The Redoubtable Miss D

A significant chunk of the nineteenth century history of the School came under the leadership of Miss Sarah Louisa Davis. Appointed in 1862 and retiring in 1896, she led the School for 34 years. In her stature as a Head Governess, it is hard to comprehend that when appointed she was barely 21 years of age. At a time when there was little formal training for teachers and most of the teaching staff (at the School and indeed elsewhere) learned their craft at the chalk-face, so to speak, Sarah Louisa Davis was the nearest to a professional appointment for several decades. Indeed, The Morning Post in 1894 reported these comments from the Anniversary Festival:

From the inception of the School, the education of the girls was in the care of the Matron and this was deemed to be sufficient.

Original advertisement for the matron in the classified ads section of World on Oct 10th 1788

As the numbers on roll increased, the matron was assisted by pupil teachers but as they would have been only 15 years old, their experience of the world was somewhat limited. However, girls’ education was beginning to develop. In 1847, Queen’s College ‘became a pioneer in the field of women’s education and emancipation.’ (Wikipedia) At a similar time, moves to extend the education of RMIG girls by introducing French and Music were initially rejected (1848) but it was the beginning of the beginning of educational improvement. Its direct descendant, as it were, was the appointment of Miss Davis who, almost immediately introduced French and drawing classes.

Time to introduce a more personal note into our biography of Miss D. She was born in Hackney, in the rather delightfully named Paradise Fields, the middle of three daughters born to James and Sarah Jane Davis. Her first public appearance was the 1841 census where she is recorded as an unnamed baby aged 2 weeks. This would give her a birthdate of about May 24th as the census took place on June 6th. Her father was a schoolmaster, and if ever it were a case of ‘being in the genes’, it is with this family. Not only was father a schoolmaster but daughters No 1 and No 2 both became Headmistresses. The career of daughter No 3 is unknown as she ‘disappears’ for over 70 years after the 1861 census, apart from a brief reference in 1876 at her son’s baptism – in Russia!  Why she was there we may never know but it must certainly have introduced an air of exoticism into the family.

In 1851, Sarah Louisa and Esther are pupils in Hackney.

‘The New Gravel Pit Hackney Chapel School, founded in the 1790s, was considered highly benevolent and caring by the local community in its dealings with its pupils…’

By 1861, Sarah was an assistant mistress at

1861 census title page

Founded in 1813, it operated on very similar principles to RMIG. Its mission was ‘to afford maintenance, instruction and clothing to destitute orphans of both sexes, and to put them out in situations where they may have the prospect of an honest livelihood’

So her move to the Royal Masonic Institute for Girls the following year would been a geographical shift but a very familiar situation. It is not known how she was selected for her new role. It is possible she was recommended by the Headmaster of the Asylum as Miss Davis, in her turn, recommended many pupils for advancement. But a Head Governess she became and was catapulted into senior leadership above the Matron (Eliza Waterman Jarwood, some 30 years her senior) and the two assistant mistresses, Frances Souter (b 1833) and Mary Ann Kernot (b 1837). Frances is a governess in another London school in 1881, so Sarah Louisa’s appointment may well have arisen from a vacancy when Miss Souter moved on.

Sarah Louisa Davis

This official portrait of Miss Davis is undated but is surely a portrait of a woman in her prime and could perhaps be from about 1880. However, given her elevated status at the age of 21, it is hard to be exact about what her prime might be.

A group photo taken in 1886 shows the teaching staff of that time.

As is to be expected, the Head Governess is at the centre of the group.

Of greater insight into Miss Davis herself are her own words as she wrote a monthly report for the school governorship and we can ‘hear’ her voice in what she wrote.  Her summaries of the girls in her care are sometimes acerbic: she clearly did not suffer fools lightly, as the saying goes.

[The] “youngest pupil teacher, is leaving at Christmas, an uncle & aunt having offered to provide for her entirely; she has been somewhat unsettled and Miss Davis does not regret parting with her” (1887)

Two years later she wrote of another pupil teacher, Ruth, who had failed an exam she was expected to pass: “With proper application and care on her part it would not have happened as she passed last year and this time was expected to take honours”.  Miss Davis expressed “her great disappointment in the girl as she was clearly capable of the work and ought to have at least achieved a pass.” The comments suggest that the recalcitrant girl had probably had a very uncomfortable interview with Miss D as she was to be put on “probation as a pupil teacher and if she does not prove an energetic and intelligent teacher, she must leave.”

Then to ram the point home even more, Miss D proceeds to ask the Governors if they would provide as a reward a little treat for those who pass.

“They are girls who keep close to study [one can almost hear the unspoken words ‘unlike Ruth’] and … Miss Davis feels they deserve some reward.”

Of another pupil, Miss Davis did not mince her words at all.

[She] “is a girl of power & influence but unfortunately not of a nature to be of benefit to those with whom she associates. Miss Davis cannot say that she has at all been a good girl, she has always been difficult to manage, evincing a most spiteful & trying temper and instead of improving as an older girl has been lately most independent about observing the rules of the school.”

But lest we think that Miss D had just got out of bed on the wrong side the day she wrote that, the pupil of whom she was writing remained somewhat fiery all her life it would seem. In 1928, for example, she appeared in court on a libel case the upshot of which was that the judge ordered her retained in custody for two weeks as she had caused a grievance and “You have not expressed to me one word of real regret or apology for your conduct”.

At the age of 60, she had another court appearance for ‘stealing’ a parcel from a car because

Perhaps we might judge Miss D’s assessment of her rather unruly pupil a little more kindly after this!

Miss Davis’ tenure as Head Governess was only occasionally interrupted by absence. In 1883, she had an absence of six months. Such was the respect she had earned from the School governorship that £50 was granted to her in in October 1883 ‘partly to reimburse her for the heavy medical expenses incurred by her late severe illness.’ Although she clearly recovered enough to return to post with as much vigour as ever, there were other briefer absences following this, known only when her deputy signed the monthly reports. In 1895, The Graphic, an illustrated newspaper, was given access to the School and subsequently published some images amongst which was a view of Miss Davis seated in her sitting room.

Here she is shown deep in thought with her feet on a little footstool. What she was thinking about is of course unknown but it should be noted that the following year she advised the governors that she wished to retire, a resignation they were reluctant to accept but one which, perforce, they must. This is not just colourful interpretation. The Cheltenham Chronicle of 11th July 1896 carried the following item:

In 1896, Miss Davis’ salary is recorded as being £225 pa which means that she retired on full pay. If ever there was a marker of the respect she had earned it was this.

In 1901, the census records her living with her older sister Esther, also a retired Headmistress, at 52 St James Rd, Tunbridge Wells.

This image is not actually No 52 as that property on Google Earth Street view is obscured by a large hedge in front of it. However, all the houses in that vicinity appear to be the same style so this view of a property further down the street must suffice.

In 1907 news came that Sarah Louisa Davis had died, her probate being granted to her sister who herself died the following year. Miss Davis’ funeral took place at the local church but this does not have a graveyard so it is unknown where she is buried.

Kent & Sussex Courier 08 February 1907


Miss Davis’ legacy to the School was manifold. By the time of her death, two other Head Governesses had come and gone but by 1911, another was waiting in the wings (Bertha Jane Dean) who would become in her turn as esteemed as the redoubtable Miss Davis.

By Jeeves, it’s Wooster (playing Cupid!)

It is unlikely that many girls’ schools include matchmaking in their curriculum but the number of former pupils of RMSG who married a schoolfriend’s brother is legion. Perhaps the first of these was Patience Smith who later married the brother of Elizabeth Wooster. Both girls arrived at the School on October 21st 1819, two of the five pupils admitted at that time. (Another was the redoubtable Eliza Waterman Jarwood who was written about in the Matron posts.) Although Elizabeth was born in Gateshead in 1810 and Patience in London in 1809 in fact only a month separated their birthdates and when admitted to the School both had London addresses. Patience resided at 13 Holywell St, Shoreditch and Elizabeth at 5 Red Lion Court, Charterhouse Lane. 13 Holywell St still exists today (image from Google Earth) and is currently occupied by Biscuit Filmworks founded in 2000.

Holywell map
Holywell St and modern map of same

Image from Google Earth and map from

Charterhouse Lane no longer exists although part of it is now Charterhouse Street (‘Charterhouse Square area: Charterhouse Street and other streets‘, in Survey of London: Volume 46, South and East Clerkenwell, ed. Philip Temple (London, 2008), pp. 265-279. British History Online [accessed 24 December 2016].) Red Lion Court has long since gone but was probably the one described as: ’East out of Shoe Lane at No.42, in Farringdon Ward Without {Lockie, 1816-Elmes, 1831)’ although there were several Red Lion Courts in London. In 1845, Thomas Groutage, a baker, is given in a court record as residing at No 1 Little Red Lion Court Charter House Lane, Middlesex which suggests it was still in existence then.

Map Red
Contemporary map showing Red Lion Court

Patience’s father was (helpfully for research!) called John Smith; however, because he was a Freemason, it is more possible to pin him down and it seems likely to be one of two (although they could in fact be the same person), a member of the Lodge of Peace and Harmony. In one record he is given as a victualler of Long Alley, Moorfields, born in 1757. In another record, he is given as a waiter of White Horse, 32 Friday Street, perhaps not coincidentally a meeting place for the Lodge of Peace & Harmony.

Google Friday
Image cropped from Google Earth

Given that the presiding rule for admission to the School was indigence, it is feasible that the victualler had become the waiter as a downturn in his prospects. The White Horse survived until 1931 before being demolished. An application for building works there dated 1904 [‘Proposed rebuilding. Ground floor, basement, first-fourth floor plans, elevations to Friday Street.’] suggests that it was a building of a fair size.

Long Alley may have become Appold St today but later in Patience’s life, her address was given as Long Lane, Aldersgate which could be the same place.

Patience was baptised at St Leonards, Shoreditch on 26 December 1809 at 21 days old.

St Lens
Images of St Leonards

Image of church dated July 4th, 1816

Modern image St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch High Street, Hackney, London. 28 January 2006. Photographer: Fin Fahey.

We know the baptismal date of Elizabeth (11 July 1810) but not the church in Gateshead (not given in record). Her parents, John & Esther, had been married at St Magnus the Martyr in London and the combination of references [Gateshead & London] suggest that the family moved to and from the two places although this is not certain. It would certainly have been a journey and a half at that time!

Of the girls’ days at the School, we know nothing except to say that they would have resided there for the duration of their schooling (holidays were then unheard of) until they came of age to leave. In the case of Patience, this was December 23rd 1824 when she was apprenticed to William Henry White. Elizabeth stayed another month before leaving on January 20th 1825 when she was ‘returned to her mother’. The phrase suggests that her father had died and this may have been the reason for her admission to the School in the first place.

For how long Patience would have been apprenticed is uncertain although the usual period was four years. She would probably have been a domestic servant rather than learning a trade of any kind. In 1831, she married Jeremiah Challenger Wooster, a widower and brother of her schoolfriend. This suggests that the girls had remained friends after their schooldays and, indeed, Elizabeth is a witness to Patience’s marriage at ‘St Leonard Foster Lane’. Actually, this church did not physically exist as it had been destroyed in the Great Fire and not rebuilt. However the parish united with Christ Church, Greyfriars Newgate Street so this is the actual building in which the wedding took place albeit the record is still given as St Leonard’s.

St Len Foster
St Leonard Foster Lane

Image on Wikipedia taken from March 22, 1845 issue of The Illustrated London News. Copyright expired.

Image of St leonards from

A little over a year later, 3 November 1832 at St Botolph Bishopsgate, Elizabeth married Charles Helme.

St Bot times two
Double image of St Botolph

Painting by Alexander Poole Moore, 1796–moore-alexander-poole-act-1778-st-botolph-s-bishopsgate-londo-999569.htm

Image William Pearson, Old Houses on the North West Corner of the Minories and Aldgate. 1810. British Museum, Binyon 22, Crace XXIII.92. © Trustees of the British Museum. Used on

The church stood outside the medieval city walls, near the Bishop’s Gate, and its title is often written as ‘St Botolph’s without Bishopsgate’ to show that it was outside the jurisdiction of the City. The church was founded circa 1200 but the building shown dates from 1725.

Both brides continued to live in London and are found there in the 1851 census although Patience and Jeremiah had moved to Cambridgeshire by 1861. In 1841, Jeremiah (then a cabinet maker) clearly indicated where he lived in a court case of 1st February 1841:

Court case

The 1841 census then gives him as J C Wooster (but, oddly, with a wife Sarah!) as a cabinet maker in Red Lion Yard. Given the two pieces of information, it seems likely to be the right family although there are discrepancies that are unexplained.

In 1851, Patience Wooster was still in Long Lane, Aldersgate although Jeremiah, by then a Baptist minister, was at the Manor House in Swavesey. Clearly Patience was continuing to run the business in London as there were eight apprentices there in 1851. Unfortunately, one of these apprentices was ‘a bad lot’ and he was later convicted of stealing writing desks from the business. Patience was a witness in the case. In her testimony we learn that as well as residing on the premises there was also a shop in which Patience served the customers: “I generally serve in the shop” ( Clearly as well as creating writing desks, the Woosters were also selling them from the premises. Nor was this the first time the Woosters had had problems with an apprentice stealing from them. Charles Buckingham, aged 17, was found guilty in 1844 of stealing from his master, for which he received two month’s imprisonment.

The writing desks they were manufacturing were not like we might imagine of a writing desk today – a piece of freestanding furniture – but a more portable unit which would be placed on a small table to use and which had sections to store inks, pens and paper and often a lid that acted as a writing surface.

writing desks pics
Images of writing desks

Long Lane is a literal description of a street which goes from Aldersgate (A1) to Farringdon St. The map (Google Earth) shows its proximity to Charterhouse St. [The business labelled Ask for Janice, in case you were wondering, is a restaurant!] Today the original Georgian buildings are mostly above commercial premises.

Long Lane
Google Earth map of Long Lane today

Jeremiah and Patience were together in Swavesey, Cambs in 1861. The address was given as High St but later as Middle Watch. In fact one becomes the other so it is possible that it was always the same address. The issue is further clouded by the fact that it would appear that Swavesey Baptists were a schismatic group, branching off and reforming so it is unclear whether Jeremiah was minister of the Bethel Chapel or with the Particular Baptist movement or the Baptist Unitarian. There were two Baptist Chapels and both were in Middle Watch!

Middle Watch from Google Earth street view

The image above shows the type of property likely to have been there at the time. Much of the area is now more modern houses with a few scattered older properties of which this is one. Jeremiah died in 1872 but Patience continued to live in Swavesey for the rest of her life. She died in 1893.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, remained in London. In 1851, the census places her at 49 Aldersgate St – this is now very short and blends into St Martin le Grand; it has no old properties and even the London City Presbyterian Church there is post war. She was still at the same address in 1861 but after her husband died in 1866, she went to live with her daughter at 8 St Paul’s Place, St Paul’s Rd, Canonbury where she appears in the 1871 census.

paul place
8 St Paul’s Place from Google Earth street view

She died on 16 March 1879, her probate recording that she was late of St Paul’s Place but that she had died at 61 Albion Rd, Stoke Newington. Possibly this was the residence of another of her children.

albion today
61 Albion Rd from Google Earth street view

Thus a fifty year friendship came to a natural end: two little schoolgirls, sisters in law and both then widows, whose lives were entwined from at least 1819, the one playing cupid for the other. Perhaps the motto of Swavesey village is a fitting descriptor of their relationship: Steadfast in Work and Play.

Long Service

Recently tributes have been paid to one of the School’s long-serving housemistresses who had died aged 90. But she was by no means the first member of staff to have a long working association with the School. The School’s history is littered with examples of them. This particular lady put in 32 years (and then continued her association post-retirement) which seems even more impressive when you consider she was in her forties when she began at the School.

Coming in at 33 years, however, we need to go back to the nineteenth century with the first appointed Head Governess in 1862, Sarah Louisa Davis, who informed the governing body in 1895 that she wished to retire. They were most reluctant to accept her wishes but awarded her a pension that equalled her salary at the time. How glorious to retire on full pay!

2 imp people
Eliza W Jarwood & Sarah L Davis

In office during Miss Davis’ tenure was the Matron Eliza Waterman Jarwood. Her length of service is trickier to calculate because she had been a former pupil who became a member of staff. Many of the staff then were former pupils. Indeed in 1934, when the School moved to its current site, all the staff barring one had been former pupils. Miss Davis was one of the exceptions in being an external appointment. In one sense, Eliza’s length of service totalled 68 years because she arrived as a little girl of 9 and never left. She died in 1886, still in post.

The focus of this posting, however, is an earlier Matron who, like Miss Davis, was an external appointee. The above mentioned Eliza served under both matrons. Frances Crook was appointed as Assistant Matron in 1802. This may – or may not! – have resulted in the Great Rebellion as she did seem to be a fairly tough cookie whereas the Matron at the time was perhaps a more gentle soul. Reading between lines is always tricky but it would appear the two women did not really get on. Both probably thought her way was the best. The girls, as any schoolgirls before or since, took full advantage and probably played one off against the other. Whatever the real truth, both women were deemed to be at fault. Rebellion quelled, they continued to work together for another five years although perhaps amicable is not the best word to describe their working relationship. In 1807 the Matron died and Frances Crook was appointed in her place.

Her tenure saw the School through a period of four different monarchs: George III, George IV, William IV and Victoria.

Four Monarchs

She must have offered a degree of stability to her charges during this period and at a time in their lives which was uncertain. Many of the girls were minus one parent and sometimes both and the School was their home. Although its roll was growing, by 1841 (the first census where the information was published) it still only had 55 pupils and 6 staff. One of these was the Eliza mentioned above and another was her sister Sarah!

article 1
The Morning Post March 26, 1852

On March 25 1852, presenting her what was described as ‘elegantly emblazoned testimonial’, the School honoured Mrs Crook’s service, albeit described here in somewhat purple prose:

The Morning Post March 26, 1852

Amongst other attributes, it was said that “she has never been absent from the school twenty-four hours at one time.” (The Era, March 28 1852)

The Era March 28, 1852

Such ceremonies tend to stray into the sentimental – how could they not? – and the Victorians loved a good wallow in sentimentality. The Era’s almost verbatim report demonstrates the kind of expressions which to modern eyes seem rather too gushing but which were nevertheless heartfelt at the time.

The Era March 28, 1852

The ceremony concluded with something the children had probably looked forward to most of all: “[They] were regaled with cakes, fruits &c … [and] were to be allowed to amuse themselves with singing and dancing in the evening.” (The Era)

Mrs Frances Crook

The date of this portrait is uncertain but it is feasible that it was painted to commemorate her 50th jubilee. Of course it would not at all have been the done thing to refer to Mrs Crook’s age throughout all the praise being heaped on her although perhaps the references to the ‘remnant of her days’ may hint that she was beginning to look a little elderly. In the 1841 census, Frances declared herself to be 50 and she added ten years to that in 1851 but neither of these was at all accurate! She would have been 11 when appointed as Assistant Matron if they had been. Sadly, the earnest wish that ‘the day when she should be taken from amongst them might be far distant’ was never likely to be the case. Appointed as Matron on July 30 1807, her age declaration in census returns was never anything more than a ‘mind your own business’ response but when she died in 1854, it was finally revealed that she was 78. It was also never clear whether her title ‘Mrs’ was honorary or not. She was never referred to any differently but she would have joined the School at the age of 26 which would have made her a young widow if she had been married.

The Era October 22, 1854

Described as ‘zealous and energetic’ in life, there can be little doubt that she was a revered character who took great pride in her girls and appeared to be held in genuine affection by them. She died on 15th October 1854, described unflatteringly as ‘An Aged Matron’ by the Daily News, apparently of some unspecified illness that she had suffered from for some time: she had “long been subjected to a painful disease” declared The Era. At the same time it also stated that she had died after a few hours of illness and there is a fleeting reference more than half a century later of a former pupil of the time declaring that Mrs Crook had died from a cholera outbreak and that a pupil had also died of it at the same time. Neither source is medically sound enough to draw a definitive conclusion so we must just settle for the fact that she had died.

The Era October 22, 1854

The Era’s guess (“Miss Jarwood … will most probably be the successor”) was exactly right. Eliza Jarwood was appointed as Matron and was another long-serving matron but then she’d already done 25 years before her elevation to matronhood. And her successor, Florence Mason, put in at least 35 years before retirement. In fact, there have been so many that any service less than twenty years is almost regarded as fleeting! Think of all the column inches that it would take if newspaper articles were as lengthy today as they were then …