Bring me sunshine …

As the temperatures fall and the wind chill factor rises, our thoughts may turn to warmer climes and a longing to be there. A Caribbean cruise feels like a really good idea when it is wet and miserable outside. Spare a thought, then for three former pupils of the School who came from those very climes as children to be pupils at the School when it was in Clapham.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/caribbean/antigua-and-barbuda/

Eliza Beveridge had been born in Antigua on 7th July 1864 where her father was a Revenue Officer and a member of St John’s Lodge, Antigua. After his death, Eliza was accepted at the School in October 1871. That must have been a massive meteorological shock to the system – although, of course October is in the hurricane season so perhaps the deepening cold of darkest Surrey wasn’t quite so bad. (Well we can be optimistic, can’t we?)

Hurricane in Antigua; image from httpstormcarib.comreportscurrentantigua.shtml

In fact, records suggest that Eliza never returned to the Caribbean. In 1939, she was living in Worthing and was sharing her home with someone described as a ‘useful companion’. This probably means that said companion was in the employ of Eliza rather than being the opposite of useless, but we cannot be certain. Eliza was ‘of private means’ and, as she appeared to have no occupation in 1901 and 1911, perhaps she had inherited money from her mother in 1918. If she did, it must have been a substantial inheritance as, when Eliza herself died on 21 December 1956, her estate was valued at £33,000. Not a sum to be sniffed at.

“In the 1950s, the average cost of a house was just under £2000 and the average worker took home around £10 a week.” https://www.sunlife.co.uk/blogs-and-features/the-price-of-a-home-in-britain—then-and-now/

So Eliza was doing very nicely, thank you.

Another pupil who faced the Clapham temperature drop was Bessie Crombie. Born in 1907, she arrived in Britain in 1919 having been living in Demerara, then part of British Guiana.

Lithograph of Georgetown, Demerara, British Guiana, after a drawing by F. A. Goodall. Courtesy of David Druett, Pennymead.com

It is not certain where Bessie was born or how long she had been living in what is now Guyana. Her parents were married in Japan, her father being a member of the Rising Sun Lodge in Kobe and in 1905, Bessie’s mother travelled from Japan to San Francisco so it is possible that Bessie was born in the USA. Her mother’s father was an American Consul. Enoch Joyce Smithers, born in Delaware and first lieutenant of Company D in the First Regiment of Delaware Volunteers during the American Civil War.

“President Lincoln removed him from the ranks to serve as U.S. Consul at the newly created legation on Chios, a Turkish-occupied island in the Aegean Sea” http://archives.dickinson.edu/people/enoch-joyce-smithers-1828-1895

He served as American Consul in Asia, in Chinkiang, Shanghai and Tientsin (now called Tianjin). Then he became consul in Korea and Japan, with his last posting being Osaka. This may well explain how an American woman married someone hailing from Scotland in Japan before living in South America but it doesn’t get us any closer to knowing where Bessie was actually born!

Whatever her geographical background, Bessie was another one who settled for UK as her later domicile. She arrived as a pupil in 1919 and in 1922, she passed Junior Cambridge exam. She left school in December 1923 to become a writing assistant in the Civil Service and was appointed to the Savings Bank Department in November 1925. She was living in Mitcham, Surrey in 1936.

Mitcham Pond by Noel Foster, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9132439

In this year, she married Walter Stevens. In 1939, on the outbreak of war, she is found in Whitchurch without her husband. He was at the Society of Lloyds Register of Shipping in Wokingham along with a number of other Lloyds people so possibly Bessie had been moved because of the war. Later they moved to Newcastle upon Tyne and Walter died in 1974 at their home there. When Bessie died on 10 May 1991, also in Newcastle, her estate was worth considerably more than she had inherited from her husband in 1974. She may have just been a canny investor and, if so, she would have been a financial advisor worth having!

Another pupil hailing from Antigua who was a pupil at Clapham in the late nineteenth century was Edith Proudfoot. Born in 1877, she was present as a pupil in the 1891 census and was due to leave the School in 1892. The Head Governess, Miss Davies, wrote of her:

“[she] has always been a good girl and is a prefect. She is fairly clever, of good general ability and entered for Cambridge.”

The Cambridge reference here is not the university but the Cambridge Local Exams. Junior Cambridge was about the equivalent of GCSE/O level and Senior Cambridge was A level. As Edith was 14, it seems likely that she would have been doing Junior Cambridge at this time. Miss Davies recommended her as a pupil teacher – “she is competent to assist in either class work or music” and added that she had taken prizes for music in her school career. Clearly, the recommendation was successful as Edith was at the School as a pupil teacher until 1894 and had moved from junior teaching to take the 3rd class and assist with music.

This perhaps suggests that she had been reasonably successful as a pupil teacher. However, in October 1895, Miss Davies, in her report to the Committee, “wished to raise the matter of Miss Edith Proudfoot, one of the pupil teachers.” In the slightly veiled way these reports were worded, Miss Davies reminded the Committee that Edith had come from Antigua and said she was “anxious to return her thence fit to earn her living” which rather suggests that Miss Davies thought that Edith might be able to earn her living as a governess, just not in my school thank you. Clearly Edith’s mother was still living in Antigua and, Miss Davies declared, Edith “would like to return to the West Indies to be with her mother but has not the means to do so.” Miss Davies left it to the Committee to decide what should be done.

Whether Edith did return to the West Indies at the Committee’s expense is not known. She may have done and then returned to UK again. In 1901, however, she is in London described as ‘Lady Help’ but as a visitor to the Jay household at 11 Taviton Street, St Pancras (rather than in their employ).

Sadly, this story does not end happily. In 1911, the census records her as an inmate at London County Lunatic Asylum Hanwell, described as a clerk.

http://www.victorianlondon.org/health/hanwell.htm

In 1939, she is recorded as a patient at Epsom West Park Hospital, still given as a clerk. The hospital “was built for patients with mental health problems from the urban metropolis of London and was intended both as a place of tranquillity and confinement.” (Neil Bowdler http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-14652885) It was demolished in 2011.

An Edith L Proudfoot died in Hammersmith in 1950 although the birth year is given as 1879 so there isn’t certainty whether this is the same person. If this is her death record, it might suggest that she did not end her days in the asylum. Nor is there evidence to suggest that she required care continuously from 1911. We can only say that in both 1911 and 1939 she was receiving mental health care.

Our final Caribbean connection relates to one born in England but who went to live in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Sadie Wallis nee Mansfield, b 1903, arrived at the School from Derbyshire in 1912. She left July 1920 and became a pupil teacher in Nottinghamshire, qualifying in 1923, and obtaining a post in an elementary school in Nottingham. In 1927, she married Kenneth Wallis and in February 1929 travelled to Port of Spain with him.

In 1930, part of a letter from her written from Trinidad and describing her life there was reprinted in Machio.

“Life out here is very different. There are very few English people, mostly those in Government Service … [her husband was a government analyst and the address she wrote from was c/o Government Laboratory.]

‘Port of Spain is a wonderful town. The houses and streets very well planned; the roads, of which there are few owing to the thickly wooded, mountainous interior of the island, are first class roads kept in perfect condition with material from the famous pitch-lake. The drainage system and water supply are modern, thus it is very healthy. Cases of typhoid are rare in town, there are very few mosquitoes and no anopheles, the type which causes malaria … The sunshine is just glorious, and in the middle of the day, when it is really very hot, everyone is resting.

‘The island is very, very beautiful … At sunset we often climb one of the hills, which begin to rise quickly behind the town, and watch the exquisite colouring of the quickly-changing sky. The coastline is wonderful, in some places where the hills almost reach the seas, it is wild and rugged, in other parts … little picturesque bays of silvery sand … are fringed with palms leaning towards the very blue tropical sea. The bathing in these sandy bays is really beautiful. Just off the coast near Port of Spain are a number of tiny wooded islands … One can rent a whole island at very little cost and spend a delightful simple holiday. The swimming, fishing and boating is splendid.”

She was still there in 1933 but in 1934, she travelled to Guiana with her daughter. A son was born in 1937, probably in Guiana where they were then living. Sadly, this story, too, doesn’t have a happy ending. In 1943, the Wallises were travelling en famille across the Atlantic where Kenneth was to take up a new post in Uganda. The ship they were travelling on was torpedoed and sunk with the loss of all of the family. Sadie is commemorated in the School Chapel.

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Set in Stone

Researching the past pupils of the School endlessly uncovers interesting stories – only to be expected given the large numbers we are considering from 1788 onwards. Recently, I discovered that the father of Celia Bentham (1927-1963, at school 1937-1944) was Percy George Bentham, a sculptor of renown who studied at the Royal Academy.

“In 1907 Bentham was awarded a first prize of £20 and a silver medal, for a set of four models of a figure from the life” http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php

And perhaps on the strength of this success, he married Celia’s mother in 1909 at St Matthew, Willesden. In 1911, the couple are recorded at 13 and 15 Crownhill Road Harlesden, with Ellen Bentham’s brother as Head of Household. Perhaps at this stage, Bentham’s income as an artist was not yet sufficient to run a separate household. Later, however, he worked from a studio at 8A Gunter Grove, off the Fulham Road. (information from ‘Percy George Bentham, Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011’)

Amongst other works by Bentham are a stone relief on the Leadenhall building in London on premises once occupied by the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company, usually shortened to P & O. This piece shows a godlike figure carrying a ship and the ‘Public Monuments & Sculpture Association website suggests that the sculptor was Percy George Bentham (1883-1936)’

http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/behind-the-scenes/blog

Another of his pieces is entitled the Bubble Blower, a wonderful evocation of an innocent childhood pastime. (Image courtesy of https://www.the-saleroom.com)

As well as her father being a sculptor, Celia’s brother, Philip, also became a sculptor. Born in 1913, Philip studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and also at Kennington School of Woodworking but he began his work training with his father.

One of his pieces is entitled the ‘Coventry Boy’. The description of the sculpture on the Coventry Society website tells us that ‘this boy has no name but represents all boys of all time’. Situated near the Cathedral, the statue

“is a model of a young man standing holding up a roll of paper in a heroic pose like a king or knight holding aloft a sword. But this is no ordinary piece of paper; this is his ‘Apprenticeship Certificate’. He has passed the City and Guilds Exam and now can become a member of the Coventry Freeman’s Guild; this is his ticket to a new and better way of life.

You will see on the statue he has only one shoe; this shows he came from a poor background but by … learning an engineering trade he can hold his head high. You can tell he is an engineer because in his other hand he has a spanner which is embedded in the factory. You can see on his other foot he has a shoe, again to show he has bettered himself. He has a tie because he has reached the pinnacle of respectability and if he is a ‘Tool Maker’ he is the engineer everyone looks up to because he has learned how to make the tools that make the tools that industrial engineering is based on.” http://www.coventrysociety.org.uk/public-art-in-coventry/coventry-boy-statue.html

In one of those odd twists, when Alfred Harris of the Coventry Boy Foundation, who commissioned the work, visited Philip Bentham ’s studio, he saw there the plaster sculpture entitled ‘Fisherman and Nymph’ which Percy George Bentham had exhibited in 1922 at the Royal Academy. In a sort of Gillette move [‘I liked it so much I bought the company’] Harris got the Foundry to cast it in bronze and then presented it to the City Council to be put on a small island in the lake at Coombe Abbey Country Park in 1968. Pictured below is the statue in its place in the park and (inset) a closer view.

 

So Coventry is a two Bentham city.

Another sculptor indirectly linked to the School is Charles John Collings who married a former pupil, later teacher, of the School. Glorying in the appellation Melora Fogwill Goodridge, this former pupil became Mrs Collings in 1881. Her new husband was described as a stone merchant in 1891 but as a sculptor in 1901. In 1910, when the Collingses left UK for Canada, the travel documents describe him as an artist.

It is in this category he is more widely known, producing the most exquisite watercolour paintings.

Images from http://www.artnet.com/artists/charles-john-collings/past-auction-results & http://www.maltwood.uvic.ca/k_maltwood/history/cjcollings.html

The family settled in Shuswap, British Columbia where they built their own house which still stands today. (Top is the house now; bottom, the house partly finished in the winter of 1910; Image in 1910 courtesy of the Kamloops Museum and Archives. http://shuswappassion.ca/history/shuswaps-most-famous-artist-deserves-more-recognition/%5D

 

But whereas Bentham pere et fils and Charles John Collings are sculptor/artists connected to the School by courtesy of former pupils, it is time now to turn to former pupils who themselves practised the art of sculpture. Christine Cooper nee Duncan, pupil c1912-1918, later founded the school magazine, Machio, in 1924. It is fitting, therefore, that in Machio 1958, we learn that she had exhibited a sculpture in the summer exhibition of the Society of Women Artists, Royal Institution Galleries, Piccadilly. Not a sculptor by profession but an English teacher, her artistic endeavours are perhaps the more creditable for that.

Juanita Homan, nee Page, who is a professional artist, left the school in 1948 and went to Kingston School of Art. From there, she left to study sculpture in Paris with Ossip Zadkine a Russian who lived in France from 1910. Perhaps Zadkine’s style, influenced by cubism (left), is reflected in the piece of Juanita’s work we see here (right).

On her return to UK, Juanita studied at the Camberwell School of Art, the Sir John Cass School of Art and, when her children were older, she attended Goldsmiths to read for an honours degree in Art & Design.

Sculpture as an art form is not readily practised as a school subject for obvious reasons. Manhandling a great lump of stone into the School art department for students to hack about – sorry, craft into an art form – is unlikely to be high on a priority list. However, many long-established schools have statuary of various kinds that might be studied by art students. A recent post looked at the work of Joseph Cribb that can be found at the School but the one we turn to now connects not only with the school’s history but with the time of year: Hallowe’en.

The statue of the Institutor, Ruspini, was crafted by an unknown hand. At least, it is unknown now although presumably not unknown at the time. Unfortunately, nobody at the School thought to make a note of the sculptor’s name (but see footnote).

It was originally placed on the gable of the Centenary Hall at Clapham and it became a thing of derring-do for the older girls to scramble about in the rafters and reach out and pat him on the head before they finally left the School. Naturally the School forbade such dangerous activities although if they had used a kind of reverse psychology, it might have been better to make it compulsory under supervision. That would have killed it off completely. Once something is legit., it loses all desirability as an act of (minor) rebellion.

The stone plinth under the statue’s feet today records that the figure had originally been at Clapham Junction.

Only the lodges at the two gates of the school at Clapham remain as the rest was demolished by the Peabody Trust who had bought the site after the School had moved on. However, the statue and the foundation stones of (probably) the Alexandra Wing built in 1888 were preserved and moved to Rickmansworth to be integrated into the new school. As the school had to be made ready for the girls long before the Clapham site was demolished, the items could not be fully integrated and, instead, were placed at the eastern exterior wall of the Chapel. There is little chance of the girls wanting to scramble up and pat him on the head as there is nothing to scramble up on. They would have to bring ladders and either commit the act in daylight or use torches. This kind of spoils the illicit quality especially given that originally the Headmistress and the Matron both had their living quarters with a clear view of the Chapel! Long before foot could be set upon rung, there would have been the authoritative tone of enquiry (“And just what do you think you are doing?”) that sets all schoolchildren’s hearts quailing. So Ruspini’s coiffure has remained untouched by hand since 1933.

But his face has not fared so well. Exposure to wind and rain resulted in damage to the lower part of his face requiring some genioplastic surgery. Not, in this case, by a plastic surgeon: more courtesy of a bucket of mortar. His chin had to be remodelled with some judicious concrete resulting in a somewhat larger lower jaw than he had originally – in stone as well as in life.

This composite image of the face before and after the remodelling may give an idea of the change.

In his niche, Ruspini leans on one leg with the other projecting forward. He holds a scroll perhaps representing the first rules drawn up or perhaps because the unknown sculptor liked doing them. His eighteenth century costume gives him a resplendent bearing and he looks as if he is about to step down to speak to us. (Probably to say what he thinks of the face remodelling!)

Perhaps this is what gave rise to a little story, told in darkened dorms by some little girls to frighten other little girls into squealing with horror. It was said that, if you watched the statue at midnight on Hallowe’en, he changed legs. Instead of resting on his left leg with his right leg forward, it was his left leg that projected. A daft little story, easily dismissed as every photograph of the statue shows, quite clearly, the same leading leg.

Until one image was found with the other leg leading …

Cue squeals.

Needless to say, the cause of this was the fact that the slide image of the statue being viewed was simply being viewed from the wrong side! Although it does make you wonder about the expression ‘no stone unturned’.

Footnote

Subsequent to this being written, the information was supplied that the sculptor of the Chevalier statue was Edwin Roscoe Mullins who had studied at both the Lambeth School of Art and the Royal Academy. Born in 1848, for the last decade of his life he was in poor health and died in 1907. As http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/sculpture/mullins/index.html informs us, he made his professional debut in Vienna & Munich before coming to London in 1874.

“Mullins possessed considerable powers of portraiture.”  https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Mullins,_Edwin_Roscoe_(DNB12)

“The most curious of all the artist’s work is the Circus Horse which constitutes the memorial in the Brighton Cemetery to Mr. Ginnett, a notorious circus owner …” http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/sculpture/mullins/index.html

This Ginnett is the father of Louis Ginnett whose art works also adorn the School What goes around comes around?

 

 

Watch the birdie!

This familiar phrase originated when early photographers, in an attempt to engage the attention of a child subject and enable a clear photograph to be taken, would have a prop held above the camera to focus attention. “Often, these props were toy birds that would flap their wings or warble. In a time when children’s toys were simple rag dolls or marbles, such a toy would be a marvel.” http://grammarist.com/phrase/watch-the-birdie/ Given today’s advancement in technology, the “phrase watch the birdie is now usually used for comic effect” (ibid).

 

https://www.etsy.com/market/watch_the_birdie

It is not known whether this phrase, or something similar, was used in 1909 by Ethel Cossham Park to capture the attention of her friends at school but she did succeed in capturing their images which she placed in a home-made album.

 

In later years, she passed this onto another pupil, Janet Gaylor (1941-2013) and, after Janet died, it was donated to the School by her estate. Ethel (1892-1979) and Janet were technically two generations apart and their only connection was that they had both been pupils of the School. It is a wonderfully visual way of demonstrating the history of the School through its pupils.

Ethel was not the only pupil who recorded her contemporaries and whose efforts are today held in the Archives. Alice Lilian Kent (1893-1985) was a contemporary of Ethel and she too preserved her photographs in an exercise book. Unfortunately, most of these photographs have faded badly and none are identified but they do capture scenes of the school at Clapham and some girls of the period.

 

Ethel – bless her! – had the foresight to identify all her subjects so that we now have images of girls from this period, some of whom went onto greater things within the School’s history. For example, these two girls:

 

Mildred Harrop became the first headmistress of the Junior School when it became a separate establishment in 1918. In 1910 she became a student at University College, London to study for a degree in Modern Languages on a scholarship awarded by the Drapers’ Co. In 1915 she rejoined the School as assistant mistress and just three years later became Junior School headmistress, a post she remained in until 1946. The Junior School, situated in Weybridge, Surrey, was ‘evacuated’ back to the main school at the outbreak of war in 1939 and it was Mildred who kept the spirit of the Junior School alive throughout that period. A 1941 curriculum indicates that she taught Scripture, some History, Verse speaking and Reading. The Juniors having returned to Weybridge post-war, Mildred handed over the reins to Isobel Vaughan and took retirement.

Mabel Potter (although Ethel spells it Mable) was the Gold medallist of 1906. She left in 1907 but became a pupil teacher at the School until 1909. At this point she became a salaried teacher at the School and she remained with RMSG her whole career. In 1918 she is recorded as a Form Mistress of VB and in 1929 as Form Mistress of VA. (VB and VA are not explained as whoever wrote this knew exactly what was meant. It is probably one of the more senior forms with girls of about 15-16 years of age.) By 1939 she was recorded as a resident teacher of French and Latin and she had been Second Mistress (equivalent of Deputy Headteacher) to Bertha Dean from 1932. After Bertha Dean’s retirement, and Miss Calway came and went in a short space of time, swept off her feet by the School Chaplain whom she married in 1940, Mabel – ‘Little Miss Potter’ – became the Acting Headmistress until the appointment of Miss Fryer in 1941. She finally retired in 1945, just a year before her friend Mildred, and went to live in East Sussex where she continued to live until her death in 1978.

Ethel, our intrepid photographer, not only identified most of her subjects at the time but some she must have identified much later in life as the handwriting is distinctly different. It is an example of the far-reaching memory many of our Old Girls demonstrate, being able (for example) to recall all their school numbers for many decades after they had left and such numbers ceased to have meaning.

 

As the days of the selfie were far off, Ethel must have allowed one of her friends to use the camera because we have a photo she has labelled of herself. Although it is not known exactly where in school this image was taken, we can see the cream banding on the brickwork which was a part of the design of the School at Clapham. And it rather looks as if she is modelling the same fetching hat that Iona is also wearing!

 

We have no idea what kind of camera Ethel or Alice used but it seems very likely that it was the ubiquitous Box Brownie. “The Brownie camera, introduced in February 1900, invented low-cost photography by introducing the concept of the snapshot to the masses.” (Wikipedia) This was a camera developed by Eastman Kodak, invented by Frank A. Brownell, and given its name partly for its inventor and partly for the brownies in popular Palmer Cox cartoons of the time. Palmer Cox was a Canadian illustrator and author and his Brownies were “mischievous but kindhearted [sic] fairy-like sprites” (Wikipedia) which appeared in a series of humorous verse books and comic strips.

 

Images above from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownie_(camera) and https://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/a-z-photography-collection-b-is-for-brownie/

Marketed for the mass market at $1 each in USA, in Britain “it cost just 5 shillings (25p), bringing it within the reach of practically everyone. Indeed, it was so cheap that adverts had to reinforce the fact that it wasn’t a toy.”

 

from https://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/a-z-photography-collection-b-is-for-brownie/

The handbook of instructions, incidentally, ran to 44 pages – somewhat akin to modern instruction tomes that practically require a PhD in Quantum Physics to grasp exactly what it is you have to do …

Box Brownies, as a marker in the development of photography, are regarded as so important that they make it into the BBC/British Museum’s History of the World in a 100 objects. They were particularly marketed for children possibly in the same way as Hygena QA furniture (for those of us who remember it!), the first self-assembly kitchen units deemed to be so easy to construct that a child of six could do it. “The Company’s TV advertising used a little girl to demonstrate simplicity of assembly” (Wikipedia). And there were many of us who, having started some self-assembly units, longed for a handy child armed with a screwdriver to come to our rescue! But back to the Box Brownie and its ease of operating.

 

This image, dated to 1905, showing a young girl using a Box Brownie, is from https://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/a-z-photography-collection-b-is-for-brownie/ and is probably taken, somewhat ironically, by a professional photographer with a far superior camera to a Box Brownie.

The product was marketed with “the slogan, “You press the button—we do the rest.” https://www.fi.edu/history-resources/kodak-brownie-camera. However, this is not what happened in the case of Ethel Park. Astonishingly, she developed her photographs herself. In the letter she wrote to Janet Gaylor when sending her the little album, Ethel said this:

 

“I feel sure you will enjoy seeing, or trying to see the school exercise book, year 1909, most of the photos were taken & developed by me – and without a proper dark room in which to develope [sic] them; my friends & I managed the films with me in a disused flour bin with the others sitting on the lid to prevent light penetrating through the cracks & gaps caused by old age & rats!”

Perhaps Alice Kent used the same flour bin. Indeed, she may even have been one of the friends sitting on its lid whilst Ethel got to work on her photographs. If so, it is remarkable that we have two sets of photographs not only taken by young photographers but the images developed by them too. And all this before WWI. It took nearly ninety years more for photography, in its modern format, to become established as part of the School syllabus as a Sixth Form subject.

 

Alice’s photographs in her album may be fading badly, Ethel’s slightly better preserved, but both are now secured in digital format and both are a tribute to the pioneering spirit of earlier pupils.

 

(And this used to be the word ‘prunes’ – honestly! Look it up!) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Say_cheese

 

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