‘Twas the Night before Christmas

“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.”

A Visit from Saint Nicholas, Clement Clarke Moore, 1823

 

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-legend-of-the-christmas-stocking-160854441/

The Christmas stocking, hanging from the mantelpiece, bed post, or anywhere else (like the washing line above), is a Western tradition. The aim is to leave an empty stocking which, by magic, will be filled by the next morning with small toys, or tangerines, or sweets or chocolate coins in bright foil or anything else that can pass muster as a stocking filler. Apart from a foot that is.

It is tied in with the folklore surrounding the character of Santa Claus or St Nicholas and, although the stories all vary slightly, the concept of St Nick as a gift-giver is common to all of them. Although originally the stockings were likely to be those normally worn, some were created especially for Christmas and it didn’t take long for the commercial arm to work out that the idea could boost Christmas sales no end. Today Christmas in the Western world is a Commerce Fest but the image below shows that this is not an entirely modern phenomena as it dates from a century ago.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-legend-of-the-christmas-stocking-160854441/

Stocking fillers were intended to be cheap and cheerful gifts. There could be all sorts – but you rather hoped it wouldn’t be a piece of coal marking your naughtiness – and that’s what this School Christmassy stocking contains.

The fillers, not the coal.

This is a small collection, definitely not commercial, of unconnected stories related to the School’s history.

The bulging stocking hangs tantalisingly. Let’s see what’s there.

If you have been enjoying Blue Planet II with the inimitable Sir David Attenborough, you might be surprised to know that, but for a quirk of fate, it might have been the voice of Jack Lester. Jack – or more properly John Withers Lester – had been the curator of Reptiles & Insects at London Zoo. At that time, the usual way zoos acquired their animals was from expeditions and Lester had organised one such to Sierra Leone. David Attenborough had previously produced and presented a nature programme and during this he formed a friendship with Jack. He was then invited to go on the expedition, with a film crew, and, as Attenborough was very keen to film animals in the wild, he jumped at the chance. It was this expedition which formed the basis of the series Zoo Quest. The original idea was that Attenborough would produce the programme but that Lester would be the presenter. Unfortunately, Lester contracted a tropical disease from his trip to Africa and presented only one instalment before having to be taken to hospital. Sadly, after several recurrences, this was what caused his premature death at the age of 47 in 1956. Because the series was already scheduled, Attenborough had to take over the presentation. And the rest, as they say, is history.

And the connection to RMSG? Well, Jack’s daughter subsequently became a pupil between 1957 and 1964.

On the subject of zoo expeditions, someone who wrote entertainingly about them is Gerald Durrell. One of his expeditions was to what was then British Guiana, mentioned in the last post Bring Me Sunshine. In 1950, Durrell discovered the name Adventure on a map of Guiana and thought it sounded perfect as a starting point.

“ ‘Three singles to Adventure please,’ I said, trying to look as nonchalant as possible.

‘Yes, sir,’ said the clerk. ‘First or second class?’ “

(from his book Three Singles to Adventure written with the characteristically wonderful Durrell imagery and humour.)

Given the similarity to the Lester expedition, one is not surprised to find a certain person commenting that Durrell was –

‘A renegade who was right… He was truly a man before his time’ 

Sir David Attenborough

Halfway down the stocking leg now

Continuing the animal theme – and equally as contrived – we have Emilie Hilda Nichols who was a pupil at the School in the C19th.

This small item appeared in Horse and Hound: A Journal of Sport and Agriculture, on September 17, 1892. Applicants for the School had their names and details submitted by Petitioners and were then put forward to a ballot. This was circulated, voted upon and the totals added up. Those girls who received the most support were granted a place at the School (always over-subscribed) and those unsuccessful accrued their vote totals for the next ballot six months later. This could happen several times, unless the girl in question became too old to be accepted as a pupil (usually 10 years of age). It seems rather more unusual for something to appear separately, and additionally, in a publication concerning a particular child – a sort of belt and braces approach. It seems likely that ‘Retniop’ knew William Nichols; Retniop was writing for Horse & Hound and Nicholls was the editor of Stock Keeper and Fancier’s Chronicle, described as ‘A Journal for Breeders and Exhibitors of Dogs, Poultry, Pigeons, Cats, &c’ – their subject matters were similar.

Image of cover from http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery

By the late 19th century, there were apparently over 400 periodicals devoted to agriculture alone, of which the Stock Keeper and Fancier’s Chronicle was one.

Whether the newspaper appeal did the trick or not we cannot be certain, but Emilie did become a pupil. Born on 11 Oct 1884, she became a pupil after her father died in 1892. She left in 1900 but we know that she visited the School in 1912. She lived in Surrey all her life and died in 1952 unmarried, her probate being granted to her sisters Flora & Alice. As was customary at the time, neither of these two became pupils. It was usual for only one girl (and one boy) of each family to receive a Masonic education although others were assisted in other ways.

We’re turning the heel of the stocking now.

Perhaps as evidence that there may be nothing unusual about individual girls receiving separate support in newspapers to encourage voters, Ada Carter received a similar treatment.

This appeared in Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle on April 07, 1877. Originally published by Robert Bell in 1822 as Life in London, it was a weekly four page broadsheet with an anti-establishment slant, priced 7d. It contained general news but, as its later title might suggest, it became more focused on sport, in particular prize-fighting:

“it was particularly known for its reports on horse-racing, publishing up to date information on schedules and results.” https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/titles/bells-life-in-london-and-sporting-chronicle

Amongst its many contributors was Charles Dickens and so here we have another link with the School!

Ada Carter was born in Nottingham in 1867. In 1864, her father, James Tomlinson Carter, was described as a gentleman who had been promoted to Lieutenant in the Robin Hood Rifle Volunteer Corps. He had a partnership with his father as auctioneers and share brokers, although this was dissolved by mutual consent in 1874. Whether this was because of his health we will never know but he died of consumption just two years later.

As with Emilie, the newspaper support may have encouraged voters in the ballot or it may not. However, Ada also became a pupil and in 1883 she won a prize for General Usefulness. She left later that year “her brother having written for her.” By 1901 her occupation is given as sick nurse and she, like Emilie, visited the School on what was then called Ex-Pupils’ Day, in 1912. In 1915, she married David Alexander Robertson Jeffrey. In fact, the couple took advantage of a new law of consanguinity which had been passed in 1907 as David Jeffrey had previously been married to Ada’s sister Kate. David and Kate had had a son before Kate died and Ada became his surrogate mother until her own death in 1938.

And so we reach the toe of the stocking. Is it a tangerine or a piece of coal? You can decide for yourselves because the last little filler brings us into the 21st century. The Year 7 Reading Group one December were told that they were being taken to see Santa Claus. The aim was to intrigue but they all became very excited at the prospect. Off we set for the Chapel where we found not a jolly figure in red crying “Ho ho ho” but a carved image of Saint Nicholas to one side of the altar connected with the diocese of St Albans in which the School lies.

(Image taken from the architect’s original drawing)

St Nick being the originator of Santa Claus, to say that Santa was in the Chapel was not a lie but some of the girls looked so disappointed that one felt quite guilty. Some of them clearly thought they’d had the piece of coal. Fortunately, another Christmassy occasion made up for it. In Scandinavia on 6th December, children leave their shoes out in the hope that they will be filled with sweets. This same Reading Club had been asked to take their shoes off and leave them to one side. So they didn’t mark the furniture, they were told. Whilst they were otherwise engaged, an assistant surreptitiously filled their shoes with sweets. At the end of the session they were told to retrieve their footwear. There was a pause and then the air was filled with squeals of delight! One little girl came rushing back, eyes shining, to announce the magic that had happened. Well it must have been magic: they hadn’t seen anyone go near the shoes …

The lump of coal my parents teased

I’d find in my Christmas stocking

turned out each year to be an orange,

for I was their sunshine.

William Matthews

(https://www.poetrysoup.com)

Advertisements

Bring me sunshine …

As the temperatures fall and the wind chill factor rises, our thoughts may turn to warmer climes and a longing to be there. A Caribbean cruise feels like a really good idea when it is wet and miserable outside. Spare a thought, then for three former pupils of the School who came from those very climes as children to be pupils at the School when it was in Clapham.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/caribbean/antigua-and-barbuda/

Eliza Beveridge had been born in Antigua on 7th July 1864 where her father was a Revenue Officer and a member of St John’s Lodge, Antigua. After his death, Eliza was accepted at the School in October 1871. That must have been a massive meteorological shock to the system – although, of course October is in the hurricane season so perhaps the deepening cold of darkest Surrey wasn’t quite so bad. (Well we can be optimistic, can’t we?)

Hurricane in Antigua; image from httpstormcarib.comreportscurrentantigua.shtml

In fact, records suggest that Eliza never returned to the Caribbean. In 1939, she was living in Worthing and was sharing her home with someone described as a ‘useful companion’. This probably means that said companion was in the employ of Eliza rather than being the opposite of useless, but we cannot be certain. Eliza was ‘of private means’ and, as she appeared to have no occupation in 1901 and 1911, perhaps she had inherited money from her mother in 1918. If she did, it must have been a substantial inheritance as, when Eliza herself died on 21 December 1956, her estate was valued at £33,000. Not a sum to be sniffed at.

“In the 1950s, the average cost of a house was just under £2000 and the average worker took home around £10 a week.” https://www.sunlife.co.uk/blogs-and-features/the-price-of-a-home-in-britain—then-and-now/

So Eliza was doing very nicely, thank you.

Another pupil who faced the Clapham temperature drop was Bessie Crombie. Born in 1907, she arrived in Britain in 1919 having been living in Demerara, then part of British Guiana.

Lithograph of Georgetown, Demerara, British Guiana, after a drawing by F. A. Goodall. Courtesy of David Druett, Pennymead.com

It is not certain where Bessie was born or how long she had been living in what is now Guyana. Her parents were married in Japan, her father being a member of the Rising Sun Lodge in Kobe and in 1905, Bessie’s mother travelled from Japan to San Francisco so it is possible that Bessie was born in the USA. Her mother’s father was an American Consul. Enoch Joyce Smithers, born in Delaware and first lieutenant of Company D in the First Regiment of Delaware Volunteers during the American Civil War.

“President Lincoln removed him from the ranks to serve as U.S. Consul at the newly created legation on Chios, a Turkish-occupied island in the Aegean Sea” http://archives.dickinson.edu/people/enoch-joyce-smithers-1828-1895

He served as American Consul in Asia, in Chinkiang, Shanghai and Tientsin (now called Tianjin). Then he became consul in Korea and Japan, with his last posting being Osaka. This may well explain how an American woman married someone hailing from Scotland in Japan before living in South America but it doesn’t get us any closer to knowing where Bessie was actually born!

Whatever her geographical background, Bessie was another one who settled for UK as her later domicile. She arrived as a pupil in 1919 and in 1922, she passed Junior Cambridge exam. She left school in December 1923 to become a writing assistant in the Civil Service and was appointed to the Savings Bank Department in November 1925. She was living in Mitcham, Surrey in 1936.

Mitcham Pond by Noel Foster, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9132439

In this year, she married Walter Stevens. In 1939, on the outbreak of war, she is found in Whitchurch without her husband. He was at the Society of Lloyds Register of Shipping in Wokingham along with a number of other Lloyds people so possibly Bessie had been moved because of the war. Later they moved to Newcastle upon Tyne and Walter died in 1974 at their home there. When Bessie died on 10 May 1991, also in Newcastle, her estate was worth considerably more than she had inherited from her husband in 1974. She may have just been a canny investor and, if so, she would have been a financial advisor worth having!

Another pupil hailing from Antigua who was a pupil at Clapham in the late nineteenth century was Edith Proudfoot. Born in 1877, she was present as a pupil in the 1891 census and was due to leave the School in 1892. The Head Governess, Miss Davies, wrote of her:

“[she] has always been a good girl and is a prefect. She is fairly clever, of good general ability and entered for Cambridge.”

The Cambridge reference here is not the university but the Cambridge Local Exams. Junior Cambridge was about the equivalent of GCSE/O level and Senior Cambridge was A level. As Edith was 14, it seems likely that she would have been doing Junior Cambridge at this time. Miss Davies recommended her as a pupil teacher – “she is competent to assist in either class work or music” and added that she had taken prizes for music in her school career. Clearly, the recommendation was successful as Edith was at the School as a pupil teacher until 1894 and had moved from junior teaching to take the 3rd class and assist with music.

This perhaps suggests that she had been reasonably successful as a pupil teacher. However, in October 1895, Miss Davies, in her report to the Committee, “wished to raise the matter of Miss Edith Proudfoot, one of the pupil teachers.” In the slightly veiled way these reports were worded, Miss Davies reminded the Committee that Edith had come from Antigua and said she was “anxious to return her thence fit to earn her living” which rather suggests that Miss Davies thought that Edith might be able to earn her living as a governess, just not in my school thank you. Clearly Edith’s mother was still living in Antigua and, Miss Davies declared, Edith “would like to return to the West Indies to be with her mother but has not the means to do so.” Miss Davies left it to the Committee to decide what should be done.

Whether Edith did return to the West Indies at the Committee’s expense is not known. She may have done and then returned to UK again. In 1901, however, she is in London described as ‘Lady Help’ but as a visitor to the Jay household at 11 Taviton Street, St Pancras (rather than in their employ).

Sadly, this story does not end happily. In 1911, the census records her as an inmate at London County Lunatic Asylum Hanwell, described as a clerk.

http://www.victorianlondon.org/health/hanwell.htm

In 1939, she is recorded as a patient at Epsom West Park Hospital, still given as a clerk. The hospital “was built for patients with mental health problems from the urban metropolis of London and was intended both as a place of tranquillity and confinement.” (Neil Bowdler http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-14652885) It was demolished in 2011.

An Edith L Proudfoot died in Hammersmith in 1950 although the birth year is given as 1879 so there isn’t certainty whether this is the same person. If this is her death record, it might suggest that she did not end her days in the asylum. Nor is there evidence to suggest that she required care continuously from 1911. We can only say that in both 1911 and 1939 she was receiving mental health care.

Our final Caribbean connection relates to one born in England but who went to live in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Sadie Wallis nee Mansfield, b 1903, arrived at the School from Derbyshire in 1912. She left July 1920 and became a pupil teacher in Nottinghamshire, qualifying in 1923, and obtaining a post in an elementary school in Nottingham. In 1927, she married Kenneth Wallis and in February 1929 travelled to Port of Spain with him.

In 1930, part of a letter from her written from Trinidad and describing her life there was reprinted in Machio.

“Life out here is very different. There are very few English people, mostly those in Government Service … [her husband was a government analyst and the address she wrote from was c/o Government Laboratory.]

‘Port of Spain is a wonderful town. The houses and streets very well planned; the roads, of which there are few owing to the thickly wooded, mountainous interior of the island, are first class roads kept in perfect condition with material from the famous pitch-lake. The drainage system and water supply are modern, thus it is very healthy. Cases of typhoid are rare in town, there are very few mosquitoes and no anopheles, the type which causes malaria … The sunshine is just glorious, and in the middle of the day, when it is really very hot, everyone is resting.

‘The island is very, very beautiful … At sunset we often climb one of the hills, which begin to rise quickly behind the town, and watch the exquisite colouring of the quickly-changing sky. The coastline is wonderful, in some places where the hills almost reach the seas, it is wild and rugged, in other parts … little picturesque bays of silvery sand … are fringed with palms leaning towards the very blue tropical sea. The bathing in these sandy bays is really beautiful. Just off the coast near Port of Spain are a number of tiny wooded islands … One can rent a whole island at very little cost and spend a delightful simple holiday. The swimming, fishing and boating is splendid.”

She was still there in 1933 but in 1934, she travelled to Guiana with her daughter. A son was born in 1937, probably in Guiana where they were then living. Sadly, this story, too, doesn’t have a happy ending. In 1943, the Wallises were travelling en famille across the Atlantic where Kenneth was to take up a new post in Uganda. The ship they were travelling on was torpedoed and sunk with the loss of all of the family. Sadie is commemorated in the School Chapel.