on the Merchant Taylors’ Schools website from 2016 to 2020 to mark the 400th anniversary of the school.

I actually ignored it until one day when I was thinking about the impending family reunion I was helping to organise for descendants of my maternal great-great and great grandfathers, the Plint clan. My eldest brother (an old boy of MTS) was collecting information about various members of the family to provide an up to date biographical document so that the cousins who didn’t know one another very well could find out more about each other, and if they came to the reunion, meet face to face as well. Additional information on our common ancestors formed a large part of the document. Quite a few members of the Plint and Carmichael clans were pupils at MTS/MTGS over the last hundred years or so, as were cousins on other sides of the family. It’s a small world.

Perhaps it was this very vague train of thought which prompted me to remember the school email and look at the website to seek out the archive entry. I was taken aback to see on the very first entry a picture of my great aunt, Constance Plint, (known to me as Aunty Connie, who was a pupil from 1906 and then a teacher at MTGS, completing her qualifications by distance learning during WW1, truly an achievement in those times).

I contacted my brother and we arranged with the school archivist, Anita Barry, to have a copy of the picture to put in the family document. (It formed part of a collection of documents about Constance Plint given some years earlier to the school by one of her nephews’ family who had the original papers including references for future jobs. It makes interesting reading.)

But before I phoned the school I was intrigued to see what other offerings the archive blog had put on the website…. You know how it is with the Internet, once you get hooked into a search.

I looked at the entries which were there, about 4 weeks’  worth, and was further astounded to see that the one issued on my birthday 8th April,  was a picture of my German exchange group from 1967! Not only that but my actual name was mentioned in the accompanying write up. I am the one hiding behind my pen friend Sabine, who has pole position next to Mrs Woodhall, our German teacher.  (Mrs Woodhall was a scary but very talented and inspiring teacher for me.)

This was altogether an embarrassment of coincidences….. but rather comforting in a funny sort of way. Putting oneself in context, so to speak.

I think I have recovered now from the searchlight of unexpected fame, and can thoroughly recommend looking at the archive blog: you never know what you will find.

As a footnote, especially if you have a large family, I can also recommend a family reunion: ours was in July and a wonderful weekend of catching up and making new acquaintances was enjoyed by nearly 80 people of all ages from 3 months to over 85 and from all corners of the world. And all of  whom had one common ancestor not so far back, in the 18th and 19th centuries …  If the members of the various families represented who could not make it in person had been there we would have numbered well over 100. Now that puts one in context!

Helen Releases First EP as ‘Gazelle’

Since leaving MTGS in 2010, Helen Gaskell has embraced her creativity, turning her attention to music in pursuit of a dream career. Helen sang and played piano throughout school, having been captivated by jazz from an early age. On leaving Merchants however, she went on to study Chemistry at Newcastle University. During an exchange year in Versailles, her desire to pursue her creativity led her to quit the research project she was working on and move to Paris where she moved into an underground art commune and worked as an au pair by day. Here she developed her musical capabilities, quickly teaching herself to play the guitar and singing in a band with her housemates. This ignited her love for the seminal electronic rhythms of Jamie Woon and influential beats of Robert Glasper.

Inspired to write songs from an early age, Helen’s first composition ‘Jazzy Chocolate’ on clarinet was driven by discovering a love for Nina Simone. Helen has now traded in the clarinet for guitar and is writing her own material inspired by singers like Etta James, Melody Gardot, Lauryn Hill, and India Arie. Performing her music as ‘Gazelle’ regularly in Liverpool bars she was picked up by the management company ‘tri-tone’ and has since been working in Parr Street Studios on her EP.
Her unique vocal sound has impressed listeners on BBC radio 6. BBC radio Merseyside listeners tune in most Saturdays to hear her on the BBC Introducing show and Helen’s first official ‘Gazelle’ gig was for the BBC 1xtra music showcase. Helen is now working towards writing an album in hope of getting signed. These exciting steps for Helen have enabled her EP to now be available on Spotify, Apple Music and can be downloaded on iTunes here https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/undiscovered-love-ep/id1160325956
To stay tuned with Helen’s latest releases follow her SoundCloud account at www.soundcloud.com/thisisgazelle.

You can also find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thisisgazelle and follow her on twitter and Instagram @thisisgazelle.


Old Girl Sian ‘Wins her Wish List’

Old girl Sian Stephens (nee Evans) 1980-87 was sitting at her desk one Monday morning opening emails to the busy careers enquiries mailboxes she managed as the national Recruitment Manager for a UK luxury boutique hotel chain when an email from a TV Company caught her eye. Looking for lively couples to apply for a TV quiz show to win their dream wish list by answering general knowledge questions on a range of topics against the clock and is hosted by Shane Ritchie on the BBC Lottery show on Saturday night. Sian saw this as an excellent opportunity to try and win their dream holiday to visit their best friends who had moved to Perth in Australia and as both her and her husband enjoy quizzes and know their general knowledge and trivia so Sian applied. A few weeks later Sian had forgotten all about the show until she got a phone call from one of the show’s producers who invited her to audition there and then over the phone. Sian’s husband Phil also received a phone call which was somewhat of a surprise as Sian had forgotten to tell him! However they both passed the initial audition and were then invited to a live audition with 6 other couples in Manchester. We were very nervous and I made a few comical errors Sian recalls, but managed to win over the producers who selected them for the show.

In August 2015 the couple along with 5 of their friends who were invited to come and watch for support, travelled up to the BBC studios in Glasgow to film the show in front of a live studio audience.  It was very nerve racking but Shane Ritchie was lovely and really made us feel at ease Sian remembers and we overcame our nerves to win an amazing 6 out of our 7 prizes which totalled £35,000 including our dream holiday to Thailand and Australia, a festival in our garden with live band, DJ and Hogroast, room makeover, a man cave for Phil and a spa weekend by answering all our questions correctly beating the clock to even get some as an instant win. Sian’s topics included nature and popular culture and has credited her Merchants education as helping to give her the thirst for knowledge and keeping up to date with current affairs – I knew my General Studies A Level would come in useful one day she states!

The couple had become somewhat celebrities after appearing in the local paper twice so decided to organise an evening for friends and family at a local tennis club when the show was aired to help raise money by holding a raffle for their friends charity Believe Organ donation (believe-ods-org.uk) started by the widow of local boy Stuart Bates who was tragically killed with his young son by a speeding driver last Christmas as they walked home from a family party. They continued their fundraising by collecting donations for the charity at their recent festival in their garden.  Sian is a keen athlete and charity fundraiser and with her previous company Lloyd’s Register EMEA (marine surveyors) was chosen by the CEO as one of the runners in an international team from offices around the world to compete in the gruelling 250,000 anniversary Athens marathon in 2010 raising over 40k for various marine charities. In 2010 Sian also started a charity project called the Breakfast Club for local homeless shelter the Whitechapel Centre in Liverpool which involved volunteers from her office serving breakfasts to the Homeless on a weekly basis which launched the volunteer programme still going today.

After Sian left school she attended Surrey University achieving a Joint Honours in English and Sociology then continued living and working in London in Health Club Management for over 13 years. She then moved back to Crosby in 2002 and married childhood sweetheart Phil Stephens whose sister Elizabeth was deputy Head Girl in 1986/7 and eventually buying her childhood home which she shares with Phil and their 3 children.

Brendan King Visits to discuss Old Girl Beryl Bainbridge


Last week we welcomed author Brendan King into school to reveal the real woman behind the popular novelist and MTGS Old Girl, Beryl Bainbridge and discuss his recent biography of her.

Beryl was at MTGS from 1942-47.  Brendan talked about her time at school and said she struggled academically, he recounted some of her diary entries at the time – 6th Feb entry “Damn it, these teachers”.  She was quite a rebel and was known as Basher Bainbridge.  In her later years she came back to visit MTGS and admitted that she wasn’t our ideal student.  Brendan said that Beryl’s time at MTGS wasn’t all negative and credited some of her writing success down to her former inspirational English teacher Miss Peck. Dame Beryl Bainbridge went on to become one of the most popular and recognisable English novelists of her generation.

Brendan worked for Beryl in the late 80s originally as her proof reader.  He said they complemented each other well as Beryl was spontaneous & instinctive and he was logical & disciplined. He worked with her up until 2010 and helped to prepare her final novel The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress for publication after her death.

The talk was well attended by former staff, Old Boys and Old Girls, some who had known Beryl at School.  A group of our own sixth form girls also attended.

In his biography Brendan displays a frank portrait of Beryl Bainbridge, revealing the real woman behind her popular image as a quirky eccentric. The biography Love by All Sorts of Means is now available.


Caitlin O’Brien – A Career in Medical Physics

Pick up my UCAS personal statement today and you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d booked a flight to CERN and was halfway to a career in particle physics. Instead, when I arrived at Nottingham to study Physics, the breadth of topics available and the freedom and flexibility of my course opened my eyes to opportunities I had never really considered, or even knew existed. A combination of an excellent department, enthusiastic lecturers and career opportunities, eventually lead me into medical physics.

As graduation approached I had two main options: train with the NHS for 3 years to become a qualified medical physicist, or take up a fully funded PhD in Biomedical Imaging at Oxford University. I decided on the latter, although I have many friends who opted to go down NHS route.

I’m still surprised by how little people know about medical physics as I am reminded every day of the large and direct impact it has on peoples’ lives. Medical physics is the basis of any technique we use to image the human body such as ultrasound, MRI or X-ray, as well as playing a crucial role in drug development, cancer treatment and understanding mental health, to name but a few. So far in my short 3 years of studying medical physics I’ve worked on projects involving Osteoporosis, Schizophrenia, Epilepsy and Cardiovascular disease. My current project involves trying to measure oxygen uptake in the brain using MRI, with the aim of improving treatment planning and outcome of stroke patients. We’ve recently had the go-ahead to scan our first NHS patient which is incredibly exciting.

I’m not sure if my future lies in academia but if reading my personal statement has taught me anything it’s that you can never predict the opportunities that are going to come your way or where you’re going to end up.

Nicky Swift (1991-98) – A Career in Musical Theatre



It’s been eighteen years since I left MTGS, though in some ways it only feels like a few! I went straight to Birmingham University and got my music degree, followed by a post grad year at The Royal Academy Of Music (musical theatre course). It was always the route I wanted to go, but along the way I was met with a number of people who tried to discourage me from such an unsteady career! Don’t get me wrong, a career in the performing arts is hard.really hard, and you have to want to do it more than anything else in the world. There are constant knock backs and people will criticise you to your face about your singing/acting/dance but, along the way, you develop a thick skin and when you do get offered a job, you forget the tougher days. It’s hard work but if you believe in yourself you can achieve anything in life.

I’ve been lucky, I have an incredibly supportive family, friends and partner. I’ve been fortunate enough to work pretty consistently in the business, from a two year stint at Les Miserables in the West End to shorter jobs up in Liverpool at the Everyman Theatre and The Royal Court, (the latter which incidentally has another ex MTGS girl working as casting director). I’ve worked on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, TV appearances, Buddy the musical, Cats (back in the day when I could still kick my leg high enough!) and now I’m touring the UK in Footloose the musical where I’m playing one of the leads. I get to see a different city every week, I get to catch up with old school friends along the way and perform to a wider variety of audiences. In this show I also get to play the piano, flute and sax as we are not only the actors on stage but we are also the band. These days my casting bracket has changed.  I’ve gone from playing the smaller character parts, or understudying the principal roles to being cast as the ‘mum’ parts….yes, I’m now at that awkward age, I’m embracing it.  These parts are usually more interesting anyway… at least that’s what I tell myself! My life is full, I have made tremendous friends over the years and continue to make more as I go from job to job, every day is different and I am hugely grateful for that.

In November I will take two months off, I will rest my voice, have some family time, join my partner on his tour for a while and actually have some ‘me’ time….after 11 months of doing a high energy show like Footloose, seven very fast costume changes per show 8 times a week, playing the sax whilst roller skating and dancing for an entire 80’s megamix at the end of the performance, I think I need a rest!

An Annoyance of Neighbours by Angela Lightburn (née Trench)

I’ve always had a secret desire to be an author.

Even after writing academic papers, a PhD thesis, had letters and articles published in newspapers and magazines, I’ve yearned to be a Proper Author with my name on a book. Over the years I’ve gathered ideas for novels and even got as far as a first draft.  Then a similar storyline cropped up in a well-known series on TV and that was that.

Inspiration can be found in strange places.  Three years ago I volunteered to help my parish council develop a Neighbourhood Plan which involved consulting local residents for their views on housing needs and the best places for development. During the process I heard many interesting tales of neighbourly interactions and I noticed similar stories in the news about disputes between neighbours over hedges, parking, noise and building works. As a psychologist I was fascinated by how these situations arose, how they were dealt with and the consequences. They shed light on the minefield of undercurrents, subtexts and etiquette involved in the type of forced relationships that exist between neighbours.

One day as I was thinking, all those thoughts coalesced and An Annoyance of Neighbours was conceived. Once I started writing I couldn’t stop! When searching for a word and later when editing and proof reading the manuscript, I often thought about the wonderful Merchant Taylors’ education I received in grammar and punctuation. I vividly recall an English lesson in the use of Roget’s Thesaurus, which came in very handy!

I had great fun researching and writing my book.  It will never win The Man Booker Prize but I’m proud of it and I can finally call myself an Author.

So if getting published is on your bucket list and you’ve got something part-written gathering dust somewhere or even just an idea, have confidence in yourself, get writing and resolve to finish it. If I can do it, so can you!

Dr Angela Lightburn (née Trench) is the author of An Annoyance of Neighbours published by Troubador Publishing Ltd and available on Amazon as a paperback and ebook. Find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Top Industry Accolade for Anna Ratcliffe (1999 Leaver)

Former pupil Anna Ratcliffe (1999) and Director of The Michel Roux Jr Cookery School in Clapham, London, has been honoured with a top industry accolade for her work at Cactus Kitchens.

The school works with a number of male chefs however the team running the business is entirely female. The school was crowned 2016 Cookery School of the Year at the Food and Travel Magazine Reader awards celebrating the best in the worlds of food, drink and travel.

Anna accepted the trophy at a ceremony at the RAC club on Pall Mall saying “The support we’ve received from mentors, and workshops we’ve attended, as part of the growth schemes have been invaluable in helping us gain essential business knowledge and set sound strategies for future growth.”

“It’s incredibly heart-warming to be rewarded by the Food and Travel readers for all the hard work we’ve poured into the cookery school. The entire team – the admin staff, the home economists, the chefs and I – all love what we do and I think that really shines through in our daily approach and is the reason our customers have voted for us.”

The cookery school was opened in 2013 in partnership with Michel Roux Jr and since then has grown from employing just 2 full time members of staff to 7. They have received support from the government’s Growth Accelerator programme for small businesses and are now being mentored by the British Library’s Innovating for Growth: Scale Ups programme. Anna also took part in Escape the City’s Start-Up Tribe in 2015. Hundreds of cooking enthusiasts and food lovers have since had the opportunity to cook alongside the trailblazing chef, his protégés and an array of award-winning stars of the kitchen.


Anna is pictured holding the trophy! The chefs in the picture all work for the famous Roux family, are along the back, and from left to right are: Toby Stuart – Executive Chef for Chez Roux Group, Chris King – Executive Chef for Chez Roux at The Langham London Hotel, Steve Groves – Head Chef for Roux at Parliament Square (former Masterchef: The Professionals Winner), Rachel Humphrey – Executive Chef for Le Gavroche.
To find out more about the school please follow this link www.cactuskitchens.co.uk