With the new School uniform coming into effect this year, I thought it would be apt to look back at the history of this lesser explored subject and what I found even astounded me. Uniform at Mill Hill hasn’t always been, well, uniform. School blazers weren’t even introduced into circulation almost until our first centenary! One could honestly write an entire book on the subject, but don’t worry, I’m going to try and squeeze it all into only one article – wish me luck! Right, let’s start at the beginning.
Naturally I began my search with Mill Hill’s opening in 1807, over 200 years ago. At this time, there was no set uniform, especially no school blazers. This surprised me as I knew other schools during this period did have a set uniform or robes of some kind. Under the first Headmaster, Reverend John Atkinson, there was an approved list of general clothes to be worn during term, including “black or blue suit jackets”. Boys were expected to wear accompanying black trousers, except in summer when they wore white ducks, a looser type of trousers. Collars were attached to the shirt, round which they tied either coloured ribbons or silk handkerchiefs; their version of neckties before ties as we know them became a staple. This style of school dress remained for almost 100 years, before the first School blazer was formerly introduced under Headmaster John McClure. These first blazers were a dark navy blue, embroidered with a bright red monogram of MHS on the breast pocket; we still have one such blazer on display today. McClure also oversaw the introduction of sporting Colours. These Colours were awarded to players of specific teams, and could come in the form of squares, scarves or even shoelaces. However, they had to be re-awarded every year, so the privilege could be short lived if players didn’t make the mark.
Unlike the lasting legacy of Colours, McClure’s first version of our blazer was short lived as by 1933 they were replaced with grey tweed Sports Jackets. These jackets were fondly dubbed ‘bog-jackets’ due to their strong stench when wet. This lapse in regulation didn’t last long, as school blazers made a comeback, just before the outbreak of World War 2, in 1939. These blazers differed from their predecessors. Whilst the dark navy of the old blazers was kept, the new official School crest, first granted in 1935, was embroidered on the top pocket in place of the old monogram. Despite their recent arrival, these blazers didn’t stay long. With Mill Hill’s wartime evacuation to St Bees that year, and wartime clothing rations, the decision was taken to return to plain suits and Sports Jackets like the year before. Although boys who had already purchased the official school blazers were allowed to bring and wear them. Awarding of Colours was also suspended due to material shortages.
It wasn’t until after Mill Hill’s return home, that the pre-war crested blazers were brought back into circulation. They remained part of the uniform for the next 20 years, until around the mid-1960s, when a decision was taken to switch back Sports Team Jackets and suits; if you’re confused, imagine how I felt!. It’s worth noting that these Jackets were far more glamorous than their predecessors. Available in a variety of colours, which were used to denote players and team members for different sports, they were either cream with brown highlights (worn by Cricket players), or brown with cream highlights (worn by Hockey teams). They were also occasionally embroidered with the sports team and dates. Older pupils who still had their school blazers were allowed to wear them. The Sports Suit was far less comfortable, being made from an itchy dark green tweed. Grey suit trousers were to be worn during the week, whilst matching tweed trousers were to be worn on Sundays, or on special occasions. The tweed trousers were equally, if not more uncomfortable, with the poor boys resorting to wearing their pyjama bottoms underneath to alleviate the roughness. School ties were also made of a similar material.
House ties had been introduced by this time as well, enabling pupils to represent their House with pride. As Old Millhillians are wont to comment, “House trumps School!”. Although over the years, with various Houses ceasing to exist, the colours of these different ties have changed over the years.
Right, a short pause to let us all catch up. Quick recap, 1807-1901: no blazer, 1901-1933: blue and red monogramed blazer and Sports Colours, 1933-39: slightly odourful, tweed Sports Jackets, 1939: new blue crested blazer introduced, 1939-1945: grey tweed Sports Jackets again, 1945-1960s: return to crested blazer, mid-1960s: blazer replaced by new Sports Jackets and plain suits. Phew! I hope everyone is keeping up, bear with as we’re nearly there! Right, where were we – ah yes, the 1960s.
Upon the introduction of Sixth Form co-education to Mill Hill in 1975, the new female pupils were allowed to wear open collar shirts and neckerchiefs, accompanied by a plain skirt and suit jacket. By the mid-1990s, Sports Jackets were still very much all the range – unfortunately still quite pungent when wet! These Jackets were for day-to-day use, and a darker, crested blazer was reserved for Sunday best – both jackets were mandatory for day and boarders alike. Sixth Formers during this time would drop the Jacket and just wear the crested blazer, although Monitors and Prefects had the privilege of wearing suits and shirts of their own choosing. It wasn’t until 1996, that School blazers were permanently reintroduced for the last time. These blazers were given an updated School crest on their breast pockets and a slightly greener shade of navy. However, it was the following year that most radically changed the uniform of Mill Hill since McClure’s first blazer all those years ago.
1997 was a momentous year for the School, as the Mill Hill Foundation went fully co-educational; meaning that girls were able to join any form group, not just in the Sixth Form! Whilst plain skirts were appropriate for Sixth Form uniform, the School needed to create a lower school uniform for their new female pupils. The task fell to Deputy Head Judith Herbertson, who designed the entire co-educational uniform – no mean feat! After much deliberation, she created our now famous kilts, with distinct their green and navy checkered pattern they added much needed colour and individuality to the uniform. Whilst we have changed the colour of the kilts with the new uniform, we have retained this unique addition!
Similarly with the expansion of the School over the last few decades, new houses, new councils, new scholarships have been introduced; Mill Hill has sought to recognise these through additions to its uniform. For instance, the creation of Macgregor (named after Mary Macgregor, founder of the former Mount School) and Winfield (named after former Headmaster William Winfield) Houses over the last five years has produced two new, beautiful ties for its pupils to wear with pride – purple, white, and green, and blue and white respectively. New councils have been formed over the years, for pupils to have their say in School life, with each council member awarded a tie in recognition of their new responsibility. Pupil accomplishments are also now reflected in their uniform; those who attain scholarships can wear their freshly awarded ties. From the blue and white ties of Sports Scholars, to the blue and gold of the Music Scholars’ ties or the deep purple of the Scholars’ ties. In addition to these, there are also a wide variety of other ties pupils can now collect, such as individual Sport’s ties (such as Eton Fives), or the golden Chapel Choir ties. I still have my collection of ties from my time at Mill Hill, including my Choir and Monitor’s tie, that I continue to cherish to this day!
Yet it must be noted that several of these poignant additions to the uniform were produced by pupils themselves. It was the various School Councils members who suggested the creation of a ‘Pupil Voice’ tie, so that they would be more recognisable and approachable to their fellow pupils. Similarly, in 2018, Prefects and Monitors came together to create a brand-new, stylish scarf that would reflect their appointments. The pupils designed a new beautiful, maroon scarf with three golden martlets, to mirror the Monitors’ ties that they also wear.
So final recap, I promise, 1960s-1994: Sports Jackets and plain suits, again, 1994-1996: Sports Jackets and Sunday best blazer, 1996-Present: new crested blazers, 1997-Present; Mill Hill kilts are added, 2017-Present: introduction of new pupil created ties and scarves. Phew, we made it, we’ve reached the end of our official School uniform timeline! However, before you dash off now, I want to share the most interesting piece of information I learnt through this journey.
However, the most surprising information I uncovered, was that uniforms at Mill Hill have never been viewed as simple items of clothing. Across the centuries, they have frequently been imbued with alternative values. For example, under Headmaster John Priestley, pupils caught lying were forced to wear their jackets inside out as a mark of their shame. They were only forced to endure this punishment for one day if they lied once, repeat offenders could be made to wear this ridiculous ensemble for up to a week if caught repeatedly lying. Similarly, uniforms were also utilised as part of the delicate social hierarchy at school. For example, how a boy wore his blazer was used to denote which year he was in. First years wore their blazers done up by the middle button only, second years were allowed to place their hands in their pockets (which was much appreciated during Winter), third years could walk around with all their blazer buttons undone or done all the way up and fourth years could walk around with their collars turned up.
Similarly, how one wore their tie was also often viewed as reflecting the status of the pupils. In a cartoon from the 1920s, it depicts the four stages of a pupil’s tie during his time at Mill Hill; at first, the tie is askew, his breast pocket filled with rubbish, a year later though, his tie has been straightened and his pocket less chaotic. Next, a Prefect is shown with his tie done up, underneath his jumper, with a handkerchief neatly placed in his breast pocket, and finally, a Monitor is shown with a colourful shirt beneath his tidy, straight tie, his Monitor’s badge proudly displayed on his lapel. As part of their appointment as Prefects or Monitors, these selected pupils were given relative creative freedom with their uniforms. These pillars of the School could wear coloured shirts and socks, have anything they wanted in their breast pockets (such as their Sports colours), wore specific caps and could even have coloured pullovers – although a white tie was obligatory for Sunday Chapel services, creating the nickname ‘the White Tie Club’. The maroon Monitors tie we still use to this day, wasn’t introduced until the 1980s. This continues today, with pupils proudly wearing their House colours and the ties they have received in recognition of their achievements and contributions.
Clearly the history of Mill Hill School’s uniform is as colourful as it is long. Whilst some may view this new uniform as change, I view it as returning to our roots, our history. It’s a way for us to connect to all those generations who have gone before us, wearing our uniforms with pride just like they did all those centuries ago.