“On their departure, they were presented with a Bible, a prayer book and a copy of Dr Wilson’s Treatise on the Sacraments.” Polished Cornerstones, p 241.
This relates specifically to the first pupils to leave the school c 1795. Dr Wilson’s Treatise was seemingly widely read in the eighteenth century. However, it started a pattern which continued throughout the School’s history until last year. Whilst religious tracts were intended to ensure that ‘the lessons they have here been taught’ continued to hold them in good stead in the outside world, there were also practical considerations. As they approached school-leaving age (never less than 15), discreet enquiries were made as to whether the family was able to resume its care for their daughter. All the girls had been received into the School as daughters of indigent Freemasons, the School taking on full responsibility for their clothing, welfare and education. Sometimes the families had not recovered from whatever caused the indigence and, in many cases, there was no longer any family left. But if the family were able to resume their care, four guineas was spent on ‘Plain Cloathing’ and the girl was delivered back to them. The phrase makes her sound rather like a parcel or a piece of luggage but it was just the phrasing used at the time. The column in the register was headed ‘How disposed of’ which is even worse but it is just the way language use has changed. If she could not be returned to her family, an apprenticeship would be found and all the fees thereto would be met by the School. In either case, a Bible was also presented to her on her departure.
In an age when fewer people owned books, this was clearly cherished by the former pupils who have handed down their bibles through the generations of their own family. A will dated 1845 was the starting point for this posting.
The relevant portion of the will is “I give to my sister Matilda Window of 22 Star Road Edgware Road my silver watch and my School Bible also the School Prayer Book”
Isabella Window became a pupil at RMIG in 1826. Born in Nottingham in 1818, she was baptised in St Mary’s church there on 22 Feb 1818. Also known as St Mary’s in the Lace Market, the church is one of five Grade I listed buildings in Nottingham and the largest mediaeval building in the city.
The vicar at the time was George Wilkins and during one of his sermons, a loud cracking noise was heard, clearly emanating from the masonry. There was a rapid exodus of the congregation as it was thought that the tower was about to collapse. Perhaps because George’s brother was an architect (William Wilkins), he was in a better position to know what to do and it is attributed to his action that the church survives today rather than it being taken down and rebuilt.
“[He] summoned the architect Lewis Nockalls Cottingham to survey the fabric, and Cottingham implemented a scheme to prop up the tower with scaffolding while the tower piers were repaired.” (Wikipedia citing Allen, Frank J, 1932, The Great Church Towers of England. Chiefly of the Perpendicular Period Cambridge University Press)
The church of St Mary is mentioned in D H Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers
“They threaded through the throng of church-people. The organ was still sounding in St. Mary’s. Dark figures came through the lighted doors; people were coming down the steps. The large coloured windows glowed up in the night. The church was like a great lantern suspended.”
Isabella had become eligible to be a pupil through her father’s membership of Newstead Lodge where he is described as a ‘Taylor’. He had married Isabella’s mother, Isabella, in 1805 in Greasley, Nottingham and it seems highly likely that she is the Isabella Window listed in 1828 Pigot’s directory as a widow and listed under Tailors & Habit makers in Goose Gate, Nottingham.
Isabella had four sisters and two brothers but, as was the ruling at the time, only one daughter came to the School. We do not know where the other children were educated but we do know that three of the sisters were living in London in 1845 as their addresses are recorded in Isabella’s will. Perhaps they attended similar schools and then made their lives in London.
Isabella left School on 31 July 1833 ‘delivered to her mother’ from which we might make the assumption that she returned to Nottingham. However, she is listed in 1841 in a Westminster Rate book as living at 22 Star Street – presumably the Star Road referred to in her will.
She died in the year the will is dated and is buried in another St Mary’s but this one is in Paddington Green where the burial record of 21 June 1845 confirms her address as Star Street. Even in an age when life expectancy was less, her death aged 27 would still be regarded as being very young.
Image of church by Libby Norman – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16174857
Image of plaque by Forscher scs – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44181119
The graveyard was converted to a public park in 1966 but some of Isabella’s ‘neighbours’ have included: William Chandless (1829 – 1896), Amazon explorer [the river not the website]; Arthur Roberts (1852 – 1933), comedian; Leonard Charles Wyon (1826 – 1891), engraver and coin-designer; Sir Stephen Spender (1909 – 1995), poet; Joseph Nollekens (1737 – 1823), sculptor and his father, Joseph Francis Nollekens, artist; Emma Paterson (1846 – 1886), feminist and unionist and Sarah Siddons (1755 – 1831), actress.
Perhaps, somewhat appropriately, another grave is for Rev Alexander Geddes (1737 – 1802), Biblical scholar on which note we can return to the school bibles.
Another pupil presented with a bible when she left was Agnes Ruspini, the granddaughter of the Chevalier Ruspini credited with starting the School. She arrived at the School the year before Isabella left. When she, in her turn, left she was apprenticed to a dressmaker, taking her Bible with her.
It says something for the School that, after Agnes had completed her apprenticeship and having presumably nowhere else to go, she came back to the School. That this was a little unexpected may be shown by the minutes which state in 1847 that “the Matron’s conduct in receiving Agnes Ruspini again as an inmate on the completion of her apprenticeship was approved” but that the House Committee must be the body that “receives into the School any person”. After a while, Agnes was apprenticed again and in 1851 she appears in the census as a tailoress. From then on, traces of her are fleeting and uncertain. It is possible that she married twice but in neither case is all the information correct. For example, on her 2nd marriage (assuming this really is her), she gives her father’s name as William Bladen Ruspini, dentist – which is wrong if she is ‘our’ Agnes whose father was James Bladen Ruspini. If she did marry, hers is probably the death of 1888 in Poplar. Whenever it was she died, the bible with which she was presented came back to the School in her memory.
Agnes’ presentation was handwritten – as we do not have isabella’s we cannot say whether hers was – but by 1873 the School was using printed presentation labels and the Bibles were splendidly bound with a clasp.
Ada Maria Reeds, to whom this was presented, was recommended by Miss Davis (Head Governess) as a pupil teacher in one of the Government schools. In 1881, the census gives her occupation as Assistant School Mistress at Fir Tree Road Kensington so we assume the recommendation was carried out.
By 1902, the Bibles are now carrying a coat of arms although the eagle-eyed among you may notice that the motto is that used by the Boys’ School: aude, vidi, taci.
The Bible was presented back to the School by her daughter after Rose’s death in 1963.
During the First World War, such printed extravagances may have been thought unpatriotic so the presentation bibles came inside a printed slip cover.
A Bible presented in 1921 had a little adventure all of its own! It was presented to Eleanor Hill, one half of the duo known as the Titanic Twins as their father died on the ill-fated vessel. This presentation Bible has the coat of arms in colour and no longer has the Boys’ motto but the School did not as yet have its own coat of arms. (That was to come in 1936.)
In 2013, the School was contacted by an antiquarian book seller in Ireland to say he had found this Bible amongst a box of other books and would we like it returned? We did and it was!
The most ‘recent’ presentation Bible held by the School is not one that was presented to a pupil and later returned by families but one that was presented to the School itself. When RMIG moved from Clapham (shown in the presentation label above) in 1934, there were many splendid gifts donated to mark this major change in the School’s history. Amongst the gifts was a Bible for the lectern in the Chapel.
The picture doesn’t really demonstrate its size. It is probably about 15 centimetre (or 6 inches in old money) in depth and now in a rather fragile state. It was presented to the School on a momentous occasion by someone who was having a somewhat momentous occasion of her own.
Isabella Window’s short life has given us an interesting slant on the School’s history. It seems appropriate then to quote Sir Stephen Spender who happens to be buried in the same place as she was: