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…’

https://www.layersoflondon.org/map?record=9694

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’ https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/outline-of-the-london-orphan-asylum.

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.

Medalling with history

To any with knowledge of the School, the name Bertha Dean is a familiar one. To those with little or no knowledge of the history, the name may refer only to a building in the grounds – Bertha Dean House. Originally to be called Cornwallis House, this was changed before the building was complete. Whatever the thinking behind the name change remains a mystery as no-one recorded the reason and all of those involved in the decision are no longer with us.

Who was Bertha Dean? A former pupil, turned pupil teacher, turned salaried member of staff, turned Headmistress, she was one of many pupils who translated from pupil to teacher without leaving the premises. But, clearly, Bertha Jane Dean stood out from the others.

She was born on 6th January 1878 in Chichester, one of eight children born to William and Matilda and, if one inherits career tendencies from one’s parents, Bertha Dean was never going to be anything but a teacher. Her mother was a music teacher and her maternal grandparents were both teachers. Music, too, must have been a major feature as her father was a music seller and lay vicar. This last, also called a vicar choral, is a professional singer in an Anglican cathedral. One assumes, then, that this was in Chichester Cathedral.

Photo by Evgeniy Podkopaev on Wikipedia

William’s death in 1885 was the reason that Bertha came to the School in 1887. Her mother continued to run the family business selling music but it was a precarious income and the stipend from being a lay vicar would have ceased upon William’s death.

By 1894, the then Head Governess was writing of her:

in every way an exceptional girl: she has always been a particularly good girl and has long held the position of prefect. She is a girl of excellent general ability, no study of any kind comes amiss to her and she seems to excel in whatever branch she takes up.

In 1890 she took the prize for mathematics; in 1891 she passed Cambridge Junior with Class II Hons with a 1st class result in Maths and in 1894 took Cambridge Senior where she achieved a distinction in French and Music and passed Associated Board Music at the highest level with distinction.

In 1894, Sarah Louisa Davis wrote to the Committee indicating that she wanted to retain her pupil but also wanted her to attend a local public school to ‘work with older girls more advanced than herself’. There was one in Clapham and the fees, the Head Governess informed the Committee, were under £8 per term. Miss Davis put requests like these to the Committee (although they often read more as demands than requests!) and her master stroke in almost all cases was to indicate how much the School would benefit from this outlay. Allowing this extra for Bertha would mean that she would return to take up a good position on the teaching staff.

‘As it is but seldom as clever a girl in all branches is to be met with, Miss Davis asks that these special arrangements may be made.’

By January 1895, Clapham High felt that Bertha need not continue as she had covered all their syllabus by then. Bertha was then studying for ‘special subjects’ prior to her attaining her 18th birthday and being able to apply for a college. Miss Davis followed this with another of her master strokes – she knew exactly how to get the Committee on board! – as she went on to say that ‘If she returned here, the fees that would have been paid could be used to give her special tuition.’

In fact, Bertha did go on to further studies as she became the first former pupil to gain a degree. Not for her the luxury of attendance at a university though as she sat her degree as an external candidate of London University. By this stage, she was already teaching at the School. The Committee, clearly as impressed with Bertha as Miss Davis was, paid for the academic gown to which she was now entitled as Bertha Dean, B A.

This portrait, familiar from the Great Hall, shows Bertha – albeit in more mature years – wearing the gown she had earned.

In 1901, the census records her as a governess of general subjects although clearly music and maths were her specialisms. By 1911, although listed only as school teacher, her name is written immediately below the person in charge of the School at the time. There is no Head Governess listed in 1911 so Bertha’s position at the top of the list of teachers tells its own story. It hardly comes a surprise, then, to find her appointed as Head Governess in 1915.

This picture, although undated, is thought to be from about 1914, and shows Bertha Dean seated immediately next to the Head Governess of the time, the shorthand being ‘this one’s next’!

Headmistress 1915 to 1938, Bertha Dean retired to Alverstoke to live with her brother. Sadly her retirement was not lengthy as, in 1944, the School received the news that she had died.

But this post is less about her life and work and more about her medals. A box containing six medals is held by the School, some with Bertha Dean’s name engraved on them. At some point, they have been placed in the box to record something of the life of this remarkable woman.

The medals are (left to right, top row then 2nd row) Swimming badge, Gold Medal, Prefect’s badge, 1938 commemoration badge, Head Girl’s medal and commemoration badge 1927.

The silver badge was given in October 1892 for Swimming, as the obverse inscription informs us. But this award was perhaps a little eclipsed by the Gold Medal which was awarded in the same year.

Bertha Dean was 14 years old when this was awarded whereas today’s recipients of the Gold Medal are 18. Even given that the school leaving age was between 15 and 17 (depending on the Head Governess’ recommendations to the Committee), the award being made at 14 is clearly an indication of her qualities. These were further exemplified by her status as Prefect.

The hallmark, although indistinct, gives a date of 1891 from the London assay office. The sponsor’s mark (HTL) is for Henry Thomas Lamb and you won’t be surprised to learn he was a Masonic jeweller!

The two commemorative badges represent important celebrations in the School’s history for which badges were made and presented to everyone in the School.

In 1927 the Princess Royal came to the School to present prizes but the use of the Prince of Wales feathers on the badge implies something else. If it were ‘something else’ it has not been recorded as such although it should be noted that the Masonic Peace Memorial in London had its foundation stone laid in great ceremony in 1927 by Duke of Connaught, President of the RMIG.

Princess Mary, the Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood; Scan from a Beagle’s postcard, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3607650

 

The 1938 badge, again a medal struck to commemorate a special event and presented to all at the School, was one to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the School.

The motto – circumornatae ut similitudo templi or as the King James Bible has it ‘that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace’ – was newly out of its cellophane, so to speak, as the coat of arms including it had only been granted in 1936.

The final badge in the box has a little mystery all of its own. The Head Girl’s jewel was originally presented in 1891, in the name of Sir Henry Isaacs, Lord Mayor of London. As such, Bertha Dean would have been one of the first persons to be awarded it.

Sir Henry Isaacs

In 1887 Henry Aaron Isaacs became sheriff of London and Middlesex, and was knighted in the same year. In 1889 he was elected Lord Mayor of London. The medal has the Latin motto of the City – Domine Dirige Nos – the Lord guide us.

It is still presented today but it is no longer the original medal as that was stolen in a robbery at the School in 1967. A copy was made with an indication written on the obverse that it is a replica of the original. And here is the little mystery. Whilst it has Bertha Dean’s name inscribed on the back of this medal in its presentation box, it also says it is a replica of the original.

And, although indistinct in the photo, underneath it has the words ‘worn by Bertha Dean’

This must mean that the medal in the box was created after 1967 but, to show that it is not the actual medal presented to Bertha Dean, the words ‘worn by’ are inscribed. The mystery here is why someone collected all of these medals, clearly long after the lady in question was deceased, and placed them in a presentation case. Clearly at least two of them are the genuine article and there is no doubt that Bertha Dean received all of the others, if not these exact ones, but why put them in a presentation box much later without any kind of legend?

And on that note, let’s close the box until someone solves the mystery!

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!

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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.

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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!

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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:

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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)

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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 …