Words per Minute(s)

A slight twist to the office phrase seems appropriate here since many with a wpm qualification no doubt took minutes in their working lives and then typed them up. A piece of transactional writing recording what happened, minutes are important documents but not something one settles down to with a nice cup of tea and a biccy hoping to be entertained. However, when those minutes refer to meetings eighty or so years ago and they are read against the grain (i.e. ignore the dominant reading of a text and look for alternative meaning), they take on a new life force. The minutes in question are those of the Old Masonic Girls’ Association AGMs and by focusing only on the venues of the meetings, they give us a history lesson they weren’t intended to do.

The Association called OMGA came into existence on Primrose Day (19th April) 1912 and continued uninterrupted until 2019 when it became absorbed into an Alumnae Association. What happened to the minutes of the meetings before 1936 is not known. They may yet be uncovered in a dusty attic buried deep inside an old tea chest – who knows? But those from 1936 to 1984, stuck into two ledgers (but occasionally handwritten) have come into the School Archives recently. The minutiae within is formulaic – as minutes are – but as snapshots of where this group was at any given time, they have an unintended novelty.

In 1936, the AGM was at the YWCA Central Club W1 and began by confirming that it would use the same venue the following year, the cost for 1937 being 2gns, with 10/6 charge if a piano was required (it wasn’t). Light refreshments were available at 1/3d per head.

Standing in Great Russell St, and now a hotel following sympathetic renovations in 1998, the building was designed by Edwin Lutyens between 1928 and 1932, so it would have still been very new in 1936 for the AGM.

Images from https://manchesterhistory.net/architecture/1930/bloomsburyhotel.html

In 1923 a campaign to provide financial backing for a London base for the YWCA had been started.

‘The city was supportive towards the cause; buses and shop windows carried slogans – “London, stand by your girls” – appealing for the public to support the YWCA’s campaign.’ https://www.doylecollection.com/blog/revisiting-lutyens-architecture-in-london

It was built in neo-Gothic style and its interior had many Lutyens’ touches such as the ‘designed chairs and tables – recreated by his granddaughters’ company’ (ibid)

This image from the modern hotel website shows a chair of very individual style and, as the hotel were at pains to restore as much of the original as possible, it seems possible that this is an original Lutyens’ chair (or a reproduction thereof at the very least).

One interesting element of the original which has overtones of the School on its Clapham site is that

‘A heavy step on the floor of one of the modern hotel’s meeting suites reveals something surprising: it’s hollow! Where you might expect foundations, there’s space.’ (ibid)

This is the original swimming-pool opened by the Duchess of Kent in 1939 and, like the swimming pool at Clapham, it could be covered over in winter so that the space could be otherwise used. In Clapham’s case as a gymnasium. The same hollow sound is recalled by pupils whilst exercising!


‘Known as the Central Club, it continued to operate through the war when the gymnasium was used as an air-raid shelter and the emptied swimming pool was used as a place for people to sleep.https://manchesterhistory.net/architecture/1930/bloomsburyhotel.html

The building was deliberately placed in a central location to be available both to Londoners and women arriving in London for the first time and it was designed as a meeting ground for women of different nationalities and occupations. So it is singularly appropriate that it should have been used for the AGM of a girls’ school association whose pupils hailed from all over the world.

For one year only (1939), the AGM took place at the Cavendish Café, 93 Wimpole St as ‘it was not possible to obtain a room at the YWCA’ (committee meeting minutes, October 1938). Wimpole St, named after Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, is in Marylebone and was originally part of the estate of the Harley family. 93 Wimpole St is now occupied by a gents’ shoe shop and a gents’ barbers (‘a quality barbers without the fuss’ as they describe themselves) and there is no sign of the Cavendish Café, although there is a modern day street café at No 92.

Historical residents of note in Wimpole St include Arthur Conan Doyle, whose ophthalmic practice was there, and Elizabeth Barrett who eloped from No 50 with fellow poet Robert Browning. Fictional residents include Mr & Mrs Rushworth (Mansfield Park) and Professor Henry Higgins (My Fair Lady/Pygmalion). Virginia Woolf describes Wimpole Street in Flush: A Biography, as:

“… the most august of London streets, the most impersonal. Indeed, when the world seems tumbling to ruin, and civilisation rocks on its foundations, one has only to go to Wimpole Street…” (Wikipedia)

And go to Wimpole St the OMGA did – albeit only once. By the following year the AGM had returned to the YWCA and between 1940 and 1947, the AGM was either there or at the School but in 1948 we can resume the history lessons as the 37th AGM took place at Crosby Hall, Cheyne Walk. Now we’re really talking history as Crosby Place was built in Bishopsgate in 1466 by the wool merchant Sir John Crosby. It moved to Cheyne Walk in 1910.

‘This is the only example of a mediaeval City merchant house which survives in London, albeit fragmentary and not on its original site.’ https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1358160

By Edwardx – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28357919

By 1483, the Duke of Gloucester, aka Richard III, had acquired the Bishopsgate property. Notable residents include Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII, More’s son-in-law, William Roper, and Sir Walter Raleigh. From 1621 it was the home of the East India Company but the Great Fire destroyed much of it and another fire six years later finished the job, with only the Great Hall and Parlour wing of the mansion surviving.

After 1672, and for almost a century, it was a nonconformists’ meeting house, then the Post Office head office before it reverted to the East India Company again. In 1868 it was turned into a sumptuous restaurant and bar. Then finally –

‘It was sold in April 1907 for £175,000 to the Chartered Bank of India, Australia, and China whose directors intended to pull down one of the most ancient buildings in the City of London and build a new bank building in its stead. Its impending destruction aroused a storm of protest, and a campaign was started to save it.’ (Goss, Charles William Frederick (1908), Crosby Hall, a chapter in the history of London.)

As the result of various negotiations, the Bank had the architectural features numbered and stored, and later handed over all the bits to the London County Council. In 1910, the medieval structure was moved stone by stone to Cheyne Walk and this included the magnificent oriel window, shown here from the exterior and the interior.

On the right is a drawing made by J S Ogilvy for his book Relics and Memorials of London City, published in 1910. He must have been a bit cross when he realised that his book, containing 64 beautifully executed drawings, was immediately out of date! The interior shot is from https://www.christophermoran.org/news/crosby-hall-the-most-important-surviving-domestic-medieval-building-in-london/.

Crosby Hall is now a private residence and has been undergoing restoration since at least 2008 with an estimated 3 further years remaining as of 2019.

Image of the Great Hall from https://www.christophermoran.org/news/crosby-hall-the-most-important-surviving-domestic-medieval-building-in-london/

The OMGA AGMs were at Crosby Hall until 1953 when they moved again. This time it was to The Holme, Bedford College for Women, one of the buildings used by the College after their own buildings were extensively damaged in the Blitz.

‘Situated in the Inner Circle, it housed the Departments of English, Classics and Italian, while the second floor became an extension of the College Residence.’ From https://aim25.com/cgi-bin/vcdf/detail?coll_id=878&inst_id=11&nv1=browse&nv2=person

After eleven years of using The Holme, the AGM moved to Dartmouth House, home of the English Speaking Union, in Charles St, Mayfair.

Charles St itself has at least 25 listed buildings of which one is Dartmouth House, listed Grade II*. Described by https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk as a ‘grand town mansion’ it was bought by the ESU in 1926 and underwent ‘minor alterations’ by Clough Williams-Ellis to convert the building into the English Speaking Union. Although Ellis’ architectural portfolio is extensive, he is perhaps most famous as the creator of the Italianate village of Portmeirion in North Wales where The Prisoner was filmed.

Images from https://portmeirion.wales/ (left, the piazza and, right, Clough Williams-Ellis)

In 1964, Herringham Hall was used for the AGM. This, like The Holme, was a building which was part of Bedford College. Built 1948-1951 as a new arts building, it was named for Christiana Herringham, an influential figure within the women’s suffrage movement in the UK.

By 1975 it was on to another new building, the American School in Loudoun Rd.

‘ASL was founded in 1951 by Stephen L. Eckard, an American journalist and former teacher living in London. Mr. Eckard was … encouraged him to start a school that followed an American curriculum. The School began with 13 students, and all classes took place in his Knightsbridge flat.’ (https://www.asl.org/about/history)

However, the AGM was not in a Knightsbridge flat but in the ASL’s new building in St John’s Wood.

The school was the venue between 1975 and 1984 and then, there being no further business, as minutes are wont to state, the ledgers come to an end. There is even a little history lesson in the names of those signing off the minutes, including the fleeting appearance of Mary Calway who was Headmistress for such a brief time.

Who knew that minutes could be so interesting?

Pipe Dreams

Charlotte Conder, former pupil, was girl number 610 in the registers. She was elected to the School in October 1848.

But, as with so many of our former pupils, uncovering information has such interesting detours into history one almost forgets the little girl of eight placed in the care of Frances Crook, matron, in a school then in St George’s Fields, Southwark.

The School at St George’s Fields. Southwark

This particular detour takes in parliamentary procedures, sinecures, pensions, pipes, sojourns overseas and emigrations. Oh yes, and dancing!

Charlotte was born on 6th August 1840 in Blankenberge, Belgium.

English translation by J. Coopman, VVF National Office Antwerp, courtesy of Sanmalc

What is not known is why the family moved to Belgium, which must have happened before 1837 as a child was (still)born there. The family name of Conder, given by several of Joseph’s children (including Charlotte) as de Conde, often with Conder added for good measure, appears to have changed only after Joseph’s death. Research has shown no Belgian or French progenitors in the family, the surname having been traced from 1615 without any change. The gallicisation of the name may have been instigated by Emily – or as she styled herself Emelie – and adopted by some of her children. As Emily and two daughters ran a business teaching languages, it may have added a certain panache to suggest French ancestry. It should also be noted that there was the House of Bourbon-Condé and, although that line ran out in 1830, the implied connection to French royalty wouldn’t have hurt business un peu jot!

Blankenberge, where Charlotte was born, was a holiday resort in the Belle Epoque and frequented by royalty but this was considerably later than the time the Conders resided there. That very English of things – the seaside pier – can be found there, uniquely along the Belgian coast, but that was not built until 1933 almost a century after the Conders so they certainly didn’t go to Flanders to see that.

Joseph had been born in Ipswich (see above for birth of Charlotte) and he married Emily Panton in 1823 in London and neither of those naturally leads to Belgium.

Emily was a minor and married with her father’s permission. Later in life, she claimed to have been born in France as did some of Charlotte’s siblings but there is no evidence for this. Emily and Joseph had eight other children before Charlotte and as all of them, barring Charlotte and Herbert (who died), were born in England, the family cannot have moved to Belgium before 1836 unless Emily kept nipping over the Channel to give birth!

So we make the assumption that the family moved overseas between 1836 and 1837 and they appear in the above document written less than a month before Charlotte’s birth in 1840 and in which all are clearly given as of English birth.

Charlotte’s father and her grandfather, John Pattison Panton, and her uncle, Charles Panton, were all at various times clerks in the Pipe Office. When Charles died in 1882, his obituary may have eulogised him personally but it was fairly savage in its attack on what the paper regarded as civil service ‘snug’ sinecures.

(Obituary of October 14 1882 widely reproduced in provincial newspapers across the country.)

It goes on to say that Charles had had a clerkship in the Pipe Office bought for him by his father in about 1818 and which he had held until 1833 when the Government dispensed with the Office. At this juncture we must digress to look at the Pipe Office which had nothing to do with smoking paraphernalia but everything to do with how the Exchequer functions.

The Clerk of the Pipe was a post in the Pipe Office of the Exchequer responsible for the pipe rolls or ‘the yearly audits performed by the Exchequer of the accounts and payments presented to the Treasury by the sheriffs and other royal officials’ (Wikipedia). The pipe rolls were ‘written on parchment, in the form of two membranes of sheepskin sewn head-to-tail to make up a rotulet … These rotulets were gathered together and sewn at the head, to produce a large roll.’ http://www.piperollsociety.co.uk/page5.htm

The pipe rolls were occasionally referred to as the roll of the treasury or the great roll of accounts. They were the responsibility of the clerk of the Treasurer, who was also called the ingrosser of the great roll and, by 1547, the Clerk of the Pipe.



The images above show a pipe roll partially open, with the joins between the parchments visible, and a sample of the palaeography contained within requiring an expert eye to read and understand. And a knowledge of Medieval Latin so if you could just master that by lunchtime, we’ll be home and dry …

In 1824 – not for the first time – a Commission to look into the Pipe Office was set up and Hansard (Vol 24) had the following to say on the matter:


And this from commissioners who were actually Lords of the Treasury and whom, it might be imagined, would have a vested interest in the status quo.

In 1834, the Pipe Office was dispensed with but, of course, compensation was due to those whose income was so rudely ended in this manner. It came in the form of pensions but

From Charles Panton’s obituary

So Charles received a pension from 1834 which then increased as the more senior clerks died off and their pension seniority came down the line. From 1868 until his death 14 years later, Charles received a pension of £880 pa (the equivalent today of some £30,000) for his role as a board-end clerk which, the post having been abolished almost fifty years before, amounted to a healthy income for no work.

As John Pattison Panton (Charlotte’s grandfather) and Joseph Conder also had positions in the defunct Pipe Office, it must be assumed that they too would have received their compensatory payments. However, as with Charles Panton, their pensions would have ended with their deaths. Joseph Conder died in 1843:

‘In the year 1843, the 17th of the month of September, at eight hours in the morning, before us [James] De Langhe mayor and registrar of the municipality of Blankenberghe district of Brugge, province of West Flanders, appeared [Charles De Langhe and Joseph Everaert] who declared to us that master Joseph CONDER aged 59 years, rentier, born in Ipswich Suffolk, England staying in this municipality, son of Joseph CONDER and Elizabeth JONES, husband of miss Emily PANTON, died yesterday at a quarter past eight in the evening in his house situated in this town.

The sworn death record of Joseph Conder (trans)

He was actually only eight years younger than his father in law who died the following year.

Evening Mail 29 November 1844

Emily Conder, having been widowed the previous year, had now lost her father so there were big changes in her life. It seems likely, but not certain, that she would have returned to UK after 1843. By 1848, when her youngest daughter Charlotte was admitted to the School, the family address is given as 16 Charlotte St, Portland Place.


Having arrived at the School, and listed as a pupil there in 1851, Charlotte left in 1855 ‘delivered to her sister’ in August. She was to be kept at home ‘to assist in scholastic duties’ and, as she appears in every subsequent census return at the home of Maria Eleanor Conder, later Walton, this is presumably the sister to whom she was delivered.

Nearly all of Charlotte’s siblings left for parts overseas. Three of her brothers went to the USA and became citizens there. Another brother went in the other direction and died in Suez in 1866. The remaining brother became an accountant and stayed firmly in England although, just to keep with tradition, two of his sons emigrated: one to Canada and one to South Africa. Charlotte’s oldest sister went to Australia in the 1850s. She married twice, her second husband being a gold miner in Taradale. She was said to have been able to speak at least 5 different languages and may have acted as an interpreter on the goldfields in Victoria and in the law courts. A propensity for languages clearly runs through the family as the oldest Conder child (Joseph) was editor of the Courier de l’Europe in 1845.

Maria and Charlotte both remained in England and lived in the same household, along with their mother Emily until her death, for the rest of their lives. Between 1861 and 1911, they are consistently in Bristol where they run a school for languages before turning their hands – or should that be feet? – to teaching dancing instead. For at least 30 years, they occupied a house in Park Place, Bristol. This is an area much modernised today but a row of houses that looks to be C19th is possibly the kind of housing they occupied.

(Image from Google Earth street view)

It is unclear from the census returns what kind of dancing was taught by the Conders. It could well have been ballroom dancing or ballet (Degas’ various artworks are entitled the dance class or similar) or a combination.

Between 1891 and 1901, they moved to 18 West Park, Bristol and this remained their home for the rest of their lives. Maria died in 1915 and Charlotte in 1917, the Western Daily Press recording this as ‘Charlotte de Conde; d Jan 3rd peacefully at 18 West Park, Clifton’. She was the last surviving member of her immediate family.

(Image from Google Earth street view)

Her probate, under the name Charlotte Conder de Conde, was granted to Thomas Charles Hubert Walton, secretary, the value given as £245 11s 11d (equiv of approx. £5000).

From Belgium to Bristol, the ballroom or the barre, via Pipe Office or pipe dreams, Charlotte’s story has many interesting side avenues.


(My thanks to SuBa for research work and to Sanmalc for permission to raid her family tree for information.)