They died too young

This posting concludes the series about pupils and former pupils who died at a young age, sometimes whilst at school and sometimes just afterwards. Of one fact we can be sure: whilst in the care of the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls, they received exemplary medical care even at a time when childhood mortality rates were higher than we are used to today. Whether their deaths occurred at the School, with or without family members by their sides, or if the death happened after their time at School, none of them can be attributed to slipshod care on the part of the School.

Lucy Horn died at the school aged almost 11 years. The daughter of William and Barbara Horn, she had three sisters and she was probably named after her paternal grandmother. As she would not have been a pupil before the age of 8, she was not long at the school before she died. She had been born in Lancashire so her death was reported in Lancaster Gazette 26 May 1877.

Lancaster Gazette 26 May 1877
Lancaster Gazette 26 May 1877

Subsequently, the family moved to Folkestone and ran a boarding house. Barbara, her mother, lived there until her death in 1909. 21 Clifton Crescent was a large house as it had 20 rooms and two of Lucy’s sisters continued to run it after their mother’s death. It is currently divided into flats.

21 Clifton Crescent, Folkestone from Google maps
21 Clifton Crescent, Folkestone from Google maps

Kate Hooper was present in the school for the 1871 census but died the following year. As she did not die in the area of the school she had presumably been ill and had gone home or to a hospital. Had her father not predeceased her, he would no doubt have recorded her death in the proper channels: he was a registrar of births, marriages and deaths.

Phoebus Amelia Rosvier Bean Hardcastle’s life may well have been shorter than her name. The unusual 4th forename is her mother’s maiden name. In her petition to the school, it was revealed that her father had been a Superintendent Constable but was unable to maintain employment as a result of a gunshot wound to the head in the course of his duty.

The application for Phoebus to become a pupil was turned down in 1862 but accepted the following year. It took two years to get her into the school and she was there for two years before she died. There is a troubling symmetry in that. She appears to have died at the School, although her family were living nearby, as her burial record gives Freemason’s School, Wandsworth Common as her address. She was buried on 8 Apr 1865 at Battersea, St Mary where her mother had been buried the year before. Her father, who lived until March 1881, is also buried in the same cemetery.

Oil painting of St Mary, Battersea
Oil painting of St Mary, Battersea St Mary’s Church, Battersea

(oil on canvas, Sarah Bryant)

Florence Pauline Hale died in Wandsworth district in 1881 aged 10. This might suggest that she died at school but her family lived in Clapham so it is possible she was at home.

Mary Gordon was admitted to the school in 1799 and died of consumption although no date was given for the death. In the 1818 Book of Governors she is clearly recorded as Mary Y Gordon but no records for a Mary with a 2nd forename beginning with Y have been found. A Mary Gordon’s death is recorded in 1801 and another in 1806. If she were born in 1791 (baptismal record is possible), she would have been admitted aged 8 which was the about the normal age, but either death record would fit – 11 or 15 years of age.

Minnie Constance Goddin: in 1884 she won the prize for needlework. She left the School on June 19 of that year with the following comment made by the Head Governess: “altogether a good girl but not sufficiently industrious to have made as a much progress as she ought; only just reached 2nd class.” Sadly, she didn’t have much time to improve on this as just three years later her death is recorded aged 19.

Caroline Gentry, another of the earlier pupils, arrived as a pupil in 1818 but wasn’t in the school long before she was sent home 1819 suffering from “hectic fever and consumption”. She died 22nd June 1819. It is likely she was born in 1808 with baptism on 14 Sep 1808 at St Anne, Soho, her parents being Mary and Thomas Gentry.

St Ann's, Soho
St Ann’s, Soho

(Image of St Ann from website below)

She was buried on 26 June 1819 at Spa Fields Burial Ground as she was of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion denomination. More about Spa Fields can be found at It is an interesting area in its own right.

1805 map of Islington
1805 map of Islington
Burial register Spa Fields
Burial register Spa Fields

Edith Mary Friend was another little girl who died at the school. The Matron had the sad duty of informing the House Committee of her death from measles and broncho-pneumonia on 13th March 1913. She had been born on 23rd July 1901 so she did not make her 12th birthday.

Two sisters who attended the school had the unenviable record of both dying young. Selina Jane and Grace Annie Fleck were both elected to the school but both have death records that show they died at home rather than in the school. Selina was 14 and Grace 15. Their mother died before them and their father re-married but then he died in 1866, just two years before his daughter Selina. Their sister Elizabeth and stepmother Rosetta were the sole surviving members of the family.

The death of M A Farmer [Mary Ann] raises all sorts of interesting speculation. In the 1818 Book of Governors of 1818, her death is attributed to hydrocephalus. Now, unless this term was used in a different way in this period, it is a condition that Miss Farmer would very likely have had on admission to the school, particularly since she died so young.

“Congenital hydrocephalus is present at birth and may be caused by either events or influences that occur during fetal development, or genetic abnormalities. Acquired hydrocephalus develops at the time of birth or at some point afterward”

This may be as a result of a premature birth or can arise from meningitis. Whatever its cause, it was a serious problem requiring specialist care. This, of course, contravened the ruling that no child with an infirmity could be admitted. She died aged 10 and is buried in Bermondsey, her place of residence being given as St George’s, where the school was situate, from which we may assume that the death occurred at school.

Mary Ann Farmer's burial record
Mary Ann Farmer’s burial record

Edith Mabel Dunn’s health had given concern during her time at school. The Matron reported concern about her state of health in November 1901 “her eyes being in a bad state”; it was considered that some convalescence at Broadstairs may help. Edith was obliged to leave the school in 1902 because of continued ill health and she died the same year, aged 15. Without seeing her death certificate, it is impossible to guess at the cause of death and in what way the bad state of her eyes was a symptom.

Another Dunn who petitioned to become a pupil was Annie Dunn whose father had died in March 1865 rescuing shipwrecked crew in heavy storm. He received a testimonial and thanks of Board of Trade after the rescue and though this may have been of little comfort to his family, the gratuity of £5 probably came in useful. Annie, born in 1861, died in 1870 so, if her petition had been successful (and there are no records yet found that state this) should would hardly have started at the school before she died.

Kentish Gazette 09 May 1865
Kentish Gazette 09 May 1865

Gertrude Elizabeth Barker, described as ‘a little girl’ by the Matron, died at the school aged just 9 of pneumonia 13th February 1915. This was, of course, in the days before penicillin could be used to treat infections that might have led to pneumonia. Having arrived at the school the year before because of the death of her father, when she left her home her mother & brother were not to know that they would never see her alive again.

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