Although she is not an Old Girl, Joan Lyon must arguably be the most influential woman associated with John Lyon School. As the sole legatee of John Lyon, when he died in 1592, Joan inherited his vast fortune and estates. There is very little public information about Joan Lyon, further than she and her husband appear to have had no children and jointly decided to use their wealth for public benefit. Sixteen years after John's death, Joan died, leaving her entire wealth, as agreed with her husband, for the benefit of a school and the upkeep of two roads to London. The rest, as we know, is history. (And if you don’t know the history, click here
But there have been no girls at the School since the first lessons in 1853 in "The Barn" on the High Street, despite records showing there was one early student known as Sarah (until he was big enough and strong enough to lose that nickname...) and some very persistent rumours that we have taught girls at 6th form here (one OL absolutely insists on this). The only exceptions have been exchange students here for short periods of time. There have on the other hand been some very influential women, including the very first female teacher and the first female Head.
In 1967, Alison Dillon (pictured right) was appointed by Boyd Campbell as the first female teacher at John Lyon School. A Cambridge graduate, with a double first in Maths and "proper" aversion to scarves in the classroom, Alison insisted on being called “Sir” and was a formidable presence in the School1
. Shortly after her appointment, she set up a board games club, for which she invented new games, and organised the annual whole school expedition day. In her valete in the Lyonian 1985, after 18 years at John Lyon, she was very fondly remembered and not least for her humour, including the following exchange when the then Head, Dixon, announced her retirement:
HM: "We can assure you of our goodwill towards you during your last two months."
ACD: "I hope I've had it all the time I've been here."
Alison was the first in a long list of female staff to join the School who now account for over a third of the teaching staff, including our current Head, Katherine Haynes.
In 2009, Katherine Haynes became not only the first female Head of John Lyon School but the first female Head of an independent boys' school in the UK. Immediately after her appointment, she was asked, and then subsequently at regular intervals, if she had plans for coeducation. In 2009, there was no question that there was any plan to consider admitting girls. Of course, as any single sex school would, the question of coeducation has been considered many times in the decade since her appointment. However, it was only in January 2020 that the Governors made the decision to admit girls.
We look forward to welcoming the girls in 2021 and the new Old Girls who will graduate in summer 2028!
1. See the story about her aversion to scarves in "John Lyon's Dream
" by Michael Burrell.