Lock: lock

During this time of Lockdown, it seems rather appropriate to be writing about a Lock. [OK – it’s a contrived connection. I happen to like contrivance!] Two little girls who were pupils at the School in 1851 share a history of waterways which converged, you might say, in a lock on a Hertfordshire river. Well, to be fair, only one of them ended up at the Lock and even then only briefly and the other nowhere near it but what the heck – why waste a contrivance?

Ann Morton and Jane Maria Morton – the same surname is not a coincidence – were both pupils between about 1849 and 1855. Both lived in Bishop’s Walk, Lambeth before arriving at the School.

Above image of Bishop’s Walk from http://www.ideal-homes.org.uk/lambeth/lambeth-assets/galleries/lambeth-north/bishops-walk-1860

Their addresses made the Archbishop of Canterbury a neighbour although popping round to borrow a cup of sugar was probably not high on a list of priorities. The girls were in fact cousins, daughters of two brothers, Richard and George, both Thames watermen.

The London waterman’s job was to transport people across the Thames before there were many bridges. London Bridge had been the only crossing for centuries. The next bridge upstream was at Kingston which is an awful long way to go if you were in Westminster and you wanted to get to Lambeth.


The watermen of London carried passengers safely – mostly – across the river and they continued to ply this trade until road transport improved enough to make the risks of a water-crossing less palatable than the chances of meeting a highwayman or other brigand on the roadways. Additionally, steam boats were making an appearance in the early C19th and for George Morton in particular, this spelled disaster. The petition for his daughter to attend RMIG gave that his trade as waterman and his business of hiring out boats had been damaged by the steam boat trade. Although he continued to operate as a waterman, he also became a Customs House officer, probably to make ends meet, and possibly using his own boat. Smuggling, against which the Customs House waged war, was big business and required big solutions. Although Customs House would have had its own boats, it also hired other boats which

‘were generally taken up with their crews complete, [and] only one Customs officer shipping with them when there was work to be done.’ https://www.shippingwondersoftheworld.com/customs.html

Whether George acted as the Customs House officer on his own boat or was one of the ‘surveyors, land waiters, tide waiters, coast waiters, boatmen, riding surveyors and many other ratings’ that were part of the service is an unknown.

His older brother Richard seemed to fare worse and shortly before his daughter Jane Maria joined the School, he left the watermen’s trade and took up a job as a licensed victualler, appropriately enough at the Waterman’s Arms. Paris Street, Lambeth. In 1847, however, he was to be found in gaol, quite possibly for debt. When Jane left the School in 1855, she was ‘Delivered to her father residing at Lambeth – who said he should find employment for her at home.’ (Minute Book 167) so by that stage he was no longer a gaolbird.

Jane’s cousin, Ann, had left school a year earlier and been returned to her family in King’s Bench Walk, Lambeth. As the name suggests, this was a road near to the King’s Bench prison in Southwark.

King’s Bench Prison and Horsemonger Lane Gaol section of “Improved map of London for 1833, from Actual Survey. Engraved by W. Schmollinger, 27 Goswell Terrace”

The map above shows the position of the prison, which is possibly where Richard had been held previously, and tucked away in the north-west corner can be seen King’s Bench Walk.

In 1860, Ann married Charles Stolte, a printer’s compositor, and she continued to live in close proximity to the river for the rest of her life: Lambeth, Bermondsey and Southwark. She had six children and outlived all but two of them as the 1911 census informs us. It also tells us that Ann was a state pensioner which, from 1909, paid people over the age of seventy the sum of five shillings a week. Currently it is £175 per week (before tax).

Jane, meanwhile, had left the Thames but staying in the vicinity of water was found with her father at Ware (Where? Yes, it’s an old joke.) Specifically in the lock keeper’s cottage, as Richard had become said lock keeper.


The name Ware, incidentally, is from the Anglo-Saxon for weir so Ware Weir is tautology.


http://www.leeandstort.co.uk/Ware_Lock.htm Modern day image of Ware Lock from By Stephen Dawson, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4337269

Richard and his wife Sophia were at the lock from at least April 1861 and were present there for two census returns, including the one that Jane was living with them (1861). The original seventeenth century lock had been replaced in 1832 and the photograph (above left) dates from c1900, showing it at its original width of 14 feet. It was widened in 1922 to 16 feet. In 1793, the lock keeper was paid £18 3s per year and there was a toll of 1s 6d to use it. A modern lock keeper on the R. Lee (2012) was paid c£13,000 a year and the job entailed not just aiding boaters to navigate the lock and the upkeep of the lock and its workings but also to control water levels by the use of the lock and weir. In times of flood, this becomes very important.

Image of Ware Weir By Jamsta at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7747116

The lock keeper was granted use of a cottage so that he was available at all times.

It is unclear whether either of these is the cottage lived in by the Mortons but they suffice to give an idea of the sort of accommodation supplied.

Jane Maria Morton married in 1863 and went back to London where she remained for the rest of her life which was, in fact, shorter than her slightly older cousin as she died in 1896. Jane was technically the lock keeper’s daughter but probably only briefly before she scurried back to the City. A pity because, otherwise, we might claim the following extract from John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga to be appropriate.

Ware has a nice literary connection of its own as one of Chaucer’s pilgrims hailed from the town. The Cook identifies himself as Hodge [ie Roger] of Ware: “I highte Hogge of Ware”

But we cannot leave Ware without drawing attention to another literary connection relating to the School’s history. Around the Great Hall today can be found the Frampton literary windows created in the 1890s and transferred from Clapham when the School moved. 36 windows illustrate various literary works and one of these is Cowper’s comic poem John Gilpin. Or to give it its full title: The Diverting History of John Gilpin Shewing how he went Farther than he intended, and came safe Home again.

From the Cowper window

The story of the poem is that John Gilpin’s wife decides it is time for a holiday but, as there would be no room in the coach for John, what with all the children and the luggage etc, he must follow behind on horseback. Unfortunately not being the most proficient of horsemen, John soon finds himself in bother.

The snorting beast began to trot,            

  Which galled him in his seat.

So, ‘Fair and softly,’ John he cried,                 

  But John he called in vain;         

That trot became a gallop soon,

  In spite of curb and rein

John ends up hanging on for dear life. He loses his hat, he loses his wig and passers-by think he must be in a race for a £1000 prize and cheer him on. He reaches Edmonton, the holiday destination, but the horse gallops on and in vain does his wife hang out of the upstairs window telling him ‘Stop, stop, John Gilpin!—Here’s the house!’ The horse races on possibly because he has scented home – ‘Full ten miles off at Ware.’

Having arrived in Ware, minus hat and wig, his friend invites him to supper but John quite rightly points out that his wife is in Edmonton, it is his wedding anniversary and it would look a bit odd if ‘[My] wife should dine at Edmonton, / And I should dine at Ware’

He sets off again back to Edmonton. Alas and alack (as all good Victorian potboilers are inclined to say) the horse didn’t take kindly to it and galloped once more past the inn where Mrs Gilpin is waiting. She then sends the postboy after him on another horse which frightens the Gilpin steed even more. Then someone sees Gilpin galloping ahead of (apparently) a pursuer and sets up a cry of ‘Highwayman!’

It is comedy capers of the best sort only resolved when the horse runs out of puff back where he started in London. This long comedy narrative is far less well known today than it once was and we are fortunate that Frampton chose it for illustration in stained glass. The story’s connection to Ware, and the Morton connection to same, allows us to draw attention to it. Lockdown does have its positives.


Grateful thanks to SuBa for her sterling research into the Mortons and Ware Lock.

Of pupils and pandemics

In this year, a pandemic swept across the world. In this year, stringent measures were put in place in an attempt to control the spread of the virus. In this year, millions of people across the world died, more than in the whole of the war.

No, don’t be alarmed. You haven’t missed a crucial news bulletin announcing a massive escalation of Corona virus. ‘In this year’ does not refer to 2020. Eerily it refers to a century ago, to the ‘Spanish flu’ epidemic of 1918-1920. Like today, the School was affected. Like today, special measures were enforced. Hopefully, fingers crossed, wish on a lucky star etc, there will be fewer casualties of the current virus at the School today than there was in 1918. And as the figure in 1918 was one that would be good news indeed.

The one person at the School who lost her life from Spanish ‘flu was a former pupil who had become a member of staff. May Downes died in October 1918. She was just 20 years of age.

Daughter of Daniel and Frances Downes, May had been born in Upottery, Devon in May 1888, the first of five children. As Tristram Risdon stated in approx. 1632

‘Upottery taketh name of the River Otter … having its adjunct Up in that it is the highest place where its spring maketh itself a river” from Chorographical Description of Devon p.22 and cited by http://www.upottery.com/history

In the 1891 census, the family were at Stillinghayes, a farmhouse which almost exactly a century after May was born became a listed building. However, at the time the Downes family were living there, it was a relative new build having been constructed in about 1870 of ‘Local stone and flint rubble with brick dressings, plastered on the front and white washed elsewhere’ with a slate roof. (https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/101333691-stillinghayes-farmhouse-upottery#.XnNR3aj7Tcs) Although it was a farm, it was in the centre of the village.

https://planning.eastdevon.gov.uk/ shows its position in the village and an image of the house can be seen on http://mhv.dailyecho.co.uk/homes/homes_for_sale/in/Honiton%2C+Devon/gallery/16951155/ should you have a spare half million or so to spend.

May’s father was a land agent, or a steward, which Wikipedia states

‘was a managerial employee who conducted the business affairs of a large landed estate … supervising the farming of the property by farm labourers and/or tenants and collecting rents or other payments … a land agent was a relatively privileged position and a senior member of the estate’s staff.’

The owner of the landed estate in question here was Viscount Sidmouth, which title stems from Henry Addington in 1805, probably the most unpopular Prime Minister Britain has ever known – and that’s going some!

May’s family moved from Devon to Wiltshire: a 4th child was born in Upottery in 1893 and the 5th in Westbury in 1895. That year, unfortunately, also saw the death of Daniel Downes of Frogmore House, Westbury on 16 Feb 1895. An early Victorian villa, Frogmore House is also a listed building although somewhat blighted perhaps by being attached to a factory on both sides. (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1364393) Sadly, Daniel Downes died in a shooting accident. The Bristol Times and Mirror 23 February 1895 reports the coroner’s inquest and outlines that the deceased had gone out before breakfast, had placed his gun against a haystack ‘for some purpose’ and it had accidentally discharged causing fatal injuries. As Mr Downes was conscious until shortly before he died, he must presumably have given this information. The verdict was accidental death.

His death was the reason for daughter May’s admission to the School in 1899 when she was 11. She was due to leave school in May 1904 (aged sixteen) but was retained as pupil teacher in the Junior school, becoming a salaried teacher in 1908. She is given as a teacher in the 1911 census but in 1913, she switched direction and became 3rd Assistant in Matron’s department. Whether as a teacher or matron’s assistant, May was clearly making herself useful as her successive promotions show:  1917 2nd assistant; 1918 1st assistant on a salary of £75 a year. Where she might have ended up had not a virus intervened, your guess is as good as anyone’s, but on October 30th she died, at the School, of double pneumonia arising from influenza. The majority of deaths in this epidemic were from bacterial pneumonia, a secondary infection caused by influenza so May was not exceptional in this.

During the pandemic of 1918-29, disturbingly similar to what is happening in 2020

‘Hospitals were overwhelmed, and doctors and nurses worked to breaking point … In many towns, theatres, dance halls, churches and other public-gathering places were shut, some for months. Streets were sprayed with chemicals and people wore anti-germ masks.’


In this prescient Independent article actually written fifteen years ago (22 October 2005) and now seeming horribly familiar, Jeremy Laurance referred to the world preparing for the next influenza pandemic which ‘England’s chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, says is now inevitable.’ (ibid)

The epidemic of 1918-1920 is often referred to as Spanish ’flu because, like Italy in 2020,

‘Spain was hardest hit, with an estimated eight million dead which led the BMJ to label the disease “Spanish flu”, though it is thought to have originated in China.’ (ibid)

This theory is not accepted by all virologists however and there is plenty of argufying going on between them a hundred years later. At least the source of the corona virus seems not to be in dispute although how that helps anyone who gets it is unclear.

Spanish ‘flu emerged in the spring of 1918 and soldiers in the trenches became ill with what was then called ‘La grippe’. It spread rapidly as it was highly infectious and probably hastened the end of the war. In fact, so deadly was the pandemic that it claimed an estimated 20-40 million lives across the globe, a significantly higher death toll than the Great War itself.

Glasgow was the first place in UK to be affected in May 1918 but by June it had reached London and the Wandsworth area was one of the worst places within London. All the more remarkable then that only one person succumbed in the whole school then situate in Battersea.

RMIG taken from Wandsworth Common

In all, 228,000 people died in Britain mostly from pneumonia or septicaemia. It was swift and, like the outbreaks of the Plague of earlier centuries, those who were hale and hearty at breakfast could be dead by tea-time.

And in a warning for the present time, it should be noted that there was an initial outbreak which then died away only to be replaced by a more vicious second wave.

‘… Armistice Day on 11 November, called to mark the end of the war, set off a second wave of infection. As people gathered to celebrate, the virus swept through them. Parties and parades turned to disaster.’ (ibid)

In contrast with what appears to be the pattern with corona virus, and indeed ordinary ‘flu, Spanish ‘flu ‘…

‘disproportionately struck those aged 20 to 30. Young adults with the strongest immune systems were, unexpectedly, the most vulnerable.’ (ibid)

Although May was the only person in the School to die in the Spanish ‘flu pandemic, she was not the only person affected by it. Two other pupils, Barbara and Joan Essenhigh Corke, became pupils when both of their parents succumbed.

‘Both Henry and his wife Evie died in the flu epidemic of 1919-20, leaving three children, Joan, Norman and Barbara. Apparently no one in the family felt able to take all three of the poor little things, but each was brought up lovingly by a different family member.’ (Recollections by a family member in the Kent & Sussex Courier)

Henry Essenhigh Corke, known as Essie, was a photographer as was his father Charles. They had a studio in Sevenoaks in Kent and Henry became joint manager of the studio when he was just eighteen, eventually taking over the control of the business.

Image from https://thegardenstrust.blog/2016/05/21/henry-essenhigh-corke/

Henry did pioneering work in colour photography, wrote articles for photographic magazines and his lantern lectures were a regular attraction at the RPS annual exhibition. (from http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/nmem/autochrome/Notable_Photographers_detail.asp?PhotographersID=3 )

‘Mother and Child’ Henry Essenhigh Corke (1883-1919); Autochrome, part of Kodak collection, National Science and Media Museum

Although not specifically stated, it is possible that the subjects in the above photograph are Henry’s wife and possibly Joan, his elder daughter.

Henry died on 24 February 1919 at New Park Villa, Eardley Rd, Sevenoaks. On the same street is Tusculum Villa which is thought to be where H G Wells penned The Time Machine.

The image above shows Tusculum Villa as marked by the blue plaque on the wall. Whilst the position of New Park Villa in relation to this is unknown, the style of housing is what is of interest here. And we can safely assume that the Essenhigh Corke home was similar. (Photo from Jackson-Stops – Sevenoaks)

A virological time machine has enabled us to jump back and forth between two pandemics and link them to the School’s history. Let us hope that, like the 1918 pandemic, the corona virus in time becomes a fading memory but one from which everyone ‘may remember the lessons they have here been taught’ (from the Old Girls’ Prayer).

“There is nothing like a dame …”

And actually, the main subject of this blog isn’t a dame although she was awarded the British Empire Medal for her services to the Land Army during and after WWII. The reason for alluding to the song from South Pacific is that what both have in common is Vanuatu. James Michenor’s stories, on which South Pacific is based, are drawn from his time stationed with the US Navy on the island of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides Islands, a place now known as Vanuatu.

The main subject of this post, pupil-wise, is Norah Mary Banwell 1919-2006. Born in West Bromwich, she is buried a considerable distance from it – in Cimetière de Port-Vila, Vanuatu.


One of two children born to Leslie and Mary Banwell, Norah was the elder. Her father died when she was eight years old and she probably came to the School almost immediately. She remained as a pupil until 1936 whereupon she attended Birmingham College of Domestic Science ‘with a view to taking up Domestic Science electricity demonstration’ Masonica 1937 informs us. Now University College of Birmingham, the college started in 1874 when the Birmingham School Board wanted to introduce instruction in practical cookery and household work (https://www.ucb.ac.uk/about-us/history-of-ucb.aspx) Shades of the School prize for usefulness in domestic duties methinks!

The outcome of Norah’s course is not noted in school records but fortunately this information gap is filled by the Leamington Spa Courier of 18 March 1949 in an article about her which carries the information that she earned a diploma after two years. However, she did not use it as she changed direction and began work in a Birmingham surveyor’s office as a telephonist. Then war broke out and Norah decided to become a ‘Land Girl’. Had she still been at school when war broke out, she may well have participated in the School’s version of the Land Army, helping to grow produce in the kitchen gardens to augment school meals.

So Norah donned the green sweater and knee breeches and worked on the land. At first, she lived in a hostel and worked wherever she was sent but she decided that she wanted more continuity so she applied for a permanent job on an individual farm and subsequently arrived in Loxley, Warwickshire, firstly at Atherstone House Farm (Masonica 1942) as Land Army 61497 and then at Lower Farm, Loxley where she and the farmer, Mr Whitehead, managed 150 acres. By 1945, she had earned her scarlet arm band for four years’ service.


The image above is actually a 2 year service armband, the four year service one having two pairs of diamonds on either side of the insignia.

Memories from a Land Girl in Essex gives a description of the uniform:

‘Each of us was issued with yellow, thick drill dungarees, beige cord velveteen breeches, cream cotton shirts, two olive green pullovers and tie, a pork-pie shaped brown felt hat, a three-quarter length brown overcoat, an oilskin raincoat, one pair of brown leather lace-up shoes, wellington boots, three pairs of thick brown woollen socks. A pair of green serge breeches (very smart) were sent to us later for walking out! I was told to wear my uniform at all times, and during the winter months I could hardly do otherwise!’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/76/a5026376.shtml

Up at the crack of dawn and on the farm by 7.30am, winter and summer alike, finishing the day at 5.30pm Monday to Friday, midday on Saturday, life for a Land Army girl was no picnic but, despite the hard work, this Land Army girl recalled it with fondness most of all because of ‘good friends, sharing our problems, our losses, and our rations!’

Members of the British Women’s Land Army harvesting beetroot (circa 1942/43). Image courtesy of Wikipedia from British Ministry of Information

Despite their hard – and vital – work, for many years the women of the Land Army received little acknowledgement (scarlet armbands aside) but, finally in 2008 45,000 former Land Army ‘girls’ were issued with commemorative badges to acknowledge their war work and in 2014 an 8ft high bronze statue was installed at the National Arboretum Memorial in Staffordshire.

By Egghead06 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,




Although not certain, it seems likely that this map marks the position of the farm on which Norah worked. The farmhouse is a listed building today.

Image of Goldicote Lodge in 2011 photographer Nigel Mykura.


Living in a small cottage, Goldicote Lodge, courtesy of the farmer, for whom she is described in 1949 as a mainstay, Norah was involved in all aspects of general farming: cattle, sheep, poultry and driving the tractor.

The Leamington Spa Courier captured Norah in a rather grainy image showing her with Topsy, a triplet lamb she saved by hand feeding.

In 1948, Norah represented Warwickshire at the National Service for Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey where the Queen had spoken to her.

“I was frightened to death when she stopped in front of me but she at once put me at my ease and was most charming,” Norah told the Courier.

https://www.womenslandarmy.co.uk/ww2-photo-queen-talking-to-land-girl-at-harvest-thanksgiving-november-1948/image source: Catherine Procter Collection

The above image may have Norah in the line-up but carefully scrutiny of the shoulder badge indicates the person in the foreground is from Cardiganshire. For this information, see https://www.facebook.com/womenslandarmy/posts/2490750610968448?__tn__=-R

We know that Norah was present on the occasion so perhaps holders of the 4 year scarlet armband in various counties were selected as representatives and for the ‘guard of honour’ to whom the Queen spoke (as indicated in Norah’s recollection to the Courier). Clearly Norah’s work was known as in 1949 she was awarded the British Empire medal (B.E.M.) for services to the land.

London Gazette 1949

Like so many of our former pupils, before and since, our girls are too self-effacing to draw attention to themselves. The Headmistress, Audrey Fryer, made sure to note in her report the news of the award. Her comment indicates that Norah was still at the farm but at some point after 1949 and before 1952, Norah moved to Colchester and married Eric John Wolsey Hawkes there, with twin sons born in 1954. Thereafter there is ‘radio silence’.  For 52 years. Neither Norah nor her sister appear as members of OMGA after 1947 so we cannot trace them this way. Norah’s husband died in 1992 in Clacton. We do not know whether the couple remained together until his death but, assuming they did, at some point after 1992 and before 2006, Norah went to Vanuatu – a place as far removed from either Warwickshire or Essex as might be possible and still be on the same planet! (For the record, Vanuatu is 1000 miles east of Australia.) What she was doing there, we have no idea. As there is a gravestone in Port-Vila cemetery recording her death, it seems unlikely that she was a tourist who just happened to meet her Maker whilst on holiday but more than that it is impossible to say. Furthermore, whoever placed the headstone clearly had information about Norah such as her maiden name and the fact that she was entitled to B.E.M. after her name. Perhaps one of her sons was living there and Norah had moved to be with him upon widowhood but that is mere speculation.

Map of Vanuatu with its capital Port Vila, located on its third largest island.

Map from The World Factbook, United States Central Intelligence Agency – https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-

Officially the Republic of Vanuatu, the islands form roughly a Y shape. Both France and England laid claim to parts which is why two of the three native languages are French and English, the other being Bislama, a pidgin or creole language comprising Melanesian grammar with mostly English vocabulary. However there are over a hundred other local languages and that is not including linguistic imports such as Mandarin Chinese, the result of migrating peoples.

(Right) The panorama of Port Vila, capital and largest city of Vanuatu.

Photo: Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand, 29 Nov. 2006

Today, one might reach Vanuatu by air via Australia or Fiji (no direct flights). There are also cruise ships that call at the islands. In 2020, another RMS former pupil – born some 70 years after Norah – will be visiting Vanuatu by sail as part of eXXpedition, an all-female voyage exploring the impact of plastics and toxics in our ocean.

‘Over two years and 38,000 nautical miles, a crew of 300 women will take on 30 challenging voyage legs to sail through some of the densest ocean plastic accumulation zones on the planet to study plastic pollution on board expedition sailing vessel S.V. TravelEdge.’ https://exxpedition.com/

Pippa will join the crew for leg 12 Fiji to Vanatu and thus will be keeping up the pioneering spirit of many Old Girls before her and. specifically. Norah Banwell.


In Pippa’s case, she might say bae mi go long Vanuatu (I will go to Vanuatu) to which one would reply Mi hop se trip blong yu i go gud (hope you have a pleasant journey).

In whatever language one uses (or attempts to use), the remoteness of Vanuatu is still the same, even in today’s global travel. But, as Pippa’s purpose in visiting the islands demonstrates, the devastation wreaked by the world, even in remote places, is very clear and very disturbing. Sadly, it will take more than pioneering women to bring about a change but it’s a start. To all pioneering women everywhere, of any age or time period, with or without connections to RMS, a heartfelt


One hundred years ago

As we begin the third decade of the 21st century, time to look back to the same period last century. In 1920, 29 pupils of RMIG left the care of the school to make their way in the world. Their backgrounds and their subsequent lives represent a microcosm of the School’s history. Custom certainly never staled their infinite variety! Given the relative paucity of careers available to girls at the time – and the careers advice which continued for the next four decades to be largely ‘Do you want to be a nurse, a teacher or a secretary?’ – it is hardly surprising that only one of our 29 leavers initially opted for anything else. The one that was different Violet Bryant who went into accountancy. But then this was someone who had been Head Girl and Gold Medallist in 1920 so she clearly stood head and shoulders above her peers.

The School had, at that stage, only ever been in London, and eight of the girls were born locally. But there were also 4 girls whose birth was a long way from London. Gladys Chamberlin was born in South Africa as was Marion Gould (Durban & Johannesburg); Annie Hewer was born in Queensland, Australia and Lilian Peters in the British Honduras. So they had already travelled some distance to reach the School. Annie returned to Australia upon leaving school (after having worked at Australia House until then), married there and, we have to presume, died there otherwise she would now be 117 years old. Gladys, too, died overseas but in her case in France in 1953, apparently ‘suddenly’ whatever that might mean. It could have been on holiday rather than where she was living but the evidence either way is missing. We don’t know where Lilian died as we lose trace of her but she travelled to South America a few times so it might be a reasonable bet to assume it was abroad. Marion returned to South Africa after she left school but in 1932 changed career direction and trained as a nurse in Wallasey, Cheshire. In 1936 she was Silver medallist at the Victoria Central Hospital, Wallasey and she continued her life as SRN in UK, her final resting place being Kingston upon Thames in 1988. There were two English-born girls who died abroad: Mildred Boutwood, born in Leeds in 1903, took office work on first leaving school and then went to the USA. On a visit ‘home’ she was listed as assistant in broadcasting and she died in 1978 in Arizona. Sadie Mansfield was born in Long Eaton in Derbyshire. She became a teacher and then, upon marriage, she travelled with her husband, Kenneth Wallis, a Government analyst, to Port of Spain (Trinidad) and Guiana. She and her husband and two children had been en route to a new posting in Uganda when their ship was torpedoed and sunk by a U-Boat in December 1942. Sadie Wallis is one of the five girls commemorated on the stone tablet in the Chapel of those former pupils who died because of World War II.

Even within the UK-born girls, there were a couple who were born some distance from the School given that travel was then slower than today: Mary Garrett in Chepstow; Edith Taylor in Newcastle upon Tyne; Ivy Hunter in Portsmouth and Ethel Parsons, born in West Derby (Liverpool) but whose family then moved to Portsmouth. In Ethel’s case, she became a pupil after 1912 when her father was lost on the Titanic.

Overseas sojourners aside, of the 23 who continued to live in the UK, just 2 ended up north of the Watford Gap, regardless of where they started from. One was in Derbyshire and one in Staffordshire although both had started life in the South East. Six ended their days on the south coast – Hastings (x 2), Hove, St Leonards on Sea, Eastbourne and the Isle of Wight. Two went for coastal areas even further west – Ilfracombe and Exeter, whereas one went to the seaside on the eastern seaboard: ‘Sarfend’, land of the kiss-me-quick hats and bracing walks on the pier. Blandford Forum, roughly half way between either coastline in the south west, was where a former Essex girl ended up. In fact no UK girl ended her days where she had begun them although 2 were in the same vicinity: Uxbridge-Hillingdon and Hastings-St Leonards. Edith Taylor, who had travelled form Newcastle upon Tyne to join the School, worked as a teacher in Harrow. Unfortunately not a member of OMGA, we lose track of her and the name is not an uncommon one so trying to trace a death for her is impossible.

Dorothea Quiney, whose name was more unusual, disappeared from sight until a general internet search picked her up – in Hong Kong: specifically at St John’s Cathedral where she married Charles Pinel in 1929. Thereafter she can be traced until her demise in Hastings in 1998. Her husband was a prisoner of war of the Japanese for four years. Whether the Pinels had seen what was coming and got Dorothea away, back to UK, is an unknown factor but she was not interned by the Japanese. As anyone who has read A Town like Alice or watched Tenko will know, women were interned and, indeed, another of our pupils, Gertrude Jewel nee Craik, was detained for 3.5 years in civil Assembly Camp C in Yangzhou. She had left school in 1919 so was almost a contemporary of our 1920 leavers and they are certainly likely to have known her.

The careers advice, as previously indicated, was somewhat limited but one former pupil clearly decided to have a go at several of them: shorthand typist then nurse and then cook. She obtained a post as a shorthand typist in Southampton on leaving school (which must mean that she had learned those skills whilst still at school) and then, in 1928, she went to train as a nurse at Barts hospital. Perhaps she completed her training, perhaps she didn’t. We don’t know the answer to that, except that in 1939 she is a cook at the Trusty Servant Inn, New Forest, working for Mr & Mrs Leith the licensed victuallers. This country pub is still operating today offering both accommodation and a restaurant.


If you are passing through the new Forest, you could call in for a drink where Grace worked! Grace Russell had been born in Great Yarmouth where her father was the District Medical Officer. Unfortunately he died when Grace was just five months old. He was interred in Southampton, his coffin being transported there by train

A decided touch of pathos came in the form of the identification of the funeral wreaths:

Nine of the 29 girls did not marry – inasmuch as their death records are in their maiden names. One who did marry – Irene Davidson – was unfortunate to be a widow by the age of 22. We have already seen that Dorothea travelled eight thousand miles away to marry and Annie Hewer married in Australia albeit that was her home so it was where she might be expected to marry if anywhere.

Only one of these 1920 school leavers lived to see the 21st century – Norma Richings – although it should be pointed out that we lose trace of three of the leavers so they could also have made it to the next century. Two came close, meeting him with the scythe in 1998 and 1999. Marjorie Willcocks died in January 1999. She had worked for many years for the Royal Bank of Scotland and had been a regular returnee to Old Girls’ Days over the years. Dorothea Quiney was the other one – her third mention here. One girl, very sadly, hardly got started on her post-school life before she died: Marguerite Noyes Coe died when she was just 18. Her father also died in that year so it must have been a very difficult time for her mother. The school records do not give any further information about Marguerite’s demise and there are no hints in Matron’s records of a long-standing illness so we are none the wiser about what transpired to cause her death. One pupil for whom an early demise might not have been a surprise was Evelyn Denman. She arrived at the school on 29th April 1915 but was found to have a weak heart and medical advice was that she was not robust enough to be at the school. She was sent home on 4th May with a view to being out-educated. However, she returned to the school on 7th June and the medical officer admitted her. Despite her medically uncertain beginning, she lived until she was ninety!

Not all of the girls who left school in 1920 appeared in the whole school photo dated 1912/1913. Some, clearly, had not then joined the School.

But 18 of them did. Capturing their images from a larger photo results in rather fuzzy and out of focus images unfortunately but it gives a vague idea of their appearance.

I wonder if anyone will be writing in 2120 about the girls who left in 2020?

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 https://www.londonvisiting.com/westminster-palace

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. (http://www.lostheritage.org.uk/houses/lh_hampshire_hurstbournepark_ii_info_gallery.html)

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


Image from https://spodehistory.blogspot.com/p/spode-royal-warrants.html









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.

Image from http://www.hawkesyardhall.com/



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. (http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Birmingham/)

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 https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/portal/files/30807371/2012_Takayanagi_Mari_1069335_ethesis.pdf, 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.


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.)


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.