Those who can, teach – 3

I remember my aunt telling me a story aabout someone in my family who saw Charlotte Brontë walking to church on her wedding day. I had spoken about it with my cousin, while we were doing the family research together and we were never sure whether we should believe it. But now we know that it was at least possible.

My great grandmother, Sybil, was a schoolmistress at the National School in Haworth in 1854, the year that Charlotte was married to Arthur Bell Nicholls. The school was started by Charlotte’s father Rev Patrick Brontë and subsequently overseen by the Rev Nicholls.

James was appointed Headmaster by Rev Nicholls in 1855. Sadly, by the time he arrived Charlotte had already died of hyperemsis gravidurum (extreme sickness during pregnancy).

We don’t yet know whether James and Sybil came to this school straight from their training colleges or if either of them had a spell teaching elsewhere. They were both listed in the 1857 Post Office directory of Haworth. Sybil was still listed by her maiden name, although they did marry during that year. Anyway, during the space between the 1851 and the 1861 census they had both arrived in Haworth married and moved on.

We’re trying to fill in some gaps with the help of the Brontë Society and another small charity which looks after the old school room. James went on to have a long career teaching in schools around Bradford and I am going to research that at the City Archives and Central Library.

After that short return to the family story, it’s time for more travels. Finally, at the age of 60, I was heading off to do something that had been my dream for over 50 years!

Those who can, teach – 2

My great grandmother Sybil was also a teacher. We already knew that she met my great grandfather James when they were both teaching at a school in West Yorkshire but I did wonder how she had got into teaching and whether she was qualified to any national standard. In the previous post I wrote how James did his teacher training at the short-lived Kneller Hall Training College. I wonder how a young man, from a family of mill workers, who started his own career as a power loom weaver in Cheshire, came to be in Twickenham studying to be a teacher. I was even more surprised to find (according to the 1851 Census) that Sybil had moved away from her native Nottingham and was living in Kings Road, Chelsea at the age of 19!

Her name was on a list of young girls, together with a Lady Superintendent named Mrs Harries, who were all living at the same address “Whitelands”. A quick Google search identified the address as “Whitelands College”, one of the earliest colleges offering formal teacher training for young ladies and still flourishing as part of Roehampton University.

I have the History and Heritage Advisor of the University of Roehampton and the Archivist of Whitelands College to thank for the following information including Sybil’s college records.

Whitelands College was founded in 1841 by the National Society, and had its history in the desire of both the Church of England and the state to provide education for children of the working classes, in which England, apparently, lagged far behind many other European countries. It was not the first teacher training college in England, nor was it the first church of England training college. It was part of a growing number of colleges aimed at training teachers who would provide a reasonable standard of education for poor children.

Sybil arrived at the age of 18 in 1849. At that time the college was led and managed by Rev Harry Baber. He was joined in 1850 by Mrs Harries, the Lady Superintendent and shortly after by Miss Gillott, the first Governess. The subjects which the students learned to teach were some basic knowledge of history, geography, natural history and English grammar, with a heavy emphasis on religious studies, singing and all aspects of housekeeping!

This is the entry for Sybil in the College Record:

“Born at Snenton near Nottingham. Her father is a coal merchant & responsible for her payments. Educated for about 10 years in various private schools & afterwards engaged in teaching in a private school for a short time. Has been confirmed & is a communicant.”

I presume that Sybil left the college in 1851, after two years of study. I next know of her whereabouts in 1854!

All will be revealed (and it has a literary connection)………….

Those who can, teach – 1

I am leaving my travel tales for the time being to return to the family history.

After reading a post by Dr B of the “Buddha walks into a wine bar ……” blog (, my cousin and I decided to do some broader research on some of our interesting ancestors. She and I share one common thread and that is my grandma’s line (her great grandma).

We had been beavering away, starting to build our family tree, when I read a post by Dr B, encouraging family history researchers to fill in some background rather than simply adding more names and dates. Around the same time, I received an interesting email from someone I had contacted through Ancestry, who had my great grandfather in her husband’s family tree (albeit only at the margin). She sent me a copy of his obituary which turned out to contain information which was not only of interest to us but started to put some social context around him.

Great grandfather – for ease I will now call him James – was born in 1831 in Wilmslow, Cheshire. He spent most of his career in teaching, after training at Kneller Hall in Twickenham. This name rang a bell but I couldn’t remember why. A bit of research told me that, since 1857, it has been home to the Royal Military School of Music; that’s where I’d heard of it. But during a brief period in the early 1850s it was home to a short-lived, government-funded teacher training college.

The information we now have about the start of James’ teaching career is from “Kneller Hall; Looking Backward and Looking Forward” by Ed Harris of the Borough of Twickenham Local History Society.  Kneller Hall Teacher Training College opened in 1850.  It was named after Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), a society portrait painter, whose country seat it had once been. The government of the time wanted to give the most deprived children the chance of a basic education and decided to create schools which sought to turn the children into “able and employable citizens”. The teachers who were to be trained here were expected to teach in these schools after qualifying and provide vocational training for boys and girls. The Principal was Rev Dr Frederick Temple and his Deputy was Francis Turner Palgrave (he of the “Golden Treasury of English Poetry”.

From the start this venture was doomed to be an expensive failure because (and why does this not surprise me?) the government never delivered on its promise to create the network of District Pauper schools across the country. In fact, only half a dozen of these schools were started, so the new teachers went off to teach in workhouse schools, natioonal schools and prisons.  Some even went overseas to seek employment. Indeed, Dr Temple, who later went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury, was unable to say how many teachers had actually passed through the College.  So this ill-fated venture was over quite some time before the Royal Military School of Music was created. However it had equipped James for his career.

I wish I knew what took James from Cheshire to Twickenham to become a teacher. He was working as a power loom weaver in a cotton mill in 1851.  His father worked in the cotton industry as a “Beamer”,  watching over the machines on which cotton was woven and all James’ sisters worked in the cotton mills.  One of his younger brothers also became a schoolmaster and the other became a tailor.

We don’t know exactly when James emerged from Kneller Hall.  He may or may not have had an earlier position but, in 1855, he was appointed Headmaster at a National School in West Yorkshire.  That is significant firstly because of where it was and, secondly because it’s there that he met my great-grandmother Sybil!

More to follow ……….

Travels with myself

…… and other people

July is here and in a couple of weeks’ time I should be setting off to Italy for a cruise on the River Po. But this has been cancelled due to my still recovering arm and elbow. I rely so much on my arms to steady me because of my dodgy legs and, as I can’t fully extend my right arm, both I and my consultant agreed that this holiday was not for me. Or at least not this year.

My son then had the brilliant and kind idea of inviting me on holiday with him and his girlfriend. So, I am delighted that we shall be spending a week in Rome during August. And the five of us (including his girlfriend’s mother and father) will be staying in a swanky looking apartment right in the centre of the city.

This is the first time in many years that I will not be going on holiday alone. What started off as: “Well I’d better get used to the idea of holidays by myself” when my husband died, has become “Why would I ever want to go on holiday with somebody else?” I’m never lonely. If I meet friendly people I’m happy to talk to them and on a couple of holidays I’ve made some good friends. But I’m just as happy to sit on my own and read. I always choose holidays that include travel, whether that is touring or being based at a single place and having the option to go on days out and visits. I can do what I want, when I want.

Family holidays – well I’ve been there, done that, worn the t-shirt and washed the t-shirt too many times. I just like being on my own. I love people-watching. In the airport I like to guess who might be going on the same holiday as me and I always look to see what newspaper they are reading! I’m sometimes right and sometimes wrong and sometimes I am pleasantly surprised by people.

After Thailand, the next country I visited was Kenya in 2007. This was the only time that I have been on a singles holiday. Bearing in mind that it was a Saga holiday it wasn’t exactly Club 18-30. There were about 12 women and 2 men (for some reason it seems that there are fewer men who travel alone) and we were all travelling alone. I suppose it’s more likely that you will strike up acquaintances when everyone is on their own but people with similar tastes and ideas still gravitated towards each other and you always wanted to get in the jeep with some people and not others.

As I’m still feeling a bit vulnerable I’m happy to let somebody else take charge this time. My only responsibility has been booking my train tickets to London and I have said that I’m happy to be taken wherever they choose or to be left behind at a cafe if I can’t keep up! I’m excited about visiting Rome for the first time and I’m truly looking forward to the holiday. But the independent part of my soul has got me making plans to visit to India again next February. All that remains to be booked are the flights.