The Misses Dickens or Two Dear Little Girls Grow Up

In this blog, I will look at the lives of Katherine and Maud Dickens after they left school and throughout their adult lives. Whilst neither were unconventional in the broadest sense, equally neither followed what we might consider a ‘normal’ pattern.

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Katherine Louisa & Augusta Maud Dickens

In All the Year Round in 1866, Charles Dickens writes of a visit to the school where his nieces Katherine and Maud Dickens, “… the two dear little girls in whom we have a special interest” were pupils.
Alfred Lamert Dickens

Their father was Dickens’ younger brother, Alfred Lamert Dickens who had married Helen Dobson in 1846. Alfred was a civil engineer and had an office in the Market Place, Malton. The family lived at Hillside Cottage, Greengate, Malton and later in Derwent Cottage, Scarborough Road, Norton.

Katherine had been born in Union Terrace, York in 1853.

Map data ©2015 Google
Map data 2015 Google

Maud, the youngest child of five, was born in 1855 when Alfred “was renting Lawn Cottage on West End Lane in 1859. This was one of a pair of houses on the Lane towards Finchley Road, uphill from West End Green.”

Whilst travelling in his official capacity, Alfred was taken ill and died on 27 July 1860 at the Mosley Arms, Manchester. His death was reported in all the national newspapers and a considerable number of provincial newspapers

“Mr Alfred Dickens (brother to the illustrious English author), died at Manchester, from a frightfully rapid attack of illness of a pulmonary nature, on Friday night week. Mr Dickens was the travelling and inspecting engineer under the Local Government Act, and was on official tour when he was stricken down.” (Carlisle Journal 7th August 1860, accessed via FindMyPast website)

In 1861, Katherine, Maud and their mother were living in Grafton Terrace where, in 1846, Karl Marx resided with his family. (Image from
Grafton Terrace

Charles Dickens took care of Alfred’s widow and children, and, as their father had been the Worshipful Master of Universal Lodge during his lifetime, Katherine Louisa and Augusta Maud Dickens were eligible for the support of the Royal Masonic Institution.

In 1866, Charles Dickens paid a visit to the school:

“But it is time you saw one of the institutions we are so proud of. Let us take a railway ticket from either Waterloo or Victoria station, and after a twenty minutes’ run alight at Clapham junction. … we are in front of a spacious red brick building, on the lofty tower of which, besides the clock, are a pair of compasses and a blazing sun. We will not stop to talk further about symbols now. After admiring the spacious well-kept garden of this place, and enjoying the sweet scents rising up from every flower-bed, we make for the front door, when the sharp click of a croquet-mallet reaches us from the right, and, turning a corner, we come upon a thoroughly happy party. Some twenty girls, from twelve to fifteen years old, are laughing merrily at the vigour with which one of their number has just sent the ball rattling through the little croquet hoops. … This is the Freemasons’ Girls’ School. … The comfort of its internal arrangements, its spotless cleanliness, the healthiness of its site, the judicious training and considerate kindness of its matron and governesses, are themes we descant upon at length; the rosy faces and unrestrained laughter of the children bearing forcible testimony to us. The committee of management visit this school frequently and regularly …  the healthy cleanly dormitories, the light and airy glass-covered exercise-hall, where the young people drill and dance; the matron’s private sanctum, which is like a fancy fair today in the extent and variety of the gay birthday presents laid out; the tea-room, where we all have jam in honour of the matron’s nativity; the board-room, hung with the portraits of grand masters and masonic benefactors, and which is placed at our disposal that we may enjoy a quiet chat with the two dear little girls in whom we have a special interest, are all visited in turn …”

Two years after this visit, we learn from school records that Maud won a prize for French recitation. This year, 1868, was the first year that the school put forward entrants for the Cambridge examinations, only available to female students from 1865.

The usual age for leaving the School was sixteen which would give a leaving year for Katherine of 1869 and Maud 1871. However, we find Maud with her mother in the 1871 census so we may surmise that she probably left in December 1870.

Hats off to Clapham

Clapham group with hats

This delightful photograph, dated 1913, shows a group of older girls at Clapham wearing their uniform which appears to include the most glorious hats! There is no other photographic evidence of hats like these so perhaps they were only worn by the senior girls or the prefects.

On the reverse of the photograph, the girls are identified, with only one girl not known. Our records show that three of these girls later went to South Africa, one possibly to New Zealand, one to Canada and one to America. Two of those pictured became staff members of the School.

All of them were born between 1896 and 1898 and it is quite remarkable how many of them reached their eighth or ninth decade, with one almost making it to her centenary. Perhaps this is a tribute to the start in life the School gave them, despite their misfortune in losing their fathers at such an early age, mostly before their tenth birthdays.