CQD and RMIG

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

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

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

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

http://www.godalmingmuseum.org.uk/index.php?page=jack-phillips-and-the-titanic

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

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

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

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

17 April 1912 – Western Daily Mercury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the year after that!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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