Right Matron – carry on!

Matron's salary 1791
Rule from 1791 re Matron’s salary

From The Rules and Regulations of the Royal Free Mason Charity, 1791.

The salary of the Matron (above from 3 years after the first appointment) was a good, solid income and so it is hardly surprising that there were many applicants. Continuing with the list in the Rough Minute Book, we come now to the last two candidates not yet written about.

Listed second was “Mrs Anna [sic] Le Clerc, no 11 Wells St, Marylebone, Petition signed by R E Crouch, H Spicer, J Boys, F Broderip, letter from J Farmer to vote by Proxy” (RMB)

11 Wells St possibly still exists. 12-13 Wells St is The Champion pub and is a corner site suggesting that No 11 would be next in sequence (as opposed to the standard odd-even arrangement).

Wells St
Wells St from Google maps

The RMB additionally records: “the second Candidate Mrs Le Clerc had attended and was also examined by the Committee who thought her qualified and her Petition was signed by four Governors and a Letter from a Governor who was disposed and feared he should not be able to attend.”

Mrs Le Clerc had actually approached the Committee in May 1788 before the newspaper advert but whether this gave her an advantage we will never know. She is referred to in earlier Minutes as a governess. It may be possible to infer from this that she had teaching experience and possibly some of the other candidates were more qualified as housekeepers. As the information was not recorded in a manner that precluded other interpretations, we can only speculate.

“Mister Emile Falardeau, a famous genealogist, in 1944, drew up a list of 23 various spellings of Leclerc across Canada. On October 5, 2003, “Le Programme de Recherche en Démographie Historique” documented 30 different spellings found in their records before 1800: Clair, Claire, Cler, Clerc, Clere, Clers, Laclaire, Leclair, Leclairc, Leclaird, Leclaire, Leclaires, Leclairg, Leclairs, Leclart, Leclec, Lecleire, Lecler, Leclerc, Leclercq, Leclercque, Leclercs, Leclerd, Leclere, Leclerec, Leclerq, Leclerre, Leclers, Leclert.” http://www.associationfamillesleclerc.ca/en/ancetres_en.html

The name possibly originates in Limousin, France but descendants and their variants can be found world wide. “Leclerc, a headache for the genealogists …”(ibid.) can also be found across Europe as “Schreiber, Schrieber, Scriver, Schriver, Schriever, Schriewer, Schriefer, Schrijver, Schreber; Scrivener, Shriver; Deák; Clerc, Clark, Clarke (Clarke), Clarck, Clerck, Klerk, Klerck; Ó Cléirigh …” A nightmare for researchers and genealogists alike!

This particular Le Clerc, the carefully recorded ballot tells us, received the most votes – by quite a wide margin. She was subsequently elected as Matron.

Le Clerc thanks
Morning Herald (London, England), Monday, November 3, 1788, p.1b

To return to the Minutes – but Mrs Le Clerc’s story is far from over! – third on the list was “Mrs Charlotte Learmonth, No 6 Wardour St, Soho, recommended by Wm Adam Esq MP and Governor, Petition signed by Jas Heseltine Esq, George Hassion[?} Esq, John Hull Esq, Charles Marsh & John Bell … Mrs Learmonth was strongly recommended by Letter and her Petition signed by five Governors.” (RMB)

Wardour St
The likely site of 6 Wardour St (house number neatly obscured by the delivery vehicle!), now offices.
From Google maps, street view, image capture July 2014.

“Wardour St has been on maps of London since the first map of the area in 1585 although it was at that time known as Colmanhedge Lane. A century later, it has been split into 3 parts: So Ho, Whitcomb St and Hedge Lane. “Wardour Street was renamed and building began in 1686, as shown by a plaque formerly on the house at the corner with Broadwick St (or Edward St as it was). Sir Edward Wardour owned land in the area, and “Edward Street” was what is now the stretch of Broadwick Street between Wardour Street and Berwick Street …” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wardour_Street

Although Mrs Learmonth was unsuccessful in the first ballot (she polled 9 votes as opposed to 68 for Mrs le Clerc), on 4th April 1789, the RMB records: “It appearing from general observation that the Matron is too far advanced in Life for the Duties required in that Situation – Resolved That the Office of Matron be declared …” the next line is unreadable but, as Charlotte Learmonth succeeded Mrs Le Clerc as Matron to the School shortly afterwards, the word ‘void’, or similar, is presumed.

The Duchess, despite not having had ‘her’ candidate elected six months earlier, intervened, declaring she had visited the School and found everything satisfactory and “that she cannot forebear saying that it will be an injustice to the present Matron to put her away.” The intervention was unsuccessful other than to perhaps achieve a short stay of grace and the Minutes record that on 13th August 1789 Mrs Le Clerc had been informed that “the Governors would dispense with any further attendance from her.”

In October of that year, Mrs Le Clerc wrote to the Governors claiming that her assiduous care of the children had resulted in a severe fit of illness. She was offered a gratuity of 5gns which was initially turned down. (At the same time as the gratuity was offered, Mrs Learmonth also received 5gns – a kind of golden hello – and perhaps Mrs Le Clerc felt she was being unfairly treated.) Her next tactic was to claim that she had not been reimbursed for some bills she had paid. She received an additional £1 17s. Whilst we, safely more than 200 years away, might be amused by the whole business, it should be tempered with the view that there weren’t pensions then and if the first Matron were indeed too old to be employed, she would have no income on which to live. It must have been quite a frightening time for her and, unfortunately, we never find out what happened after this.

Charlotte Learmonth appears to have been a very different character to the first Matron. She wrote frequently to the Committee, keeping them informed about what was happening at the School. Indeed, these letters may have been the origin of the Headmistress’ reports that continue to this day. We have a copy of one of those letters: purely transactional, in this case regarding the requirements for the pupils.

Learmonth to Committee
Extract from letter from Charlotte Learmonth 1789

However, not all letters were so prosaic, clearly. In December 1790, the Committee minutes make a reference to a letter and, although no indication of the content is revealed in the Minutes, it was felt that she was in breach of duty. In January she complained again and in March the Committee received an anonymous letter about her (which it noted was to be ignored) but, of course, the damage was done. In April, she resigned but, after a great deal of discussion, the Committee declined to accept the resignation by 15 votes to 14. In September she was in trouble again and she resigned for a second time. This time they accepted. Perhaps she was trying a double bluff as we are told in the minutes that, in October, they had received another letter from her “couched in very unbecoming language” …

So in 1791, the Committee were again advertising for a Matron. The Rules and Regulations carefully recorded the age limits!

Age limits
Rule concerning the age limits for the Matron, 1791

It should be noted that the salary in the advertisement had been totalled to 30gns rather than specifying that 5gns was for Tea and Sugar and a further 5gns for Porter. Clearly that detail was reserved for the Minutes rather than the World.

Matron ad 1791
St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, September 29, 1791, p.3c

There were 36 applicants, of whom 16 were shortlisted and Mrs Ann Lovekin was appointed.

Mrs Lovekin wins
London Chronicle (London, England), October 13, 1791 – October 15, 1791, p.3b

This time – probably to the relief of the Committee – the appointed matron lasted the course and was still in situ at the time of her death in 1806.

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