Three former pupils from the nineteenth century were born in what was then Constantinople, Turkey. Their families were part of the British settlement in Constantinople, itself the result of a long and complex power struggle – the nightmare of O and A level history students studying European history. Trying to remember all the various, and frequently-changing, alliances was hard-going, especially for exam-fevered brains. For our trio a la Turque, it was simply where they were born, where their families were, where their fathers worked and, in one case, where she lived for much of her married life. The political machinations went on around them without their having an active part in it.
Before we look at the three as individuals, let us consider their place of birth. Constantinople has had many names. Its first name was Byzantium. 600 years later it became the capital of the East Roman Empire and was called Constantinople after Constantine. Just to add variety, it was also called Nova Roma and Konstantinoupolis and Konstantiniyye and Roma Constantinopolitana by different peoples but during the same period. Oh and there was also Basileuousa (Queen of Cities) and Megalopolis (the Great City), Miklagarðr, Rūmiyyat al-Kubra (Great City of the Romans), Takht-e Rum (Throne of the Romans), Tsargrad (Russian) and, in colloquial speech, simply Polis. It’s a wonder the name Constantinople stuck at all. Especially since its five syllables have caused spelling problems for countless generations. There are a legion of little rhymes designed (supposedly) to help spell it. Here are three of them:
And having grappled with the complexity of things designed to make something seem simple (!), came the news that actually it was to be known as Istanbul anyway. But the Turks had almost always called the city by that name which is a slightly distorted form of the Greek word meaning ‘to the city.’ (information from http://ecevityazilari.org/items/show/144 , https://adrianharringtonbooks.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/masonic-lodges-in-constantinople-not-istanbul/ and Wikipedia.)
The British community mostly lived in Pera or Galata within the city so it seems very likely that our ‘Turkish Delights’ (sorry – couldn’t resist) would have too. As they were born in 1861, 1880 and 1890 respectively, they would not have been childhood playmates but two of the fathers joined the same Masonic Lodge on the same day and are listed together in the records suggesting that possibly they may have known each other. In a small ex-pat community though, all the families would probably have known the others. Their lifestyle was probably largely European in their own homes but there may have been concessions elsewhere. Some nineteenth century photographs of Constantinople show a marked absence of women in the streets. Whether that reflects the culture or is just coincidence is impossible to say.
The above image is by Pascal Sébah, a photographer in Constantinople. Labelled ‘English women in Constantinople’, it is unclear whether this was normal dress for European women at the time or if these two were dressing in Turkish style. Other contemporaneous art seems to suggest that these are staged images and that ‘at home’ they dressed as other C19th women but your guess is as good as mine.
Sébah had a studio in Grande Rue de Pera, now called İstiklal Avenue and this area would surely have been known to the British community.
G Da, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57402340
This modern image of the street shows buildings that would have been there at the time even if the modern shop fronts have changed.
This little ‘postcard view’ shows places that would have been there, if not familiar, to the girls in their time in Constantinople. All of them are now firmly on the tourist trail.
But let us turn to the three girls and their families. Leila Pulman b 1861 was given a name that comes from Arabic or Persian and may have reflected her birth (or may not …) as it can mean ‘one born during the night’. Her parents, Henry Pulman and Mary Jane (Polly) Pulman nee Butler, had 3 other children. One of Leila’s brothers, Henry, later married Frances Gardner, also a former pupil of the School. Leila’s father was Clerk of Works in the Civil Service. Employed by an architect, the clerk of works must ensure quality of materials and workmanship and be absolutely impartial in decisions and judgments. Often today called a site or quality inspector, they had to be tough and were probably not very much liked by either side!
Mr Pulman was actually in Tehran when he died in 1869. The petition for Leila to become a pupil indicated that the family’s income was a £30pa life insurance policy. It is interesting to see in his probate that the deceased is given of one London address but his widow of another, possibly inferring that her husband’s death had forced her to move.
Leila’s association with Constantinople was certainly not over after the death of her father. In 1887, she married Arthur Baker, her cousin. Shortly afterwards, the couple were in Constantinople where all the children were subsequently born. Leila spent 47 years of life in Constantinople.
She joined the school on 20th January 1870 and left in 1877 as Head Girl. She retained her connection with the School throughout her life and presented the font to the Chapel when the School opened on its new site. Although based in Constantinople, Leila paid visits to UK such as one in 1922 with one of her daughters when she travelled on the Empress of India.
By 1932, she had returned to UK permanently and in the 1950s, she was living at 7 The Circus, Bath and paid a visit to the School on Prize Day 1953 at the grand age of 92!
She died in 1960 not quite having reached her centenary but coming very close.
Constance Webb was born in Constantinople in about 1891. She is recorded in 1901 at the School aged 10 and the following census gives her age as 20 but no record of her birth has been found. Her parents are probably James Raymond and Annie Maria Webb as he is the only Webb who appears in Constantinople Masonic lodge records. He was a clerk, born 1859. James and Annie were married in Constantinople in 1884.
But the next record found is a consular record giving the death of James Webb c 1890, so possibly even before his daughter was born. Annie Maria, nee Dunderdale, b 1865 in London, possibly died in Croydon in 1894 and there is a record for a Constance Webb being admitted to a London School as an infant in 1896. Where her parent’s name would be is the name of a guardian which suggests that Constance arrived at the School as an orphan and might explain why information is hard to trace. School records indicate her presence on school roll in 1905, wining a prize for cookery in 1906 and leaving in June 1907 to take up a post as nursery governess to Mrs Falwasser’s children. By 1911, however, she is listed as a nurse (domestic) and in 1912 as a governess in Ongar. She is a member of OMGA in 1914 living in Gillingham, Kent and visited the School on ex pupils’ day in that year. Thereafter she disappears from certain trace although there is a possibility that she is the Constance Webb b 24 Nov 1891 Housekeeper at Prices Farm in Sevenoaks (1939 register). In 1973, a Constance Webb died and her birthdate was given as 29 November 1890. As birthdates are notoriously variable when using public records, this could be the same person but whether it is the one born in Constantinople is impossible to tell.
Fortunately for our story, the 3rd pupil born in Constantinople is much easier to trace despite her frequent overseas travel. Ethel Sylvia Mountain was born in Turkey on 30 May 1880. Her father was Alfred William Mountain, an engineer whose place of work was the Imperial Ottoman Mint. This is in Topkapi Palace and, rather gruesomely,
‘To the right, just after the ticket office, is a white marble fountain that executioners used to wash their blades after doing their duty. ‘ https://www.theguideistanbul.com/topkapi-palace/]
By Alexxx1979 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33266404
Like Messrs Pulman and Webb, Alfred Mountain was a member of the Oriental Lodge. He was only 57 when he died in Halki (Heybeliada), on 16 June 1888. Halki is an island in the Sea of Marmara not far from Constantinople. During the summer months it is a resort, so it is possible that Ethel’s father died on vacation. His probate places the family at 10 Rue Merdiban, Pera, Constantinople. As a result of his death, Ethel became a pupil at the School and is there in the 1891 census. She left in July 1896 and went to Canada with her sister. The 1901 Canadian census has her recorded living with her sister in Toronto.
Ethel’s mother was Marena Amelia Mountain, 1840-1911, as listed on one of Ethel’s many travel documents. Ethel cris-crossed the Atlantic a number of times: 1909, 1911, 1914, 1916, 1923 … Note that some of these dates were during the war which must have indicated that she was intrepid, especially since one of the ships she travelled on in 1914 was torpedoed and sunk the following year.
She trained as a nurse and her name appears in Canada, Soldiers of the First World War, 1914-1918 in 1916 where her address was 2 Clarendon Crescent, Toronto and her next of kin given as Mrs Jephcott, her sister. It hardly comes as a surprise then to find that Massonica (original Old Girls’ magazine) records her in 1917 as nursing in France at the Canadians General Hospital.
Thereafter a fleeting reference indicates her being in, or perhaps passing through, USA in 1930 before the final reference in Masonica 1976 to her death, presumably in Canada – frustratingly, a whole chunk of her life unaccounted for in public records!
And on that note, perhaps it is time to say Hoşçakal which hopefully means ‘goodbye’ in Turkish and not something very insulting because Türkçe bilmiyorum (I don’t speak Turkish).
I wonder if our girls did?