In the House

Strictly speaking, that should be plural as the ‘House’ is that perched on the side of the Thames next to Westminster Bridge –the Palace of Westminster.

Image from

They connect, in this instance, to two of our past pupils: neatly, one in one House and one in the other. In the case of the first, we are stretching a point as it is unlikely that she herself went anywhere near the place. The second case is far more concrete.

Currently the Labour Party is thrashing about trying to select a new leader so it seems timely to be writing about former pupil Marion Gardner Barnes, 1919-2006, the granddaughter of George Nicoll Barnes, Leader of the Labour Party 1910-1911. Nicholls had been part of the Lib-Lab coalition government under Lloyd George. When the Labour Party decided to leave the coalition, Barnes refused to resign and was expelled from the Party. He then founded the National Democratic and Labour Party and stood under this flag in 1918. His son, James Edwin Barnes, had married Annie Whyte Gardner in 1911 and they had three children, of whom Marion was the youngest. James was possibly a little overshadowed by his father as his death in 1928 was reported with reference to his father almost as if his own life were of no import.

The West London Observer 10 February 1928

Because of her father’s death, Marion gained a place at the School and in the 1932 Anniversary Festival she played the piano, probably in the traditional Duos or Trios which the School performed each year for more than a century: Duos was two girls to each of eight pianos and Trios was 3 girls per piano, all playing the same piece. Then in 1935, Marion ran the 100 yards race on Sports Day and received the prize of a lacrosse stick. Clearly an athletic girl, she also participated in the ‘senior style jump’ and the three-legged race, both of which events she won, her prizes being an attaché case and a tennis bag and balls. They were prizes in those days!

She left school in 1938 and had a post with the Bank of England. In the 1939 register she is at Hurstbourne Park (occupied by the Bank during World War II) given as a woman clerk.

The image shows a building that was mostly destroyed by fire in 1965. (

As Marion’s grandfather stopped being an MP in 1922, when she was only 3, it seems unlikely that she was ever taken to visit the Houses of Parliament – “this is where Grandad works …” – but the Other House was not only visited by a former pupil, it was her residence too.

Amelia Laney, or de Laney, was Housekeeper in the House of Lords. Before we look more closely at this, perhaps we ought to skim through the rest of her life. She was the daughter of Thomas and Dorothy and was born on 30th March 1848 in Chelsea. Her surname in the School register is clearly written as Laney or de Laney with her mother’s maiden name as a second forename.

In 1851, the family were at 19 Symons St, Chelsea but when Amelia was admitted to the School in 1857, her parents were dead and the Petitioner was Anne Emery, dressmaker, a cousin who was also a witness to the will of Thomas, dated 1852.

Thomas’ will confirms him as a beer retailer of Chelsea with a wife Dorothy. His son Thomas is granted his father’s watch and his daughter Georgiana Maria, his snuffbox.

The will dated May 1852 was proved in August of that year which possibly implies that Thomas knew his time was short but could be an unfortunate coincidence. Amelia is not mentioned but she would have been four years old at the time whereas her siblings were older. There were eight children born to the couple, four of whom died as children including twins born in 1839 who both died on 23 July 1843. Amelia, in comparison with her siblings, was still a baby.

After her father’s death, Amelia’s mother re-married and then died herself in 1857. It would have been this death that precipitated Amelia’s petition as a pupil. She left the School in April 1864 and went to her aunt Mrs Brent [?], a churchwarden in Grange Rd, Bermondsey.

By 1871, Amelia was in Staffordshire at Hawks Yard Park, Armitage, the home of Josiah Spode IV and given as a lady’s maid. Josiah was a widower (since 1868) but Amelia may have gone there originally as lady’s maid to his wife. Josiah, as the name indicates, was the great grandson of the Josiah Spode, founder of Spode pottery and pre-eminent in the development of bone china In England


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His mother bought Armitage Park in 1839 and renamed it Spode House.

Armitage Park, Staffordshire drawn by [John Preston] Neale in 1818
Josiah left the estate to his niece in 1893 but the Hall eventually fell into disrepair before being finally boarded up (1988). In 1999 it was purchased by Relaine Estates Ltd, who set about restoring it partly by using photographs from the Shugborough collection. It was decided to use the original name of Hawkesyard for the Estate, and the transformation of the Hall and outer buildings was completed in 2007. It is now established as a Wedding, Events and Conference Centre.

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Josiah lived at the Hall until his death but Amelia had moved on by 1881 and by 1891, she was an assistant in the infirmary of the Birmingham Workhouse, a large institution with space for 310 patients. Part of it is today absorbed into Birmingham Hospital. (

But we haven’t finished with Josiah Spode yet as he left Amelia a legacy.

Lichfield Mercury 23 February 1894

£600 is not to be sniffed at today but in 1893 it was the equivalent of approximately £50,000 – so a considerable sum. In 1901, Amelia is in Peasenhall, Suffolk given as retired matron and superintendent. As she was only 53 years old, it must be presumed that she was living off the legacy, old age pension not then being available.

However by 1911 she had returned to work and now we come full circle as this is when she is listed as the Housekeeper in the House of Lords.

A visit to the Parliamentary Archives to find more information elicited a number of frustrating blind alleys, some interesting background material and, most significantly, a meeting with the Senior Archivist who just happened to have produced a thesis on working women in the Palace of Westminster! Her detailed research work, available on, includes a chapter subtitled ‘The small matter of a housemaid’s bed … ‘ and contains specific reference to Amelia.

In 1911, Amelia de Laney was the only female head of household in the Palace of Westminster … Her occupation is clearly given as ‘Housekeeper, House of Lords’.’ Parliament and Women, c.1900-1945, Takayanagi, 2012

Of interest is that she did not apparently know where she was born but thought it was London. This possibly implies that she had lost contact with her family who would surely remind her of her roots. However, this is speculation only.

Trying to ascertain what the role of the Housekeeper was and the whereabouts of the four rooms she occupied involved a great deal of reading across the grain and no certainty at the end of it. Women had been employed in domestic capacities in the Palace as ‘a Crown appointment rather than a Parliamentary one’ (ibid). In J C Sainty, The Office of Housekeeper in the House of Lords, pp256-260 in Parliamentary History 27(2): 2008 (cited Takayanagi) it is stated that the post was a sinecure, and in 1895, Charles Tanner MP said of Amelia’s predecessor:

‘He understood the housekeeper was an excellent lady in every sense of the word, that she had nothing to do, and a residence and £200 a year to assist her in doing nothing. [A laugh.] …This housekeeper had practically nothing to superintend, had not to weigh out the soap or look after the candles—[Laughter]—turn off the gas, or turn on the electric light.’ HC Deb (4th series) 22 Aug 1895 vol 36 c598 (cited Takayanagi)

As a result, the post of housekeeper was supposedly abolished in 1896, the role replaced by a non-residential Principal Housemaid. However, in 1902, the Lord Great Chamberlain made a case that, as the person in this role needed to be on the premises early and late, it would be of benefit if the post were residential. It seems possible, but not certain, that 1902 is when Amelia was employed as resident Housekeeper and it caused conflict with the Government:

‘The Office of Works removed the Housekeeper’s furniture, on the grounds she should not live in. The Treasury refused to pay for replacement furniture …’ (Takayanagi)

In 1872, that furniture had been listed as:

The impasse was resolved by the Clerk of the Parliaments buying furniture, costing £85, with the Lords Offices Committee reimbursing him from the House of Lords Fee Fund Account. The clerk commented at the time:

‘I do most seriously deplore such a difference of opinion on seemingly so small a matter as a housemaid’s bed …’  (Henry Graham to Sir Francis Mowatt, 10 Oct 1902. PA, HL/PO/AC/15/11, cited Takayanagi)

Exactly where the four rooms that Amelia used were located was impossible to ascertain. In 1865, LGC/5/6/48a indicated that the Housekeeper was in basement rooms under Charles’ Romilly’s office. LGC/5/7/33b – dated 1873 indicates that the apartments were four rooms and a kitchen but failed to identify its position. Dr Takayanagi was of the opinion (but not certain) that Amelia’s rooms were on the second floor of the building and may well be now occupied by the Parliamentary Archives research room. So in trying to uncover information, we had been inadvertently sitting in what had once possibly been Amelia’s sitting room!

Amelia remained as Housekeeper until retiring (for a second time!) in 1919. In 1939, she is recorded in Cheshire, described as incapacitated, and she died the following year leaving an estate valued at just short of £21.

Her death at the age of 92 closes the saga of the little Chelsea-born girl, once a pupil, later subject of a discussion in Parliament and the connection with the Palace of Westminster.


My grateful thanks to SuBa for supporting research and to Dr Mari Takayanagi for allowing me to read and cite her PhD thesis.


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

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.’

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.

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.’

By Edwardx – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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

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

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

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 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 (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.’ (

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.’

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.)


The telegraphic call of CQ (pronounced sécu) had been used to alert all stations along a line. Rather as the beloved shipping forecast begins with ‘Attention all shipping’, CQ was the equivalent of ‘Hey listen up guys!’ There was no agreed emergency signal but in 1904 the Marconi Company instructed their operators that D (for distress) should be added, thus making CQD a telegraphic signal that help was required. At the same time the distress signal SOS was also being used interchangeably with CQD.

The two signals represented as Morse code might suggest that SOS was marginally quicker to send but in the hands of a skilled telegraphist the difference was minimal. One such skilled person was Jack Phillips, chief telegraphist on RMS Titanic. On the night of 15 April 1912, he initially sent CQD. Harold Bride, the junior radio operator, suggested using SOS. With a kind of gallows humour, and perhaps realising by this point that the unsinkable Titanic was going to do just that, he commented that it might be their only chance to use the ‘new’ signal. Phillips then began to alternate the two distress calls.

Phillips – and Bride who stayed in the radio room alongside him – was very much the hero of the hour, remaining at his post until Captain Smith issued the order to all crew to ‘save yourselves’ – an indication that all was lost. At the inquest, another radio operator who had picked up the signals commented that Phillips’ transmissions never wavered in their consistency or accuracy.

‘Jack’s last message was picked up by the Virginia of the Allen Line at 2.17am, and the Titanic foundered at 2.20am. ‘

Because of telegraph messages, news of the ship’s fate reached newspapers in UK by the following day although there was clearly confusion in interpreting them.

But what has all this to so with the School? Well, this is the +RMIG bit of the heading. The Royal Masonic Institute for Girls had been established in 1788 to come to the aid of those in distress and the terrible loss of lives on the Titanic was certainly a time of great distress. Four girls who became pupils of the School did so because their fathers went down with the ship. Florence and Eleanor Hill, twin daughters of Henry Parkinson Hill (and known in School as the Titanic Twins) and Ethel and Brenda Parsons, daughters of Edward Parsons, all become pupils. Florence & Eleanor Hill and Ethel Parsons were at the School contemporaneously. Brenda Parsons, the youngest, two years old in 1912, would not have been old enough to be a pupil until 1918.

These fuzzy images are Florence Hill and Ethel Parsons as captured from a whole school portrait taken in 1913 (below).

Ethel and Brenda Parsons were the daughters of marine storekeeper Edward Parsons.

17 April 1912 – Western Daily Mercury

No doubt his family would have been extremely proud when he was appointed to the White Star line’s most luxurious and prestigious ship, little imagining the fate that awaited him. After all, the Titanic was unsinkable.

The Parsons family had been living in Liverpool and four of the children had been born there. They moved to Southampton sometime before 1910 and Brenda, the youngest child, was born there. As the wife of a member of ship’s crew, Mrs Parsons would always have been aware of the dangers of the sea but – the Titanic was unsinkable. What could possibly go wrong?

One of Edward’s grandchildren later commented that the family had a letter from the White Star line indicating that Eddie (as he was known) was last seen on the deck giving biscuits to children and comforting them. His body was never recovered or identified. His wages of £6 per month as Chief Storekeeper would have ceased with his death, leaving Mrs Parsons with five children to support on no income. She benefited from a Titanic relief fund but Edward’s Masonic connections meant that they too stepped in to offer support.

Ethel Parsons probably came to the School almost immediately after the disaster and left in 1920, accepted by Southampton Education Committee as a pupil teacher. Later she won a place at Hartley College, Southampton to read for an Arts degree but decided instead to train as an elementary teacher. She returned to the School in 1924 as a Lower School mistress, described as a temporary post, and she either left when she married in 1925 or slightly before. Thereafter, the School loses sight of her and it is left to public records to note that she probably died in 1994 in Surrey.

Her youngest sister, Brenda, little more than a baby when her father died, would not have become a pupil much before 1918 as eight was the usual admission age. It seems highly likely, however, that Mrs Parsons would have received financial aid before Brenda became a pupil as this was ‘part of the package’. She left school on 15th December 1927, undertook commercial training and by 1928 had a post in an insurance office. In 1929 she married George Holloway, a Congregationalist minister. In 1958, she married for a second time and became Mrs Tiller and she died on 22nd December 2008 in Eastbourne, not quite making it to her centenary but coming very close.

One of the Titanic Twins did make it to her centenary but let’s not jump ahead. They were the daughters of Henry Parkinson Hill and Florence Hill nee Baxter who married in 1903. Sadly by 1908 the marriage had failed and Henry had left the family home. The girls remembered little of their father as they were only 3 when he departed. Whether he went off to sea at that time or later is unclear but he was a 3rd Class Steward on the Titanic’s maiden voyage. His body too has never been recovered or identified. As he had been a Freemason, his daughters were eligible for support and they were elected to the School.

Eleanor’s time at the School is less well-recorded than her sister. She left school in 1921 and went to help her mother who ran an electric massage establishment. By 1923 she was nursing at the Treloar Cripple [sic] House in Alton but by 1927 was helping her aunt to run a boarding house so it seems her ‘career path’ was less clear cut than Florence’s. The school magazine records Eleanor’s death as being on 27th July 1976 ‘after a long illness’ and also notes that she was for a time assistant to the catering officer at the School.

Her sister Florence was clearly a bright cookie and was entered early for Local Examinations (equiv. of O and A levels then). Having passed them, according to her own recollections, the School didn’t know quite what to do with her as she was too young to leave. So she took them again the following year.

And the year after that!

She declared that in her final years at the School she was bored out of her mind because there was nothing academically for her to work towards. She did not have the qualifications for university having no Latin, a requirement at the time. In 1922 she became a student teacher with Peterborough Education Committee and went to Peterborough Training College the following year. In 1926, she won a place at Bedford College for Women and emerged with a B Sc. upon which she returned to the School to teach mathematics. The following limerick was written by an unknown pupil about Florence.

When the School moved to Rickmansworth in 1934, Florence moved with it and became Housemistress in one of the boarding houses (Connaught) before leaving in 1937 to marry the brother of one of her colleagues. In 1954, she came back to the School to teach until retirement in 1965. In 1994, she married for a second time, at the age of 89! She told friends that falling in love at 89 is just the same as falling in love at 29 – you feel all bubbly inside.

In 1999, she paid another visit to the School during which she entertained a group of Year 7 students with tales from the past of the School. They couldn’t quite comprehend a world where uniform was worn at all time except for pyjamas; where, having been in lessons all day, you spent the evening doing homework because there was little else to do. A world without television [today it would be smart phones]? Impossible!

After retirement, Florence lived in Lincoln and then Leicester. But a sedentary lifestyle it was not. Her nephew by marriage wrote of her:

You won’t be surprised to hear that at the age of 100 she organised her own birthday party, which was a truly joyful occasion, and one attended by numbers of her old pupils.

After the war, she had visited Germany a number of times and learned to speak German. She had been on one of these visits shortly before her death on 3rd November 2007 at the grand age of 102. Her death was sudden but peaceful in hospital where she was being treated for a broken collar bone, an injury that in a child is as nothing but in a 102 year old is a coup de grâce.

The death of Florence did not quite bring an end to the Titanic association. All girls were presented with a Bible on their departure from the school and in 2013, the School was contacted by an antiquarian book seller in Ireland to say he had found Eleanor’s Bible amongst a box of other books and would we like it returned? We would and it was! So a century after she was first in the School, something belonging to her was returned to it. 104 years after the Titanic disaster we can bring their stories to an end.


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 , 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.

Nineteenth century photograph of Istanbul

Pascal Sébah photograph

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.

Formerly Grande Rue de Pera

G Da, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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.

Image from

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. ‘]

Treasury formerly Imperial Ottoman Mint

By Alexxx1979 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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?

I’ll drink to that!

Emma Susannah Blyth, born eight years into the new queen’s reign – Victoria, that is – was a pupil at the School between 1853 and 1860. This was because her father, James Blyth, died in 1852 at the age of 48. He had been a greengrocer and cheesemonger and in 1851, the last census in which he appears, his residence was Nutford Place, Marylebone. Although this street still exists, it has all been redeveloped and none of the mid-nineteenth century housing stock is evident. Born in Norfolk, James married Caroline Gilbey in 1839 and they took up residence in Chelmsford where Emma was baptised in what was then St Mary the Virgin and is now (from 1914) Chelmsford Cathedral.

Take note of the mother’s maiden name as that is going to become important.

At some point between 1847 (when the youngest child was born) and 1851, the Blyth family moved from Essex to Marylebone and for the next half century or so Emma Blyth claimed the capital as her home. Although Nutford Place was their residence in 1851, by 1853 James’ widow was given as residing at 27 Upper Southwick St, Hyde Park as a lodging housekeeper. Now there are lodging houses and there are lodging houses. This one was the superior kind inhabited by well-to-do gentlemen with society connections, as witness this record from the National Archives at Kew:

However, when Emma left school on 22nd March 1860, she was returned to her mother who was then at 36 Norfolk St, Strand so there appears to be a little instability in the Blyth residences during this period. Norfolk St was in an area once in the possession of the Howard family, the Dukes of Norfolk, and the streets were laid out after Arundel House was demolished in 1678. The image shows the junction between Howard St and Norfolk St so the family might be moving quite frequently but the houses were very grand.,-Strand

Less than a year later, in the 1861 census, Caroline and her children are found in Great Titchfield Street. The return places them in ‘House in Yard’ but remember the Gilbey name? Caroline Blyth nee Gilbey’s brothers founded the company W & A Gilbey which created Gilbey’s Gin.


‘On the east side of the street, running back alongside All Saints’ Church, wine stores were erected in 1860–1 for the wine importers and distillers W. & A. Gilbey, whose business was expanding … Described as ‘cellars above ground’, these consisted of at least two floors of vaults for barrels, connected by a ramp, taking up three sides of a glass-roofed courtyard …’

So the ‘house in the yard’ was a part of the Gilbey premises. ‘Relations were drawn in to run the new branches, so that it expanded as an interlinked family business from the start’

Emma’s brother James Blyth joined the firm. ‘James Blyth and Alfred Gilbey toured French and other Continental vineyards, buying and shipping direct to England for bottling at the Pantheon… ‘ (ibid)

James was ‘a recognised authority on wine culture and wine commerce’ and was created a Baronet of Chelmsford in 1895. In 1907, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Blyth of Blythwood and of Stanstead Mountfichet in the County of Essex.

Given the success of W & A Gilbey and the interconnection of the Blyth and Gilbey families, it hardly comes as a surprise to find that Emma never had any occupation recorded for her but she is found in various census returns at posh houses: 1871 and 1891, she was residing in Great Marlborough St, Westminster and in 1881 at Elsenham Hall in Essex. This was the home of Uncle Walter Gilbey (the W of W & A Gilbey)

Image from and map from

‘While Walter Gilbey lived at the hall, the Prince of Wales was a frequent visitor and on December 11th 1889, he also brought with him Sir Randolph Churchill and several other dignitaries.’

So no doubt during the time that Emma was there, she too moved in exalted circles. Elsenham Hall is now divided into flats but the exterior still looks much as it did.

Where Emma was in 1901 is a mystery as she is not found in any of the census returns. Clearly she was somewhere as she reappears in 1911 at Dormston, 41 The Avenue, Beckenham. This is given as a ten roomed property which Emma occupied with two servants, a cook and a housemaid. Also there at the time the census was taken were her nephew, Oscar Blyth Taylor, a decorative artist, and a visitor Claude Gothard, a stockbroker. The Avenue today is what an avenue was originally – a roadway with trees on either side. The houses are mostly large modern-built properties. There does not appear to be anything from early C20th so possibly the land was acquired, original properties demolished and newer houses built but all of a substantial size.

Emma died on 27 Oct 1927, her estate being valued at £3.5k [equivalent of £11,500 today) – not bad for someone who never apparently earned a living! Given that, on her father’s death, the family met the criterion of indigence, if Emma’s estate derives from family, it post-dates 1853. As the Gilbeys were clearly family-oriented, it seems not unreasonable to suppose that Emma’s income stemmed from them or their property. Like many other members of her family, Emma is buried in Bishops Stortford Old Cemetery, recorded on the headstone for her brother James.

The little girl born on 24 February 1845 who lost her father when she was seven years old – as did so many of the pupils – ended her days living in comfort and all because her uncles, at a loose end after returning from the Crimean war in 1856, started a wine merchant’s business which branched out.




1971 advertisement

Gin and tonic?

Don’t mind if I do!

Down Under Up Top

A goodly number of our former pupils have wended their way to the Antipodes for new lives. Going from the UK to Australia or New Zealand is a well-established global passage. Indeed, the vast majority of websites concentrate on the emigration routes from UK. But this post is actually looking at the reverse trend, so to speak. At least eight of our former pupils between 1857 and 1905 were born in Australia and made their way to UK as very young children.

Today’s transoceanic travel is comparatively a piece of cake. Nineteenth century sailing to and from Australia was gambling with one’s life a lot of the time. To those of us used to rolling up at an airport and boarding a flight; sitting back and relaxing, even if for a goodly time, being fed regularly, using on board conveniences; then landing, through customs and out to perhaps a holiday or a new life, or to visit relatives not seen for a few years, it is quite eye-popping discovering what travel was like for some of our earlier pupils.

For a start off, “In calm weather a sailing ship might take as long as four months, while a well-run clipper ship with favourable winds could make the journey in a little over half this time.” Compared with that, almost 24 hours cooped up in cattle-class is a doddle! The sailing equivalent of cattle-class – steerage – was below the water line but the Southern ocean storms they might encounter were not their only problems. “Hygiene was poor at the best of times and worse in bad weather” (ibid) so in stormy weather, the order ‘batten down the hatches’ went out. And this meant that the steerage passengers were locked in without ventilation or light for the duration of the storm. Candles or oil lanterns were forbidden because of the danger of fire:

“… cramped conditions with timber, straw mattresses, hemp (rope) and tar caulking, meant a fire could spread with terrifying speed” (ibid)

Fire at sea is the mariner’s worst nightmare and, as few could swim and there were nowhere near enough lifeboats, a shipwreck left little chance of rescue. The conditions in steerage during a storm, with many people crammed together, no toilet facilities and the inevitable seasickness, must have been horrifying and doesn’t bear thinking about it. So perhaps we won’t. Think about it, I mean. Oh no – too late, the image is there …

Vinegar and chloride of lime were used to wash the decks of the ships, as fresh water was reserved for drinking and cooking. The vinegar helped prevent the spread of disease, although the understanding of why was not yet there, and, if nothing else, it made the ship smell better. Relatively.

On better managed ships, the areas below deck were thoroughly cleaned every few days by sailors and the women in steerage. Most ships provided only basic toilet and bathing facilities.

‘Sea bathing in the Tropics’, sketch from Edward Snell’s diary on the Bolton, London to Melbourne, 1849 (ibid)

The illustration indicates all too clearly the lack of privacy and may not have been available to ladies at all! Bathing was not normally a regular occurrence as the connection between personal hygiene and disease was little understood at the time. Most made do with a clean-up with a damp cloth under a blanket.

Straw bedding attracted fleas and cockroaches so people laid out their bedding in fine weather to air it. During storms, though, the bedding could get – and stay – soaking wet and this added to the problems with outbreaks of influenza and pneumonia.

Facilities for washing clothes were very restricted so many passengers wore the same clothes throughout the voyage. This, added to the stink emanating from the bilges below steerage, and given the increase in heat in the tropics, probably meant that the ship’s imminent arrival in port was announced by the wind rather than by any sightings from land!

The first steam ships made the journey to Australia in 1852 but these early steamers also had sails as their engines were inefficient and there were no coal depots mid-ocean for re-fuelling and actually few coaling ports en route.

The introduction of more efficient compound steam engines and iron, rather than wooden, hulls, enabled a voyage to be completed entirely under steam power. This was from the 1860s onwards but it was not until the 1880s that they became the transport of choice for emigrants. Because these ships did not have to rely on wind power and could travel at a constant speed, and the motive power could also provide electric lighting, refrigeration and ventilation, they could provide more comfort for passengers.

Grand saloons were able to be provided for first class passengers, and small cabins instead of sleeping berths were provided in steerage class.’ (ibid)


Married couples’ accommodation in steerage, by unknown artist, taken from the Illustrated London News, 13 April 1844

So accommodation such as above began to give way to smaller cabins for significantly fewer people! A diary of a journey made in 1874, read across the grain, shows how accommodation had improved.

the hatching had broken open in the second class cabin and they … all had to get to work baling … water out of the saloon (Diary of Ally Heathcote, England to Melbourne, Victoria, Onboard ‘SS Northumberland’, 1874) [my emphasis]

The routes between Australia and London (with the Suez Canal option only available after 1869)

London to Perth is just a smidgen over 9000 miles with Sydney another 1500 miles further on. So that’s 10.5 thousand miles for things to go wrong. Great storms, gigantic icebergs, danger of shipwreck were some external factors but death from dysentery or typhus from the insanitary conditions and mediocre medical treatment at best added to the dangers.

“Deaths at sea were tragically common. As many as one in five children, and one in 60 adults died on the voyage to Australia” (ibid)

Conditions improved as the ships got larger. The Orient, launched in 1879, was the largest steamship built for the Australia route. It offered comforts unheard of for the period, including a promenade deck, refrigeration, and later, electric lighting.

Painting by Charles Dickinson Gregory of the sailing ship Orient on the sea, (1927)

Amongst other things was an ice-making plant. Horses were stabled on the rear deck and pigs, sheep and cows were in cages. These were not intended for a new life in another country because they were converted into pork, lamb and beef for diners in first-class!

‘The first-class saloon was fitted out with ornate brass furniture and elaborate wooden carvings, whilst the music saloon boasted a grand piano and an organ amidst profusely growing ferns and dracaenas.’ (ibid)

The SS Great Britain, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ship, carried thousands on the Australia-London route from 1852, being converted to sail in 1881.

In 1884, she was retired to the Falkland Islands and used as a warehouse and coal hulk before being scuttled in 1937. But as those who have visited Bristol will know, this was not her end. In 1970, Sir Jack Arnold Hayward, OBE paid for the vessel to be raised, towed back to the United Kingdom, and returned to the Bristol dry dock where she had been built. And where she can be visited to gain an idea of what life on board might have been.


Sir Jack Hayward from his obituary, Daily Telegraph 13 Jan 2015


Image from a cabin in SS Great Britain from















And none of this takes into account something that hasn’t changed – even today. The decision to leave one country for a new life far away brings the emotional issue of having to say goodbye to home and loved ones.

‘… people were very conscious of the fact that they would probably never see their friends and relatives again.’ (

All in all, it was not a voyage undertaken lightly. Nonetheless, eight of our pupils did undertake it, some more than once.

Elizabeth Minnie Lumley b 1857; Florence Hopkins, 1868; May Vockins 1884; Florence Webb 1886; Amy Margaret d’Arcy Sugden, 1894; Marjorie Gimblette, 1899 and Annie & Ethel Hewer in 1903 & 1905 respectively were all born in Australia and became pupils in London.

Just to offer some balance, Emma Amelia Humphreys (1829) and Margaret Humphries (1836), both former pupils, went to Australia before any of the above were born. Emma and Margaret, despite the different spellings, do appear to be sisters! They would definitely have travelled by sailing ship because their emigration occurred before steam ships were in use. The individual stories of these travellers must await another day.

All aboard who’s going aboard, please!