THE huge queue outside the school gates stretching back into Queen Anne's Road said it all; hundreds of former pupils had come back to school to enjoy an afternoon of unashamed reminiscing.

Queen Anne School in York, which is to close this summer, was packed with around 1,200 past and present pupils, teachers, parents, governors and friends, for its final garden party on Saturday.

Armed with umbrellas against the showers, the crowds poured out onto the terrace at the back of the school while others mingled inside, rediscovering their old classrooms, wandering around the corridors and lingering over an exhibition of memorabilia in the old hall.

Every other group seemed to be exclaiming over another forgotten face they had just met up with by surprise and the wet weather proved no barrier to a cheerful afternoon.

Headteacher Christine Priestley told the crowds, as the event began: "We can organise everything except the weather!"

She introduced Irene Whittaker, headmistress at Queen Anne Grammar School for 25 years, who performed the official opening.

Miss Whittaker said: "We have all come here with many memories of this place. I suspect they're mixed memories, mine are and I expect yours are too if you're honest.

"We're here to celebrate, not to mourn. What we're celebrating is 90 years of education in this place which is a great credit to the City of York.

"Decisions to close educational institutions are made sometimes - it's inevitable. We have to meet the changing demands of society and in those changing demands, schools that have been thoroughly useful become less useful than they once were."

But she said what went on in the school would continue into the future through friendship and through what people had learned at the school.

"Let's have a real wallow in nostalgia this afternoon - we should not do it all the time, it's not very healthy, but let's do it with gusto this afternoon."

The assembled crowds then spent the afternoon exploring the school and the grounds, where refreshments were served in tents. Souvenirs were on sale as well as copies of the Sphynx school magazine and music was provided by the Intermediate Concert Band of the York Music Centre, which has practised at Queen Anne School for many years.

All the proceeds went to the Queen Anne School Bursary Fund, which was launched by Mrs Priestley and which will give grants to children living in the traditional catchment area of Queen Anne School, Bootham, Clifton and Rawcliffe after the school has closed.

Head boy Chris Brown also presented the school's Sally Arnup bronze sculpture to Richard Green, curator of York City Art Gallery.

Among the crowds were one group who were at the school from 1971 to 1978, who went back to look at the old classroom, then called Room 1N.

Susan Jessop, from York, said: "It's the people and the memories that we've come back for - we've met up with people we haven't seen for more than 20 years."

Diana Armitage, from Southend, said: "There are always mixed memories from any schools, but it's nice to focus on the good memories.

They were with twins Elizabeth and Sheila Fawell, who now live in Leeds and Hertfordshire respectively, who remembered having to wear different-coloured shirts and styling their hair differently so people could tell them apart at school.

The other two friends were Christine Lawson and Christine Hodgson.

Gertrude Blanchard, from Dringhouses, York, was at the school between 1933 and 38, and came with her friend Joan Hester, also from Dringhouses, who was there from 1929 to 34.

Gertrude said she was enjoying looking at the exhibition in the hall.

"I'm enjoying it and I've seen people I didn't expect to see. We still recognised each other after all this time."