Bartholomew Ruspini

Anyone familiar with the School’s history will know the name Ruspini as the Institutor. However, this post is less about what he did and more about the person discerned from a multitude of references. These often don’t agree leaving the researcher to try and find a pathway through. For example, the date of his birth is most frequently given as 1728, possibly drawn from his declared age when he married in 1767. Christine Hilliam states unequivocally that he was born on 21 February 1730 at Ca Bonoré, Romacolo, in the parish of Grumello de’ Zanchi ‘the eldest of the eight children of Giovanni Andrea Ruspini (1707–1769) and his wife, Bartolomea (1708–1788).’ https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/55276 He was baptised 4 days later ‘il 25 febbraio 1730, figlio di Andrea Ruspini’ https://www.parrocchiazogno.it/uploads/3/7/1/2/37124147/zogno_notizie_ago.-sett._2006.pdf The map shows the area as the last conurbation before the mountains, next stop Switzerland.

Map of Bergamo & image both from Google Earth

Of his life in Bergamo little appears to have been recorded. One aspect of his upbringing, however, may perhaps have had a bearing on his character. The Ruspinis were a patrician family and charitable giving was based on social obligation. In Italian ‘the words assistenza (poor relief) and carita (charity) are used interchangeably’ (Cavallo, Sandra, ‘Charity as Boundary Making’[i]). La famiglia Ruspini would have felt this obligation and it may have inculcated a desire in Bartholomew Ruspini to offer assistance wherever he could. We can’t know this to be the case but it seems a reasonable supposition. There are many examples of Ruspini’s desire to help others. Just one example in 1785 reads:

‘Mr Ruspini presents his compliments to Mr White hearing that Chevalier de Grignard de Fontenelle has to receive five pounds from the committee, the money is in the hands of Mr Niclas’.

At some point Ruspini attended the University in Bergamo and from there went to Paris, then the centre of excellence in dentistry. No dates are given but when Ruspini was the first trader summonsed under The Medicines Stamp Act (of 1783) for evading the tax imposed on druggists with no medical qualifications, he produced an accreditation from Bergamo University dated 1758 and the case was dropped. Interestingly, by 1758 he had been practising dentistry for some years. Make of that what you will.

Bartholomew Ruspini. Stipple engraving by W. S. Leney

Another point of disagreement is when he first arrived in England. The most frequent references give about 1758 but this does not always fit the facts. He was certainly advertising in English provincial newspapers by 1752 and there are references to previous dental success in Manchester.

This is from Caledonian Mercury 13 August 1753, Gavinlock’s Land being in Edinburgh.

None of this advertising necessarily implies residence but in 1757 he married Elizabeth Stiles and declares himself to be of the parish of St James, Westminster. They were married on 19th February at St Bartholomew the Great, the bride’s parish.

London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: P69/BAT3/A/01/Ms 6779/2

This image from https://alondoninheritance.com/london-churches/the-priory-church-of-st-bartholomew-the-great/ shows the church in 1739

The balance of probabilities is that he arrived in England early in the 1750s and set about establishing himself. It also implies societal connections as the English, notoriously xenophobic, appear to have accepted him and he built up a good practice in elevated circles in a short amount of time, ultimately becoming dentist to the King.

https://www.freemasonrytoday.com/ugle-sgc/ugle/speeches/the-ruspini-legacy

His societal rise could have been the result of who you know not what you know but it could also have been that Ruspini was liked. He appears to be what modern parlance terms ‘a people person’: he got on well with other people. In the Bath Chronicle of 1 Nov 1787 there is an article about a gentleman who cut his hand badly one evening.

‘Someone recalled Mr Ruspini was at Mr Phillott’s, sent for some of his styptic. Mr Ruspini with his usual good humour got out of bed & sent a bottle of his styptic which stopped bleeding & pain immediately’ Bath Chronicle 1709/1787 article:3 d

It is the phrase buried in the middle that is telling – ‘with his usual good humour’. The comment is not pertinent to the outcome. The report could merely have said ‘Mr Ruspini sent a bottle of his styptic’. The additional colour draws upon what was perhaps well known with the Chronicle readership.

Own work, after Ozias Humphrey

He certainly was well known. He once instructed his brother to address letters to him as ‘Ruspini, London’, stating that, as he was often away from home, this would enable his correspondence to find him!

In another example of his prominence, the Morning Advertiser 29 August 1807, a report about a fraud by someone using Ruspini’s name, has the jeweller stating:

The Morning Advertiser

Fortunately for the jeweller, the ‘one of that name’ was prepared to testify that it had not come from him.

He was known for ‘his good looks, skills on the dance-floor, flamboyant character’ (Adrian Teal in a talk given in 2014) and Christine Hilliam, his biographer, wrote of him that his ‘delight in dancing and display made him an excellent masonic master of ceremonies’ (ODNB[ii]) He was described as the ‘soul of kindness, generosity, hospitality, conviviality, spontaneity, probity, and above all, charity.’ He entertained well and there are contemporaneous newspaper references of this. For example:

‘Mr Ruspini gave an elegant entertainment to the Neapolitan officers … and afterwards attended them to the play.’ (from The Times)

He was awarded the title of Chevalier in 1789 ‘for his professional skill and charitable works with foreigners and the poor’ (Paul Geissler[iii]) with his coat of arms drawing attention to his presiding values in the motto: Deo et amicis – to God and friends.

Whilst his main residence was in London, at 32 Pall Mall, Ruspini also frequented Bath and he was advertising his services and also his dentifrice (equiv. of toothpaste today), elixir (for easing toothache) and styptic for preventing haemorrhage in the Bath Chronicle for over 20 years. He also visited Ireland, possibly on professional grounds and at one point apologises to his clientele because he had been unavoidably delayed in Dublin.

It is not known when his first wife died and no burial record has yet been found. There is the intriguing possibility that this may have been the cause of his protracted stay in Dublin but this must remain as speculation. Certainly the death had occurred by 1767 as on 6 April of that year, he married Elizabeth Orde. She was 18 years of age and a minor and had to marry with her father’s permission. Her groom declared himself to be 40 (in reality 37) so significantly older than his bride. Although there is a danger here of reading too much between the lines, the fact that Ruspini was still regarded as a foreigner, that he had until recently been a Catholic, was a widower and so much older than Elizabeth does perhaps indicate how his personal charm overcame what could be regarded as insurmountable obstacles for someone else. The Orde family appeared to welcome their new son-in-law despite his societal ‘disadvantages’. Of course, that he moved in royal circles must also have given him quite a cachet!

It is impossible to say whether this was a love match. However, after nine children and 44 years of marriage, Ruspini refers to her as ‘my dear wife’ which may infer great affection between them. Sadly, not all of those nine children reached maturity. In fact, four of the Ruspini children died before their father but then he did live to a good age for the time. He was 83 when he died and two of his daughters also lived into their 80s so must have inherited the longevity gene.

The portrait by Nathaniel Horne (left) shows a family unit and was painted presumably about 1772 as it only shows the first three children.

The second image, held by the British Museum, is identified as Mrs Elizabeth Ruspini. Dated 1782, and presuming the child to be her own, the babe in arms must be Maria Sophia b.1781

We have already seen examples of his bonhomie but he also appears to be a man interested in many things. He read books in Italian, French and English: A Sentimental Journey through France & Italy by Laurence Sterne (1768), L’Ecole du Scandale by R B Sheridan (so an English play but translated), Rosmunda, by Giovanni Rucellai and Arcadia by Giacomo Sannazaro. Were it not for these brief subscription records, we would have no knowledge of his tastes and it is an indication of how we must use tiny snatches of information to try and recreate the man.

We also have his own writing in A Treatise of the Teeth published in 1768, in which were ‘made some useful observations that were not, at the time, particularly obvious, such as the adverse effects of sugar on teeth’ (Teal, 2014)

 

His first attempt to become a Freemason failed but, once accepted, he very quickly established himself and later founded a number of lodges. As for the School, Ruspini always maintained he was not the founder. The changes in charitable giving in the C18th meant that institutions no longer needed to be endowed but could be subscribed to by many with small amounts. Ruspini was eventually persuaded to accept the title Institutor, but he claimed that he had done nothing exceptional but merely been the prompt that enabled others to act. This is probably unduly modest but is another insight into his personality. He was a motivator without seeking glory for himself.

 

Ruspini by Jenner

Ruspini died in 1813, the year that Grand Lodge was formed from the Antients and Moderns, something for which Ruspini had been a keen advocate.

Despite his moving in royal circles and amongst the ‘glitterati’, Ruspini’s estate was valued at only £450, largely attributed to his frequent entertaining and ‘his unerring devotion to numerous good causes’ (Teal).

 

In St James’, to honour the bicentenary of his death, there is now a memorial plaque.

But his greatest legacy, of course, remains the School.

[i] Cavallo, Sandra, ‘Charity as Boundary Making’, in Charity, Philanthropy and Reform from the 1690s to 1850, Hugh Cunningham & Joanna Innes, eds, Macmillan, London, 1998

[ii] ODNB is Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

[iii] Curator of the Menzies Campbell Dental Museum at the RCSEd

 

 

 

A light on windows?

We should begin with three definitions:

  1. Window light – a pane of glass which has been installed in a window frame
  2. stained glass – ‘the colored [sic] glass used for making decorative windows and other objects through which light passes’ https://www.britannica.com/art/stained-glass
  3. 3. numbers – arithmetical values representing a particular quantity and used in counting and making calculations.

Bear with (as the modern phrasing has it) – this may all become clearer. Or may not.

As the School approached its first one hundred years, consideration was given as to how this could be commemorated. It was decided that, as accommodation was tight because of growing school roll, more building was required and this could be combined with the Centenary. Amongst other buildings that came to fruition about this time was a Hall, at first called the Centenary Hall, later the Alexandra Hall. Once the principle was established and following a very successful centenary festival, it was decided that this hall should have stained glass window décor. Edward Frampton was commissioned to design and create the windows and

The Freemason, January 25 1890

This was more formally given as:

The Freemason Feb 1 1890

Then started a flurry of activity that continued for some years as decisions were made by lodges about this, funds were received, artwork commissioned and so on. But how many windows and where in the Hall they were has been something of a conundrum, particularly while Lockdown is preventing access to the Minutes which might provide a definitive answer.

The Freemason, January 25 1890 tells us:

Those of you with enough fingers and toes and an ability to do multiplication may at this point be saying “But …” because six times nine is not 144. It wasn’t in 1890 and it isn’t now.

In October 1890, the number 144 is used again (The Freemason Vol XXV)

On this occasion there is no reference to the six windows with the 9 compartments so the total of 144, whilst unsubstantiated in this article, may be perfectly accurate with the evidence not recorded here as being unnecessary for the purpose.

Let’s deal with six windows issue first.

An image of the completed Hall shows three large windows. For there to have been six windows, it would require another three windows at the eastern end of the Hall to make 6 x 9. But it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to see that only two of the windows have nine compartments, the other having considerably more. Even then, the two lateral windows have nine larger panels but a further six smaller lights which may, or may not, have had designs incorporated, so a possible total of 15 lights in both left and right windows. For the record, the central window has 37-39 lights in it (depending whether you count the very small ones formed by the tracery). If this were replicated at t’other end, we would have 134-138 panes which is close to the mysterious 144 but not exact. An image of the Hall in use in 1931 gives us an indication of the light source from the windows and implies (but does not confirm) that there were windows only at one end of the Hall.

However, when it comes to adding up the numbers of windows, there were also two banks of 7 windows on either side of the Hall which, to judge from a magnified image, all had six panes with the possibility of three smaller ones at the top.

Multiply this by 14 – hang on, where’s the calculator – and we have between 84 and 124 lights down the sides of the hall. And this then needs adding to the previous totals so we are bandying about numbers ranging from 151-262. At this point it is becoming like the folklore of stone circles – that anyone attempting to count the number of stones will be unable to do so.

In The Freemason 1891, we have a detailed description of the Hall which includes

Somebody ran out of fingers and toes when counting these! It does, however, imply that the windows were only at one end of the Hall.

It goes on to describe the contents of the larger panels

As these four designs are non-Masonic as it were, we might imagine that they were the ones forming a cross-shape in the larger window. This is by no means a certainty just some educated guesswork in the absence of any other confirmation.

Before we move on, there is another little mystery here. Faith, Hope and Charity are referred to as the theological virtues used by Paul in his letters to the Corinthians of which “the greatest of these is love.” But the four acts of Charity are trickier to define. There are four Cardinal Virtues (Prudence, Courage, Temperance and Justice) and there are also the works of mercy, divided into corporal and spiritual, but usually grouped in six or seven. Precisely what was meant here by the four acts of Charity is unclear. The first four of the corporal acts of mercy seem appropriate to the School, relating as they do to the objects of the masonic charity: providing food, water, clothing and shelter. Visiting the sick or the imprisoned and burying the dead was rather to be hoped didn’t happen much in the School’s history although, sadly, the first and last of these did from time to time.

If these windows did indeed contain portraits as we understand the word, they have not survived. Neither have the acts of Charity and the Faith, Hope etc. Unless a window in School today but not in the Great Hall is one of these.

This window is believed to be the work of Arthur Anselm Orr, who worked with Frampton as well as others, but there is no date for it nor any certainty that it represents anything specific nor that it was ever anywhere but in the present School.

In two other panels at Clapham were the arms of Grand Lodge and the Prince of Wales.

The first of these has definitely survived: it is pictured above left as found in the Great Hall today. As coats of arms belong to an individual, the arms of the Prince of Wales are adapted to each prince and alter as he succeeds to the throne.

However, and it probably doesn’t need pointing out, all of these total 11 in a 15-pane arrangement so we are four adrift.

Finally we get to the ‘144’ windows! But just when you thought it safe to go back in the water as far as numbers were concerned, we must fast forward through the School’s history. When, in due course, RMIG outgrew the Clapham site and it was decided to move the whole shebang to Hertfordshire, the windows came too. Or more exactly, the windows went ahead of the School as a pupil in Machio 1932 noted in ‘A Masonic Alphabet’ of which:

All of the sections were re-assembled in the Great Hall with new interconnecting pieces and descriptive calligraphy by Louis Ginnett ROI and Elizabeth Tatchell.

But wait a minute! This glass panel refers to the number of armorial shields transferred. 97?? What happened to the 144? Were some dropped along the way in a vitreous oops butterfingers moment? Let’s count the armorial shields in the Great Hall today.

Oh dear.

134.

So neither 144 nor 97 but an entirely different number. Definitely all armorial bearings of which 48 represent Masonic Provinces, 71 are individual lodges and 15 are found in what is known as the Royal Window reserved for the important bods. But nowhere do we see 97 or 144. And if 97 shields were transported from Clapham but there are 134 in the Great Hall today, which are the 37 that appear to be unique to Rickmansworth? There are possibly 8 in the royal window but that still leaves 29 to find.

The quest is on. Or as Sherlock Holmes might say – the game’s afoot! (But Shakespeare used it first.)

 

(With grateful thanks to Phillip for providing many additional resources.)

Lock: lock

During this time of Lockdown, it seems rather appropriate to be writing about a Lock. [OK – it’s a contrived connection. I happen to like contrivance!] Two little girls who were pupils at the School in 1851 share a history of waterways which converged, you might say, in a lock on a Hertfordshire river. Well, to be fair, only one of them ended up at the Lock and even then only briefly and the other nowhere near it but what the heck – why waste a contrivance?

Ann Morton and Jane Maria Morton – the same surname is not a coincidence – were both pupils between about 1849 and 1855. Both lived in Bishop’s Walk, Lambeth before arriving at the School.

Above image of Bishop’s Walk from http://www.ideal-homes.org.uk/lambeth/lambeth-assets/galleries/lambeth-north/bishops-walk-1860

Their addresses made the Archbishop of Canterbury a neighbour although popping round to borrow a cup of sugar was probably not high on a list of priorities. The girls were in fact cousins, daughters of two brothers, Richard and George, both Thames watermen.

The London waterman’s job was to transport people across the Thames before there were many bridges. London Bridge had been the only crossing for centuries. The next bridge upstream was at Kingston which is an awful long way to go if you were in Westminster and you wanted to get to Lambeth.

https://www.thehistoryoflondon.co.uk/the-original-westminster-bridge/

The watermen of London carried passengers safely – mostly – across the river and they continued to ply this trade until road transport improved enough to make the risks of a water-crossing less palatable than the chances of meeting a highwayman or other brigand on the roadways. Additionally, steam boats were making an appearance in the early C19th and for George Morton in particular, this spelled disaster. The petition for his daughter to attend RMIG gave that his trade as waterman and his business of hiring out boats had been damaged by the steam boat trade. Although he continued to operate as a waterman, he also became a Customs House officer, probably to make ends meet, and possibly using his own boat. Smuggling, against which the Customs House waged war, was big business and required big solutions. Although Customs House would have had its own boats, it also hired other boats which

‘were generally taken up with their crews complete, [and] only one Customs officer shipping with them when there was work to be done.’ https://www.shippingwondersoftheworld.com/customs.html

Whether George acted as the Customs House officer on his own boat or was one of the ‘surveyors, land waiters, tide waiters, coast waiters, boatmen, riding surveyors and many other ratings’ that were part of the service is an unknown.

His older brother Richard seemed to fare worse and shortly before his daughter Jane Maria joined the School, he left the watermen’s trade and took up a job as a licensed victualler, appropriately enough at the Waterman’s Arms. Paris Street, Lambeth. In 1847, however, he was to be found in gaol, quite possibly for debt. When Jane left the School in 1855, she was ‘Delivered to her father residing at Lambeth – who said he should find employment for her at home.’ (Minute Book 167) so by that stage he was no longer a gaolbird.

Jane’s cousin, Ann, had left school a year earlier and been returned to her family in King’s Bench Walk, Lambeth. As the name suggests, this was a road near to the King’s Bench prison in Southwark.

King’s Bench Prison and Horsemonger Lane Gaol section of “Improved map of London for 1833, from Actual Survey. Engraved by W. Schmollinger, 27 Goswell Terrace”

The map above shows the position of the prison, which is possibly where Richard had been held previously, and tucked away in the north-west corner can be seen King’s Bench Walk.

In 1860, Ann married Charles Stolte, a printer’s compositor, and she continued to live in close proximity to the river for the rest of her life: Lambeth, Bermondsey and Southwark. She had six children and outlived all but two of them as the 1911 census informs us. It also tells us that Ann was a state pensioner which, from 1909, paid people over the age of seventy the sum of five shillings a week. Currently it is £175 per week (before tax).

Jane, meanwhile, had left the Thames but staying in the vicinity of water was found with her father at Ware (Where? Yes, it’s an old joke.) Specifically in the lock keeper’s cottage, as Richard had become said lock keeper.

http://www.leeandstort.co.uk/Ware_Lock.htm

The name Ware, incidentally, is from the Anglo-Saxon for weir so Ware Weir is tautology.

 

http://www.leeandstort.co.uk/Ware_Lock.htm Modern day image of Ware Lock from By Stephen Dawson, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4337269

Richard and his wife Sophia were at the lock from at least April 1861 and were present there for two census returns, including the one that Jane was living with them (1861). The original seventeenth century lock had been replaced in 1832 and the photograph (above left) dates from c1900, showing it at its original width of 14 feet. It was widened in 1922 to 16 feet. In 1793, the lock keeper was paid £18 3s per year and there was a toll of 1s 6d to use it. A modern lock keeper on the R. Lee (2012) was paid c£13,000 a year and the job entailed not just aiding boaters to navigate the lock and the upkeep of the lock and its workings but also to control water levels by the use of the lock and weir. In times of flood, this becomes very important.

Image of Ware Weir By Jamsta at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7747116

The lock keeper was granted use of a cottage so that he was available at all times.

It is unclear whether either of these is the cottage lived in by the Mortons but they suffice to give an idea of the sort of accommodation supplied.

Jane Maria Morton married in 1863 and went back to London where she remained for the rest of her life which was, in fact, shorter than her slightly older cousin as she died in 1896. Jane was technically the lock keeper’s daughter but probably only briefly before she scurried back to the City. A pity because, otherwise, we might claim the following extract from John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga to be appropriate.

Ware has a nice literary connection of its own as one of Chaucer’s pilgrims hailed from the town. The Cook identifies himself as Hodge [ie Roger] of Ware: “I highte Hogge of Ware”

But we cannot leave Ware without drawing attention to another literary connection relating to the School’s history. Around the Great Hall today can be found the Frampton literary windows created in the 1890s and transferred from Clapham when the School moved. 36 windows illustrate various literary works and one of these is Cowper’s comic poem John Gilpin. Or to give it its full title: The Diverting History of John Gilpin Shewing how he went Farther than he intended, and came safe Home again.

From the Cowper window

The story of the poem is that John Gilpin’s wife decides it is time for a holiday but, as there would be no room in the coach for John, what with all the children and the luggage etc, he must follow behind on horseback. Unfortunately not being the most proficient of horsemen, John soon finds himself in bother.

The snorting beast began to trot,            

  Which galled him in his seat.

So, ‘Fair and softly,’ John he cried,                 

  But John he called in vain;         

That trot became a gallop soon,

  In spite of curb and rein

John ends up hanging on for dear life. He loses his hat, he loses his wig and passers-by think he must be in a race for a £1000 prize and cheer him on. He reaches Edmonton, the holiday destination, but the horse gallops on and in vain does his wife hang out of the upstairs window telling him ‘Stop, stop, John Gilpin!—Here’s the house!’ The horse races on possibly because he has scented home – ‘Full ten miles off at Ware.’

Having arrived in Ware, minus hat and wig, his friend invites him to supper but John quite rightly points out that his wife is in Edmonton, it is his wedding anniversary and it would look a bit odd if ‘[My] wife should dine at Edmonton, / And I should dine at Ware’

He sets off again back to Edmonton. Alas and alack (as all good Victorian potboilers are inclined to say) the horse didn’t take kindly to it and galloped once more past the inn where Mrs Gilpin is waiting. She then sends the postboy after him on another horse which frightens the Gilpin steed even more. Then someone sees Gilpin galloping ahead of (apparently) a pursuer and sets up a cry of ‘Highwayman!’

It is comedy capers of the best sort only resolved when the horse runs out of puff back where he started in London. This long comedy narrative is far less well known today than it once was and we are fortunate that Frampton chose it for illustration in stained glass. The story’s connection to Ware, and the Morton connection to same, allows us to draw attention to it. Lockdown does have its positives.

 

Grateful thanks to SuBa for her sterling research into the Mortons and Ware Lock.

In the Somers time

1788 must have been an extraordinarily busy year for the Charity behind the School. Officially, it began on March 25th: ‘the Royal Cumberland Freemasons School, initiated Lady Day 1788’ (Morning Herald).  Until 1752, Lady Day was the start of the legal year, one of the quarter days (the others being Midsummer, Michaelmas and Christmas) and when year-long contracts were begun. Between this date and 5th January 1789, when the first pupils were taken in coaches to the Schoolhouse in Somers Town, all the preparations had to be made. This would have been an undertaking of no small proportion if it had proceeded like clockwork but in fact the School was not intended to be in Somers Town at all. The intended place was ‘Logie’s Academy’ [otherwise Lochee] in Little Chelsea.

London Chronicle, July 24, 1788

However, the Patroness, the Duchess of Cumberland, ‘took agin’ this – the records do not state why – and so another property suitable as a school had to be found and all the preparations begun again. This time it was successful and it was to the property in Somers Place East in Somers Town that fifteen little girls and a Matron were transported by coach in 1789.

Time to have a look at the first Schoolhouse and Somers Town itself.

Somers Town lay to the north of what we now call Euston Rd but which, at the time, was still referred to as the new road. This land ‘was acquired in the seventeenth century by the Cocks family, a member of whom was ennobled as Baron Somers in 1784 (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952)’ http://www.ucl.ac.uk/bloomsbury-project/streets/somers_place_east.htm  The baronetcy had originally been created for John Somers in order that he might enter the House of Lords as Lord Chancellor to William III. On his death, it fell into abeyance but his sister, and heiress, married Sir John Cocks and their grandson became Baron Somers on his ennoblement.

The area now known as Somers Town was undeveloped until Euston Rd was built. It was mostly fields and some parts of it were used as rubbish dumps in an eighteenth century version of that modern scourge, fly-tipping.

‘When London ended at Euston Road in the 18th century, it was famous for being where the city chucked its rubbish in mountainous landfills.’ https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/jan/18/lets-move-to-somers-town-one-of-londons-best-kept-secrets

https://londontraveller.org/2014/04/03/bradshaws-hand-book-to-london-day-8-bagnigge-wells-exmouth-market-no-52/  writes that ‘Early in the last century Somers Town was a delightful and rural suburb, with fields and flowergardens [sic]. A short distance down the hill … were the then famous Bagnigge Wells, and close by the remains of Totten Hall, with the ‘Adam and Eve’ tea-gardens’

Image from http://www.sub-urban.com/lost-bagnigge/

Bagnigge Wells was a popular and fashionable spa with ‘a banqueting hall, gardens, bowling green and other entertainments on the banks of the Fleet River.’  (The London Encyclopedia) However, they gradually fell into disrepair and attracted a poorer class of clients and eventually closed in 1841.

The ‘Adam and Eve Tea Gardens [were] thought to have been established sometime in the early 1700s. With spacious gardens of fruit trees and arbours in the rear and side of the tavern, it became a destination for tea drinking parties, with room for skittles and Dutch-pins in the forecourt which was shadowed by large trees, tables and benches were placed for the visitors. A monkey, heron, parrots, wild fowl and gold-fish pond were also once boasted attractions.’ (ibid) Unfortunately, these began to be frequented by criminals and prostitutes and in the early 19th century they were shut by the magistrates.

In Somers Town, Jacob Leroux became the principal landowner under Lord Somers. He built a handsome property for himself and it is probable that his hand in design can be seen in the Schoolhouse and some extant buildings in Chalton St. In addition to housing and the laying out of basic streets, ‘a chapel was opened, and a polygon began in a square.’ Edward Walford, ‘Somers Town and Euston Square’, in Old and New London (1878), cited by British History Online.

‘The Polygon was a housing estate, a Georgian building with 15 sides and three storeys that contained 32 houses.’ https://www.theundergroundmap.com/article.html?id=51223

https://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol5/pp340-355

This image showing the Polygon on the left dates from 1850, long after the School had gone elsewhere, but it existed contemporaneously with the Schoolhouse. Mary Wollstonecraft died in childbirth there in 1797. The child that was born, of course, went on to write Frankenstein as Mary Shelley. Another author who lived in the Polygon, perhaps only briefly, is one whose name seems to crop up rather frequently in the School’s history: Charles Dickens. He ‘lived at No 17 in the 1820s shortly after his father, John Dickens, was released from debtors’ prison.’ www.theundergroundmap.com (cf) Dickens later made the Polygon a home for his Bleak House character Harold Skimpole. This somewhat unpleasant character, ‘in the habit of sponging [off] his friends’ (Wikipedia citing Nuttall) perhaps implies Dickens’ emotional response to his residence at the Polygon.

Map from http://www.theundergroundmap.com (cf)

The Gentleman’s Magazine for 1813 describes the area that became Somers Town as having ‘an excellent private road, belonging to the Duke of Bedford, and the fields along the road are intersected with paths in various directions. The pleasantness of the situation, and the temptation offered by the New Road, induced some people to build on the land, and the Somers places, east and west, arose’

All was going well ‘when some unforeseen cause arose which checked the fervour of building, and many carcases of houses were sold for less than the value of the building materials.’ Edward Walford (cf)

It would appear that his grand scheme did not bring as much profit as he would have liked and ‘war and recession forced down the value of property, and the neighbourhood soon acquired ‘shabby genteel’ status.’ https://hidden-london.com/gazetteer/somers-town/

The exact location of the School in Somers Place East is not recorded in the Minute books which supply much of the information about the School itself but it was a terrace on the north side of Euston Road just east of Chalton Street with houses numbered consecutively from 13–23, west to east.

‘According to the Survey of London, Somers Place East was “a commanding block of houses” (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952) presumably intended for well-to-do tenants’ http://www.ucl.ac.uk/bloomsbury-project/streets/somers_place_east.htm

The only image we have of the first school house is an artist’s impression showing, presumably, the rear of the premises as it appears to have been drawn from the garden.

With any artistic impression, it is unknown how much liberty has been taken with the truth. However, the tree on the left and the steps mounting to an upper floor together could imply the end of a row of houses. Might this suggest that this property was therefore No 23, the last in the row?

When we consider today Georgian architecture and terracing, we envision a row of identical properties something like the image below:

The sketch of the School does not fit this idea. However, taking a modern photograph of part of Chalton St (from https://hidden-london.com/gazetteer/somers-town)

and putting it in juxtaposition to the above drawing reveals an interesting parallel:

It is clear that taller Georgian-style architecture was interspersed with lower pitched-roof buildings which suggests that the drawn image is an accurate rendition. As one building is shown from the front and the other from the rear, it is impossible to be sure but it gives food for thought. Could it be that the first Schoolhouse looked like that shown below and that this was Leroux’s signature architectural style?

The image above is an extant building in Chalton St whereas the original Schoolhouse has gone – as has Somers Place East. It appears on early maps but a combination of the misfortunes of Mr Leroux and further building in the area, eventually it becoming quite overcrowded, meant that ‘this district, rents being cheap, was largely colonised by foreign artisans, mostly from France, who were driven on our shores by the events of the Reign of Terror and the first French Revolution’ and the ‘rather fine’ terraces became attractive to ‘the exiles of the poorer class’ Edward Walford (cf) The area had started on a rapid downward slide.

Map of 1790
1837 map

In this later map, Somers Place East is still shown, as is the passageway to its rear – Weir’s Passage. By the time of the 1837 map, the School had long since left the area, moving south of the river in 1795. Within a few more years, Somers Place East had gone although Weir’s Passage remains which enables us to fairly accurately pinpoint where the Schoolhouse had been.

This modern map from https://hidden-london.com/gazetteer/somers-town/ showing Chalton St and Ossulton St allows that Somers Places East and West are now buried beneath a hotel (The Pullman, formerly Novotel) which incorporates the Shaw Theatre.

https://all.accor.com/hotel/5309/index.en.shtml

In fact, seated in the Shaw Theatre might place one almost exactly on the spot from which the drawing of the Schoolhouse may have been made all those years ago.

If land could speak, what stories might it tell of the school house that once occupied this very spot?

The Redoubtable Miss D

A significant chunk of the nineteenth century history of the School came under the leadership of Miss Sarah Louisa Davis. Appointed in 1862 and retiring in 1896, she led the School for 34 years. In her stature as a Head Governess, it is hard to comprehend that when appointed she was barely 21 years of age. At a time when there was little formal training for teachers and most of the teaching staff (at the School and indeed elsewhere) learned their craft at the chalk-face, so to speak, Sarah Louisa Davis was the nearest to a professional appointment for several decades. Indeed, The Morning Post in 1894 reported these comments from the Anniversary Festival:

From the inception of the School, the education of the girls was in the care of the Matron and this was deemed to be sufficient.

Original advertisement for the matron in the classified ads section of World on Oct 10th 1788

As the numbers on roll increased, the matron was assisted by pupil teachers but as they would have been only 15 years old, their experience of the world was somewhat limited. However, girls’ education was beginning to develop. In 1847, Queen’s College ‘became a pioneer in the field of women’s education and emancipation.’ (Wikipedia) At a similar time, moves to extend the education of RMIG girls by introducing French and Music were initially rejected (1848) but it was the beginning of the beginning of educational improvement. Its direct descendant, as it were, was the appointment of Miss Davis who, almost immediately introduced French and drawing classes.

Time to introduce a more personal note into our biography of Miss D. She was born in Hackney, in the rather delightfully named Paradise Fields, the middle of three daughters born to James and Sarah Jane Davis. Her first public appearance was the 1841 census where she is recorded as an unnamed baby aged 2 weeks. This would give her a birthdate of about May 24th as the census took place on June 6th. Her father was a schoolmaster, and if ever it were a case of ‘being in the genes’, it is with this family. Not only was father a schoolmaster but daughters No 1 and No 2 both became Headmistresses. The career of daughter No 3 is unknown as she ‘disappears’ for over 70 years after the 1861 census, apart from a brief reference in 1876 at her son’s baptism – in Russia!  Why she was there we may never know but it must certainly have introduced an air of exoticism into the family.

In 1851, Sarah Louisa and Esther are pupils in Hackney.

‘The New Gravel Pit Hackney Chapel School, founded in the 1790s, was considered highly benevolent and caring by the local community in its dealings with its pupils…’

https://www.layersoflondon.org/map?record=9694

By 1861, Sarah was an assistant mistress at

1861 census title page

Founded in 1813, it operated on very similar principles to RMIG. Its mission was ‘to afford maintenance, instruction and clothing to destitute orphans of both sexes, and to put them out in situations where they may have the prospect of an honest livelihood’ https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/outline-of-the-london-orphan-asylum.

So her move to the Royal Masonic Institute for Girls the following year would been a geographical shift but a very familiar situation. It is not known how she was selected for her new role. It is possible she was recommended by the Headmaster of the Asylum as Miss Davis, in her turn, recommended many pupils for advancement. But a Head Governess she became and was catapulted into senior leadership above the Matron (Eliza Waterman Jarwood, some 30 years her senior) and the two assistant mistresses, Frances Souter (b 1833) and Mary Ann Kernot (b 1837). Frances is a governess in another London school in 1881, so Sarah Louisa’s appointment may well have arisen from a vacancy when Miss Souter moved on.

Sarah Louisa Davis

This official portrait of Miss Davis is undated but is surely a portrait of a woman in her prime and could perhaps be from about 1880. However, given her elevated status at the age of 21, it is hard to be exact about what her prime might be.

A group photo taken in 1886 shows the teaching staff of that time.

As is to be expected, the Head Governess is at the centre of the group.

Of greater insight into Miss Davis herself are her own words as she wrote a monthly report for the school governorship and we can ‘hear’ her voice in what she wrote.  Her summaries of the girls in her care are sometimes acerbic: she clearly did not suffer fools lightly, as the saying goes.

[The] “youngest pupil teacher, is leaving at Christmas, an uncle & aunt having offered to provide for her entirely; she has been somewhat unsettled and Miss Davis does not regret parting with her” (1887)

Two years later she wrote of another pupil teacher, Ruth, who had failed an exam she was expected to pass: “With proper application and care on her part it would not have happened as she passed last year and this time was expected to take honours”.  Miss Davis expressed “her great disappointment in the girl as she was clearly capable of the work and ought to have at least achieved a pass.” The comments suggest that the recalcitrant girl had probably had a very uncomfortable interview with Miss D as she was to be put on “probation as a pupil teacher and if she does not prove an energetic and intelligent teacher, she must leave.”

Then to ram the point home even more, Miss D proceeds to ask the Governors if they would provide as a reward a little treat for those who pass.

“They are girls who keep close to study [one can almost hear the unspoken words ‘unlike Ruth’] and … Miss Davis feels they deserve some reward.”

Of another pupil, Miss Davis did not mince her words at all.

[She] “is a girl of power & influence but unfortunately not of a nature to be of benefit to those with whom she associates. Miss Davis cannot say that she has at all been a good girl, she has always been difficult to manage, evincing a most spiteful & trying temper and instead of improving as an older girl has been lately most independent about observing the rules of the school.”

But lest we think that Miss D had just got out of bed on the wrong side the day she wrote that, the pupil of whom she was writing remained somewhat fiery all her life it would seem. In 1928, for example, she appeared in court on a libel case the upshot of which was that the judge ordered her retained in custody for two weeks as she had caused a grievance and “You have not expressed to me one word of real regret or apology for your conduct”.

At the age of 60, she had another court appearance for ‘stealing’ a parcel from a car because

Perhaps we might judge Miss D’s assessment of her rather unruly pupil a little more kindly after this!

Miss Davis’ tenure as Head Governess was only occasionally interrupted by absence. In 1883, she had an absence of six months. Such was the respect she had earned from the School governorship that £50 was granted to her in in October 1883 ‘partly to reimburse her for the heavy medical expenses incurred by her late severe illness.’ Although she clearly recovered enough to return to post with as much vigour as ever, there were other briefer absences following this, known only when her deputy signed the monthly reports. In 1895, The Graphic, an illustrated newspaper, was given access to the School and subsequently published some images amongst which was a view of Miss Davis seated in her sitting room.

Here she is shown deep in thought with her feet on a little footstool. What she was thinking about is of course unknown but it should be noted that the following year she advised the governors that she wished to retire, a resignation they were reluctant to accept but one which, perforce, they must. This is not just colourful interpretation. The Cheltenham Chronicle of 11th July 1896 carried the following item:

In 1896, Miss Davis’ salary is recorded as being £225 pa which means that she retired on full pay. If ever there was a marker of the respect she had earned it was this.

In 1901, the census records her living with her older sister Esther, also a retired Headmistress, at 52 St James Rd, Tunbridge Wells.

This image is not actually No 52 as that property on Google Earth Street view is obscured by a large hedge in front of it. However, all the houses in that vicinity appear to be the same style so this view of a property further down the street must suffice.

In 1907 news came that Sarah Louisa Davis had died, her probate being granted to her sister who herself died the following year. Miss Davis’ funeral took place at the local church but this does not have a graveyard so it is unknown where she is buried.

Kent & Sussex Courier 08 February 1907

 

Miss Davis’ legacy to the School was manifold. By the time of her death, two other Head Governesses had come and gone but by 1911, another was waiting in the wings (Bertha Jane Dean) who would become in her turn as esteemed as the redoubtable Miss Davis.

Of pupils and pandemics

In this year, a pandemic swept across the world. In this year, stringent measures were put in place in an attempt to control the spread of the virus. In this year, millions of people across the world died, more than in the whole of the war.

No, don’t be alarmed. You haven’t missed a crucial news bulletin announcing a massive escalation of Corona virus. ‘In this year’ does not refer to 2020. Eerily it refers to a century ago, to the ‘Spanish flu’ epidemic of 1918-1920. Like today, the School was affected. Like today, special measures were enforced. Hopefully, fingers crossed, wish on a lucky star etc, there will be fewer casualties of the current virus at the School today than there was in 1918. And as the figure in 1918 was one that would be good news indeed.

The one person at the School who lost her life from Spanish ‘flu was a former pupil who had become a member of staff. May Downes died in October 1918. She was just 20 years of age.

Daughter of Daniel and Frances Downes, May had been born in Upottery, Devon in May 1888, the first of five children. As Tristram Risdon stated in approx. 1632

‘Upottery taketh name of the River Otter … having its adjunct Up in that it is the highest place where its spring maketh itself a river” from Chorographical Description of Devon p.22 and cited by http://www.upottery.com/history

In the 1891 census, the family were at Stillinghayes, a farmhouse which almost exactly a century after May was born became a listed building. However, at the time the Downes family were living there, it was a relative new build having been constructed in about 1870 of ‘Local stone and flint rubble with brick dressings, plastered on the front and white washed elsewhere’ with a slate roof. (https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/101333691-stillinghayes-farmhouse-upottery#.XnNR3aj7Tcs) Although it was a farm, it was in the centre of the village.

https://planning.eastdevon.gov.uk/ shows its position in the village and an image of the house can be seen on http://mhv.dailyecho.co.uk/homes/homes_for_sale/in/Honiton%2C+Devon/gallery/16951155/ should you have a spare half million or so to spend.

May’s father was a land agent, or a steward, which Wikipedia states

‘was a managerial employee who conducted the business affairs of a large landed estate … supervising the farming of the property by farm labourers and/or tenants and collecting rents or other payments … a land agent was a relatively privileged position and a senior member of the estate’s staff.’

The owner of the landed estate in question here was Viscount Sidmouth, which title stems from Henry Addington in 1805, probably the most unpopular Prime Minister Britain has ever known – and that’s going some!

May’s family moved from Devon to Wiltshire: a 4th child was born in Upottery in 1893 and the 5th in Westbury in 1895. That year, unfortunately, also saw the death of Daniel Downes of Frogmore House, Westbury on 16 Feb 1895. An early Victorian villa, Frogmore House is also a listed building although somewhat blighted perhaps by being attached to a factory on both sides. (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1364393) Sadly, Daniel Downes died in a shooting accident. The Bristol Times and Mirror 23 February 1895 reports the coroner’s inquest and outlines that the deceased had gone out before breakfast, had placed his gun against a haystack ‘for some purpose’ and it had accidentally discharged causing fatal injuries. As Mr Downes was conscious until shortly before he died, he must presumably have given this information. The verdict was accidental death.

His death was the reason for daughter May’s admission to the School in 1899 when she was 11. She was due to leave school in May 1904 (aged sixteen) but was retained as pupil teacher in the Junior school, becoming a salaried teacher in 1908. She is given as a teacher in the 1911 census but in 1913, she switched direction and became 3rd Assistant in Matron’s department. Whether as a teacher or matron’s assistant, May was clearly making herself useful as her successive promotions show:  1917 2nd assistant; 1918 1st assistant on a salary of £75 a year. Where she might have ended up had not a virus intervened, your guess is as good as anyone’s, but on October 30th she died, at the School, of double pneumonia arising from influenza. The majority of deaths in this epidemic were from bacterial pneumonia, a secondary infection caused by influenza so May was not exceptional in this.

During the pandemic of 1918-29, disturbingly similar to what is happening in 2020

‘Hospitals were overwhelmed, and doctors and nurses worked to breaking point … In many towns, theatres, dance halls, churches and other public-gathering places were shut, some for months. Streets were sprayed with chemicals and people wore anti-germ masks.’

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/flu-how-britain-coped-in-the-1918-epidemic-5348535.html

In this prescient Independent article actually written fifteen years ago (22 October 2005) and now seeming horribly familiar, Jeremy Laurance referred to the world preparing for the next influenza pandemic which ‘England’s chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, says is now inevitable.’ (ibid)

The epidemic of 1918-1920 is often referred to as Spanish ’flu because, like Italy in 2020,

‘Spain was hardest hit, with an estimated eight million dead which led the BMJ to label the disease “Spanish flu”, though it is thought to have originated in China.’ (ibid)

This theory is not accepted by all virologists however and there is plenty of argufying going on between them a hundred years later. At least the source of the corona virus seems not to be in dispute although how that helps anyone who gets it is unclear.

Spanish ‘flu emerged in the spring of 1918 and soldiers in the trenches became ill with what was then called ‘La grippe’. It spread rapidly as it was highly infectious and probably hastened the end of the war. In fact, so deadly was the pandemic that it claimed an estimated 20-40 million lives across the globe, a significantly higher death toll than the Great War itself.

Glasgow was the first place in UK to be affected in May 1918 but by June it had reached London and the Wandsworth area was one of the worst places within London. All the more remarkable then that only one person succumbed in the whole school then situate in Battersea.

RMIG taken from Wandsworth Common

In all, 228,000 people died in Britain mostly from pneumonia or septicaemia. It was swift and, like the outbreaks of the Plague of earlier centuries, those who were hale and hearty at breakfast could be dead by tea-time.

And in a warning for the present time, it should be noted that there was an initial outbreak which then died away only to be replaced by a more vicious second wave.

‘… Armistice Day on 11 November, called to mark the end of the war, set off a second wave of infection. As people gathered to celebrate, the virus swept through them. Parties and parades turned to disaster.’ (ibid)

In contrast with what appears to be the pattern with corona virus, and indeed ordinary ‘flu, Spanish ‘flu ‘…

‘disproportionately struck those aged 20 to 30. Young adults with the strongest immune systems were, unexpectedly, the most vulnerable.’ (ibid)

Although May was the only person in the School to die in the Spanish ‘flu pandemic, she was not the only person affected by it. Two other pupils, Barbara and Joan Essenhigh Corke, became pupils when both of their parents succumbed.

‘Both Henry and his wife Evie died in the flu epidemic of 1919-20, leaving three children, Joan, Norman and Barbara. Apparently no one in the family felt able to take all three of the poor little things, but each was brought up lovingly by a different family member.’ (Recollections by a family member in the Kent & Sussex Courier)

Henry Essenhigh Corke, known as Essie, was a photographer as was his father Charles. They had a studio in Sevenoaks in Kent and Henry became joint manager of the studio when he was just eighteen, eventually taking over the control of the business.

Image from https://thegardenstrust.blog/2016/05/21/henry-essenhigh-corke/

Henry did pioneering work in colour photography, wrote articles for photographic magazines and his lantern lectures were a regular attraction at the RPS annual exhibition. (from http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/nmem/autochrome/Notable_Photographers_detail.asp?PhotographersID=3 )

‘Mother and Child’ Henry Essenhigh Corke (1883-1919); Autochrome, part of Kodak collection, National Science and Media Museum

Although not specifically stated, it is possible that the subjects in the above photograph are Henry’s wife and possibly Joan, his elder daughter.

Henry died on 24 February 1919 at New Park Villa, Eardley Rd, Sevenoaks. On the same street is Tusculum Villa which is thought to be where H G Wells penned The Time Machine.

The image above shows Tusculum Villa as marked by the blue plaque on the wall. Whilst the position of New Park Villa in relation to this is unknown, the style of housing is what is of interest here. And we can safely assume that the Essenhigh Corke home was similar. (Photo from Jackson-Stops – Sevenoaks)

A virological time machine has enabled us to jump back and forth between two pandemics and link them to the School’s history. Let us hope that, like the 1918 pandemic, the corona virus in time becomes a fading memory but one from which everyone ‘may remember the lessons they have here been taught’ (from the Old Girls’ Prayer).

“There is nothing like a dame …”

And actually, the main subject of this blog isn’t a dame although she was awarded the British Empire Medal for her services to the Land Army during and after WWII. The reason for alluding to the song from South Pacific is that what both have in common is Vanuatu. James Michenor’s stories, on which South Pacific is based, are drawn from his time stationed with the US Navy on the island of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides Islands, a place now known as Vanuatu.

The main subject of this post, pupil-wise, is Norah Mary Banwell 1919-2006. Born in West Bromwich, she is buried a considerable distance from it – in Cimetière de Port-Vila, Vanuatu.

https://en.geneanet.org/gallery/?action=detail&id=7273053&individu_filter=BANWELL&rubrique=monuments

One of two children born to Leslie and Mary Banwell, Norah was the elder. Her father died when she was eight years old and she probably came to the School almost immediately. She remained as a pupil until 1936 whereupon she attended Birmingham College of Domestic Science ‘with a view to taking up Domestic Science electricity demonstration’ Masonica 1937 informs us. Now University College of Birmingham, the college started in 1874 when the Birmingham School Board wanted to introduce instruction in practical cookery and household work (https://www.ucb.ac.uk/about-us/history-of-ucb.aspx) Shades of the School prize for usefulness in domestic duties methinks!

The outcome of Norah’s course is not noted in school records but fortunately this information gap is filled by the Leamington Spa Courier of 18 March 1949 in an article about her which carries the information that she earned a diploma after two years. However, she did not use it as she changed direction and began work in a Birmingham surveyor’s office as a telephonist. Then war broke out and Norah decided to become a ‘Land Girl’. Had she still been at school when war broke out, she may well have participated in the School’s version of the Land Army, helping to grow produce in the kitchen gardens to augment school meals.

So Norah donned the green sweater and knee breeches and worked on the land. At first, she lived in a hostel and worked wherever she was sent but she decided that she wanted more continuity so she applied for a permanent job on an individual farm and subsequently arrived in Loxley, Warwickshire, firstly at Atherstone House Farm (Masonica 1942) as Land Army 61497 and then at Lower Farm, Loxley where she and the farmer, Mr Whitehead, managed 150 acres. By 1945, she had earned her scarlet arm band for four years’ service.

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30071340

The image above is actually a 2 year service armband, the four year service one having two pairs of diamonds on either side of the insignia.

Memories from a Land Girl in Essex gives a description of the uniform:

‘Each of us was issued with yellow, thick drill dungarees, beige cord velveteen breeches, cream cotton shirts, two olive green pullovers and tie, a pork-pie shaped brown felt hat, a three-quarter length brown overcoat, an oilskin raincoat, one pair of brown leather lace-up shoes, wellington boots, three pairs of thick brown woollen socks. A pair of green serge breeches (very smart) were sent to us later for walking out! I was told to wear my uniform at all times, and during the winter months I could hardly do otherwise!’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/76/a5026376.shtml

Up at the crack of dawn and on the farm by 7.30am, winter and summer alike, finishing the day at 5.30pm Monday to Friday, midday on Saturday, life for a Land Army girl was no picnic but, despite the hard work, this Land Army girl recalled it with fondness most of all because of ‘good friends, sharing our problems, our losses, and our rations!’

Members of the British Women’s Land Army harvesting beetroot (circa 1942/43). Image courtesy of Wikipedia from British Ministry of Information

Despite their hard – and vital – work, for many years the women of the Land Army received little acknowledgement (scarlet armbands aside) but, finally in 2008 45,000 former Land Army ‘girls’ were issued with commemorative badges to acknowledge their war work and in 2014 an 8ft high bronze statue was installed at the National Arboretum Memorial in Staffordshire.

By Egghead06 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42333969

https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/england/loxley-stratford-on-avon-warwickshire#.Xljgo6j7Tcs

Although not certain, it seems likely that this map marks the position of the farm on which Norah worked. The farmhouse is a listed building today.

Image of Goldicote Lodge in 2011 photographer Nigel Mykura.

  https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2542466

Living in a small cottage, Goldicote Lodge, courtesy of the farmer, for whom she is described in 1949 as a mainstay, Norah was involved in all aspects of general farming: cattle, sheep, poultry and driving the tractor.

The Leamington Spa Courier captured Norah in a rather grainy image showing her with Topsy, a triplet lamb she saved by hand feeding.

In 1948, Norah represented Warwickshire at the National Service for Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey where the Queen had spoken to her.

“I was frightened to death when she stopped in front of me but she at once put me at my ease and was most charming,” Norah told the Courier.

https://www.womenslandarmy.co.uk/ww2-photo-queen-talking-to-land-girl-at-harvest-thanksgiving-november-1948/image source: Catherine Procter Collection

The above image may have Norah in the line-up but carefully scrutiny of the shoulder badge indicates the person in the foreground is from Cardiganshire. For this information, see https://www.facebook.com/womenslandarmy/posts/2490750610968448?__tn__=-R

We know that Norah was present on the occasion so perhaps holders of the 4 year scarlet armband in various counties were selected as representatives and for the ‘guard of honour’ to whom the Queen spoke (as indicated in Norah’s recollection to the Courier). Clearly Norah’s work was known as in 1949 she was awarded the British Empire medal (B.E.M.) for services to the land.

London Gazette 1949

Like so many of our former pupils, before and since, our girls are too self-effacing to draw attention to themselves. The Headmistress, Audrey Fryer, made sure to note in her report the news of the award. Her comment indicates that Norah was still at the farm but at some point after 1949 and before 1952, Norah moved to Colchester and married Eric John Wolsey Hawkes there, with twin sons born in 1954. Thereafter there is ‘radio silence’.  For 52 years. Neither Norah nor her sister appear as members of OMGA after 1947 so we cannot trace them this way. Norah’s husband died in 1992 in Clacton. We do not know whether the couple remained together until his death but, assuming they did, at some point after 1992 and before 2006, Norah went to Vanuatu – a place as far removed from either Warwickshire or Essex as might be possible and still be on the same planet! (For the record, Vanuatu is 1000 miles east of Australia.) What she was doing there, we have no idea. As there is a gravestone in Port-Vila cemetery recording her death, it seems unlikely that she was a tourist who just happened to meet her Maker whilst on holiday but more than that it is impossible to say. Furthermore, whoever placed the headstone clearly had information about Norah such as her maiden name and the fact that she was entitled to B.E.M. after her name. Perhaps one of her sons was living there and Norah had moved to be with him upon widowhood but that is mere speculation.

Map of Vanuatu with its capital Port Vila, located on its third largest island.

Map from The World Factbook, United States Central Intelligence Agency – https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-

Officially the Republic of Vanuatu, the islands form roughly a Y shape. Both France and England laid claim to parts which is why two of the three native languages are French and English, the other being Bislama, a pidgin or creole language comprising Melanesian grammar with mostly English vocabulary. However there are over a hundred other local languages and that is not including linguistic imports such as Mandarin Chinese, the result of migrating peoples.

(Right) The panorama of Port Vila, capital and largest city of Vanuatu.

Photo: Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand, 29 Nov. 2006

Today, one might reach Vanuatu by air via Australia or Fiji (no direct flights). There are also cruise ships that call at the islands. In 2020, another RMS former pupil – born some 70 years after Norah – will be visiting Vanuatu by sail as part of eXXpedition, an all-female voyage exploring the impact of plastics and toxics in our ocean.

‘Over two years and 38,000 nautical miles, a crew of 300 women will take on 30 challenging voyage legs to sail through some of the densest ocean plastic accumulation zones on the planet to study plastic pollution on board expedition sailing vessel S.V. TravelEdge.’ https://exxpedition.com/

Pippa will join the crew for leg 12 Fiji to Vanatu and thus will be keeping up the pioneering spirit of many Old Girls before her and. specifically. Norah Banwell.

 

In Pippa’s case, she might say bae mi go long Vanuatu (I will go to Vanuatu) to which one would reply Mi hop se trip blong yu i go gud (hope you have a pleasant journey).

In whatever language one uses (or attempts to use), the remoteness of Vanuatu is still the same, even in today’s global travel. But, as Pippa’s purpose in visiting the islands demonstrates, the devastation wreaked by the world, even in remote places, is very clear and very disturbing. Sadly, it will take more than pioneering women to bring about a change but it’s a start. To all pioneering women everywhere, of any age or time period, with or without connections to RMS, a heartfelt

Tangkyu

One hundred years ago

As we begin the third decade of the 21st century, time to look back to the same period last century. In 1920, 29 pupils of RMIG left the care of the school to make their way in the world. Their backgrounds and their subsequent lives represent a microcosm of the School’s history. Custom certainly never staled their infinite variety! Given the relative paucity of careers available to girls at the time – and the careers advice which continued for the next four decades to be largely ‘Do you want to be a nurse, a teacher or a secretary?’ – it is hardly surprising that only one of our 29 leavers initially opted for anything else. The one that was different Violet Bryant who went into accountancy. But then this was someone who had been Head Girl and Gold Medallist in 1920 so she clearly stood head and shoulders above her peers.

The School had, at that stage, only ever been in London, and eight of the girls were born locally. But there were also 4 girls whose birth was a long way from London. Gladys Chamberlin was born in South Africa as was Marion Gould (Durban & Johannesburg); Annie Hewer was born in Queensland, Australia and Lilian Peters in the British Honduras. So they had already travelled some distance to reach the School. Annie returned to Australia upon leaving school (after having worked at Australia House until then), married there and, we have to presume, died there otherwise she would now be 117 years old. Gladys, too, died overseas but in her case in France in 1953, apparently ‘suddenly’ whatever that might mean. It could have been on holiday rather than where she was living but the evidence either way is missing. We don’t know where Lilian died as we lose trace of her but she travelled to South America a few times so it might be a reasonable bet to assume it was abroad. Marion returned to South Africa after she left school but in 1932 changed career direction and trained as a nurse in Wallasey, Cheshire. In 1936 she was Silver medallist at the Victoria Central Hospital, Wallasey and she continued her life as SRN in UK, her final resting place being Kingston upon Thames in 1988. There were two English-born girls who died abroad: Mildred Boutwood, born in Leeds in 1903, took office work on first leaving school and then went to the USA. On a visit ‘home’ she was listed as assistant in broadcasting and she died in 1978 in Arizona. Sadie Mansfield was born in Long Eaton in Derbyshire. She became a teacher and then, upon marriage, she travelled with her husband, Kenneth Wallis, a Government analyst, to Port of Spain (Trinidad) and Guiana. She and her husband and two children had been en route to a new posting in Uganda when their ship was torpedoed and sunk by a U-Boat in December 1942. Sadie Wallis is one of the five girls commemorated on the stone tablet in the Chapel of those former pupils who died because of World War II.

Even within the UK-born girls, there were a couple who were born some distance from the School given that travel was then slower than today: Mary Garrett in Chepstow; Edith Taylor in Newcastle upon Tyne; Ivy Hunter in Portsmouth and Ethel Parsons, born in West Derby (Liverpool) but whose family then moved to Portsmouth. In Ethel’s case, she became a pupil after 1912 when her father was lost on the Titanic.

Overseas sojourners aside, of the 23 who continued to live in the UK, just 2 ended up north of the Watford Gap, regardless of where they started from. One was in Derbyshire and one in Staffordshire although both had started life in the South East. Six ended their days on the south coast – Hastings (x 2), Hove, St Leonards on Sea, Eastbourne and the Isle of Wight. Two went for coastal areas even further west – Ilfracombe and Exeter, whereas one went to the seaside on the eastern seaboard: ‘Sarfend’, land of the kiss-me-quick hats and bracing walks on the pier. Blandford Forum, roughly half way between either coastline in the south west, was where a former Essex girl ended up. In fact no UK girl ended her days where she had begun them although 2 were in the same vicinity: Uxbridge-Hillingdon and Hastings-St Leonards. Edith Taylor, who had travelled form Newcastle upon Tyne to join the School, worked as a teacher in Harrow. Unfortunately not a member of OMGA, we lose track of her and the name is not an uncommon one so trying to trace a death for her is impossible.

Dorothea Quiney, whose name was more unusual, disappeared from sight until a general internet search picked her up – in Hong Kong: specifically at St John’s Cathedral where she married Charles Pinel in 1929. Thereafter she can be traced until her demise in Hastings in 1998. Her husband was a prisoner of war of the Japanese for four years. Whether the Pinels had seen what was coming and got Dorothea away, back to UK, is an unknown factor but she was not interned by the Japanese. As anyone who has read A Town like Alice or watched Tenko will know, women were interned and, indeed, another of our pupils, Gertrude Jewel nee Craik, was detained for 3.5 years in civil Assembly Camp C in Yangzhou. She had left school in 1919 so was almost a contemporary of our 1920 leavers and they are certainly likely to have known her.

The careers advice, as previously indicated, was somewhat limited but one former pupil clearly decided to have a go at several of them: shorthand typist then nurse and then cook. She obtained a post as a shorthand typist in Southampton on leaving school (which must mean that she had learned those skills whilst still at school) and then, in 1928, she went to train as a nurse at Barts hospital. Perhaps she completed her training, perhaps she didn’t. We don’t know the answer to that, except that in 1939 she is a cook at the Trusty Servant Inn, New Forest, working for Mr & Mrs Leith the licensed victuallers. This country pub is still operating today offering both accommodation and a restaurant.

https://www.thetrustyservant.co.uk/

If you are passing through the new Forest, you could call in for a drink where Grace worked! Grace Russell had been born in Great Yarmouth where her father was the District Medical Officer. Unfortunately he died when Grace was just five months old. He was interred in Southampton, his coffin being transported there by train

A decided touch of pathos came in the form of the identification of the funeral wreaths:

Nine of the 29 girls did not marry – inasmuch as their death records are in their maiden names. One who did marry – Irene Davidson – was unfortunate to be a widow by the age of 22. We have already seen that Dorothea travelled eight thousand miles away to marry and Annie Hewer married in Australia albeit that was her home so it was where she might be expected to marry if anywhere.

Only one of these 1920 school leavers lived to see the 21st century – Norma Richings – although it should be pointed out that we lose trace of three of the leavers so they could also have made it to the next century. Two came close, meeting him with the scythe in 1998 and 1999. Marjorie Willcocks died in January 1999. She had worked for many years for the Royal Bank of Scotland and had been a regular returnee to Old Girls’ Days over the years. Dorothea Quiney was the other one – her third mention here. One girl, very sadly, hardly got started on her post-school life before she died: Marguerite Noyes Coe died when she was just 18. Her father also died in that year so it must have been a very difficult time for her mother. The school records do not give any further information about Marguerite’s demise and there are no hints in Matron’s records of a long-standing illness so we are none the wiser about what transpired to cause her death. One pupil for whom an early demise might not have been a surprise was Evelyn Denman. She arrived at the school on 29th April 1915 but was found to have a weak heart and medical advice was that she was not robust enough to be at the school. She was sent home on 4th May with a view to being out-educated. However, she returned to the school on 7th June and the medical officer admitted her. Despite her medically uncertain beginning, she lived until she was ninety!

Not all of the girls who left school in 1920 appeared in the whole school photo dated 1912/1913. Some, clearly, had not then joined the School.

But 18 of them did. Capturing their images from a larger photo results in rather fuzzy and out of focus images unfortunately but it gives a vague idea of their appearance.

I wonder if anyone will be writing in 2120 about the girls who left in 2020?

In the House

Strictly speaking, that should be plural as the ‘House’ is that perched on the side of the Thames next to Westminster Bridge –the Palace of Westminster.

Image from https://www.londonvisiting.com/westminster-palace

They connect, in this instance, to two of our past pupils: neatly, one in one House and one in the other. In the case of the first, we are stretching a point as it is unlikely that she herself went anywhere near the place. The second case is far more concrete.

Currently the Labour Party is thrashing about trying to select a new leader so it seems timely to be writing about former pupil Marion Gardner Barnes, 1919-2006, the granddaughter of George Nicoll Barnes, Leader of the Labour Party 1910-1911. Nicholls had been part of the Lib-Lab coalition government under Lloyd George. When the Labour Party decided to leave the coalition, Barnes refused to resign and was expelled from the Party. He then founded the National Democratic and Labour Party and stood under this flag in 1918. His son, James Edwin Barnes, had married Annie Whyte Gardner in 1911 and they had three children, of whom Marion was the youngest. James was possibly a little overshadowed by his father as his death in 1928 was reported with reference to his father almost as if his own life were of no import.

The West London Observer 10 February 1928

Because of her father’s death, Marion gained a place at the School and in the 1932 Anniversary Festival she played the piano, probably in the traditional Duos or Trios which the School performed each year for more than a century: Duos was two girls to each of eight pianos and Trios was 3 girls per piano, all playing the same piece. Then in 1935, Marion ran the 100 yards race on Sports Day and received the prize of a lacrosse stick. Clearly an athletic girl, she also participated in the ‘senior style jump’ and the three-legged race, both of which events she won, her prizes being an attaché case and a tennis bag and balls. They were prizes in those days!

She left school in 1938 and had a post with the Bank of England. In the 1939 register she is at Hurstbourne Park (occupied by the Bank during World War II) given as a woman clerk.

The image shows a building that was mostly destroyed by fire in 1965. (http://www.lostheritage.org.uk/houses/lh_hampshire_hurstbournepark_ii_info_gallery.html)

As Marion’s grandfather stopped being an MP in 1922, when she was only 3, it seems unlikely that she was ever taken to visit the Houses of Parliament – “this is where Grandad works …” – but the Other House was not only visited by a former pupil, it was her residence too.

Amelia Laney, or de Laney, was Housekeeper in the House of Lords. Before we look more closely at this, perhaps we ought to skim through the rest of her life. She was the daughter of Thomas and Dorothy and was born on 30th March 1848 in Chelsea. Her surname in the School register is clearly written as Laney or de Laney with her mother’s maiden name as a second forename.

In 1851, the family were at 19 Symons St, Chelsea but when Amelia was admitted to the School in 1857, her parents were dead and the Petitioner was Anne Emery, dressmaker, a cousin who was also a witness to the will of Thomas, dated 1852.

Thomas’ will confirms him as a beer retailer of Chelsea with a wife Dorothy. His son Thomas is granted his father’s watch and his daughter Georgiana Maria, his snuffbox.

The will dated May 1852 was proved in August of that year which possibly implies that Thomas knew his time was short but could be an unfortunate coincidence. Amelia is not mentioned but she would have been four years old at the time whereas her siblings were older. There were eight children born to the couple, four of whom died as children including twins born in 1839 who both died on 23 July 1843. Amelia, in comparison with her siblings, was still a baby.

After her father’s death, Amelia’s mother re-married and then died herself in 1857. It would have been this death that precipitated Amelia’s petition as a pupil. She left the School in April 1864 and went to her aunt Mrs Brent [?], a churchwarden in Grange Rd, Bermondsey.

By 1871, Amelia was in Staffordshire at Hawks Yard Park, Armitage, the home of Josiah Spode IV and given as a lady’s maid. Josiah was a widower (since 1868) but Amelia may have gone there originally as lady’s maid to his wife. Josiah, as the name indicates, was the great grandson of the Josiah Spode, founder of Spode pottery and pre-eminent in the development of bone china In England

 

Image from https://spodehistory.blogspot.com/p/spode-royal-warrants.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

His mother bought Armitage Park in 1839 and renamed it Spode House.

Armitage Park, Staffordshire drawn by [John Preston] Neale in 1818
Josiah left the estate to his niece in 1893 but the Hall eventually fell into disrepair before being finally boarded up (1988). In 1999 it was purchased by Relaine Estates Ltd, who set about restoring it partly by using photographs from the Shugborough collection. It was decided to use the original name of Hawkesyard for the Estate, and the transformation of the Hall and outer buildings was completed in 2007. It is now established as a Wedding, Events and Conference Centre.

Image from http://www.hawkesyardhall.com/

 

 

Josiah lived at the Hall until his death but Amelia had moved on by 1881 and by 1891, she was an assistant in the infirmary of the Birmingham Workhouse, a large institution with space for 310 patients. Part of it is today absorbed into Birmingham Hospital. (http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Birmingham/)

But we haven’t finished with Josiah Spode yet as he left Amelia a legacy.

Lichfield Mercury 23 February 1894

£600 is not to be sniffed at today but in 1893 it was the equivalent of approximately £50,000 – so a considerable sum. In 1901, Amelia is in Peasenhall, Suffolk given as retired matron and superintendent. As she was only 53 years old, it must be presumed that she was living off the legacy, old age pension not then being available.

However by 1911 she had returned to work and now we come full circle as this is when she is listed as the Housekeeper in the House of Lords.

A visit to the Parliamentary Archives to find more information elicited a number of frustrating blind alleys, some interesting background material and, most significantly, a meeting with the Senior Archivist who just happened to have produced a thesis on working women in the Palace of Westminster! Her detailed research work, available on https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/portal/files/30807371/2012_Takayanagi_Mari_1069335_ethesis.pdf, includes a chapter subtitled ‘The small matter of a housemaid’s bed … ‘ and contains specific reference to Amelia.

In 1911, Amelia de Laney was the only female head of household in the Palace of Westminster … Her occupation is clearly given as ‘Housekeeper, House of Lords’.’ Parliament and Women, c.1900-1945, Takayanagi, 2012

Of interest is that she did not apparently know where she was born but thought it was London. This possibly implies that she had lost contact with her family who would surely remind her of her roots. However, this is speculation only.

Trying to ascertain what the role of the Housekeeper was and the whereabouts of the four rooms she occupied involved a great deal of reading across the grain and no certainty at the end of it. Women had been employed in domestic capacities in the Palace as ‘a Crown appointment rather than a Parliamentary one’ (ibid). In J C Sainty, The Office of Housekeeper in the House of Lords, pp256-260 in Parliamentary History 27(2): 2008 (cited Takayanagi) it is stated that the post was a sinecure, and in 1895, Charles Tanner MP said of Amelia’s predecessor:

‘He understood the housekeeper was an excellent lady in every sense of the word, that she had nothing to do, and a residence and £200 a year to assist her in doing nothing. [A laugh.] …This housekeeper had practically nothing to superintend, had not to weigh out the soap or look after the candles—[Laughter]—turn off the gas, or turn on the electric light.’ HC Deb (4th series) 22 Aug 1895 vol 36 c598 (cited Takayanagi)

As a result, the post of housekeeper was supposedly abolished in 1896, the role replaced by a non-residential Principal Housemaid. However, in 1902, the Lord Great Chamberlain made a case that, as the person in this role needed to be on the premises early and late, it would be of benefit if the post were residential. It seems possible, but not certain, that 1902 is when Amelia was employed as resident Housekeeper and it caused conflict with the Government:

‘The Office of Works removed the Housekeeper’s furniture, on the grounds she should not live in. The Treasury refused to pay for replacement furniture …’ (Takayanagi)

In 1872, that furniture had been listed as:

The impasse was resolved by the Clerk of the Parliaments buying furniture, costing £85, with the Lords Offices Committee reimbursing him from the House of Lords Fee Fund Account. The clerk commented at the time:

‘I do most seriously deplore such a difference of opinion on seemingly so small a matter as a housemaid’s bed …’  (Henry Graham to Sir Francis Mowatt, 10 Oct 1902. PA, HL/PO/AC/15/11, cited Takayanagi)

Exactly where the four rooms that Amelia used were located was impossible to ascertain. In 1865, LGC/5/6/48a indicated that the Housekeeper was in basement rooms under Charles’ Romilly’s office. LGC/5/7/33b – dated 1873 indicates that the apartments were four rooms and a kitchen but failed to identify its position. Dr Takayanagi was of the opinion (but not certain) that Amelia’s rooms were on the second floor of the building and may well be now occupied by the Parliamentary Archives research room. So in trying to uncover information, we had been inadvertently sitting in what had once possibly been Amelia’s sitting room!

Amelia remained as Housekeeper until retiring (for a second time!) in 1919. In 1939, she is recorded in Cheshire, described as incapacitated, and she died the following year leaving an estate valued at just short of £21.

Her death at the age of 92 closes the saga of the little Chelsea-born girl, once a pupil, later subject of a discussion in Parliament and the connection with the Palace of Westminster.

 

My grateful thanks to SuBa for supporting research and to Dr Mari Takayanagi for allowing me to read and cite her PhD thesis.

 

Words per Minute(s)

A slight twist to the office phrase seems appropriate here since many with a wpm qualification no doubt took minutes in their working lives and then typed them up. A piece of transactional writing recording what happened, minutes are important documents but not something one settles down to with a nice cup of tea and a biccy hoping to be entertained. However, when those minutes refer to meetings eighty or so years ago and they are read against the grain (i.e. ignore the dominant reading of a text and look for alternative meaning), they take on a new life force. The minutes in question are those of the Old Masonic Girls’ Association AGMs and by focusing only on the venues of the meetings, they give us a history lesson they weren’t intended to do.

The Association called OMGA came into existence on Primrose Day (19th April) 1912 and continued uninterrupted until 2019 when it became absorbed into an Alumnae Association. What happened to the minutes of the meetings before 1936 is not known. They may yet be uncovered in a dusty attic buried deep inside an old tea chest – who knows? But those from 1936 to 1984, stuck into two ledgers (but occasionally handwritten) have come into the School Archives recently. The minutiae within is formulaic – as minutes are – but as snapshots of where this group was at any given time, they have an unintended novelty.

In 1936, the AGM was at the YWCA Central Club W1 and began by confirming that it would use the same venue the following year, the cost for 1937 being 2gns, with 10/6 charge if a piano was required (it wasn’t). Light refreshments were available at 1/3d per head.

Standing in Great Russell St, and now a hotel following sympathetic renovations in 1998, the building was designed by Edwin Lutyens between 1928 and 1932, so it would have still been very new in 1936 for the AGM.

Images from https://manchesterhistory.net/architecture/1930/bloomsburyhotel.html

In 1923 a campaign to provide financial backing for a London base for the YWCA had been started.

‘The city was supportive towards the cause; buses and shop windows carried slogans – “London, stand by your girls” – appealing for the public to support the YWCA’s campaign.’ https://www.doylecollection.com/blog/revisiting-lutyens-architecture-in-london

It was built in neo-Gothic style and its interior had many Lutyens’ touches such as the ‘designed chairs and tables – recreated by his granddaughters’ company’ (ibid)

This image from the modern hotel website shows a chair of very individual style and, as the hotel were at pains to restore as much of the original as possible, it seems possible that this is an original Lutyens’ chair (or a reproduction thereof at the very least).

One interesting element of the original which has overtones of the School on its Clapham site is that

‘A heavy step on the floor of one of the modern hotel’s meeting suites reveals something surprising: it’s hollow! Where you might expect foundations, there’s space.’ (ibid)

This is the original swimming-pool opened by the Duchess of Kent in 1939 and, like the swimming pool at Clapham, it could be covered over in winter so that the space could be otherwise used. In Clapham’s case as a gymnasium. The same hollow sound is recalled by pupils whilst exercising!

 

‘Known as the Central Club, it continued to operate through the war when the gymnasium was used as an air-raid shelter and the emptied swimming pool was used as a place for people to sleep.https://manchesterhistory.net/architecture/1930/bloomsburyhotel.html

The building was deliberately placed in a central location to be available both to Londoners and women arriving in London for the first time and it was designed as a meeting ground for women of different nationalities and occupations. So it is singularly appropriate that it should have been used for the AGM of a girls’ school association whose pupils hailed from all over the world.

For one year only (1939), the AGM took place at the Cavendish Café, 93 Wimpole St as ‘it was not possible to obtain a room at the YWCA’ (committee meeting minutes, October 1938). Wimpole St, named after Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, is in Marylebone and was originally part of the estate of the Harley family. 93 Wimpole St is now occupied by a gents’ shoe shop and a gents’ barbers (‘a quality barbers without the fuss’ as they describe themselves) and there is no sign of the Cavendish Café, although there is a modern day street café at No 92.

Historical residents of note in Wimpole St include Arthur Conan Doyle, whose ophthalmic practice was there, and Elizabeth Barrett who eloped from No 50 with fellow poet Robert Browning. Fictional residents include Mr & Mrs Rushworth (Mansfield Park) and Professor Henry Higgins (My Fair Lady/Pygmalion). Virginia Woolf describes Wimpole Street in Flush: A Biography, as:

“… the most august of London streets, the most impersonal. Indeed, when the world seems tumbling to ruin, and civilisation rocks on its foundations, one has only to go to Wimpole Street…” (Wikipedia)

And go to Wimpole St the OMGA did – albeit only once. By the following year the AGM had returned to the YWCA and between 1940 and 1947, the AGM was either there or at the School but in 1948 we can resume the history lessons as the 37th AGM took place at Crosby Hall, Cheyne Walk. Now we’re really talking history as Crosby Place was built in Bishopsgate in 1466 by the wool merchant Sir John Crosby. It moved to Cheyne Walk in 1910.

‘This is the only example of a mediaeval City merchant house which survives in London, albeit fragmentary and not on its original site.’ https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1358160

By Edwardx – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28357919

By 1483, the Duke of Gloucester, aka Richard III, had acquired the Bishopsgate property. Notable residents include Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII, More’s son-in-law, William Roper, and Sir Walter Raleigh. From 1621 it was the home of the East India Company but the Great Fire destroyed much of it and another fire six years later finished the job, with only the Great Hall and Parlour wing of the mansion surviving.

After 1672, and for almost a century, it was a nonconformists’ meeting house, then the Post Office head office before it reverted to the East India Company again. In 1868 it was turned into a sumptuous restaurant and bar. Then finally –

‘It was sold in April 1907 for £175,000 to the Chartered Bank of India, Australia, and China whose directors intended to pull down one of the most ancient buildings in the City of London and build a new bank building in its stead. Its impending destruction aroused a storm of protest, and a campaign was started to save it.’ (Goss, Charles William Frederick (1908), Crosby Hall, a chapter in the history of London.)

As the result of various negotiations, the Bank had the architectural features numbered and stored, and later handed over all the bits to the London County Council. In 1910, the medieval structure was moved stone by stone to Cheyne Walk and this included the magnificent oriel window, shown here from the exterior and the interior.

On the right is a drawing made by J S Ogilvy for his book Relics and Memorials of London City, published in 1910. He must have been a bit cross when he realised that his book, containing 64 beautifully executed drawings, was immediately out of date! The interior shot is from https://www.christophermoran.org/news/crosby-hall-the-most-important-surviving-domestic-medieval-building-in-london/.

Crosby Hall is now a private residence and has been undergoing restoration since at least 2008 with an estimated 3 further years remaining as of 2019.

Image of the Great Hall from https://www.christophermoran.org/news/crosby-hall-the-most-important-surviving-domestic-medieval-building-in-london/

The OMGA AGMs were at Crosby Hall until 1953 when they moved again. This time it was to The Holme, Bedford College for Women, one of the buildings used by the College after their own buildings were extensively damaged in the Blitz.

‘Situated in the Inner Circle, it housed the Departments of English, Classics and Italian, while the second floor became an extension of the College Residence.’ From https://aim25.com/cgi-bin/vcdf/detail?coll_id=878&inst_id=11&nv1=browse&nv2=person

After eleven years of using The Holme, the AGM moved to Dartmouth House, home of the English Speaking Union, in Charles St, Mayfair.

Charles St itself has at least 25 listed buildings of which one is Dartmouth House, listed Grade II*. Described by https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk as a ‘grand town mansion’ it was bought by the ESU in 1926 and underwent ‘minor alterations’ by Clough Williams-Ellis to convert the building into the English Speaking Union. Although Ellis’ architectural portfolio is extensive, he is perhaps most famous as the creator of the Italianate village of Portmeirion in North Wales where The Prisoner was filmed.

Images from https://portmeirion.wales/ (left, the piazza and, right, Clough Williams-Ellis)

In 1964, Herringham Hall was used for the AGM. This, like The Holme, was a building which was part of Bedford College. Built 1948-1951 as a new arts building, it was named for Christiana Herringham, an influential figure within the women’s suffrage movement in the UK.

By 1975 it was on to another new building, the American School in Loudoun Rd.

‘ASL was founded in 1951 by Stephen L. Eckard, an American journalist and former teacher living in London. Mr. Eckard was … encouraged him to start a school that followed an American curriculum. The School began with 13 students, and all classes took place in his Knightsbridge flat.’ (https://www.asl.org/about/history)

However, the AGM was not in a Knightsbridge flat but in the ASL’s new building in St John’s Wood.

The school was the venue between 1975 and 1984 and then, there being no further business, as minutes are wont to state, the ledgers come to an end. There is even a little history lesson in the names of those signing off the minutes, including the fleeting appearance of Mary Calway who was Headmistress for such a brief time.

Who knew that minutes could be so interesting?