Over to Dover

In the last posting (Could do better?), we considered the somewhat poor school report of an early twentieth century pupil. It would, however, be unfair to look at this in isolation: the pupils attended the School in the first place as the daughters of indigent Freemasons and frequently this was as the result of the death of the father, as was the case of Adrianne Harvey.

Adrianne’s parents, Arthur Edward Harvey and Kate Harvey nee Thorpe, had married on 28 Jan 1909 in Dover’s Holy Trinity Church and Adrianne was born on 11 January 1916 in Dover.

Dover Holy Trinity church

Image of church from http://www.doversociety.org.uk/history-scrapbook/churches/holy-trinity-church Date for the photograph is given as circa 1900.

Kate was a Dover girl by birth and from ‘a long established Dover family‘ (Dover Express, 10 Feb 1911). Kate’s father, Henry William Thorpe, was a councillor and a magistrate. His father, William Thorpe, had opened a business in Dover at the beginning of the nineteenth century so the Thorpes were well established as a Dover family by the time Adrianne was born.

death notice
Announcement of death of Councillor Thorpe

 Dover Express 10 February 1911

Adrianne’s grandfather had been a town councillor for many years and may well have been appointed Mayor in 1902 but for the fact that his wife had died during the election. He had ’felt the loss keenly’ the Dover Express stated and, although he served the town as councillor, he did not contest the mayoralty. He had been appointed magistrate in 1892 and he was also Chairman of the Dover Overseers, a Director of Dover Gas Company, a sidesman at St Mary’s Church (where he was later buried) and Chairman of the Dover Promenade Pier Company, so he was fully involved in Dover life.

The Express then goes into quite extraordinary detail of his funeral, not just listing the mourners but describing the vault in which he was buried alongside his wife and the coffin (polished 1½ inch English oak) and the flowers and the tributes and the undertaker … From which we can assume that he was indeed held in high regard.

His son in law, Arthur Harvey, was listed as one of the Chief Mourners. His daughter is not listed but neither were any other females named. It is unclear from this whether they were present and not named or whether they did not attend the funeral. http://vichist.blogspot.co.uk/2008/06/victorian-funerals-and-mourning.html states that

Although expected to mourn, women were generally advised against attending funerals, especially for those nearest and dearest to them.

Arthur Harvey did not hail from Dover himself. He had been born in Bristol and was in Dover because he was the manager of the Lord Warden Hotel. However he too became involved in Dover’s affairs becoming a Councillor in 1920. Quite possibly he might have gone on to serve longer had not illness intervened. The Dover Express in 1924 reports his death in Felixstowe, where he had gone in the hope of improving his health, and indicated that his illness had been of some six months’ duration.

Curiously, although still acting as town councillor in Dover, the newspaper notes that he left Dover in about 1921 and managed a hotel in Bexhill before then going on to successfully run the University Arms Hotel, Cambridge.

University Arms, Cambridge

Image from http://www.universityarms.com/restoration

The University Arms hotel was opened in 1834 and is considered to be Cambridge’s oldest hotel. It has been recently restored – having been damaged by fire in 2013, dramatic pictures of which can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-24379988 – and continues to operate as a hotel.

But he was associated most with the Lord Warden Hotel. https://doverhistorian.com/2013/10/02/lord-warden-hotel-house/ carries a splendid history of the hotel written by Lorraine Senicle.

Designed by the leading theatre architect, Samuel Beazley (1786-1851), the remit was that the hotel was to look ‘magnificent from the sea, the barracks (on Western Heights and the Castle) and for passengers coming by rail.’

Rather like the University Arms, Cambridge, the hotel was clearly intended to attract the wealthier customers, in Dover to cross the Channel and for onward travel on the Continent. For their convenience, there was a covered walkway from the first floor of the hotel to the train station. The hotel had been named after the Duke of Wellington, who had also been the Lord Warden. John Birmingham was its first manager.

Among the many renowned guests was Napoleon III, the nephew of Wellington’s opponent at Waterloo. The Dover Society placed a blue plaque on the building to commemorate this.

Blue plaque
Dover Society Blue Plaque

Image from https://doverhistorian.com/2013/10/02/lord-warden-hotel-house/

Another noted guest was Charles Dickens. It is amazing how often this man crops up in stories about the School’s history! It is thought that the streets surrounding Dover Pier District may have been the inspiration for the area of Tom-All-Alone’s in Bleak House.

As well as its connection to rail travel, two other hotel guests connect the Lord Warden Hotel with flight. Louis Bleriot celebrated there in 1908 after his solo flight across the Channel. Just four years later, Harriet Quimby was a guest on 16 April 1912 before becoming the first woman to fly across the Channel.

Louis Bleriot & Harriet Quimby

Image of Harriet Quimby from http://airwingmedia.com/pilots/2013/harriet-quimby-first-woman-licensed-pilot-america-cross-english-channel/; Image of Bleriot from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-Bleriot

For the funeral of Queen Victoria (1901) and the coronation of Edward VII (1902), the European monarchs and nobility crossed the Channel and stayed at the Lord Warden en route to Windsor. By 1911, the hotel was of sufficient size and/or prestige to have 35 servants listed in the census. In June of that year came the coronation of George V and it is thought that virtually every room (about 100) was occupied by royalty or members of their entourages.

Arthur Harvey
Dover Express

In the announcement of Arthur Harvey’s death, it states that he served with the RAF. This was only formed in 1918 from the Royal Flying Corps and as the hotel was closed in 1917 because of the war, it seems likely that Arthur at this point enlisted with the RFC, later going on to the RAF.

The Admiralty commandeered the hotel in 1917 and handed it back in 1919. It was refurbished by its owners and re-opened for business in 1920. Arthur, on leaving the RAF, probably moved on to the Bexhill hotel and then the Cambridge Hotel and never went back to the Lord Warden. Further refurbishment took place in 1924 but Arthur was not alive to see it.

In World War II, the hotel was once again requisitioned and in 1940 became ‘the headquarters of the Coastal Force Base, HMS Wasp’ which ‘Lord Haw-Haw’ once famously announced had been torpedoed in the Channel!

The hotel survived the war, despite being shelled, and a plaque had been installed on the building after the war but mysteriously disappeared. In 2010 another plaque was placed on the building.

Dover Society plaque to HMS Waspe

Image of plaque https://doverhistorian.com/2013/10/02/lord-warden-hotel-house/

Although it was intended to re-open it as a hotel, by this stage it was somewhat battered and battle-scarred and the money needed to refurbish it just wasn’t available. It had been renamed Southern House and was used as offices. In 1990 Stena shipping group acquired the building as part of a wider franchise and when Roy Hattersley, in a 1992 Guardian article, was less than flattering about its decayed state, they perhaps felt stung into carrying out some exterior refurbishment. By 2007 it had been given a listed status and subsequently underwent more extensive repair work costing three quarters of a million pounds but it remains as offices today albeit its original name being partially restored as Lord Warden House.

former hotel
Lord Warden House today

Image above from https://doverhistorian.com/2013/10/02/lord-warden-hotel-house/

Adrianne would only have been a baby when the hotel was closed in 1917 although she may have been more aware of the University Arms hotel as this was presumably her home whilst her father was its manager. After leaving the School in 1932, she lived for a while in London. By 1939 she was in Salisbury and in Eastbourne by 1957. She died in Cheltenham in 1999 never having married and thus her story stops here.

Could do better?

Discovering an old record book, produced by W Straker Limited of Ludgate Hill, London and dating from 1921, opened up new aspects about individual former pupils. The unknown member of staff who noted marks for the pupils over approximately a decade and a half (the last dates are 1937) and also recorded the comments on their progress has given us an insight into the girls which might otherwise have been lost. In those days, school reports did not hold back on the negative qualities, as is shown for this particular pupil!

Ad's reports
Report comments

The recorded marks, whilst clearly meaning something at the time, are not so comprehensible now. For each subject, there are two marks, one in black and one in red. Taking them in conjunction with the comments, it seems likely that the first mark is a term grade or perhaps an exam result and the second mark might be the position in class. As can be seen, this young lady had a larger number in the 2nd column than in the first, from which we might assume that her weak marks kept her, fairly consistently, bumping along at the bottom of the class.

marks for term
Term marks 1926-1931

The subjects, too are an interesting insight into the curriculum of the time: Arithmetic where we would today have Mathematics, for example. It is clear from comments made in the Head Governess reports that the two subjects were regarded as separate; that all girls were taught Arithmetic but that Mathematics, which required the employment of a specialist, was the province of only the senior girls. Algebra was introduced later in their school careers and Geometry even later still. Grammar, Composition and Dictation, plus separately for girls in their third senior year and above, Literature, are today all included in English lessons. ‘N Study’ is presumably Nature Study and is the only nod towards Science although, interestingly, in the C19th century it is clear that some girls studied scientific subjects: for example, in a report about the School in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser of 28 August 1885, we are told that girls had been successful in exams in geology and physiography and that it was intended that galvanism and electricity would be studied next, followed by botany. It is unlikely that this was available to all of the pupils at the time especially since we are told that

Education in these extra subjects was entirely outside the routine of the school, and the girls who studied them did so in the evening after their ordinary studies were over.

These were clearly the cleverest of pupils who today would be the Oxbridge candidates.

Scripture and Drawing also make their appearance from the third year but by a pupil’s final year – the equivalent of the 6th Form today – the wider curriculum was narrowed to a specialised few subjects. In this case: Arithmetic, Geography, Grammar & Composition, French and, newly introduced for the older girls, Shorthand and ‘Business’. Unlike today where Business Studies might be undertaken, then it probably meant Typewriting to go with the Shorthand and both of which subjects might enable those girls who were not academic to be equipped for a future in clerical work.

This particular pupil did not appear to have an understanding of numbers and her Arithmetic marks are consistently low, culminating in 1931 with a 0 mark. Her Algebra and Geometry were equally weak and she scored 0 in these long before her final year! Her highest marks were largely in Arts subjects until she starts learning Shorthand when suddenly she begins to shine. It is interesting that, although she did poorly in Algebra with its use of symbols, in Shorthand, with its equally baffling use of symbols, she did much better.

Looking at these entries dispassionately and three-quarters of a century on, we have no sense of the individuals here – either the pupil or indeed the teacher who wrote the remarks. Given that the vast majority of the pupils came to the School under difficult circumstances, these sparing (or perhaps we might say unsparing) comments do not reflect this. As with probably the majority of the girls at that time, Adrianne came to the School after her father had died. There is no reflection in these comments of any emotional trauma she may have been experiencing but this was the norm at that period in time. One did not give way to unseemly emotion but ‘bucked up’ and Got On With Life.

Having been introduced to Shorthand and Business towards the end of her School career, and clearly taking a shine to it, Adrianne went on to make that her employment. In 1939, she is recorded as a shorthand typist in Salisbury, living with her mother, and in 1957 there is also a fleeting reference to her in a travel document as having a ‘secretarial’ occupation. So the skills she learned in 1931 stood her in good stead throughout her working life.

Presumably she recovered from having “the worst report in the school” (1929) and became a perfectly competent shorthand typist, enough to earn a living from and to support her mother. Who knows? Perhaps the despair felt by the teacher who recorded this comment forged in Adrianne a determination to succeed despite being “thoroughly unsatisfactory”!

Sunday service

Religious services have been a part of the School’s history since its inception.

Rule 20: That the Matron attend the children to Church every Sunday morning and afternoon, and on Good Friday, Christmas Day, and the Anniversary, that they learn the Collect for the Day, and such as are capable to read a portion of Scripture every Sunday Evening … and on every Friday the children be taught the Catechism.

(The mention of Good Friday and Christmas Day are reminders that for a considerable period of the School’s history, there were no school holidays. At all.)

But this posting is less about religion and more about the participants in it; less spiritual and more about practicalities. It’s about getting there and sitting still during. The first three school sites did not have a place of worship attached to them. The girls were taken to a local church – twice – on Sundays. To begin with, they had their own pew. To save the mental gymnastics of trying to work out how huge numbers (current school roll 900+) fitted into one pew, in the early days the numbers were significantly fewer. In 1788, fifteen little girls and a Matron might fit fairly comfortably into a large pew, which cost £3 per annum. This cost, incidentally, can be compared with the £24 pa for ‘Books, Sope, Mops, Brooms &c’.

The first church they attended was the Bethel Chapel initially in a pew donated by Jacob Leroux. The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1813 referring to Seymour Street in Somers Town said

“In this street was formerly a chapel of ease to St. Pancras. It was a gloomy building, erected in 1787, and called Bethel Chapel; it afterwards belonged to the Baptists.”

Cited in Edward Walford, ‘Somers Town and Euston Square’, in Old and New London: Volume 5 (London, 1878), pp. 340-355. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol5/pp340-355 [accessed 16 November 2016].

There was also St. Mary’s Episcopal Chapel in the same street which may have been used too as may have the old church of St Pancras (the new one was not built until 1819 by which time the School was south of the river.)

mary Pancras
St Mary, Somers Town & Old St Pancras

Image of St Mary’s by Steve F, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11433686

Image of Old St Pancras by Stephen McKay, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13429363


In 1795, the School moved to St George’s Fields, Southwark and the girls would have attended the church of St George the Martyr.

George Southwark
St George the Martyr, Southwark

Image of St George by Carlos Delgado, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17840016

The School had its home in Southwark from 1795 to 1852 when it moved to Clapham. St John’s, St Mary’s, St Peter’s and St Paul’s were all used at different times by the School.

Battersea churches
St Paul, Battersea & St Mary, Battersea

Image of St Mary by Derek Harper, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6088418

Image of St Paul from http://www.southwark.anglican.org/find-a-church/battersea/battersea-st-peter-and-st-paul/battersea-st-paul

St Mary’s is the oldest church of these being finished in 1777; St John’s (there is no extant image) was described, rather unflatteringly, as “ ‘A cheap brick church erected for the workers of the factory district of York Road’ according to J.G. Taylor (Our Lady of Batersey, 1925).” www.southwark.anglican.org/downloads/lostchurches/BAT11.pdf It was consecrated in 1863 so was only marginally newer than the 3rd school site. Later amalgamated with St Paul’s, it was badly damaged during WWII and demolished in about 1950. St Peter’s was built in 1875 and St Paul’s, originally a chapel of ease for St John’s, was amalgamated with St Peter’s in 1939.

By the time the School was in Clapham (or Battersea, or Wandsworth or Putney – take your pick: all can arguably claim to be the geographical place of the School’s third site), it had a considerably enlarged school roll. Now, walking to church was not just a marshalling of 20-50 girls in a relatively straight line but manoeuvring nearly 400 girls, in twos, in Sunday best. Pity the tram driver and the hapless motorist who stopped to allow the girls to cross the road!

Crossing the road to church

Mention of Sunday best raises that other set of items known variously by the euphemisms unmentionables, unwhisperables, indescribables and underpinnings: the underwear, usually in the form of combinations comprising bodice, drawers and slip. These garments were generally regarded with loathing. Summer ones were made of cotton but winter ones were made of wool which one former pupil recalled “had the consistency of steel wool” and which “itched and prickled” in a most uncomfortable fashion. Being forced to sit still and attend the sermon was made much more difficult by these garments, issued fresh on a Sunday morning – and therefore at their most like a coarse hair shirt – presumably on a basis of cleanliness is next to Godliness. Clearly the constant fidgeting of the girls reached the attention of the Chaplain and ultimately he came to speak to Miss Mason, the Matron, about the matter. Quite what was said, in what sort of language (given the deemed delicacy of ever mentioning such things) and with what degree of mutual embarrassment is lost to history as the conversation was, literally, behind closed doors. The outcome, however, is known. From then on, the fresh ‘linen’ was distributed on a Monday rather than Sunday so it had become slightly more comfortable by the time it was necessary to attend to the sermon again. Modern girls are at this point dissolving into horrified hysteria at the realisation that only one set of underwear was issued per week … Victorian sensibilities were indeed different!

Once the School moved to Rickmansworth in 1934, the walks to and from the local churches were no longer part of Sunday life. Services, as today, took place in the Chapel.

The Chapel exterior & interior

The Junior girls, still at this stage in Weybridge, continued to perambulate to their local church, St James.

Weybridge church
St James, Weybridge

Image from http://www.stjamesweybridge.org.uk/

After the service, the girls would write little essays about the sermon and the vicar would award gold and silver stars for the best. Before they departed the School to reach the Church, the girls would be given a penny to put in the collection. One week, a girl put her coat button in instead so that she could put her penny in the bubble gum machine they passed en route. Something went wrong with the mechanism and her sin was rewarded not with one but several – perhaps a case of the wages of sin being not death but illicit chewing gum. Of course, her behaviour did not go unpunished but the vicar’s essays may have been a little odd that week! Even without bubble gum, attention was not always focused on the service. Although girls recall different things about their church visits – such as the choir processional, the occasional use of incense and the bell ringers – one former pupil, under the mistaken view that the memorial plaques on the walls were vertical gravestones, spent a considerable part of her time trying to puzzle out where the bodies were.

A requirement for religious services throughout the School’s history there may have been, but it is probably fair to say that it did not always guarantee the girls’ focus. Although the steel wool underwear is no longer a reason for a lack of attention …

Long Service

Recently tributes have been paid to one of the School’s long-serving housemistresses who had died aged 90. But she was by no means the first member of staff to have a long working association with the School. The School’s history is littered with examples of them. This particular lady put in 32 years (and then continued her association post-retirement) which seems even more impressive when you consider she was in her forties when she began at the School.

Coming in at 33 years, however, we need to go back to the nineteenth century with the first appointed Head Governess in 1862, Sarah Louisa Davis, who informed the governing body in 1895 that she wished to retire. They were most reluctant to accept her wishes but awarded her a pension that equalled her salary at the time. How glorious to retire on full pay!

2 imp people
Eliza W Jarwood & Sarah L Davis

In office during Miss Davis’ tenure was the Matron Eliza Waterman Jarwood. Her length of service is trickier to calculate because she had been a former pupil who became a member of staff. Many of the staff then were former pupils. Indeed in 1934, when the School moved to its current site, all the staff barring one had been former pupils. Miss Davis was one of the exceptions in being an external appointment. In one sense, Eliza’s length of service totalled 68 years because she arrived as a little girl of 9 and never left. She died in 1886, still in post.

The focus of this posting, however, is an earlier Matron who, like Miss Davis, was an external appointee. The above mentioned Eliza served under both matrons. Frances Crook was appointed as Assistant Matron in 1802. This may – or may not! – have resulted in the Great Rebellion as she did seem to be a fairly tough cookie whereas the Matron at the time was perhaps a more gentle soul. Reading between lines is always tricky but it would appear the two women did not really get on. Both probably thought her way was the best. The girls, as any schoolgirls before or since, took full advantage and probably played one off against the other. Whatever the real truth, both women were deemed to be at fault. Rebellion quelled, they continued to work together for another five years although perhaps amicable is not the best word to describe their working relationship. In 1807 the Matron died and Frances Crook was appointed in her place.

Her tenure saw the School through a period of four different monarchs: George III, George IV, William IV and Victoria.

Four Monarchs

She must have offered a degree of stability to her charges during this period and at a time in their lives which was uncertain. Many of the girls were minus one parent and sometimes both and the School was their home. Although its roll was growing, by 1841 (the first census where the information was published) it still only had 55 pupils and 6 staff. One of these was the Eliza mentioned above and another was her sister Sarah!

article 1
The Morning Post March 26, 1852

On March 25 1852, presenting her what was described as ‘elegantly emblazoned testimonial’, the School honoured Mrs Crook’s service, albeit described here in somewhat purple prose:

The Morning Post March 26, 1852

Amongst other attributes, it was said that “she has never been absent from the school twenty-four hours at one time.” (The Era, March 28 1852)

The Era March 28, 1852

Such ceremonies tend to stray into the sentimental – how could they not? – and the Victorians loved a good wallow in sentimentality. The Era’s almost verbatim report demonstrates the kind of expressions which to modern eyes seem rather too gushing but which were nevertheless heartfelt at the time.

The Era March 28, 1852

The ceremony concluded with something the children had probably looked forward to most of all: “[They] were regaled with cakes, fruits &c … [and] were to be allowed to amuse themselves with singing and dancing in the evening.” (The Era)

Mrs Frances Crook

The date of this portrait is uncertain but it is feasible that it was painted to commemorate her 50th jubilee. Of course it would not at all have been the done thing to refer to Mrs Crook’s age throughout all the praise being heaped on her although perhaps the references to the ‘remnant of her days’ may hint that she was beginning to look a little elderly. In the 1841 census, Frances declared herself to be 50 and she added ten years to that in 1851 but neither of these was at all accurate! She would have been 11 when appointed as Assistant Matron if they had been. Sadly, the earnest wish that ‘the day when she should be taken from amongst them might be far distant’ was never likely to be the case. Appointed as Matron on July 30 1807, her age declaration in census returns was never anything more than a ‘mind your own business’ response but when she died in 1854, it was finally revealed that she was 78. It was also never clear whether her title ‘Mrs’ was honorary or not. She was never referred to any differently but she would have joined the School at the age of 26 which would have made her a young widow if she had been married.

The Era October 22, 1854

Described as ‘zealous and energetic’ in life, there can be little doubt that she was a revered character who took great pride in her girls and appeared to be held in genuine affection by them. She died on 15th October 1854, described unflatteringly as ‘An Aged Matron’ by the Daily News, apparently of some unspecified illness that she had suffered from for some time: she had “long been subjected to a painful disease” declared The Era. At the same time it also stated that she had died after a few hours of illness and there is a fleeting reference more than half a century later of a former pupil of the time declaring that Mrs Crook had died from a cholera outbreak and that a pupil had also died of it at the same time. Neither source is medically sound enough to draw a definitive conclusion so we must just settle for the fact that she had died.

The Era October 22, 1854

The Era’s guess (“Miss Jarwood … will most probably be the successor”) was exactly right. Eliza Jarwood was appointed as Matron and was another long-serving matron but then she’d already done 25 years before her elevation to matronhood. And her successor, Florence Mason, put in at least 35 years before retirement. In fact, there have been so many that any service less than twenty years is almost regarded as fleeting! Think of all the column inches that it would take if newspaper articles were as lengthy today as they were then …

Merry little Wilson circles

Sometimes in research the phrase ‘merry little circles’ springs to mind! Working on the assumption that no individual deliberately sets out to misrecord information with the express intent of causing confusion, unravelling the story of Cecile Marjorie Heath Wilson has been one of said little circles. To begin with, she was always called Bridget although that name does not appear in her family or its records. Nothing has been found to explain this oddity but her probate record uses the name as if it were an official one so, somewhere along the line, the name Bridget has become appended to her other three forenames. It is parenthesised in her school records so would appear to have been in use for most of her life: it is not present on her birth record but it is on her death record.

Born in Wheatenhurst (now called Whitminster), Gloucestershire on 22nd September 1927, Bridget was the youngest child of George and Winnifred (spelled Winifred & Winnefred too) Wilson. Between the birth of older brother George Heath Wilson in Richmond and that of her sister, Barbara Heath Wilson, in 1923, the family had moved from Surrey to Gloucestershire. The astute amongst you will have detected a name pattern here – the Heath forename stems from the grandmother’s maiden name and was given to all three children. Unfortunately, the son being called George as well as the father inadvertently caused a great deal of confusion to all and sundry including official recorders of information. Bridget’s school record gives her father’s name as George Heath Wilson and states that he was a sub-conductor in India. This is a Warrant Officer not attached to a specific regiment and usually working for the Public Works Department. Then it also said he was a Squadron leader, DSO, DFC and had died but neglected to give a date. The two professional roles did not seem to fit together but it all took a considerable amount of unpacking! The search was not helped by the mother’s maiden name being recorded as Wood on Bridget’s birth record but elsewhere as Woods. (You sometimes have the feeling that the family historian god is a bit of a mischief maker.)

Tracking George Heath Wilson, DSO, DFC, it did not take long to find his name recorded on Runnymede Memorial as having died on 25th June 1944.

Runnymede Memorial

image from http://www.staffshomeguard.co.uk/

He was in RAF (VR) 139 Squadron and his plane took off

on the night of 24.June 1944 from RAF stn Upwood in company with nine other aircraft of the Squadron to carry out an attack on Berlin. The aircraft was not seen or heard from after take off and failed to return to base.


It had two crew: F/Lt William Wrixon Boylson DFC & Bar (pilot) RAAF and S/Ldr George Heath Wilson DSO DFC (nav.) RAFVR.

Via Googlebooks, this information was expanded upon.

A 139 Squadron Mosquito B.XX, one of the 27 that went to Berlin, was shot down thirty kilometres northwest of the ‘Big City’ by Leutnant Ernst-Ewald Hittler of 3./NJG1 for his fifth and final victory. Twenty five year old Flight Lieutenant William Wrixon Boylson, DFC RAAF and Squadron leader George Heath Wilson, DSO DFC were killed.

German Night Fighters Versus Bomber Command 1943-1945 by Martin W Bowman, Casemate Publishers, 2016.

Although the age of the pilot was given, George’s age was not and no details of this appeared on the CWWG website either. It was only when a newspaper report from the previous year was found, announcing his being granted the DSO and which stated that he had been born in 1920, that it became clear (well, slightly clearer!) that Sub-conductor George and Squadron leader George could not be the same person. Not even the most highly decorated officer is a father at the age of 7! However, they could be – and indeed were – father and son. Although the father is not recorded officially as George Heath Wilson (only ever as George), it may well be one of those family things, like the addition of the name Bridget, known within the family but not written down.

Once it became clear that Squadron leader George was not Bridget’s father but her brother, the hunt was on for Sub-conductor George. Finally, a breakthrough came when a British India Office marriage was found for a Winnefred Blanche Woods to a George Wilson in Simla in 1919. As the names of the couple’s fathers were also given, it became much more straightforward to trace the correct families.

George Wilson, then, was born in Moreton in the Marsh in 1879 and in 1891 he was with his parents, their address given as Police Station, Bristol Road, Wheatenhurst where Edmund Wilson was a police sergeant. “A police station with a petty sessions court was built at the junction of the main road and School Lane in 1867” http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/glos/vol10/pp289-291

Winnifred was thirteen years younger than her husband. She had been born in Portsmouth in 1893 and her father, Arthur John Woods, was a Staff Sergeant in Bengal, India (Unattached List). Given that Winnifred’s siblings were all born in India, it is possible that the family returned there as they do not appear on many census returns in UK. At the time of her marriage, Winnifred was a clerk in Q M Gant’s branch which might suggest that she and George met in India although we cannot be certain of this. Within a year of their marriage, the newly-married Wilsons returned to UK where George Heath Wilson was born. They were clearly still in UK in 1923 and 1927 when their daughters were born. Sadly, George died in 1933 and this made Bridget eligible for a place at the school. She was certainly there by 1939 as she is listed on the national register at the school and she appeared in a school performance of Quality Street (Barrie) at about this time. (The date of the performance is unknown, just a cast list in records, but the names on it place it about 1938/9.) This comic play was so popular that

Quality Street chocolates and caramels were named after it, and the confectionery originally used characters from the play in their advertising and packaging

Quality Street candy history. Société des Produits Nestlé S.A., accessed 2 March 2010, cited by Wikipedia.

Having become a pupil after her father’s death, Bridget’s young life was once again touched by tragedy when her mother died in 1943 and then her brother in 1944. She left school in 1945 with, amongst other accolades, Grade VIII piano (distinction) and a good school certificate result. Perhaps Nietzsche’s aphorism may well be true here: what doesn’t break individuals makes them stronger. Bridget went to Gloucestershire Training College of Domestic Science and qualified in 1948 with a 1st class certificate and had a post as Head Cook, Barrows’ Stores, Birmingham.

Barrows Stores


Barrows, very much a landmark building in Birmingham was begun by a member of the famous Cadbury family. (That’s the second confectionery item in this post!) John Cadbury, b 1801,

… took an apprenticeship with a tea company in Leeds, and upon his return to Birmingham in 1824, he borrowed money from his father to start a business. He opened a shop on the 4th March 1824 at 93 Bull Street, next door to his parents, selling tea and coffee.


The store was well known throughout the Midlands and

By 1905 the store had been rebuilt with a new cafe on the first floor for the customers to try the companies [sic] products, and had numerous departments from glass & china to food … This new premises incorporated a ‘restaurant’ that was opened on the first floor of the stores in 1905, partly so that customers could sample the tea and coffee sold by Barrows. It sounds tempting to the weary shopper: The Cafe has large windows overlooking Corporation Street, from which a peep of the busy throng below can be obtained.


Barrows catalogue
Catalogue image of Barrows 1926

This picture of the store is taken from the 1926 Christmas List. Image from https://theironroom.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/barrows-stores-christmas-list/

Presumably, it was not tempting enough to keep Bridget as by 1950 she was the cook at the Royal Masonic Hospital (school magazine 1950)

Royal Masonic Hospital

Images of hospital from http://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/ravenscourt.html

After her post at the Royal Masonic Hospital, she was a cook at a Holiday fellowship Hostel in Conway and later Head Cook at a Scottish hostel near Loch Lomond; then she had entered the Glasgow College of Domestic Science to study dietetics (school magazine 1951)

Caledonian Uni
Glasgow College

Image of College http://www.theglasgowstory.com/image/?inum=TGSG00044

Now the Glasgow Caledonian University, it was at the time a Cookery College known affectionately as the Dough School.

Cookery course
‘The Dough School’ in action

Image from http://www.gcu.ac.uk/media/gcalwebv2/cshhh/content/documents/THE%20DOUGH%20SCHOOL%20BROCHURE%20.pdf

Dietetics, which had been taught at the College since 1925, was formulated into a diploma course in 1954. Students on this postgraduate diploma course received training in nutrition and diet therapy, biochemistry, bacteriology, physiology and chemistry, and undertook a six month placement in a hospital dietetics department. The course offered some women an opportunity to establish a career in a relatively new field of health and medicine. http://www.gcu.ac.uk/media/gcalwebv2/cshhh/content/documents/THE%20DOUGH%20SCHOOL%20BROCHURE%20.pdf

Bridget’s excellent school record tells one story but her post-school career suggests another – that she was rather unsettled. Having qualified in 1948 she had a post in Birmingham; moved in 1950 to London and a new post as hospital cook; moved again the following year and then two other posts (one in Wales, one in Scotland) and all before she entered the Glasgow College of Domestic Science to study dietetics. As this was all reported in the school magazine of 1951, it does reflect a rather hectic and unsettled period. In 1953 she was on the move again. This time to India (her sister was living there) where travel documents give her as a dietitian [sic] and she went from there to New Zealand before returning to India. Finally, she returned to UK via S Africa and took up a post as Assistant District Caterer for Oxford Geriatric Hospital.

Cowley Rd Hosp
2 images of the hospital

In 1951 the first geriatric day hospital in the country was opened on the site. [Cowley Road] It was under the United Oxford Hospitals until 1974, when responsibility passed to Oxfordshire Area Health Authority (Teaching). The hospital functioned as a geriatric unit from 1958 until closure

images above and text http://www.oxfordshirehealtharchives.nhs.uk/hospitals/cowley_road.htm

As so many hospitals, it began life as the Workhouse. It was eventually demolished in 1981.

Bridget clearly maintained her contact with the school throughout her travels. It would have been impossible to reconstruct her story without this as she and her sister only appear on records fleetingly. One of these fleeting records gives us the information that she died at the Radcliffe Infirmary in 1966, her death reported in the magazine. She was living at 3 Crown St, Oxford at the time, her probate record informs us.

Oxford address
Crown St, Oxford

Google Earth Street view 2015 https://www.google.co.uk/maps

Despite the difficulties in unpacking the records, it is possible to re-construct a life. It just takes longer! What we can never learn from the records, however, are the emotions behind the story. Bridget was only 38 when she died and she did seem to have packed a lot into her life but whether she was escaping from or to something is merely speculation.

You have mail – Postscript

Just as a PS should be, this posting is an add-on drawn from the main theme but at a tangent. In this case, it concerns the post-education life of the coachman’s daughter. Whilst we do not know what happened to Mary Simpson after she left the School in 1811, Mary Ann Skudder (because of the more unusual name) is more traceable. She was ‘returned to her mother’ in 1816 – the School parlance for when she left school – and the next record we find for her was her marriage four years later to Garnett Benjamin Francis, an undertaker by profession. They were to have at least five children and we can follow their progress through the 1841, 1851 and 1861 census returns. Interestingly, none of the sons followed their father into the undertaking business, which was often a steady business and frequently lucrative. What we might make of that is open to interpretation.

Surprisingly little is written about the Victorian undertaker despite the fact that Death and Mourning was Big Business at the time. Or perhaps that is the very reason why.

‘Since it was in the best interest of the undertaker to promote the big expensive funeral, these men often became master manipulators, convincing families that they needed to add that extra coach, horse, mute, whatever in order to properly celebrate the death of a loved one.’ http://thevictorianist.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/victorian-undertaking-plea.html

To find out more about Victorian undertakers, we are left to draw upon literature and Dickens, in particular, seemed agin undertakers. They are portrayed unsympathetically by him three times: Mr Sowerberry (Oliver Twist), Mr Trabb (Great Expectations) and Mr Mould (Martin Chuzzlewit).

“Pocket-handkerchiefs out, all!” cried Mr Trabb at this point, in a depressed business-like voice. “Pocket-handkerchiefs out! We are ready!” So, we all put our pocket-handkerchiefs to our faces, as if our noses were bleeding, and filed out two and two; Joe and I; Biddy and Pumblechook; Mr and Mrs Hubble. The remains of my poor sister had been brought round by the kitchen door, and, it being a point of Undertaking ceremony that the six bearers must be stifled and blinded under a horrible black velvet housing with a white border, the whole looked like a blind monster with twelve human legs, shuffling and blundering along, under the guidance of two keepers — the postboy and his comrade. (Great Expectations)

Victorian undertaker images

Mr Trabb (left) and (right) a member of a re-enactment society dressed in his Victorian undertaker’s costume. http://www.theoldcem.co.uk/page13.php

the whole of Mr. Mould’s establishment were on duty within the house or without; feathers waved, horses snorted, silk and velvets fluttered; in a word, as Mr Mould emphatically said, “Everything that money could do was done.” (Martin Chuzzlewit)

But it wasn’t just Dickens who castigated the greedy undertaker:

Every undertaker thinks it incumbent on himself to outdo every other undertaker in ridiculing the dead. The shops exhibit from the ground to the roof all kinds, sizes and shapes of coffins; beautiful epitaphs for the tomb of the dead; neat positions for “laying out;” and pictures of funerals underwritten thus: – “funerals got up in this style for £10,” or plainer funerals, for less money. W. O’Daniel, Ins and Outs of London, 1859, cited by http://www.victorianlondon.org

At least one Dickensian undertaker is regarded well by Dickens and – coincidentally – it happens to be a Great Yarmouth one! Mr Omer is described as “a fat, short-winded, merry-looking, little old man in black, with rusty little bunches of ribbons at the knees of his breeches, black stockings, and a broad-brimmed hat”.

A mid-century advertisement in The Times offered six classes of funerals ranging in price from £21 for a first-class burial down to £3 5s for the sixth class. The cost could be further reduced ‘by dispensing with the funeral cortege through the streets of London.’ http://vichist.blogspot.co.uk/2008/06/victorian-funerals-and-mourning.html

Quite what sort of undertaker Mary Ann’s husband was we have no idea but they lived in an area that later declined. In 1841 and 1851, their address is given as Brick Lane, an area very much influenced by the incomers attracted to it.

‘The cultural mix turned again with the massive Jewish immigration of the late 1800s. Escaping the pogroms of Eastern Europe, they alighted at Wapping and headed for the cheapest part of London, Brick Lane.’ http://eastlondonhistory.com/2010/11/06/history-of-brick-lane/

Re-named from Whitechapel Lane (in the days when it crossed fields), Brick Lane was so called because of the brick and tile manufactories that sprang up there.

Brick sign
Brick Lane street sign

Image by James Cridland – http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamescridland/460198209/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4490576

Interestingly, but probably unknown to the Francis family, Brick Lane has a connection with death. ‘[It] was originally the home of the dead. For centuries it was a Roman burial ground, positioned deliberately outside the walls of the City of London.’ http://eastlondonhistory.com/2010/11/06/history-of-brick-lane/ Its position outside the City saved it from destruction in the Great Fire of London which started 350 years ago today, to the day (September 2nd 1666).

Fire and brick
Eastern extremes of fire and Brick Lane’s proximity

Image from http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryMagazine/DestinationsUK/Survivors-of-the-Great-Fire-of-London/

In the 1880s, Brick Lane was in the haunt of Jack the Ripper but this was long after Mary Ann Francis had died.

Charles Booth’s map shows an interesting mixture of middle-class (red colour) butting up against poverty (black).

Bricken booth
Brick Lane from the Booth maps

(Image from the Charles Booth Online Archive http://booth.lse.ac.uk/ )

By 1861, Garnett & Mary Ann had moved to Cavendish Street, defined by Booth as ‘Poor. 18s. to 21s. a week for a moderate family’. Perhaps Garnett was not making his fortune out of death which is why his sons did not follow the profession. This area has since been subject to slum clearance and rebuilt and the modern image below shows no trace of what Charles Booth saw in 1898.

Google Cavendish
Cavendish St from Google Earth street view

Garnett Benjamin Francis died in 1862 and Mary Ann did not long survive him. She was buried at St James, Pancras on 15 November 1867. If Mary Simpson married and when she died is not known but both Maries would probably be surprised to find their stories being told in the 21st century!

You have mail (2)

Previously, the focus was upon the coaching inn and its connection to Mary Simpson. Now we turn to Mary 2 – Mary Ann Skudder – and her association with mail delivery.

Mary Ann was born in Great Yarmouth, described in Great Expectations by Peggotty as the ‘finest place in the universe’, and baptised in the same church in which her parents married, now designated a minster church and possibly the oldest building in Great Yarmouth.

church of St Nicholas
St Nicholas, Yarmouth


Mary Ann’s father, John, married Elizabeth Fleming on 10 June 1798 and is recorded in Lane’s Masonic Records as being a mail coachman.Whilst there is an outside possibility that he visited The Swan with Two Necks, ‘Aldgate was the general starting point and terminus for all East Anglian coaches.’ This perhaps suggests that it is unlikely that James Simpson and John Skudder met in the course of their employment. (http://www.mynorwich.co.uk/harleston-stage-coaches-and-carriers/)

Coachman were not postal employees but hired by the inns at which the coaches arrived. They were famous for their driving ability, so famous in fact that gentlemen adopted the coachman’s dress style rather than the other way around (working people mimicking gentlemen).

They wore a drab great coat that might have many short capes layered at the shoulders to lead rain away from their bodies and provide under layers that were not readily wet through. They wore a spotted Belcher handkerchief instead of a cravat, a tall beaver hat, striped waistcoat, white corduroy breeches, and boots. A coachman carried a whip with which he was said to be so expert that he could flick flies off his horses without startling them.


Mail driver
The coachman

The mail coach is believed to been the brain child of John Palmer. He certainly made his fortune from them! The first designated mail coach was in 1784. Before this, letters had been carried to their destinations by a horse and rider but it was a system riddled with problems:

Over-ridden horses fell lame or ill, the temptation to linger with a mug of beer over the ale-house fire was too great to be resisted, on lonely country roads the boys were sometimes set upon and robbed. So many letters never reached their destination that correspondents hesitated to use the post


In 1784, Palmer advertised that the coach Diligence would convey the mail with an armed guard for protection and could also carry four passengers. Beginning on August 2nd, it

will set off every Night at Eight o’clock from the Swan with Two Necks Lad’s Lane London, and arrive at the Three Tuns Inn Bath before Ten the next Morning

The price for passengers was twenty-eight shillings and, perhaps aware of the previously poor reputation of coachman

Both the Guard and the Coachman … have given ample security to the Proprietors for their conduct, so that those Ladies and Gentlemen, who may be pleased to honour them with their Encouragement, may depend upon every Respect and Attention.

The terror of road travel at the time was the highwayman but second to him was the mail guard! Rosamond Bayne-Powell in Travellers in Eighteenth-Century England cites Pennant (1792): ‘these guards shoot at dogs, hogs, sheep and poultry as they pass the road, and even in towns to the great terror and danger of the inhabitants’ http://www.ourcivilisation.com/

Coachmen supplemented their low wages in tips for carrying mail, undercutting the official charges. On good routes, income could rise from 12s per week (for the night coach, best to be avoided) to £400-£500 annual income. These were the ‘kings’ of the road. ‘The men who drove the mail-coaches were a brave, hardy race, many of them great characters.’ One of them, William Salter, drove the Yarmouth stage-coach (no dates cited so not possible to know if he were contemporaneous with John Skudder); part of his epitaph reads:

Here lies Will Salter, honest man

Deny it Envy if you can

True to his Business and his Trust

Always punctual, always just …

The coach called The Star ‘started from Yarmouth, [and] was the only coach stopping at Harleston that went on all the way to London without passengers having to change to another coach.’ http://www.mynorwich.co.uk/harleston-stage-coaches-and-carriers/ (Again, no dates cited so impossible to say if this were the coach on which Skudder was coachman.) A German traveller, J. H. Campe, found his journey from Great Yarmouth to London a ‘veritable torture’. http://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2015/03/travelling-the-roads-of-regency-england-with-louise-allen.html [no date given but early 1800s]

Whether John Skudder was a ’king of the road’ or one of the poor earners is unknown but when his daughter was admitted to the School, the home address given was Eagle Assurance office which rather sounds as if he had perhaps changed occupation.

However, a direct descendant of John Skudder later pointed out that ‘On the 22nd of April 1802 he was made a Mason in the United Grand Lodge of England, his occupation shown as Mail Coachman. His age is given as 32’. Seven years later, when he died (in 1809) his age was given as 49. He was buried in Great Yarmouth on the 18th June 1809. Mary Ann was admitted to the School in 1810 which fits with the death of her father but it does not explain why the ‘family’ address given in the School registers is the Eagle Assurance office. It seems unlikely that this little mystery will ever be solved!

The Eagle Insurance Company was founded in 1807, the purpose being ‘for fire and life assurance and for granting annuities’ and its City office was at 41 Threadneedle Street. (info from http://www.aim25.ac.uk/cats/118/19302.htm)

Newspaper ad
Advertisement in Bell’s Weekly Messenger 07 August 1836

Following its success, many other companies set up similar businesses. ‘Initially, each company employed its own fire department to prevent and minimise the damage from conflagrations on properties insured by them.’ http://heritage.aviva.com/our-history/companies/h/hand-in-hand-fire-and-life-insurance-society/ . They issued firemarks (now very collectible) to denote which premises were insured. This system had an unfortunate flaw in that burning buildings were ignored if seen not to be ‘one of theirs’. The solution was eventually to establish a municipal authority to which the insurance companies contributed to establish a town fire brigade. This almost worked in that the fire fighters took no notice of whose firemarks were there but rather favoured those buildings that were insured against those that weren’t!

contract Hogarth
C18th contract & Hogarth print

18th century doc image By Charles Simms [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Cartoon by Hogarth recalling the position of prominence held by the Union Fire Office, 1762 from http://heritage.aviva.com/our-history/companies/h/hand-in-hand-fire-and-life-insurance-society/

It is interesting, but entirely coincidental, that one of the early companies, several mergers later, became what is now Aviva but which was for many years Norwich Union – another East Anglian connection?