Misses Jessie and Isabel Westgarth opened Westleigh College for the education of young ladies in 1900. Initially based in Clifton Hill, the Westgarth sisters bought the large house in Clarke Street, Northcote as an extension to their Clifton Hill School and moved their junior school there in 1902 and soon afterwards, a kindergarten. Term fees for day pupils were 1 to 2 guineas and 10 to 15 guineas for boarders.
In 1906 the sisters took over the Northcote College and Kindergarten conducted by Miss Davison at the Wesleyan school room in High Street and occupied William Rucker’s former mansion ‘Sunnyside’, running part of their college in its galvanized-iron ballroom. In 1910 they purchased a large house called ‘Leura’ (demolished in 1964) on Bayview Street close to High Street. The junior school children were moved to North Fitzroy and the senior school moved in to the new house at Northcote. Westleigh’s advertisements boasted that the school had spacious classrooms, a dormitory for boarders, large grounds, poultry, a cow, a fruit and vegetable garden and a school library. In 1912 the school had an enrolment of 106 students.
By 1917 Westleigh College had been taken over by the sisters Kate and Ada Gresham. However the Inspector noted that pupils rarely proceeded beyond Form III, and so the academic standard was considered not high enough for continued registration as a secondary school. The sisters were given time to bring up the school to the required standard but by June 1919 Ada Gresham conceded that it was impossible to raise the educational standard of the school. She left the school at the end of the year and from that time on it was run as a primary and sub-primary school.
By the 1950s the school was struggling. Student numbers of 180 in 1954 had fallen to between 80 and 90 by 1961. What made things even more difficult was the age of the teachers, Matron was 81 and Miss Clarice was 74. When Miss Clarice had a heart attack, the end of the school was inevitable.
In 1962 an infant school was opened on the site but closed shortly afterwards. A fire in 1962 destroyed many of the school records and memorabelia.
Batrouney, Trevor.(1991). Westleigh School: Northcote 1886-1961.
Butler, Graeme (1982). City of Northcote urban conservation study. Alphington: City Of Northcote.
Lemon, Andrew (1983). The Northcote Side of the River. North Melbourne: Hargreen.
(1902, September 6). Northcote Leader (Northcote, Vic. : 1882 - ).