The final two of the first pupils had the furthest to travel when they left home for Somers Town (via Pall Mall where they were foregathering). Mary Ann Woolveridge and Ann Kane both came from south of the Thames. And this at a time when bridges were few and far between.
Mary Ann’s home was given in the Morning Post as Melliore Street, Maize – a somewhat less accurate rendition of Melior St, Maze but, either way, in Southwark.
Daughter of William and Mary Woolveridge, Mary Ann was baptised in 1787, not in Southwark at all, but in Bethnal Green, which record confirms her birthdate.
Quite why she was baptised considerably after her birthdate and in a place some distance away from her home address is a mystery we may never solve. Of interest is that single word ‘Pauper’, which tells its own story.
There were nine children born to her parents of whom five were born and had died before Mary Ann put in an appearance. Mary’s parents were unfortunate to lose so many children and of the remaining four, two others did not make it to the nineteenth century which was, metaphorically speaking, only just around the corner when they arrived in the world. Mrs Woolveridge’s father had the interesting forename Reason which may hint at a non-conformist background and two of Mary Ann’s brothers also carried the name but neither for any great length of time.
William, a carpenter, died in 1797 and was buried in St Matthew, Bethnal Green. Clearly this church featured heavily in the lives of the Woolveridges but Mary Woolveridge nee Palmer was born in Southwark so perhaps, somehow, they managed to keep ties with both areas. Whatever the truth, Mary Ann was clearly living in Melior St in 1789.
After Mary Ann joined the School, we hear nothing further until April 1794 when the Committee received a letter from Mrs Woolveridge requesting that her daughter be allowed to leave school six months earlier than expected. This was to assist her mother in running a school. The Committee’s response was starchy:
…no child should be permitted to be taken out of the school by her parents until the expiration of her time … unless such Parent shall pay for her Board, Cloathing &c from the time of her being admitted until the time of her being taken out.
Girls were there for the full whack or not at all. Whilst this might seem a little harsh for modern taste, it should be remembered that the board, clothing and education were provided at absolutely no cost to the family and the Committee was anxious not to be taken advantage of. We must assume that Mary Ann stayed for the remaining time and then went home. The Book of Governors in 1818 simply states that she was returned to her parents without specifying whether that was in April or October 1794. Sadly, that is the last we hear of Mary Ann as no further trace of her has yet been found. There is a possible marriage in 1823 but she would have been 44 years old so that may be straw-clutching time.
We can find far more about Melior St itself than we can about one of its inhabitants. It was named for Melior May Weston, a local 18th century property owner, who died in 1782.
Rocque’s map of 1746 shows the beginning of development in the area and, interestingly given Mary Ann’s grandfather’s forename (Reason), has a building labelled Meeting House (although there are no other documents relating to it) which ‘suggests that there was a Quaker Meeting House in the site at this time’ (planbuild.southwark.gov.uk/documents/ 4 Sep 2013) .
Maze Manor, after which the area took its name, had been in the Weston family since about 1623.
‘The site of the manor is marked by Weston Street, Weston Place, Melior Street, Great Maze Pond and Maze Pond (VCH Surrey iv, p 141–151). The manor … was inherited by John Webbe, a distant relative, who took on the Weston name (www.jwhistory.org.uk/sutton.html). Melior Street, John Street, and Webb Street (now under the railway) all date to this period.’ Ibid.
At the time that Mary Ann was in residence, there were some houses there ‘small terraced houses, without individual gardens … The remainder of the site is open ground at this time, probably in use as a communal garden or yard, possibly with small-scale industrial activities taking place.’ Ibid
A hundred years later, and well beyond the remit of this article, the area is much developed and what was open land has been built on and garden walls put up.
Even further beyond remit, there was war damage inflicted on Melior St: ‘five of the 18th century buildings facing onto Melior Street suffered serious damage’
John Webbe-Weston, who inherited the land from Melior Weston, erected a marble tablet to her memory in Holy Trinity Church, Guildford where she is buried. Mary Ann Woolveridge has no memorial tablet that we know of so this post, and some history of Melior St in Southwark, must suffice instead.
Ann Kane, the other Southwark girl, was also baptised significantly later than her birth. She was baptised in St Giles in the Fields in October 1788 (possibly in preparation for her admission as a candidate) but was born in November 1780.
The Morning Post gives her address as No 2 Lant St, Borough whilst the Rough Minute Book tells us that her application for a place was supported by Mr Peter Reilly. Her time at the school was uneventful but there seems to have been some difficulty in finding her a position as she approached the end of her time at school. Despite her mother, Susannah, declaring that she was not in a positon to take her daughter back, she was nevertheless instructed to come and take her away. The fact that it was her mother the Committee were dealing with implies that the father (Thomas) had since died although, like his daughter, there are scant records to be found. Even his lodge record (Fortitude) gives only his name and no occupation or address as with other lodge members. Did somebody mention conspiracy? At the last moment a position for Ann was found and in January 1796 she was apprenticed to Samuel Higgins of Red Lyon St, Clerkenwell, a pocket book maker. This was probably what today we call wallets. It is likely that Ann would have been employed in a domestic capacity. It wasn’t all plain sailing however as, in June 1797, Mrs Higgins appeared before the Committee complaining that Ann had absconded four times. After closer questioning, it was revealed that each of these followed a few days after a visit from her mother who, it was felt, was giving her daughter ‘imprudent advice’ – what a wealth of possibilities that phrase brings! The Committee took it upon themselves to tell Mrs Kane that her behaviour was not in the best interest of her daughter who, they pointed out, was well-placed in this situation ‘much better than might be expected from one of her Child’s weak intellects’.
What happened next is a cliffhanger with no following chapter because there is no further information of any kind. Let us hope that the Ann Kane found in the Australia Convict Ship Muster Rolls 1790-1849 as arriving there in 1806 on the Tellicherry, convicted as a vagrant and transported for 7 years, is not our [wo]man. Rather, instead, that the Ann Kane who married in 1811 in St Marylebone (she would have been 31 years old) might be her. Mind you, she married a Mr Smith so if she was hard to find before, she is impossible afterwards!
This is not the Tellicherry but her sister ship William Pitt which arrived the same year.
Lant St, on the other hand, is much easier to research and brings the ghost of Charles Dickens back to the School’s history. (It is remarkable how often he features in the school’s history!)
Not far from Lant St is St George the Martyr church which was used by the School during its residence in Southwark. This is the church at which Dickens has Little Dorrit marry. The Marshalsea debtors’ prison, which also features in Little Dorrit, was located to the north of one end of Lant Street. This was also a spectre in Dickens’ own life as his father was incarcerated there, during which time Dickens lodged in Lant St and worked at the blacking factory.
The image above is a somewhat romanticised one suggesting pretty little cottages. In fact Lant St was part of one of London’s many notorious slum areas. ‘It is located in the area known as ‘the Mint’, which in the nineteenth century was notorious for its poor, overcrowded and insanitary conditions, as well as for crime and disorder.‘ http://www.history-pieces.co.uk/Docs/Lant_Street_1851.pdf
A modern novelist describing Lant St had this to say:
“We were all more or less thieves, at Lant Street. But we were that kind of thief that rather eased the dodgy deed along, than did it…it was a very dull day with us, when no-one came to Mr Ibbs’s shop with a bag or a packet in the lining of his coat, in his hat, in his sleeve or stocking.” Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.
Whilst this is fiction, it is intended as a realistic portrayal of the street in the C19th.
The skeleton of another Lant St girl from even further back in time (fourth century) was one of four skeletons sent to McMasters University in Canada for an in-depth study of DNA. Nicknamed the Lant St teenager, this study enabled the researchers to discover that she had blue eyes and blonde hair; that her heritage (through her mother) was from the eastern parts of the Roman Empire; that she spent the first ten years of her life in Africa and then arrived in what was then Londinium; she had a diet of fish, grain and vegetables and that she died aged 14.
In fact, more is known about her than we know about Ann Kane. Perhaps we only need to wait another seventeen centuries to find out!