It was the end of an era as one of England’s oldest girls schools closed its doors for the last time in its 173-year history.

Many pupils were in tears as a final church service was held at St Mary’s Hall School in Eastern Road, Brighton.

St Mary’s announced it would close in February, after reporting debts of £1.93 million last year and losses in four of the previous five years.

Rival independent school Roedean took over the school and families had to decide whether to send their daughters there or opt for another school.

Yesterday there were mixed emotions from parents as they collected their children.

Many families have chosen to send their daughters to different schools in September as a result of the higher fees at Roedean and some reservations about the different ethos of each school.

One mother of a Year 8 pupil, who did not want to be named, said: “I don’t know a single parent who isn’t feeling quite disappointed or absolutely furious.

“The closure was not inevitable at all. This is an extraordinary school and I feel very aggrieved we weren’t put in the picture on the financial situation at least a year ago.

“The sum of money owing isn’t huge and the parents and the Old Girls could have done something.”

Donna Gilbert, whose ten-year-old daughter Tayler started at the school in September on an academic scholarship, said: “It is very sad and did come as a bit of a shock.

“We managed to get a place at The Towers Convent School in Upper Beeding.

“But we haven’t got any regrets because St Mary’s turns out such wonderful girls and since she’s started at the school Tayler has never looked back, she’s really excelled.”

Peter Harland has decided to send his daughters Abigail, 11, and Bethane, 13, to Brighton and Hove High School as fees for Roedean are too high.

He said: “They have been at the school since they were three.”

Many parents were also still angry at the way in which the news was broken to their daughters, who were told in an assembly.

Dinnerlady Jacqueline Lilley, 69, who has worked at the school for 35 years was so upset she was unable to attend the final assembly.

She said: “There are five of us who have all been here for over 30 years - it adds up to 182 years between us.

“It was awful when we heard the news. It came as a complete surprise.

“It’s just the end of an era for us. We have all been part of a family for so long and have been so happy.”

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