By 1918, two little girls were pupils at the School after the tragically early death of their father. Their story stretches from a small Scottish village to an Oxfordshire palace.Grace and Jessie Hunter were born four years and three hundred miles apart. Grace, the elder, was born in Chillingham, Northumberland in 1907 and Jessie in Woodstock, Oxfordshire in 1911. They were the daughters of George & Janet Hunter but to begin their story properly, we need to travel further north from Northumberland to Gladsmuir in Scotland. Here, their father was born in 1879, son of Archie & Jessie Hunter, and you could argue that he was a son of the earth as Archie was an agricultural labourer and George became a gardener.
The name Gladsmuir is loosely translated as Buzzard’s Moor from the Scottish word gley meaning a bird of prey and muir or moor. It is in the area formerly known as Haddingtonshire and now called East Lothian:
The village stands 355 feet above sea-level, near the eastern verge of the parish, 2½ miles SSE of Longniddry station, 4 W by S of Haddington, and 3½ E of Tranent, under which it has a post office. Crowning the ridge between Haddington and Tranent, it commands a superb panoramic view of the Lothians, the Firth of Forth, and the southern shore of Fife. (F.H. Groome, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1882-4); © 2004 Gazetteer for Scotland)
John Marius Wilson in the Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland adds to this that it was “remarkable for thunder storms, one of which in 1789, burst upon the schoolhouse, and killed two of the children … ”
In 1891, George is with his family in this area, living at Harelaw Farm Cottage No. 9 with Archie described as a farm servant. By 1901, however, George has left the parental home and, indeed, Scotland. He appears in the census at the head of a list of five gardeners (from which it can possibly be understood that he was regarded as their ‘leader’) over the border in Northumberland at Oakwood Hall, Wylam, employed by Norman Coulson.
Wylam is the birthplace of George Stephenson and the Blackett family (who at one time owned Oakwood Hall) were supporters of the early railway movement.
George Stephenson, “The Father of Railways” was born in a cottage alongside the Wylam Waggonway in 1781, and as a boy worked for Christopher Blackett, keeping the waggonway clear of cows. George went on to build the Stockton and Darlington Railway and, in conjunction with his son Robert, to design and build the famous Stephenson’s “Rocket”. (http://www.theblacketts.com/articles/61-railway-blacketts)
In 1906, George Hunter married Janet Beatrice Moore, born in Chapel Allerton, Yorkshire in 1881. Her father was also a gardener and in 1881 was employed at Gledhow Hall, Leeds although he actually hailed from Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire.
Between 1812 and 1815, Turner sketched the view of the Hall from across the valley … An engraving by G Cooke was published in 1816 for Dr Whitaker’s History of Leeds. (Gledhow11.pdf)
The image of the gardens is taken from the sale plan for the Hall in 1878. In 1883 it was bought by James Kitson (1st Baron Airedale).
In 1884, the ‘Gledhow estate’ contained: an orchard, shrubbery, ice house, well, peach house, flower and kitchen gardens, glass pits (cold frames?), fernery, greenhouses, conservatory, vineries, stoves and potting sheds … (Gledhow11/pdf)
[Gledhow11/pdf was an article written by Louise Wickham]
By 1901, the Moores had moved to South Lodge, Castle Hall, Crawcrook where James was listed as a gardener. And as Castle Hill Hall is on the outskirts of Wylam, it is not hard to see how a Yorkshire lass met a Scottish lad!
Despite his young age, George Hunter appeared to be going places – specifically south into Oxfordshire and a post as Head Gardener. His employer this time was the Duke of Marlborough and by 1911, George is engaged in his role at Blenheim Palace.
That he was there before this date is shown in information supplied by the Archivist at Blenheim. In 1908, the estate records show that on July 3rd, G Hunter received wages of £21. 15s (although this was probably the sum to be divided between all the gardeners). By 1915, George is recorded as ‘being in charge of Gardens and Dogs’ but, sadly, this was also the year he died aged just 36.
In June 1915, Mrs Hunter is recorded as working in the gardens and receiving wages of £1 5s and then in October of that year “Mrs Hunter now receiving a pension £4.0.0”.
Both of the above images are from one of the Duke’s photograph albums. They were taken by Oxford photographer Henry Taunt, for the 9th Duke but the gardens were fairly unchanged by 1911 when George Hunter was responsible for them. The photos are in album on the private side of the Palace and are here reproduced by the kind permission of His Grace, the Duke of Marlborough.
After their father’s death, Grace (named after her great-grandmother) and Jessie (after her grandmother) become pupils at the School. It could be argued that Grace was a chip off the old block in achieving an elevated status at a young age as, by 1918, she was the first Head Girl of the Junior School at Weybridge known then as Junior Masonica Captains. (There had been younger pupils at the School since its inception in 1788 but no separate Junior School in its own grounds until 1918.) Unfortunately, nothing else is recorded of her school life other than that she was awarded her school certificate in 1924 and left as a pupil on July 24th of that year. She retained her interest in the school by becoming a member of OMGA and it is through this that we find her address given as Woodstock in 1933. It seems likely that she lived with her mother who is recorded in the area in 1939 and right up to her death in 1964. Although she died in Radcliffe Infirmary, her address is recorded as Woodstock Rd, Oxford.
Grace herself died in 1981, recorded in the School magazine as being on 17th April in Oxford and an indication that her association with the School was long lasting.
Jessie, the younger sister, kept an even closer link with the School. She was due to leave the School on 13th December 1928 but was retained as a pupil teacher in the Lower House (what might be today Years 7-9). She left in December 1931 but, although her records do not say so, it was probably to go to the Royal Academy of Music as two years later she returned to the staff but now with an LRAM qualification in ‘pianoforte playing’. She became the 4th Music Mistress in the Upper House in 1933 (equiv. Years 10-12) and then transferred with the whole school to the new buildings at Rickmansworth in 1934 where she took on the additional role of Assistant Housemistress in Ruspini (one of the eight boarding houses).
By 1944, she was the Housemistress in Connaught (another of the boarding houses; both are shown in the outline above) and she finally left in 1956 to marry James Steventon on the 7th August in Oxford from her address of 107 Woodstock Rd (seems familiar!). She continued to live in the Oxford area in later life in a nursing home after a series of strokes. She died in 1990 at exactly the same age as her sister had been – 78 years old.
There are, of course, no records to show her favourite music but perhaps it was found in here?