The Wisest Words

We left Sara Wise about to set sail for the Antipodes as an English Governess.

“My trip to Australia was not eventful. I was to have sailed on the Waratah, but it never got to England on its first trip from Australia – it disappeared off the coast of S. Africa, and its disappearance has never been solved.”

It was named Waratah after the emblem flower of New South Wales, Australia, but this appears to have been an unlucky name: one ship of that name had been lost off the island of Ushant in the English Channel in 1848, one in 1887 on a voyage to Sydney, another south of Sydney, and one in the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1897. Quite possibly the mysterious disappearance of the ship in 1909 (and no, it was nowhere near the Bermuda Triangle!) brought forth the response ‘The Waratah? Again?’

Waratah plant image by CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=857590

SS Waratah photographed in 1909

Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=943368

“On 26 July 1909, the SS Waratah, with 211 passengers and crew departed from Durban bound for Cape Town, and disappeared without a trace …” http://www.sahistory.org.za/dated-event/discovery-wreck-passenger-liner-ss-waratah

Emlyn Brown, a marine explorer, searched for more than two decades, once believing he had found it [1999]. However, the above website states “Despite the use of highly sophisticated equipment, Brown was forced to admit defeat in 2004; ‘I’ve exhausted all options. I now have no idea where to look.’”

In 2009, the above memorial was placed by the Queenscliffe Maritime Museum to honour all those lost in the tragedy. http://paulineconolly.com/2014/ss-waratah-australias-titanic/

The SS Waratah being unavailable, as Sara’s memoirs revealed “I came on the Moldavia, P & O.”

http://simplonpc.co.uk/PO_Liners3.html#anchor8156

“I travelled with Mrs Black’s old aunt, a Miss Maria McCauci. She kept a hawk’s eye on me, being determined I should fulfil my contract and not run off and marry the first man who spoke to me. However, I got what fun I could.”

Given that Sara’s memoirs reveal that she could sing well perhaps some of the ‘fun’ was courtesy of the music room on board. Music rooms were a feature of P&O ships from the earliest days. The Moldavia’s Music Room was situated directly above the Dining Saloon.

Image from http://www.poheritage.com/the-collection/galleries/Photographs/Life-on-Board/The-Music-Room-on-board-MOLDAVIA

In 1915, the Moldavia was purchased by the British Admiralty and converted into an armed merchant cruiser. She was sunk on 23 May 1918 off Beachy Head in the English Channel by a single torpedo from U-Boat UB-57. A very full account of this can be found on https://americanlegion142.org/ including a list of the men who died as a result.

But back to 1909, Sara’s journey to Australia being uneventful “We arrived in Melbourne on Cup Eve.” The night before the Melbourne Cup is Cup Eve. The event itself starts at 3pm on the first Tuesday in November and is known locally as “the race that stops a nation”.

Newspaper article from http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/10745037

William H. McLachlan rode Melbourne Cup winners in 1909, 1910 and 1917.

Melbourne Cup Day early twentieth century from https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/148829962659411288/

Image of jockey from http://www2.sl.nsw.gov.au/archive/discover_collections/society_art/races/ephemera/jockeys/index.html

“My first night in Australia, and for all I knew I might be in the middle of the jungle, especially when I heard what to me was a horrible animal sound outside my window. In the morning I was told it was a possum, and harmless. But worse was to come; when being shown around the park like grounds I was warned to be on the look out for snakes, and after that I imagined a snake under every bush, but though I daily saw tracks across the gravel paths, I never saw one.”

The contract under which Sara had travelled to Australia was that if she stayed for three years, the family would pay her fare back to England. However what she found in her new life was that –

“These people lived in the grand manner of the English aristocracy … There was a large staff inside and outside. The children had a nurse and a nursery housemaid, so there was nothing for me to do beyond the few hours K.G. [kindergarten teaching] every day.

I had meals and spent the evenings with the parents, and though all the families around had governesses, no attempt was made for me to get to know them… So by mutual agreement we broke the three year arrangement and I left there in March or April 1911.”

Archbishop Clarke (Archbishop of Melbourne) and his wife and daughter Elsie visited Sara’s employers.

“Elsie and I became great friends … Mrs. Clarke helped me make my decision to leave and invited me to stay with them until I found something. Though the Black [family] offered to pay my fare back to England I didn’t want to go, as I didn’t feel that what I had seen was typical Australia.”

The Archbishop suggested that Sara might join the staff of a private girls’ school but she decided to take her future into her own hands.

“So I went to an agent that I was personally recommended to go to, and there I met Amy – Mrs Germain McMicking.”

This, it turned out, was Fate.

Having negotiated an employment deal, the party set off for what was to become Sara’s home.

“I will never forget the drive through the gum forest and hills … I felt I was entering a different life and beginning to see the real Australia. And I have loved the smell of gum trees ever since.”

http://treepicturesonline.com/gum_tree_pictures.html

[And in an interesting twist, there is a eucalyptus tree in the Garth of the present RMSG although Sara would not have known the School on this site.]

One who travelled with them was Gilbert, the half-brother of one Cuthbert McMicking. When Gilbert went home the following day, Cuthbert got the news about the new English Governess…

“He turned up at Manus on his motorbike to see Germain [McMicking] on business – he said.”

Cuthbert became a frequent visitor and by January 1912 he and Sara were engaged. [I told you it was Fate!] The last school record of her was ‘married by 1912’. In fact it was exactly 1912, on 18th September, in Parramatta, Cumberland, New South Wales. Curiously the original name for RMIG was The Royal Cumberland Freemasons’ School, although that Cumberland was the Duke of Cumberland, George III’s brother, not his uncle Cumberland, the Elector of Hanover after whom the NSW area was named. There is also Baulkham Heights not far away from Parramatta and there today can be found the buildings of the William Thompson Masonic School (closed 1978), a kind of sister school to the one in London. So in Australia, Sara was both a long way from her school home and not very far at all!

https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/ahf_event/william-thompson-masonic-school-walk/

Germain [Sara’s employer] had bought Pullitop, a large estate between Wagga Wagga and Holbrook, to subdivide, and naturally wanted to sell as many blocks as possible, and got other McMicking boys including Cuthbert involved. Unfortunately, this turned sour and all too soon they were all broke:

“They were growing wheat, and the first season there was a late frost which destroyed the crop, and the next year a disastrous drought, and there were not enough returns to pay the interest, nor the payments on the very expensive machinery … These were the first years of our married life… The conditions were very harsh, I would almost call it pioneering.”

Maps from Google Earth

Life remained difficult with Cuthbert working extremely hard but events conspiring. There were times when Sara and Cuthbert and their six children were having to depend on family support but they stayed together as a family unit.

“Looking back over the long difficult years from the calm seas of the present, I feel the truth of the saying ‘There is a destiny that shapes our ends, rough hew it as we may.’ [Hamlet, Act V, Scene II]

Family was always important to Sara. Her memoirs are littered with references to her brothers and sisters, her parents’ brothers and sisters and, of course, her own children. Despite the hard life they experienced in Australia, all six of Sara and Cuthbert’s children lived to full maturity. Despite the geographical distance that separated Sara from her own siblings, they remained in contact. In 1955, they met together in England, the first time they had done so since 1909.

Images supplied by family

Sara wrote her memoirs in the year she died. Cuthbert had died in 1968 and Sara followed him in August 1970. The McMickings have a private family cemetery at Manus and Sara’s ashes are interred there.

 

http://www.australiancemeteries.com.au/nsw/tumbarumba/mannus.htm photo by Faithe Jones

But the last words should be Sara’s:

“… I don’t think, given the same circumstances, that we could have ordered our lives any differently. I am proud of the way my family has turned out – children and grandchildren alike – and I hope you can remain a well related family group and live in harmony.”

Wiser Words

(This continues the story of Sara Wise, former pupil)

Sara’s own memoirs of her time at RMIG give us a valuable and unique insight into her life at school. The School at this time was at Clapham where it had been since 1852.

RMIG Clapham

Sara describes her time there as being uneventful with a simple, but thorough, curriculum. It culminated in public exams set by Cambridge University, known as Cambridge Local Exams. As any modern practising teacher will affirm, at some point in their teens most girls switch overnight from being sugar and spice into monsters. This is clearly not a new phenomenon as Sara writes “We all went through a troublesome stage at about 13”. In her case, it coincided with “a certain class with a very ineffectual teacher. The poor thing was just a sitting duck” and Sara admits to being something of a ringleader in making trouble.

“She daily threatened to report me and finally did, and I waited for the blow to fall, but the H.M. [Headmistress] didn’t send for me. Instead, one day as I passed her office she casually called me in, and had a quiet little talk with me, from which I emerged feeling rather ashamed and a bit unsporting at having taken advantage of the poor old dear.”

The H.M. Sara refers to would have been Elizabeth Hutchinson, a former pupil herself.

RMIG Staff 1886, Elizabeth Hutchinson shown by arrow

“Anyhow the salutary little talk bore fruit, and I ended my school life as Head Prefect, and also winner of the Silver Medal for Good Conduct – with £5 bonus!”

In equivalent value, that bonus would be worth £560 today so not an insignificant amount. Sara was very surprised to have been awarded the prize as, according to her memoirs, both she and the rest of the School had decided it would go to someone else.

“Again the H.M. had to take me to her office and explain why I had been given this prize. She knew I was surprised. She laid great stress on the difference between active and passive goodness, and the fact that whereas the worthy girl was very good, she just lived a quiet passive life that had no influence on anyone else. It seems that I, on the other hand, had influence on the girls under my charge – in my dormitory, at the table and the group of girls that were my special charge as a prefect.”

Of course, there is a moral here (and, in case you were wondering, the other girl won a different prize!) and after her prize, Sara discovered that

“Life wasn’t terribly easy after this. It wasn’t enough that my charges behaved themselves, but I had to be careful not to put a foot out of step, and to remember that I was expected to set an example.”

In Sara’s own words, the Headmistress was “a wise and discerning woman” who clearly knew how to get those with leadership qualities – well OK then, potential rebels – on her side!

Sara’s silver medal would have been presented at prize day, a momentous occasion then as it still is today.

“Prize Day was held in May. We prepared for months and put on quite a show. Calisthenics and figure marching for all, choral singing for different age groups, and finally the most spectacular item – a piano recital with eight pianos across the end of the hall and a series of performances. First solos, with one girl at each piano; then duos – one at each piano, but playing in complimentary parts in pairs; and finally, trios – three at each piano, and in which I managed to qualify as bass in my last year. It was fascinating to watch the performance, with all the girls’ movements in rhythm, especially the trios with 24 girls.”

Until very recently, these duos and trios were still a set piece on Prize Day and Drill is still very much a feature.

Duos, Trios and Drill

The value of the prizes, it has already been seen, were large and pupils were asked to select what they would like. Today the girls receive books or book tokens but then, even those who selected books didn’t just receive a single book but perhaps a set of complete works, all beautifully bound.

“The year I got the silver medal I got another prize, I think for French, and I asked for what was then called a Sat-Monday bag – in other words a weekend bag, brown leather, and do you think, dear Head Mistress, that I could have a silver mounted umbrella as well?

She didn’t know if there would be enough money, but she would see. I got it, and there was some silver on the handle. So I went to receive it, with my medal on a pale blue ribbon round my neck, and came marching proudly down with the bag in one hand and the umbrella in the other.”

This Prize Day occasion would have been Sara’s last as a pupil. Due to leave school in 1905, she was retained as a pupil teacher in the Junior school: “My job was to teach the very junior pupils the 3 Rs – with no instructions on how to set about it.” The switch to pupil teacher brought not just a different status but also a small income. All the pupil teachers received two outfits and £1 a week – equivalent today to £112 so a bit more than pocket money. If they were kept on as teachers – and many were – they then became salaried staff with that salary rising incrementally as their experience and seniority grew. Most of the teaching staff had been pupils at the School; it was rare to find a member of staff who wasn’t. Sara’s headmistress, and the Headmistress before her and the one that followed (the redoubtable Bertha Dean) were all former pupils.

Meanwhile, across the Channel:

“With us all away at school, Mother was joined by her sister Agnes Humphreys, and they started a small finishing school for girls from England … They were both very well educated and very accomplished at such things as music, singing and painting etc. A French and a German governess visited and the results were very satisfactory. When the girls went home for the holidays their place was taken by English paying guests, who came over to the Continent for the summer.”

But all that changed when Sara’s mother died at the age of 49. “This made the greatest change in all our lives, because it was no longer practical to live in France.”

The British Chaplain in St Servan was able to place Sara as a pupil teacher with a group known as the Kilburn Sisters.

Emily Ayckbowm

image from http://sistersofthechurch.org/about-us/our-founder

Founded by Emily Ayckbowm in 1864, by 1875 it had opened an orphanage for girls known as the Orphanage of Mercy. It housed 500 girls by 1892. The Sisters established schools in many London parishes and at one of these, St Hilda’s in Paddington, Sara received kindergarten training.

During the holidays, the six Wise children tried to be together as much as possible. They stayed with cousins on their mother’s side and they always tried to be together at Christmas which “we spent with the Aunts in Ireland.”

The picture below, taken in 1907, shows the three girls of the family together.

 

“The Aunts had a wide circle of wonderful friends who were all very impressed with [them] taking on the responsibility of this large family and were very good to us. They mostly had estates and after a shoot always dropped in with contributions of game and other produce from their estates.”

One of these friends had a relation who was over from Australia on a visit with her husband and children. They wanted an English governess for their children, and “as I had almost finished my K.G. training it was suggested I might like the opportunity of coming to Australia.”

Thus it was that, in 1909, Sara went to Australia as a Governess. We will follow her there shortly but for now, we will leave her on the cusp of a new life on a different continent.

Wise Words

The first twenty one years of this former pupil’s life could be subtitled ‘The Case of the Mysterious H’. From 1909 onwards, she was consistently Sara but the spelling of her name before that appeared down to the vagaries of whoever was writing it! Born in St Servan, Brittany, the consular record of her birth gives her name as Sarah Elizabeth Wise, daughter of William Wise and his wife Sarah Ann Wise, nee Humphreys. After her father’s death in 1898, Miss Wise became a pupil at the Royal Masonic Institute for Girls, then at St John’s Hill, Battersea, London. In 1901, her name appears in the census return, quite clearly written as Sara.

In 1903, she was confirmed at St Paul’s, Battersea and recorded in the Chaplain’s book as Sarah. St Paul’s church no longer has services but for many years it served the community and was one of a number of churches RMIG used for services.

In the Matron’s book in 1905, when she had been delayed in returning to School after the holidays (because she had been in contact with measles), her name is given as Sarah. In that year too she was awarded a prize and her name entered on the School’s honours boards, where she is recorded for all time as

From 1909, when she began her life in Australia, Our Girl used the spelling Sara and, as this appears to be her clear preference and the name her family and descendants know her by, this is the name this story will use.

But let us return to the beginning. Sara was the third of six children of William & Sarah Wise. All barring one had been born in St Servan, Brittany. Helen, the oldest, had been born in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, the hometown of her father and where her parents had been living since their marriage in 1880.

Mrs Wise, formerly Miss Humphreys, was not from Ashbourne but from Llanddulas in North Wales. “a village and a parish in St. Asaph district, Denbigh. The village stands on the coast, adjacent to the Chester and Holyhead railway…” (from John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales 1870-2). Her father was the Rector of St Cynbryd.

Map from Google Earth; St Cynbryd church from CWGC website

How the couple met is not recorded but it is worth noting that the daughters of Erasmus Darwin set up a school for girls in Ashbourne and perhaps, maybe, who knows, Sarah Humphreys became a pupil there and thus met her future husband?

Aerial image copyright G.Hobster from http://ashbourne-town.com/villages/ashbourne/index.html.

In 1880, Mr & Mrs Wise were living in Church St which is the road leading (bottom left) out of the aerial view above.

William’s father was also a lawyer in Ashbourne and the family plans were that William and his father would be in practice together. Unfortunately, after his father died, William and the partner in the firm did not see eye to eye. William decided that he would sell his assets in the practice, bought an annuity and he and his little family went off to St Servan in Brittany to live. They were there by 1886 as the next child of the family was born there.

Sara’s own recollections, written in the last year of her life, pick up the story.

“In S. Servan there was what was called a “British Colony” – consisting mainly of retired Indian and other Army officers and others of their kind, who found living abroad congenial and cheap (free from British tax) and within the limit of their means or pensions.

Father did not practice his profession, but joined in the pleasant life of the Colony – who passed their time in the usual activities of “Gentlemen of Leisure,” such as tennis, golf, boating, fishing, musical and whist evenings etc.

There was a very nice English Church with a chaplain appointed in England. Mother played the organ and Father sang in the choir.”

There were many English communities in places on the continent as shown in this rather waspish extract from the Westminster and Foreign Quarterly Review of 1843:

The family resided “a mile or two out of S. Servan, real country with farms around – small farms, with peasant type farmers and we got on well with them and were always welcome to watch the milking and cider making and pig killing and any other activity.”

The address was Le Petite Villalie, Le Treherais, St Servan but it was known more formally as Manoir Tréhérais. In 1955, Sara and her sister went to visit St Servan “and found this house again, and were happy to find it wasn’t just a dream … It was, or is, a lovely home with lots of nice garden.” It had been restored but there was still “the same solid cedar staircase”. The biggest change had been in the kitchen “which we remembered as being rather primitive, with flagstone floors”.

http://www.infobretagne.com/saint-servan-sur-mer.htm [in translation] states that the “former mansion Treherais or Tréhairais, Route Saint Méloir of Waves … once had a private chapel … rebuilt in 1653 and restored in 1769.” The area called Saint-Méloir-des-Ondes today is connected by a road to St Servan and it seems likely that the Wise residence was on or near this road.

 

Map from Google Earth

The house does not appear to exist today but it could have changed its name and therefore be ‘invisible’ to searches. According to infobretagne, the chapel of the house was used by the Daughters of Charity established in Tréhairais but the owners retained the rights to the building and lands. “The mansion served as a school to the Sisters of Saint – Vincent – de – Paul from 1697 to 1781” but the French Revolution altered everything.

The house that was occupied by the Wise family was three storeyed “and our nurseries were on the top floor, I suppose in deference to my father’s idea that children should be seen and not heard, and not too often seen.” Very Victorian! There were six children in total. By 1898, their ages ranged from 2 to 15 years old. As Sara recalls, “[we] made our own fun, mostly out of doors where there was plenty of scope with lots of good climbable trees, and yes – even in those days – we played such things as cops and robbers, Indians and cowboys with bows and arrows and built forts and even started to build a tunnel so as to be able to get from A to B without disturbing the master of the house.” So they sound a fairly lively bunch.

The servants also slept in the attic. Sleeping quarters for six children and room for servants implies a not insubstantial building. The servants would have been hired for about 5 francs a month and they would have been “country girls who had to be trained … We picked up French from them, but it was the rough ‘patois’ dialect, which had to be knocked out of us later, along with being made to speak English.”

This idyllic childhood was slightly marred by “a lot of ill feeling for a time between the English and French. I was too young to know what it was about, something to do with the war in Soudan, and the ‘Dreyfuss[sic] Case.’”

Alfred Dreyfus

 

 

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=183917

Quite why the Dreyfus Affair caused bad feelings between English and French is unclear as it turned the French nation into Dreyfus supporters and anti-Drefusards rather than setting the French against any other nation. However, the infamous matter went on for 12 long years and perhaps the bitterness had an overspill: “Groups of cheeky French boys used to waylay us and throw stones and abuse us” Sara recalled.

But the childhood really did come to an end in 1898 when William Wise died. He was buried in St Servan on 1st June 1898. William’s annuity ended with his life.

“We left our lovely home and moved to a house nearer the town; another nice three storey house, and Mother had to find a way to make some money, and also for us to get more education – a necessity now we had no provider.”

Sara’s older sister became a pupil teacher in England and later gained a place at the Royal Academy of Music; her younger sister went to a school in Wales run for the descendants of Welsh clergy and Sara became a pupil at RMIG. Her father had probably first become a Freemason whilst he was at Trinity College, Oxford and then continued as a member of St Oswald’s Lodge in Ashbourne. Upon his death his children became eligible for support from Masonic charities and Sara and her brother Tommy went to Masonic Schools in London.

And here we will leave them and pick up Sara’s story in Part II.

Bible Stories

Bible pic

“On their departure, they were presented with a Bible, a prayer book and a copy of Dr Wilson’s Treatise on the Sacraments.” Polished Cornerstones, p 241.

This relates specifically to the first pupils to leave the school c 1795. Dr Wilson’s Treatise was seemingly widely read in the eighteenth century. However, it started a pattern which continued throughout the School’s history until last year. Whilst religious tracts were intended to ensure that ‘the lessons they have here been taught’ continued to hold them in good stead in the outside world, there were also practical considerations. As they approached school-leaving age (never less than 15), discreet enquiries were made as to whether the family was able to resume its care for their daughter. All the girls had been received into the School as daughters of indigent Freemasons, the School taking on full responsibility for their clothing, welfare and education. Sometimes the families had not recovered from whatever caused the indigence and, in many cases, there was no longer any family left. But if  the family were able to resume their care, four guineas was spent on ‘Plain Cloathing’ and the girl was delivered back to them. The phrase makes her sound rather like a parcel or a piece of luggage but it was just the phrasing used at the time. The column in the register was headed ‘How disposed of’ which is even worse but it is just the way language use has changed. If she could not be returned to her family, an apprenticeship would be found and all the fees thereto would be met by the School. In either case, a Bible was also presented to her on her departure.

In an age when fewer people owned books, this was clearly cherished by the former pupils who have handed down their bibles through the generations of their own family. A will dated 1845 was the starting point for this posting.

Will whole
The will of Isabella Window 1845

The relevant portion of the will is “I give to my sister Matilda Window of 22 Star Road Edgware Road my silver watch and my School Bible also the School Prayer Book”

Isabella Window became a pupil at RMIG in 1826. Born in Nottingham in 1818, she was baptised in St Mary’s church there on 22 Feb 1818. Also known as St Mary’s in the Lace Market, the church is one of five Grade I listed buildings in Nottingham and the largest mediaeval building in the city.

Notts church
St Mary. Nottingham

The vicar at the time was George Wilkins and during one of his sermons, a loud cracking noise was heard, clearly emanating from the masonry. There was a rapid exodus of the congregation as it was thought that the tower was about to collapse. Perhaps because George’s brother was an architect (William Wilkins), he was in a better position to know what to do and it is attributed to his action that the church survives today rather than it being taken down and rebuilt.

“[He] summoned the architect Lewis Nockalls Cottingham to survey the fabric, and Cottingham implemented a scheme to prop up the tower with scaffolding while the tower piers were repaired.” (Wikipedia citing Allen, Frank J, 1932, The Great Church Towers of England. Chiefly of the Perpendicular Period Cambridge University Press)

The church of St Mary is mentioned in D H Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers

“They threaded through the throng of church-people. The organ was still sounding in St. Mary’s. Dark figures came through the lighted doors; people were coming down the steps. The large coloured windows glowed up in the night. The church was like a great lantern suspended.”

Isabella had become eligible to be a pupil through her father’s membership of Newstead Lodge where he is described as a ‘Taylor’. He had married Isabella’s mother, Isabella, in 1805 in Greasley, Nottingham and it seems highly likely that she is the Isabella Window listed in 1828 Pigot’s directory as a widow and listed under Tailors & Habit makers in Goose Gate, Nottingham.

City centre
Nottingham 1830

http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/resources/maps/Nottingham/nottingham1830.pdf

Isabella had four sisters and two brothers but, as was the ruling at the time, only one daughter came to the School. We do not know where the other children were educated but we do know that three of the sisters were living in London in 1845 as their addresses are recorded in Isabella’s will. Perhaps they attended similar schools and then made their lives in London.

Isabella left School on 31 July 1833 ‘delivered to her mother’ from which we might make the assumption that she returned to Nottingham. However, she is listed in 1841 in a Westminster Rate book as living at 22 Star Street – presumably the Star Road referred to in her will.

She died in the year the will is dated and is buried in another St Mary’s but this one is in Paddington Green where the burial record of 21 June 1845 confirms her address as Star Street. Even in an age when life expectancy was less, her death aged 27 would still be regarded as being very young.

St Mary and graves
St Mary, Paddington Green & reburial plaque

Image of church by Libby Norman – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16174857

Image of plaque by Forscher scs – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44181119

The graveyard was converted to a public park in 1966 but some of Isabella’s ‘neighbours’ have included: William Chandless (1829 – 1896), Amazon explorer [the river not the website]; Arthur Roberts (1852 – 1933), comedian; Leonard Charles Wyon (1826 – 1891), engraver and coin-designer; Sir Stephen Spender (1909 – 1995), poet; Joseph Nollekens (1737 – 1823), sculptor and his father, Joseph Francis Nollekens, artist; Emma Paterson (1846 – 1886), feminist and unionist and Sarah Siddons (1755 – 1831), actress.

Perhaps, somewhat appropriately, another grave is for Rev Alexander Geddes (1737 – 1802), Biblical scholar on which note we can return to the school bibles.

Another pupil presented with a bible when she left was Agnes Ruspini, the granddaughter of the Chevalier Ruspini credited with starting the School. She arrived at the School the year before Isabella left. When she, in her turn, left she was apprenticed to a dressmaker, taking her Bible with her.

Agnes Ruspini
Presentation details

It says something for the School that, after Agnes had completed her apprenticeship and having presumably nowhere else to go, she came back to the School. That this was a little unexpected may be shown by the minutes which state in 1847 that “the Matron’s conduct in receiving Agnes Ruspini again as an inmate on the completion of her apprenticeship was approved” but that the House Committee must be the body that “receives into the School any person”. After a while, Agnes was apprenticed again and in 1851 she appears in the census as a tailoress. From then on, traces of her are fleeting and uncertain. It is possible that she married twice but in neither case is all the information correct. For example, on her 2nd marriage (assuming this really is her), she gives her father’s name as William Bladen Ruspini, dentist – which is wrong if she is ‘our’ Agnes whose father was James Bladen Ruspini. If she did marry, hers is probably the death of 1888 in Poplar. Whenever it was she died, the bible with which she was presented came back to the School in her memory.

Agnes’ presentation was handwritten – as we do not have isabella’s we cannot say whether hers was – but by 1873 the School was using printed presentation labels and the Bibles were splendidly bound with a clasp.

bible label
Bible and the label inside

Ada Maria Reeds, to whom this was presented, was recommended by Miss Davis (Head Governess) as a pupil teacher in one of the Government schools. In 1881, the census gives her occupation as Assistant School Mistress at Fir Tree Road Kensington so we assume the recommendation was carried out.

By 1902, the Bibles are now carrying a coat of arms although the eagle-eyed among you may notice that the motto is that used by the Boys’ School: aude, vidi, taci.

Bradley's Bible
Bible presented to Rose Bradley

The Bible was presented back to the School by her daughter after Rose’s death in 1963.

During the First World War, such printed extravagances may have been thought unpatriotic so the presentation bibles came inside a printed slip cover.

1916 cover
Bible slip cover

A Bible presented in 1921 had a little adventure all of its own! It was presented to Eleanor Hill, one half of the duo known as the Titanic Twins as their father died on the ill-fated vessel. This presentation Bible has the coat of arms in colour and no longer has the Boys’ motto but the School did not as yet have its own coat of arms. (That was to come in 1936.)

Titanic Bible
1921 Bible presented to Eleanor A Hill

In 2013, the School was contacted by an antiquarian book seller in Ireland to say he had found this Bible amongst a box of other books and would we like it returned? We did and it was!

The most ‘recent’ presentation Bible held by the School is not one that was presented to a pupil and later returned by families but one that was presented to the School itself. When RMIG moved from Clapham (shown in the presentation label above) in 1934, there were many splendid gifts donated to mark this major change in the School’s history. Amongst the gifts was a Bible for the lectern in the Chapel.

Big bible
Lectern Bible

The picture doesn’t really demonstrate its size. It is probably about 15 centimetre (or 6 inches in old money) in depth and now in a rather fragile state. It was presented to the School on a momentous occasion by someone who was having a somewhat momentous occasion of her own.

Bridges label
Bible presentation label

Isabella Window’s short life has given us an interesting slant on the School’s history. It seems appropriate then to quote Sir Stephen Spender who happens to be buried in the same place as she was:

Spender quote
Sir Stephen Spender’s words

‘The uncertain glory of an April day’

Two anniversaries share one April day: 23rd April, and as one of them belongs to William Shakespeare, the quotation from Two Gentlemen of Verona seems apt.

“Shakespeare’s favourite month would seem to be April … No other month is mentioned half as often in his works as showery, windy, sometimes unforgettably exquisite April.” (Germaine Greer   The New Yorker, April 11, 2013)

23rd April is long ascribed to be the day on which William Shakespeare was born although there is no specific record of it. He was baptised on 26 April 1564 and it is generally assumed that, as was the custom at the time, the infant was born about three days earlier. He definitely died on this date 52 years later so it is convenient to use the date to apply to both events.

Saint and playwright

St George, patron saint of England as well as of Germany, Portugal, Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Palestine, Ethiopa, Serbia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Portugal, Malta and Montenegro, has his saint’s day on 23rd April.

The two come together in Shakespeare’s Henry V when the king, at the Battle of Agincourt, rallies his troops with the stirring “Cry God for Harry, England and St George.”

It was a good bit of propaganda for George who, despite being the English patron saint, never actually set foot in the place.

The original patron saint had been Edmund (“Cry God for Harry, England and – er – St Edmund” – doesn’t really cut it, does it?) and he had been patron saint since the 9th century. His shrine, housed in an abbey built by King Canute, was at Bury St Edmunds.

Eddy;s tomb
Shrine of St Edmund

The shrine depicted above was destroyed in 1539. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, his remains were spirited away to France to keep them safe. It obviously worked because in 1911 they came home again and now they are in Arundel castle.

‘Such was the influence of St Edmund that on St Edmund’s Day in 1214 rebel English barons held a secret meeting here before going to confront King John with the Charter of Liberties, the forerunner to Magna Carta which he signed a year later. This event is reflected in the motto of Bury St Edmunds: ‘Shrine of a King, Cradle of the Law’.’ [In Latin Sacrarium Regis Cunabula legis]

http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Edmund-original-patron-saint-of-England/

Suffolk crest
Bury St Edmunds coat of arms

In 1199, Edmund was unceremoniously dumped by Richard I who had visited the site of St George’s tomb in Lod (modern day Israel) and then the following day won a battle.

where geo lies
Tomb of St George

Image of tomb By OneArmedMan – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3078385

Whether he genuinely believed that his triumph had been brought about by the saint or he was quick to see the opportunities of renaming the patron saint we will never know. Richard I, nicknamed the Lionheart, has himself had an historical makeover. He comes down through history as a great King of England but he spent so little time in this country during his reign, largely limited to visits to wring out more money by taxation to fund his crusading, that it is perhaps very appropriate he selected a patron saint who had spent even less time here.

google image
St George’s Day Google doodle

The final coup de grace for St Edmund came in 1348 when Edward III founded the Knights of the Garter and selected St George as its patron. From then on, the flag of St Edmund was superseded by the flag of St George when troops went into battle.

St George lived in the 3rd century. For part of his life, he was in Lydda (now in Israel) but it is uncertain whether he was born here or in Cappadocia (modern day Turkey). Wherever it was, it was to wealthy Greek parents. He was a soldier as his father had been – probably another reason for Richard to adopt him – but despite being in the Roman army, he was a Christian and reputedly refused to give up his faith even when asked by Emperor Diocletian. Probably not a good career move to oppose your boss and George was executed, after being subjected to torture, on 23rd April 303 AD.

Our William, on the other hand, is undisputedly English, born and died in Stratford upon Avon. Conveniently neat, you have to give him that. Made his career in London but scholars argue about where he was during his ‘missing years’. Was he a schoolmaster, a travelling player, a poacher – or all three and more? And where was he – in this country or not?

A pub in Kenilworth is convinced that the premises was patronised ‘by none other than William Shakespeare’  (http://www.virginsandcastle.co.uk/) though it offers no evidence to support this view. The Famous Virgins and Castle (the word famous is part of the title) is in the High Street in the older part of Kenilworth.

The pub
The Famous Virgins & castle, Kenilworth

Image courtesy of Google Earth Street View

Virgins & castle
Pub sign

Inn sign courtesy of http://www.virginsandcastle.co.uk/

The premises is old enough to have been known to Shakespeare. It actually appears to date from the year before his birth and there is a story that Shakespeare may have visited Kenilworth when Elizabeth I visited in 1575.

Castle and grounds
Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethan Garden

Image of Kenilworth Castle and the newly restored garden courtesy of http://www.english-heritage.org.uk

David Schajer in his blog http://shakespearesolved.blogspot.co.uk posits the idea that perhaps John Shakespeare, a glove maker, might have seized the opportunity of making a pair of gloves for Elizabeth and presenting them to her on her visit. It would be a good publicity ploy particularly since we know that, very shortly after this, the family fortunes dipped quite dramatically. It is quite feasible it was a last ditch attempt to stave off financial collapse.

But as Schajer neatly puts it:

‘There is no proof that Shakespeare was there. There is no proof that he was not there. It is impossible to know, based on the evidence that we possess today. Perhaps we may eventually discover documents or letters that put Shakespeare at Kenilworth, or not, and until that time we cannot know one way or the other’

If Shakespeare were there in 1575, he would only be 11 so presumably not frequenting the pub known then as The Two Virgins. But it does seem possible that James Burbage, of whose acting company Shakespeare was later a part, was at Kenilworth and perhaps this lends some credence to the pub’s claim.

And the connection to RMSG? (You were wondering where that fitted in weren’t you?) Well the parents of Marjorie Slingsby, former pupil, ran the pub in the late nineteenth century. Thomas Chapman Slinsgby, b 1865, was a grocer’s manager before he transferred to the drinks trade. He died in 1901 and his probate places him at Virgin’s Inn, Kenilworh. His estate was valued at probate as £16 15s which, although in modern terms is worth £722, it is hardly a living wage. Marjorie’s mother became the licensee in 1901 but by the next census is given as a boarding house keeper, not at the pub but in Waverley St, Kenilworth. Both Marjorie and her sister were working in clerical jobs.

Marjorie came to the School after her father’s death and left it in 1909. Given as a shorthand typist in 1911, we can probably assume she learned those skills at school. In 1912, Marjorie visited the School again. It seems feasible that this was for the first Old Girls’ Day since the foundation of the Old Girls’ Association (OMGA). There had been Ex-Pupils’ Days before then but the Association started in 1912. It may have been this reason or it may have been because she was planning the leave the country and wanted to see her alma mater for probably the last time. In 1913, Marjorie, her mother, her sister Kathleen and younger brother George travelled to Wellington, New Zealand on the Tainui. By 1916, she gives her address as Whataupoko, Gisburn, New Zealand.

NZ

Images of Whataupoko from http://www.tairawhitimuseum.org.nz/exhibits-galleries/collections/photography/Times_A_Changin/Whataupoko.asp

On 12 Dec 1923, she married Roy Fellows Baird the date being given in Who’s Who in New Zealand and the Western Pacific, 1925. Roy was a Solicitor and District Land Registrar who made an extensive study of Polynesia. His research notes are now held by Canterbury Museum. By 1932, the Bairds were living at 2a Selwyn Rd, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand where Marjorie remained a member of OMGA. Sadly just six years later, she died, aged only 45. It is possible that this is the property today listed as 2 Selwyn Rd, Hospital Hill, Napier which was sold in October 2015 although there is no certainty about this.

Baird home?
Napier property

Rather like the uncertainty about whether Shakespeare was, or wasn’t in Kenilworth; was or wasn’t a frequenter of The Two Virgins; whether St George was, or wasn’t born in Israel or Turkey, the was or wasn’t of New Zealand real estate is up to you.

But April 23rd is definitely celebrated as St George’s Day and as Shakespeare’s birthday.

“Oh, the lovely fickleness of an April day!”

April is a month noted for two things particularly: April Fool’s Day (“The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year” – Mark Twain) and April showers. Who can forget the song from Bambi ‘Drip drip drop little April showers’?

Bambi
http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Little_April_Shower

[You’ll probably regret reading that. It’ll be an ear worm you’ll have in your head all day!]

Chaucer may not have had doe-eyed fawns in mind when he wrote: ‘Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote/ The droghte of March hath perced to the roote …’ in the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales but he summed up neatly the gentle little showers that are supposed to fall in April. It was probably those that Robert Browning had in mind when, in Home Thoughts from Abroad, he wished he was in England ‘now that April’s there’.

April in schools often brings the start of the summer term with the delicious thought of the ‘long summer hols’ to come. Fortunately for the sanity of teachers, April 1st is fleetingly brief and doesn’t always fall on a school day but most people can probably recall an April Fool’s trick perpetrated successfully on schoolchums. Sadly, it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t get recorded in the annals.

One particularly famous hoax, however, albeit not in a school, was the spaghetti tree Panorama report on April 1st 1957. Ignoring the ‘rule’ that tricks played after 12 midday don’t count, the television programme broadcast a spoof report from the Swiss canton of Ticino about harvesting spaghetti. Of course, at the time, this was not a dish many had tried at home. It wouldn’t work today!

“The last two weeks of March are an anxious time for the spaghetti farmer. There’s always the chance of a late frost which, while not entirely ruining the crop, generally impairs the flavour and makes it difficult to obtain top prices.”

The report was given greater authenticity with a discussion about the horrors inflicted on the crop by the spaghetti weevil – a dastardly little blighter which had wreaked havoc on crops in the past. Richard Dimbleby, who fronted the report, lent gravitas to the spoof which probably caused more viewers to be fooled than might otherwise have been, such was his authority. He concluded his report by declaring that ‘there’s nothing like real homegrown spaghetti.’ Following the programme, the BBC received many phone calls asking from where it might be possible to obtain their own spaghetti trees. The BBC gave up trying to explain and settled instead for telling them to take a sprig from an existing tree and plant it in a can of tomato paste.

And the connection to the School’s history? Well, it’s nothing if not contrived! Let us jump back in time a little to a young girl born just before the turn of the century. Marie Victoria Adams was born in 1897 and was always known in her family as Queenie. The family home at this time was 24 Selbourne Rd, then in Handsworth but now classed as Birmingham.

Adams home
Selbourne Rd, Handsworth

24 Selbourne Rd, courtesy of Google Earth Street View

After her father, a brass nail manufacturer in Birmingham, died, Queenie became a pupil at RMIG. We know she left the School in 1913 and, on average, pupils stayed for about 5-6 years so she probably arrived in about 1907. Unlike the school leaving age in National schools (which was 12-14), RMIG has always had a minimum leaving age of 15, which often became 16 and, at Head Governess’ request, might be 17. Queenie would have been 16 in 1913.

We don’t know exactly what she did after leaving school. The only certain occupation recorded for her is in 1939 when she is given as a shorthand typist. Both shorthand and typing lessons were undertaken at the School at this time but we can’t directly link Queenie to them. Obviously she must have learned shorthand somewhere and it might have been at school.

However, there is also the tantalising reference in her family history – and here’s the connection to the April Fool stunt – “she told me that she had been a nanny in the Dimbleby household when they lived in Teddington.” (The words of a family historian who knew her.) The opportunity when Any Questions was recorded at the School to ask Jonathan Dimbleby if he could confirm this was too great to resist. He could not recall Queenie but her family historian was unsure whether it was before or after Queenie’s marriage: i.e. before 1926 or after. The mention of Teddington, where Richard Dimbleby grew up, perhaps makes it a possibility that it was the older Dimbleby generation rather than the younger. Between 1913 and 1926 we have no specific trace of Queenie so perhaps she was indeed working as a nanny. Fast forward to 1932, and we can link Queenie to Teddington as she gave the address c/o Mrs Spencer Phillips, Denbigh House, Hampton Wick, in her OMGA membership. The fact that it is a ‘c/o’ address might suggest that Mrs Phillips was her employer but that is not known for certain. This house was completely rebuilt in 1936 by Mrs Phillips so the image of it may not be the same as the one Queenie knew. Today it is known as Denbigh Lodge.

Teddington
Denbigh House

So often in these pen portraits of past pupils, we know little of the personalities. We are fortunate in having a first-hand account by someone who actually knew her. Queenie, she recalled, had auburn hair, naturally wavy and thick.

“Grandma told me of the time the three girls, May, Queenie and Gran, went to the theatre and someone cut off Queenie’s plait which was hanging over the seat. Presumably they had a good price for it…”

Queenie also had a quick ear for music and played the piano – possibly something else she had learned at school although being able to play ‘by ear’ is a talent rather than a learned quality.

“Marie (Queenie to me) was my grandma’s cousin, younger by about 5 years. All the cousins seemed to have a close relationship. Queenie’s older sister May was Grandma’s best friend and eventually lived in the same road, as did Queenie’s mother and brother Ormsby (who emigrated to Canada) and Dorothy, known as Dolly, to whom Queenie was very close. They lived at 18 Windermere Rd Handsworth and Grandma lived at 25, with May eventually at 33!”

2 views of Windermere
Windermere Rd

Views of Windermere Rd, from Google Earth street view.

18 Windermere was sold last in 2011 for £132,000.

Queenie married on 23 December 1926 at West Bromwich Registry Office. Sadly the marriage did not last and it may well be that her husband, who was a widower, really just wanted a live-in housekeeper and someone to look after his children. We will never know the truth as it was something Queenie never discussed. By 1932 Queenie was [back] in Teddington and her name is recorded in OMGA membership as Adams and not under her married name. It was almost as if she wished to draw a veil over it.

In 1939 she was living at 25 Windermere Rd. During the war, despite the danger from air raids, “she wouldn’t go in the shelter, maintaining that if you looked at all the bombed houses the stairs were still there so that was her little shelter – under the stairs.”

houses bombed
Blitz damage

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-coventry-warwickshire-34746691

In the 1950s, she went to live in Antrobus Rd and had a bedsit there.

Bedsit street
Antrobus Rd

Antrobus Rd, courtesy of Google Earth Street View

“The last time I heard from her was in 1974, 5 years before she died. She was in a home [for the elderly] in Somerset Rd Handsworth, her sight was failing, she was doing a lot of baby knitting and had frequent visitors of nieces and nephews.”

Care Home
Somerset Rd

Somerset Rd courtesy of Google Earth Street View

Despite her advancing years, we still capture something of her personality in her comments: she complained about ‘dear England going to ruin with … all the nitwits in Parliament’ and she ‘just liked to think of happy times 50 years ago’.

Marie Victoria White died in Dudley Rd Hospital on 6th April 1979 aged 82. Causes of death included cardiac failure, bronchitis, emphysema and coronary atheroma – in short, a tired body simply shutting down. Our family historian correspondent said of her

“She was a lovely lady and I remember her with great affection and wish I had known more about her but when you are young you just don’t ask those sort of questions which could be so relevant today.”

We don’t know what her view of the spaghetti tree hoax was but “she had a good sense of humour”.

I bet she roared with laughter!

Panorama 1957
Spaghetti harvest

https://uk.news.yahoo.com/april-fools–day–best-april-fools-pranks-ever-160640356.html

(Quotation in title from William Hamilton Gibson was an American illustrator, author and naturalist.)

She’s Leaving Home

In today’s boarding school world, where there is frequent leave of absence for boarders, the notion of a girl going to a boarding school and not going home again for five years must seem very strange. However, when RMIG (or the Royal Cumberland Freemasons’ School as it was then) first started it was thought important that a girl’s time at school was not interfered with at all. Parents were actively discouraged from contacting their daughters. In fact ‘visiting time’ was limited to Thursday afternoons only and, even then, by appointment. As the school was in London, anyone living outside the capital would have found it very difficult indeed to visit. If parents insisted on contacting their daughters, they might be told to take them away again and be given a bill for their education to boot. Added to this, the phrase used to note the outcome of a girl’s education was the rather chilling one of ‘How disposed of’ – which to modern ears sounds like the prelude to a murder mystery.

Once a girl left the School, she could be returned to her parents, or surviving parent, or to her Friends (i.e. whoever was acting as a guardian) or be apprenticed in some way. In the early days, this was almost invariably into domestic service rather than a trade but later it often became training for nursing or teaching, some of which training may actually have taken place at the School before further training elsewhere. Some girls did go home to parents and the parents placed them in work/training but it is remarkable how many girls left home to attend the School and never really went home again. They probably visited family but, having left the family home as children, they often went into the world of employment away from home and made their new post-school lives from there.

One such is Gwendoline Hammersley Warrillow who became eligible for a place in the School upon the death of her father (see Cheaper by the Dozen) and left the School in May 1894. The Head Governess had this to say of her:

[she] “has been a good girl and has done well generally but hardly as well as she might; consequently she has not succeeded in gaining any prize; she passed College of Preceptors exam P Class III Div II”. Library & Museum of Freemasonry GBR 1991 RMIG 1/2/2/4/1-4 A11943 – A11946

Hmm, hardly a ringing endorsement but actually better than some. Sarah Louisa Davies, the Head Governess, did not often mince her words!

Gwendoline’s story began on 3 May 1878 and she was baptised at St John’s, Hanley 27 days later.

St Johns church
Hanley St John

Image of St Johns is drawing by Neville Malkin and reproduced from an out of print book. http://www.thepotteries.org/tour/hanley/065.jpg

At this time, the Warrillows were living at Grove Lodge, Snow Hill, so named because it was originally a deep cutting with unpaved roads frequently blocked by snow in winter. Presumably the lodge was that for Grove House which was described thus:

“Grove House, altered and enlarged by Charles Meigh c. 1840 and at that time containing a fine collection of pictures, stood near the junction of Snow Hill and Bedford Road.” http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol8/pp142-154

“The main road was formerly known as Snow Hill only between the present Cutts St. and Wood Terrace and as Broad St. from Wood Terrace to Victoria Sq.; it then continued as High St. up to the junction with Marsh St.: Hargreaves, Map of Staffs. Potteries.” http://www.thepotteries.org/location/districts/howard_place.htm

A much magnified image from Thomas Hargreaves’ map of 1832 may show the lodge, although this is by no means certain.

Grove Lodge
Hargreaves’ map magnified

http://www.thepotteries.org/location/districts/howard_place.htm

A much later resident of Snow Hill – long after the Warrillows had departed – was Clarice Cliff. The image of houses in Snow Hill today perhaps reflects the quality of the housing stock once although most of these are now sub-divided (and sub-sub-divided) into flats.

Snow hill housing
Snow Hill today captured from Google Earth

Having left school, we catch up with Gwendoline in the 1901 census – in Tadcaster, Yorkshire. This is so far removed from her previous sphere as to suggest that the School played a part in placing her there as governess to the Pickering family. We don’t know that for certain of course but, however she arrived at this situation, it certainly changed her life for ever. Four years later she married the son of the family, the marriage being announced in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer of 05 September 1905.

Marriage announcement
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 05 September 1905.

The banns were read in St Mary’s, Garforth and in Stone, Staffordshire – a nod to her Staffordshire roots. Just to clarify the situation, it should be pointed out that John Herbert Pickering was some six years Gwendoline’s senior so most decidedly not one of her charges!

Six years later, the 1911 census places the couple, now with their two children, in Station Rd, Garforth. John Herbert Pickering was continuing the family business as a cattle dealer and butcher. Station Rd today has modern houses which appear to date from much later than 1911 so it seems likely that the area was redeveloped after the Pickerings had left it for pastures new. The next recorded address for the family is Coney Springs, Robin Hood Road, Ravenscar where, sadly, their daughter’s death was announced in 1936.

Ravenscar property
Coney Springs, Ravenscar

Captured from Google Earth

At what point the Pickerings moved from Garforth to Ravenscar is not known and they could have been elsewhere in between. It is also worth noting that death notices for both Gwendoline and John give them as ‘of Garforth and Ravenscar’, rather as if they possibly lived in both places.

Ravenscar is in itself an interesting place.

“Standing on the fringes of the rugged North Yorkshire Moors and perched on the top of 600 foot high cliffs overlooking the North Sea sits the village of Ravenscar, the ‘town that never was’, or the Victorian dream that failed.” https://antonyjwaller.wordpress.com/travel-articles/yorkshire-and-northern-england/peak-the-yorkshire-town-that-never-was/

In the heyday of Victorian railways, the idea of developing a seaside town, purpose-built to be served by a new railway line, where not only holiday makers would flock but so too would hordes of people clamouring to buy one of the 1500 plots made available and having a house built. Unfortunately, it was one of those ideas that looks good on the drawing board or on a flat map but which never quite takes in the reality of the geography. A place with stunning sea views it may be but there is the small matter of a 600 foot cliff separating this ideal location from the shoreline – which was not even a sandy beach anyway.

Ravenscar cliffs
Map of Ravenscar 1937

The map above shows clearly the steepness of the cliffs. This is from FindMyPast showing where the Pickerings lived in 1939 (although mistakenly interpreted as Casey Springs).

“Access by train proved to be difficult with trains often struggling to overcome the steep gradient of the newly built line. With Ravenscar’s exposed cliff top location often at the mercy of the wind and rain, a rocky shoreline hundreds of feet below with difficult access and no proper sandy beach this particular Victorian ‘new seaside town’ failed.” https://antonyjwaller.wordpress.com/travel-articles/yorkshire-and-northern-england/peak-the-yorkshire-town-that-never-was/

Instead of Ravenscar becoming a thriving seaside destination to rival Whitby or Scarborough (between which two places it lies), it remains today something of a ghost town with roads laid out and a station platform built to offload the hordes of trippers who never arrived and a few scattered houses. Two of these, Coney Springs and Broom Rise, were occupied in turn by the Pickerings. In the 1950s, Broom Rise was their given address. Ravenscar still has stunning sea views as shown in this picture from Antony Waller’s blog.

views across the bay
Sea views from Ravenscar

The station closed in 1965 and the tracks have since been lifted although the ‘up’ platform is still there.

2 period station
Images from http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/r/ravenscar/

The death notices referred to above show that, at the end of their lives, both Gwendoline and John died in Leeds. The address, Weetwood Lane, was the home of their son. They died just a year apart with John being described as a dearly loved husband in the newspaper’s announcement. Both of them left their estates to their remaining child, Thomas Warrillow Pickering, who was continuing the family business of being a butcher. Perhaps following the death of his father or perhaps because his mother was aging and he was concerned about her living in a relatively remote place where neighbours were probably at least a field away, Thomas may have insisted that his mother come to Leeds. We are not party to that discussion. The fact remains, however, that the following year when Gwendoline died in St James’ Hospital (‘Jimmy’s’), her address was given as Weetwood Lane. So, even in her death, Gwendoline Hammersley Pickering, nee Warrillow had ‘left home’. Her burial place is not given in the public records but as her daughter and her husband were both buried in Ravenscar parish church, it seem likely that Gwendoline was too.

Ravenscar church
St Hilda’s, Ravenscar

http://s0.geograph.org.uk/geophotos/01/54/71/1547151_a3f53863.jpg

My thanks in this posting and the last to SuBar who, to mimic the old Heineken ad, reaches parts of the research others can’t reach!