South of the river

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.

https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/side-by-side/#zoom=18&lat=51.5027&lon=-0.0845&layers=163&right=BingHyb

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.

London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: P72/MTW/009

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.

https://www.mutualart.com/Artwork/PORTRAIT-OF-MELIOR-MARY-WESTON/95C393425D0D72B9

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

Horwood 1792-9

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.

1894 map

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.

London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: P82/GIS/A/02

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.

https://www.jenwilletts.com/convict_ship_william_pitt_1806.htm

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.

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/drawing-of-lant-street-borough

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!

First Day at School

Parents up and down the country are this week experiencing for the first time that rite of passage known as ‘First Day at School’. Their little darlings, clad collectively in their brand new school uniforms, clutching – some apprehensively, some in fevered excitement – their school bags, are being deposited at school gates. It might be small steps for little legs but, paraphrasing Neil Armstrong, it is one small step for a child, one giant leap for parenthood. Parents watch in astonishment as their tinies take their first steps away from them and many of the tears shed are actually those of the parents who can’t quite believe that those helpless little babies who needed them for everything are the same people now skipping gaily across the playground.

From a different perspective, there are probably a number of schools taking in pupils for the very first time this week, either because they are brand new schools or because they are taking younger children for the first time. For those establishments, it is also a time of trepidation. Will all the planning come to fruition? Will everything work as it should? Will the logistics all come together?

Wind the clock back 228 years and the very first pupils were embarking at a school in a house in Somers Place East with, in the minds of the steering Committee, many of those same worries. After a year’s intensive planning, a new school came into existence that still operates today. The Royal Cumberland Freemasons’ School officially began in 1788 but the first pupils entered the school on 5th January 1789. The Morning Herald of Thursday, January 8, 1789, stated:

It must have made an interesting spectacle for a (probably) grey January day. There must have been a goodly number of carriages. There were fifteen pupils, presumably the Matron (although she could have been waiting at the school to receive them – the records do not indicate), the gentlemen of the Committee and possibly some of the ladies and subscribers who appear to have witnessed the event.

The actual route is unknown but it is likely to have passed the area where the National Gallery was later to stand (built 1824), along past the British Museum (built 1753 so it may have been a witness) and up to what is now Euston Road but what was then known as the New Road. The gentlemen of the committee retired to dine at St Alban’s Tavern but the new pupils stayed at the school. And unlike today’s mummies and daddies waiting at the school gates at home time to hear all about the experiences, these little girls remained in the school house until they were old enough to leave school aged 15.

The School went on to have more First Days as it moved house three times. In 1795, it moved from its home in Somers Town to Southwark. It moved without any ceremony. In fact, the only reason any date is known is because the Minute Books of the Committee record that the meeting was held in ’the new School House’.

By 1852, the School had long outgrown its allocated space and so it moved again – to Clapham.

This was accompanied by a little more pomp and ceremony. £400 was put aside “so that everything might be done with grace and splendour” (G Blizard Abbot, Royal Masonic Institute for Girls from 1788 to 1900) – the equivalent today of £16,500. On August 2nd, visitor numbers were estimated to be between 3000 – 4000. Amongst other ceremonial events, one of the pupils, Caroline Rhoda Davies, recited a poem especially composed for the occasion. Nine hundred dined and, as this was presided over by the Grand Master, it can be assumed that they were all Freemasons. There was also dancing in the grounds to a quadrille band and other military bands and the last visitors left shortly before midnight. And the pupils in all this celebration? Well, sadly, they were still at Southwark because they didn’t actually move until December 9th!

For the next 80 or so years, the School remained on its third site with a variety of adjustments and expansions to accommodate the growing numbers. One of these adjustments was the Junior School disappearing into Surrey. In August 1918, the younger pupils had their next First Day when they moved to Weybridge. There were 45 pupils which included 20 pupils for whom this was same school, new site and fifteen for whom it was entirely a new school. But the Clapham site continued to be crowded and eventually it was realised that, not only was a bigger site required but that it was highly unlikely to be in London. In 1926, Rickmansworth Park was found. The new buildings were ready by 1934 and on March 24th 1934 the doors of Clapham were locked for the last time (the honour went to Eileen Hones, then the youngest member of staff) and staff and pupils went off for their Easter break. When they returned almost a month later, it was the First Day of all First Days and almost 400 pupils and all the teaching staff, domestic staff, ancillary staff and maintenance staff found themselves in grounds and buildings that were as yet unfamiliar. A pupil who was there at the time commented later on the way many staff and pupils kept getting lost. But then, as well as being a new set of buildings, it was also huge. The old school, including the playgrounds, would have fitted inside the Garth of the new one – and the Garth is approximately 1.5% of the total acreage! It is a tribute to the leadership of Bertha Dean (Headmistress) and Florence Mason (Matron) that it all went so smoothly. As a member of staff at the time commented: “We had moved house that was all: the meals were on time and the bath water was hot …” In June 1934, the site was officially opened by Queen Mary.

 

 

The weather, as it so often is in British summer time, threatened to be inclement (and it did rain earlier in the day) so the route to be taken by the Queen was considered. As the parquet floors were thought to have a risk of being slippery if wet, it was decided to lay a temporary rubber matting down over the very slight slope in the corridor between the Great Hall and the Dining Hall. Naturally, it was red in colour. And this temporary matting was still there fifty years later!

The School has now been on this site for the greatest length of time it has been anywhere – 83 years and counting. In that time, not only has it seen 83 First Days – one for each year – but it has also seen younger and younger pupils having their own First Days. Each September, there are new pupils joining the School community and when you are a Newbie and it seems as if EVERYONE else knows exactly where they are going, it can be a little daunting. In recent years, a new style First Day has been trialled. Known as Focus Days, the entire school participates in activities on a theme. As, then, it is a new experience for everyone, it has the effect of putting even the most bored teenager (hey ho, another year) on her mettle as she does not know quite what to expect. In the last decade or so there have been, to name but three, Chevalier Day (2013), Environmental Day (2012) and 1934 day (2009) as the School celebrated its being on the site for 75 years. Below are the staff on two of the Focus Days.

These are First Days to remember. But then, whatever their format, your First Day at School is always important.

Five Little Ducks

Five little ducks went swimming one day

Over the hill and far away

In the School registers for admission to RMIG were five pupils whose names all appeared on the same page and for whom the ink barely had time to dry on their names before, sadly, their deaths were being noted.

Ann Brett Ashby’s life was barely longer than her name. Born on 10th December 1823, her death is noted as being on 23rd July 1835 whilst absent from the School on account of illness. Clearly not an entirely unexpected death then but still before she was 13 years of age.

 

Surrey Lyton Hassell, the very next entry in the register as it happens, was born on 1st October 1822 but died in her mother’s care on 10th September 1834. Again, a presumed death following illness as she was at home with her mother.

To we of the modern age, it seems surprising that the pupils of RMIG, once accepted by the School, moved to the School House and stayed there until they were ready to leave school at fifteen years of age, even if their homes were nearby. Parents were allowed to visit on a Thursday afternoon only, although this severe rule might have been relaxed a little by the time the School had been established forty years or so. Nevertheless, by 1834, there were still no recognised school holidays or weekends at home for the pupils so for Surrey to be in the care of her mother when she died rather implies she had gone home ill. From the outset, the School had always taken the greatest care of the girls’ health and welfare and they possibly had access to greater care at the School than they might have at home. Medical care was, at this time, paid for by the recipient of it and there are many examples in the record books of pupils receiving extensive medical care until their health was improved, regardless of the costs involved. So it is unlikely that Surrey would have been ‘sent home’ for her family to shoulder the burden of her medical costs rather than the School but more a case of the medical practitioners attached to the School realising that there was nothing more they could do and only palliative care was left. Of course, this is all speculation as we do not have anything but the entry in the School register to go on.

Catherine Elizabeth Swendell, born on 21st October 1823, was admitted to the School on the same day as Surrey Hassell. Less than two years later, her death was noted in 1834. In her case, it was at the School.

It is not specified what kind of fever but since at least 1795, the School’s authorities had been aware of how quickly any kind of infectious disease could spread in a closed community. From 1795 onwards, applicants for places at the school were required to submit, as part of the total documentation needed, a completed medical certificate, signed by a doctor.

“I have examined X and find that she has had the small pox, has no defect in her sight or limbs and is not strumous nor afflicted with any disorder or infirmity whatsoever as witness my hand this…. day of …. 1795.”

Strumous is the adjective arising from struma, a swelling of the thyroid gland or a goitre. It is a form of tuberculosis affecting the lymph nodes. In developed countries this has been brought under control by an understanding of its cause – spread by unpasteurized milk from infected cows. Although the condition was treatable, there were probably as many quack remedies as serious medical discourse. The Wellcome Library in London has a plethora of recipe books listed in its catalogue purporting to offer cures. In the eighteenth century, any form of tuberculosis was feared as being highly infectious.

Although, apart from Catherine Swendell, no cause of death is recorded in the School register for any of the girls who died, the fact that Surrey Hassell died within two months of Catherine might suggest that the same fever had affected both girls and that Surrey, after being cared for by the School until it became clear she was not going to survive, was then taken home to be looked after by her mother. There is nothing in any other School records to suggest that there had been a serious outbreak of a contagious nature but it is not beyond reason that this was so. The School was at this time in Southwark and the plans of the house show that the girls lived in three dormitories. Any girl who was ill would have been in close proximity to other girls – the very thing the School sought to ameliorate in Rule 26: “in case of any infectious disorder, the person be forthwith removed if thought necessary by the faculty.”

Jane Gilpin arrived at the School in the cohort admitted on 19 October 1832. She was younger than the other two being born on August 14th 1824. She was an orphan when she arrived at the School. Her mother, Esther, died in 1827 leaving her father a widower for the 2nd time. It is not unreasonable to suppose that Esther may have died in childbirth although there are no records to confirm this. She died in June when Jane was almost three years old, and her father, Josiah, remarried in December of that year. In 1831, her father died leaving Jane’s half-sister, Sarah, as her guardian. Sarah had been born in 1811 and had married George Legge in 1830 although Sarah Gilpin is what appears in the School register. The home address for Jane was given as ‘Sarah Gilpin – sister, Romsey, Hants’. In 1841, Sarah & George are at Cherville Street, Horse Fair, Romsey Intra, Romsey & Whitchurch, Hampshire. Jane died on 11th September 1835 at the School but no cause is written in the register.

 

Emma Sheffield, admitted on the same day as Jane, was almost a year younger. Her birthdate is given as 20th April 1825. She died under the care of her mother four years after arriving at the School, almost to the day. The register indicates that her home address was ‘Mrs Sheffield, Durham’. In fact, we know from newspaper reports that her father Thomas, an ironmonger, ran his business in Silver St, Durham and that he had died in 1828.

It is worth noting that Durham is 260 miles from London which takes about five hours by car today. At the time, the journey from London to Durham would have been by stagecoach travelling at an average speed of about five miles per hour and covering perhaps 70 miles on a good day with good weather. Not only did Emma make this journey but so did her sister Fanny who also became a pupil at the School. Furthermore, it appears that Emma died in London at City Terrace, St Luke which presumably means that her mother travelled to London to take care of her. It is recorded that Emma –

In 1834, Mrs Dorothy Sheffield is recorded in Pigot’s Directory as residing in New Elvet, Durham but many of the later references to her children are found in London which possibly suggests there might have been a second home there. It is not known whether Emma’s mother, Dorothy, returned to Durham or whether she entrusted the business to her eldest son Thomas. In 1851, she was living in London with her daughter Fanny, by then married and with two children. In both the 1861 and 1871 census returns, Dorothy was still in London and she died there in 1873 so perhaps by then she had left Durham completely.

Of Dorothy’s many children, it was not only Emma who died young. In Durham St Mary the Lesser is a memorial to Emma’s grandparents:

“In memory of Elizabeth the affectionate wife of Thomas SHEFFIELD of the City of Durham ironmonger who died October 11th 1798 aged 56 years Also the above named Thomas SHEFFIELD who died May 4th 1805 aged 64 years Also George grandson of the above and son of Thomas and Dorothy SHEFFIELD who died Sept 21 1809 aged 6 months Also Edward son of Thomas and Dorothy SHEFFIELD died Jany 4th 1823 aged 3 weeks”

This chapel lies within the grounds of Durham Cathedral otherwise St Mary the Greater. In its cemetery “There is a badly worn grave to the Sheffield family, which proudly gives their occupation as Ironmongers.” https://community.dur.ac.uk/parish.stmary/the_church/burials.htm

In 1818, The Book of Governors printed for the School made the proud boast that of the 272 girls committed to the care of the Charity by 1818, only five had died whilst at school, which was less than 2%. This could be compared very favourably with the national average for child mortality to the age of 10 at the time which was reckoned at 50%. The admissions page in the register for 1831/2 somewhat blemished this record with five deaths out of 18 pupils between 1834 and 1836. It must have been a difficult time all round. The nursery rhyme Five little ducks ends on a happy note when all the little ducks come back. Sadly, in this case, none of the little ducks went home again. If these girls have gravestones, it is not known where they are. This image represents them all.

Sunday service

Religious services have been a part of the School’s history since its inception.

Rule 20: That the Matron attend the children to Church every Sunday morning and afternoon, and on Good Friday, Christmas Day, and the Anniversary, that they learn the Collect for the Day, and such as are capable to read a portion of Scripture every Sunday Evening … and on every Friday the children be taught the Catechism.

(The mention of Good Friday and Christmas Day are reminders that for a considerable period of the School’s history, there were no school holidays. At all.)

But this posting is less about religion and more about the participants in it; less spiritual and more about practicalities. It’s about getting there and sitting still during. The first three school sites did not have a place of worship attached to them. The girls were taken to a local church – twice – on Sundays. To begin with, they had their own pew. To save the mental gymnastics of trying to work out how huge numbers (current school roll 900+) fitted into one pew, in the early days the numbers were significantly fewer. In 1788, fifteen little girls and a Matron might fit fairly comfortably into a large pew, which cost £3 per annum. This cost, incidentally, can be compared with the £24 pa for ‘Books, Sope, Mops, Brooms &c’.

The first church they attended was the Bethel Chapel initially in a pew donated by Jacob Leroux. The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1813 referring to Seymour Street in Somers Town said

“In this street was formerly a chapel of ease to St. Pancras. It was a gloomy building, erected in 1787, and called Bethel Chapel; it afterwards belonged to the Baptists.”

Cited in Edward Walford, ‘Somers Town and Euston Square’, in Old and New London: Volume 5 (London, 1878), pp. 340-355. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol5/pp340-355 [accessed 16 November 2016].

There was also St. Mary’s Episcopal Chapel in the same street which may have been used too as may have the old church of St Pancras (the new one was not built until 1819 by which time the School was south of the river.)

mary Pancras
St Mary, Somers Town & Old St Pancras

Image of St Mary’s by Steve F, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11433686

Image of Old St Pancras by Stephen McKay, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13429363

 

In 1795, the School moved to St George’s Fields, Southwark and the girls would have attended the church of St George the Martyr.

George Southwark
St George the Martyr, Southwark

Image of St George by Carlos Delgado, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17840016

The School had its home in Southwark from 1795 to 1852 when it moved to Clapham. St John’s, St Mary’s, St Peter’s and St Paul’s were all used at different times by the School.

Battersea churches
St Paul, Battersea & St Mary, Battersea

Image of St Mary by Derek Harper, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6088418

Image of St Paul from http://www.southwark.anglican.org/find-a-church/battersea/battersea-st-peter-and-st-paul/battersea-st-paul

St Mary’s is the oldest church of these being finished in 1777; St John’s (there is no extant image) was described, rather unflatteringly, as “ ‘A cheap brick church erected for the workers of the factory district of York Road’ according to J.G. Taylor (Our Lady of Batersey, 1925).” www.southwark.anglican.org/downloads/lostchurches/BAT11.pdf It was consecrated in 1863 so was only marginally newer than the 3rd school site. Later amalgamated with St Paul’s, it was badly damaged during WWII and demolished in about 1950. St Peter’s was built in 1875 and St Paul’s, originally a chapel of ease for St John’s, was amalgamated with St Peter’s in 1939.

By the time the School was in Clapham (or Battersea, or Wandsworth or Putney – take your pick: all can arguably claim to be the geographical place of the School’s third site), it had a considerably enlarged school roll. Now, walking to church was not just a marshalling of 20-50 girls in a relatively straight line but manoeuvring nearly 400 girls, in twos, in Sunday best. Pity the tram driver and the hapless motorist who stopped to allow the girls to cross the road!

cartoon
Crossing the road to church

Mention of Sunday best raises that other set of items known variously by the euphemisms unmentionables, unwhisperables, indescribables and underpinnings: the underwear, usually in the form of combinations comprising bodice, drawers and slip. These garments were generally regarded with loathing. Summer ones were made of cotton but winter ones were made of wool which one former pupil recalled “had the consistency of steel wool” and which “itched and prickled” in a most uncomfortable fashion. Being forced to sit still and attend the sermon was made much more difficult by these garments, issued fresh on a Sunday morning – and therefore at their most like a coarse hair shirt – presumably on a basis of cleanliness is next to Godliness. Clearly the constant fidgeting of the girls reached the attention of the Chaplain and ultimately he came to speak to Miss Mason, the Matron, about the matter. Quite what was said, in what sort of language (given the deemed delicacy of ever mentioning such things) and with what degree of mutual embarrassment is lost to history as the conversation was, literally, behind closed doors. The outcome, however, is known. From then on, the fresh ‘linen’ was distributed on a Monday rather than Sunday so it had become slightly more comfortable by the time it was necessary to attend to the sermon again. Modern girls are at this point dissolving into horrified hysteria at the realisation that only one set of underwear was issued per week … Victorian sensibilities were indeed different!

Once the School moved to Rickmansworth in 1934, the walks to and from the local churches were no longer part of Sunday life. Services, as today, took place in the Chapel.

Chapel
The Chapel exterior & interior

The Junior girls, still at this stage in Weybridge, continued to perambulate to their local church, St James.

Weybridge church
St James, Weybridge

Image from http://www.stjamesweybridge.org.uk/

After the service, the girls would write little essays about the sermon and the vicar would award gold and silver stars for the best. Before they departed the School to reach the Church, the girls would be given a penny to put in the collection. One week, a girl put her coat button in instead so that she could put her penny in the bubble gum machine they passed en route. Something went wrong with the mechanism and her sin was rewarded not with one but several – perhaps a case of the wages of sin being not death but illicit chewing gum. Of course, her behaviour did not go unpunished but the vicar’s essays may have been a little odd that week! Even without bubble gum, attention was not always focused on the service. Although girls recall different things about their church visits – such as the choir processional, the occasional use of incense and the bell ringers – one former pupil, under the mistaken view that the memorial plaques on the walls were vertical gravestones, spent a considerable part of her time trying to puzzle out where the bodies were.

A requirement for religious services throughout the School’s history there may have been, but it is probably fair to say that it did not always guarantee the girls’ focus. Although the steel wool underwear is no longer a reason for a lack of attention …