Tradition!

Georgina Burnet (1906-1980) arrived at the School, as too many of the pupils did, following a family tragedy. Her father, Robert Burnet, was the County Medical Officer in Cornwall in 1911 having served his home county of Lancashire in the same way previously. He had qualified as a doctor at the end of the nineteenth century and when WWI broke out, he signed up to the RAMC and held the rank of Lt-Col when he died in 1915. But not, as you might imagine, as a direct consequence of war.

newspaper report
Newcastle Journal 30 January 1915

He left a widow (who described herself as ‘your broken-hearted Alec’ on the funeral wreath) and three children. He was buried with full military honours, the service being at Exeter Cathedral but with the interment following in Chorley.

funeral report
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 03 February 1915

Burnet had been a member of two Cornish Masonic lodges and this made his daughter eligible as a pupil and she is listed on school roll by 1918, referred to as Nina. On leaving school in 1922, she first went for commercial training in Cheltenham, subsequently taking a secretarial post at a school in the town. However, in 1926 she followed her father into the medical world by training as a hospital nurse. In 1929 she combined two of things that she had experienced in her 23 years and became a nurse at a school in Oxford. It is not recorded when she first became a Matron but in 1939 we find her at Kilvinton Hall School in Enfield. The school had been founded in 1925 by Baron Mowll of the Cinque Ports. It later moved to Haywards Heath and was renamed Great Walstead. One of the school houses retains the name of the founder, Mowll.

GWschool
Image from the school website http://www.greatwalstead.co.uk/

In researching this former pupil of RMSG, and discovering her subsequent career in other schools, this rather delightful school tradition was uncovered. Kilvinton Hall School – now Great Walstead School – has something called “Q Day”. One pupil would have been told a secret code and when this code was spoken in a public place (the dining hall, chapel, sports field, etc.), he would shout “Q Day”, at which point the entire school (now the senior pupils) decamped to the woods in the extensive school grounds, to camps that each team had worked on all summer.

camp in woods
Image from the school website http://www.greatwalstead.co.uk/

‘For ‘Q Day’ the Seniors have the added excitement of spending the night in their camps and taking part in a Night Operation as well as a series of daytime challenges which might include orienteering, a treasure hunt, archery, swimming competitions and teamwork challenges.’ (School website)

Q Day may be unique to Great Walstead School but there are many schools that have their own weird and wonderful traditions, some more eccentric than others. For example, Abbots Hill School (not far away from RMSG in fact) has a uniform drawn from tartan and a clan system rather than a house system to reflect the founders who were Scottish. Christ’s Hospital, Sussex, still retains its original Tudor costume and pupils have the right to free access to the Tower of London – as long as they are wearing their uniform.

tudor uniform
Christ’s Hospital uniform http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-29047752

The Head Boy or Girl at the school is known as the Senior Grecian and has the right to address the monarch en route to or from the coronation. This, of course, has not been exercised for a considerable time given the longevity of our present monarch’s reign.

Other Head Boys’ or Girls’ traditions include keeping a pig in school (Blundell’s); riding a horse under the arch at Repton; allowing a goat to eat the grass at Strathallen. The Head Boy at Uppingham has the right to grow a moustache or get married but it is believed that, so far at least, none has exercised the latter of these.

https://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/articles/boarding-school-rituals-traditions.html gives a list of ten eccentricities attached to boys’ schools, such as the Eton Wall game. At Winchester, as the autumn term closes, there is something known as ‘Illumina’. At the end of afternoon school, pupils finish lessons to find there are candles illuminating the wall around the school playing fields. Westminster School has the very odd tradition of The Greaze which began in 1753. It is celebrated

… on Shrove Tuesday each year. It involves the cook tossing a pancake (which has been reinforced with horse hair) over a high bar, and the pupils then fight over the pancake for one minute. This activity is presided over by the Dean of Westminster Abbey, the Head Master and the rest of the school – sometimes even by distinguished Royal guests. The pupil who manages to get the biggest bit of the pancake is awarded the prize of a gold sovereign, and the Dean requests a half-day holiday for the whole school. Thankfully, one aspect of this tradition has now died out: in the old days, if the poor cook failed to toss the pancake over the bar, the pupils would throw their Latin books at him. Modern employees of Westminster School are no doubt glad that this practice is now no longer a feature of Shrove Tuesday! www.oxford-royale.co.uk

No doubt this was witnessed by two young Westminster pupils in the eighteenth century who happened to be the sons of Bartholomew Ruspini the instigator of RMSG in 1788.

Which brings us nicely onto some of the traditions of the Girls’ school. Of course, there is Drill (http://www.royalmasonic.herts.sch.uk/userfiles/rmsmvc/documents/AboutUs/History%20Trails/Drill%20history.pdf) and, until fairly recently there were Duos and Trios (eight pianos with either two or three pupils at each one, playing in synchronicity). There was also the curious belief, given the even more curious name ‘Dig Dipper’ (or sometimes Deeper), that the statue of Ruspini on the east exterior wall of the Chapel leaned on one leg in one year and on the other in the following, the changeover happening (natch!) at midnight on All Hallow’s Eve. [Sorting through photos of the statue and knowing this to be the stuff of childish imagination, for one blood-curdling moment, I noticed that in some of the images the forward leg had changed from right to left. Then I realised I was holding some of the slides back to front … ]

Statue doubled
Ruspini statue

One other ‘tradition’ that developed started life with every pupil’s wish for the end of term to arrive more quickly. The little rhyme they sang was ‘This time next week, where will I be/ Not in this RMIG’ and each girl mentally crossed off the pictures in the dining hall one by one (there are 14) until the last day arrived.

dining hall painting
Sacrificial lamb?

This morphed into the girls at breakfast pointing at each picture and silently marking a cross in the air. Somehow over the years, the ‘silently’ bit got dropped and the pictures were ‘shot’ with an imaginary finger gun. Inevitably perhaps this began to be accompanied by cries of ‘Bang!’ and on the final day, all 14 pictures were shot in turn on the same breakfast. Wise and experienced members of staff wore ear plugs.

So, shooting pictures, hurling pancakes, grazing goats and decamping to woods are all part of the rich tapestry of English boarding school life, some of which Georgina Burnet would have experienced.

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Tranmere Rovers

Not the football team in this case but rovers who have a connection with Tranmere. The story of Dora Mabel Jennings roves across the globe although it begins and ends in England.

Dora, born in Chorlton, Lancashire in 1863 was baptised on August 16 of that year at St John the Baptist church, Hulme. In her baptismal record we learn that the family residence was 26 Greenhill St and her father was a cashier. Sadly, we learn a little more about her father just three years later.

Jennings' death
Death notice Birmingham newspaper January 1867

Clearly the connection between the Lancashire Insurance Company and the Birmingham Fire Office (which had been incorporated into it) may explain why a child born in Lancashire should be living in Union St, Birmingham in 1867. Her father, however, died in Scarborough at the Prince of Wales hotel, clearly very suddenly and perhaps on holiday, although North Yorkshire seems a little bracing in January! Rose Agnes Jennings, Dora’s younger sister, was born on New Year’s Day in Scarborough so one presumes the whole family were there. Just two days later, their father was dead.

The girls’ mother, also Dora, was a widow at 26 years of age with three small daughters to care for. She had been born in 1841 in Cockermouth, Cumberland (as it was then) and it is quite remarkable how much coastal living features in the Jennings’ lives. William was born in Portsea and died in Scarborough; Dora was born in Cockermouth; Dora Mabel lived variously in Bombay, Algiers, Hythe and Hove and married a man who hailed from Duffus (north coast of Scotland), whose mother’s roots were in Tranmere (Wirral peninsula).

The Prince of Wales hotel where William Jennings died was later described (1932) as: First class Facing South and overlooking bay. Enclosed Suites. Hot & Cold Water in all Bedrooms. The image below shows its prominent position overlooking the sea.

Yorkshire by the sea
Prince of Wales hotel, Scarborough

Image http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/105419.html

We are making the assumption that the family were on holiday – perhaps they had been away for Christmas – although Jeremiah Jennings, William’s father, is described in one census as a hotelkeeper. Perhaps William was considering a career change. We will never know because his death changed everything for the Jennings family.

We next catch up with Dora Mabel in the 1871 census where she is a visitor in the household of George & Sarah Kelvington, 91 Carter St, Chorlton. In that year, petition papers for Dora’s election to RMIG show that the family’s address was Sandown cottage, Esher. That petition was successful on 12 October 1871 and Dora probably joined the School almost immediately, as she would have been eight in July 1871, the minimum age for pupils. Unfortunately, of her time at School we know nothing. She neither excelled nor was notably naughty! She would have left in 1879 at the age of 16 and she is ‘missing’ in the 1881 census. In the light of what we later learn of her, perhaps she was already abroad, although no travel documents have yet been found.

Abroad she certainly was  in 1883 even if we don’t know when she travelled: on 22 November she was married by licence to William James Colquhoun Dunbar. Perhaps she had gone to India as a governess and met her husband there; perhaps, as many did, she travelled to India to marry someone she had met whilst he was on a furlough in the home country. Given their respective backgrounds, it is hard to imagine how their paths might have crossed.

Married lines
Marriage record from Bombay

Dora was indeed ‘under age’ as she was then 20 years old, below the legal consent age at the time.

William James Colquhoun Dunbar was the son of Sir Archibald Dunbar 7th Bt and Sophia Dunbar, nee Orred. William was described as being from Duffus, Elgin, Scotland. The baronetcy is descended from Sir William Dunbar, 1st Baronet (died 1711) but the 4th baronet inherited the title Dunbar of Northfield (which dates from 1700) de jure as opposed to de facto – no doubt horribly complex legalities but as the 4th baronet’s father was not titled, we might assume that the 1st Sir Archibald inherited from a lateral family line rather than directly. Anyway, a lot of Honourables about.

His mother’s family were not Scottish. Sophia Orred was the daughter of George Orred, who owned Tranmere Old Hall. Of him, we know nothing except that he might be the person referred to rather unflatteringly in 1899:

‘… [Tranmere Old Hall] was pulled down by an ignorant boor who became possessed of it by some mischance, to make way for shops and houses.’ (Wikipedia)

In Carol Bidston’s book (1985) Birkenhead… Of Yesteryear, we learn that Tranmere Old Hall was a large, gabled building constructed around 1614. It was demolished in about 1860. An image of it can be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/jjwillow/8413967185/in/photostream/

Another reference (https://devonshirepark.wordpress.com) makes the claim that it was actually demolished in 1843, by which time George Orred was claiming ownership of half of it with the rest divided between more than a hundred others. Whenever it was demolished, Tranmere New Hall replaced it at some point although that too was demolished in 1936.

The name Tranmere is believed to be Viking in origin, from Norwegian Vikings who settled and colonised Wirral in the 10th century: in Old Norse Trani-melr means ‘sandbank with the Cranebirds’. (from Wikipedia, citing Professor Stephen Harding, Vikings In Wirral: Introduction). John Marius Wilson’ Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales adds

T. Pool, a creek of the Mersey, separates it from Birkenhead proper; a bridge over the pool connects the suburb with the town, or Tranmere ferry with Birkenhead ferry; and steamers incessantly maintain communication with Liverpool. T. Hall is an ancient edifice, commanding a fine view of the Mersey; and T. Old Hall is now a farmhouse.

http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/maps/

Sophia Orred, George’s daughter and Lady Dunbar, was an artist in her own right.

Women artists
Dictionary of British Woman Artists by Sara Gray

Duffus, from where William hailed, is a long way from Yorkshire which appears to be the furthermost northern point in Dora’s travels. The name Duffus has undergone a variety of spelling changes through the years but it is probably a compilation of two Gaelic words, dubh and uisg, meaning ‘darkwater’ or ‘blackwater’. At one time, the region was below sea-level and the Loch of Spynie and stagnant pools of water were a conspicuous feature of the area. (Wikipedia) But all that is by the bye as Dora probably never went to Scotland. At the time that she married him in Bombay, he was Deputy Conservator of Forests in the Bombay Presidency. This is an officer role in the Indian Forest Service ‘responsible for managing the forests, environment and wildlife related issues of a Forest Division of a state or a union territory of India.’ (Wikipedia)

Despite all this rather complex interplay of connections, the marriage was not destined to last long. Just two years later, William died in Marseilles and, rather as her mother had been, Dora found herself a widow at a young age. In her case, she was just 22. She never remarried. In 1886, there is a fleeting reference in August 1886 to her at Villa du Palimer, Alger Mustapha, Algiers, an area that Sophia had visited and painted.

Algiers
Algiers image from Google Earth

By 1891, Dora had returned to UK and was living at 69 Sackville Rd, Hove with her mother and sister. Ten years later, all three were living in London at 18, Vincent Square Mansions, St Margaret and St John, St George Hanover Square, London, overlooking the park.

masnions from Google
Vincent Square mansions from Google Street View

There is no entry for her in 1911 census although, if she had travelled overseas again, no travel documents survive. In 1925, she is writing to her cousin from Haslemere in Surrey and in this year, her mother died. Our next reference is the 1939 register which places her at 5 Brockhill Road, Hythe (with her sister Agnes; her older sister had died) and the following year sees her death on 24 October at Greenhayes, Hythe Kent, which may be the same place but given by a name rather than a street name and number. Her probate adds very little more to her story indicating only her date of death and the fact that her estate value was some £3440. So Dora’s roving came to an end on the south coast – a life reconstructed via fleeting and often impersonal references.