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Penrhos celebrates 50 years of boarding


6 August 2021

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Penrhos College



Boarding has been a part of Penrhos life for 50 years, during which time it has enriched the lives of more than 1,260 girls. From the very beginning, the Penrhos Boarding House has provided a safe and welcoming space in which our boarders live and learn, whilst they establish their independence and form firm and long-lasting friendships. We are delighted to celebrate our first 50 years in the words of our College Archivist, Merilyn Orchard – read on to explore Merilyn’s piece, which includes personal reflections from both past boarders and our very first Head of Boarding. 

The original Penrhos College operated as a day school – it was established on Angelo Street in South Perth, following the purchase of St Anne’s College by Methodist Ladies College in 1952. In 1963, under the leadership of Mrs Margaret Way, the school’s name changed from MLC South Perth to Penrhos MLC. The name Penrhos (Welsh for ‘the peak of the moor’) represented a symbolic link to the first Methodist girls’ school established in 1880 in Wales, in the United Kingdom – Mrs Way had spent many hours searching for a name for the College that would both retain some connection with the Methodist Church history and establish a separate identity from MLC Claremont. In 1963, she spoke with a visiting minister from England, Mr Watson, who suggested the name Penrhos, as a much-loved school his wife had attended with a very good record. Mrs Way subsequently discovered that three of her senior girls had been corresponding with girls at Penrhos in Wales for some time, and so considered the name Penrhos MLC was somehow meant to be. 

For several years, the school experienced rapid growth and the Angelo Street premises were no longer adequate. In 1963, the School Council recognised the need to expand into a larger site and to introduce boarding options. Conveniently located south of the river, the government granted Penrhos MLC 20 acres on the Collier Pine Plantation in 1966 … and so began an exciting new chapter for the school, with the introduction of the first Boarding House. A completely new school was built for 500 day students and 200 boarders, with financial support from fundraising appeals, along with State and Federal Government grants.     

The new Penrhos Boarding House was named Colwyn House after a prominent bay in Wales, where the original Penrhos school was situated, and the doors were opened to its first 25 boarders on Monday, 8 February 1971. Mrs Montgomery, the first Head of Boarding, and her assistant Miss Greenwall were there to help settle in the first girls, who were predominantly from regional WA along with a small number from overseas.   


Memories from J. Hale (Class of 1972): 

The opening of the Boarding House marks the dawning of a new day in the history of Penrhos MLC.  Boarding facilities have been introduced for the first time and we, as foundation boarders, feel an upsurge of pride at being the first to live in this beautiful building – and beautiful indeed it is.  There are 51 cubicles in the boarding house, and this (rather than sharing one large room) clearly differentiates ours from other boarding schools. 


Memories from D. Lambert (Class of 1975): 

There were just 20 boarders in the early days, although numbers quickly grew. Compared to other independent schools, our living quarters were quite luxurious – mainly because everything was brand new. Even the food was remarkably good, disappointing those of us who hoped to impress family at home with tales of Dickensian hardship. Notable exceptions were cold canned spaghetti sandwiches and ‘flybread’ which cropped up all too often in our packed lunches. Mrs Montgomery (or Monty), the Head of Boarding, took her role as guardian of our moral rectitude very seriously – she must have aged about 10 years in the time I was there! She was a benign and caring person who did her very best to establish a family atmosphere.   


Mrs Montgomery recollects the first few weeks: 

We were surrounded by piles of sand. Bulldozers often accidentally ripped up gas, electricity and water pipes. The P&C members were an immense help at these times; they would ferry in carloads of support items – they even brought plastic buckets of water to the kitchen and 24 hurricane lamps for use during blackouts. Showers were short in those days, but the goodwill and closeness that comes from people caring about each other in hard times made up for that.  


By 1973, the Boarding House numbers grew to 51 senior boarders and three Boarding House Supervisors. Eventually the Boarding House was split into two houses, Colwyn and Menai (named after the Menai Strait stretch of water, near Colwyn Bay in Wales) which remained until 2009, when the impressively rebuilt Menai Boarding House was launched with a new extended capacity to house 100 boarders.   

In 2012, Colwyn House was converted into a new space for additional Secondary School classrooms, a dance studio, the Health Centre and a College staff centre with seminar rooms.   

Today, in its 50th year, boarding at Penrhos is now embarking on another fresh chapter in its history under the new leadership of Liz Langdon, who returned to Penrhos (having previously worked here as a Careers Adviser 2007 – 2012) to become our Head of Boarding at the start of Term 2. Liz has some exciting new plans for the Boarding House, including lots more leadership opportunities for Year 11 and 12s.  


“Boarding at Penrhos is filled with many exciting and unique opportunities, that are beneficial for both our girls and their parents. I feel privileged to be part of their extended family and proud to have the opportunity to help inspire, encourage and empower our Penrhos boarders as they discover their independence, their friendships, their interests and their aspirations for the future”, says Liz. 


The future certainly looks bright for Penrhos Boarding. Here’s to the next amazing 50 years!