In 1854 Miss Bazeley’s successor, Miss Polhill (afterwards Mrs. Cother) took the school, which was then in the White House beyond Shady Bower. In that house I spent four years of my school life; it has been altered and improved, though the outside is still, I believe, much the same. But what a difference in the surroundings! There was no railway; the only line then open was that via Bishopstoke, and the station was what is now the Milford Goods Station. The Fisherton Stations did not exist, nor the lines from there: the Bemerton fields were as they had been since George Herbert’s days, and oh! the lovely rambles I have had along the river to the then tiny village and tiny church, often meeting scarcely a creature between the Close Gate and Bemerton Vicarage; but this is a digression.
Behind the school garden was a deep glen called “Switzerland,” and, in course of time, when the London road line was begun, of course the two bridges across this glen were necessary, but “Switzerland” is gone, never to return.
When we took our walks-demurely, two and two (no, three and three was our plan on which we prided ourselves) – we always kept to the Milford side of the town except on very rare occasions. Laverstock, Clarendon, Bishopsdown, the Southampton and London roads, all these were quite country. Shut your eyes and try and picture no houses between the part of Milford Street where the old town ditch runs (or did run) to Nelson House itself; no Fowler’s Road, only the house from which it takes its name, then inhabited by an old Dr. Fowler; and, in the other direction, really an Elm Grove with gardens and fields behind two white mud walls on each side of a narrow, muddy lane where Millbrook is, but not a single house to be seen, fields and downs stretching away on the right above the Green Croft, and on the left a real Wyndham’s Park with glorious beech-trees overhanging the low wall which ran all along to the little toll-gate which stood at Weeping Cross Corner-more fields, more downs, bleak, bare, breezy, the very thought of which brings back the lark’s song to one’s ears, and the scent of wild thyme, and the vision of white saxifrage and tender blue hare-bell, and withal the memory of school friendships which have lasted a lifetime, and lessons, not merely ” book-lessons,” for which one will always be thankful.
I think what made the downs so delightful was that there of course we were free to run about as we would, and even . along some of the roads we could “bowl our hoops” and run races, for remember in those days girls did not play tennis, far less hockey; and though some of us played cricket with our brothers in the holidays, we should never have dreamed of such a thing as a school match.
I can see the old schoolroom now-the room with a window at each end, with low window seats, two deal tables on trestles, and four or five forms covered with green baize, three or four chairs for the governesses; shelves nailed to the wall containing our books covered with brown; paper, a square piano, a tall deal “whatnot” for our music, a clock on the mantelpiece surmounted by the “rules,” written on cardboard, and flanked by the black inkstands, the upsetting of any one of which entailed a penalty of sixpence. I remember even the pattern of the hearthrug – that hearthrug which we were never allowed to step over, however cold our fingers might be. But in the long, dark, winter evenings the trestle tables were easily moved for our games and dancing which we thoroughly enjoyed; our great delight was in acting charades.
One incident of my schoolgirl days in the White House stands out most clearly in my memory. The Heir of Red cliffc had appeared not long before, and one morning my friend Ann Gilbert and I got up early so as to have time to go on reading it before going downstairs to the Scripture lesson, which was given every morning before prayers. I read the book aloud whilst my friend did needlework. When the time came to go to our lesson I went downstairs, but Ann gave way to the temptation to go on with the story, and, when sent for, came down in floods of tears. The reason for the tears was sternly demanded, and at last she sobbed out that ” Guy ” had died. She met with no sympathy, on the contrary the governess who was taking the Scripture lesson, punished us all by forbidding us to have any story books in our bedrooms. They had to be brought to her, and she gave them to us in the schoolroom out of school hours.
We were never more than sixteen or eighteen in number, eight or twelve being Foundationers, as the funds allowed; there were no day scholars. The staff consisted of Miss Polhill and her sister Charlotte, and Miss Moore, and some of us had music lessons of Mr. Read, M.R.A.M., who used to be very well known in Salisbury. The clergy of St. Martin’s were always most kind in giving us Bible Classes over and above the usual course in school. Examinations were held in all subjects once a year as appointed. We worked steadily, learning, as was then the custom, a great deal by heart both in English and French ; but some at all events imbibed a very real love of history and literature, and though I blush to say four of us buried La Grammaire selon Academie with funeral honours in the garden before leaving school, we had certainly mastered its contents, and we looked upon Racine’s plays as quite frivolous reading. We acted Esther one breaking-up day, manfully struggling through the 200 or 300 lines of our parts in costumes of our own devising, which would considerably have astonished Ahasuerus !
It was during those years that the Crimean War took place, and it was at the peace rejoicings that I first saw the Giant and Hob-nob parading the streets.
Then came the Indian Mutiny, and alas! the terrible news to one of our number that her brother (the only son of his widowed mother) had been shot by the rebels; he was one of the four young cadets who were the first victims of Meerut. I do not think I ever hear the seventy-ninth Psalm without the picture arising to my mind of our repeating it in St. Martin’s Church on the day of Fasting and Humiliation appointed during that awful year, 1857.
That year Miss Polhill married, and was succeeded by her sister, Miss Emma Polhill, who had the help of her sister Charlotte for a year, when the latter married Mr. Henry Blackmore. During the following sixteen years there were various teachers, among whom Miss Moore, Miss Bailey, and Miss Emma Hyde (now Sister Philippa of Wantage) are well remembered.
Before taking up the profession of teaching, I had been trained for teaching in a College School at Bolham, near Tiverton. I think it may be interesting to some readers of this book to give a short account of a Training School, probably the first of the kind in England, and which was the result of private beneficence.
The foundress, Miss Heathcote, was a remarkable woman. Her father had been a workman, and, by dint of extraordinary perseverance, had brought to perfection an invention for the making of “blond” lace, and, in time, was the owner of a large factory at Tiverton, in Devonshire. This factory was carried on on principles which must have been rare in the early part of the nineteenth century. Every child who worked in it was obliged to attend school for a certain time of the day, and large airy schools were adjoining the factory, kept up, I believe, by Mr. Heathcote himself. The factory itself was well ventilated and cared for.
The daughters of such a man were almost of necessity striking personalities. One of them built, and I think endowed, a church at Tiverton; the other devoted her energies to what few, if any, troubled about in those days, namely, the training of those who were themselves to train the young. She settled on a large house with a pleasant garden, by the side of which ran a sparkling little river separating it from the surrounding meadows. A path led across the fields to Miss Heatheote’s own house, and every day she came over to ” Bolham ” in her wheeled chair (for she was lame and unable to walk). There was a staff of excellent ” governesses,” as we then called them, the word ” mistress ” being seldom used in schools. German and French ladies taught their own languages, and English subjects were mostly imparted by lectures. Music was excellent (in my time Miss Aylward, of Salisbury, F.R.A.M., was the teacher). And all these advantages were given for a sum which scarcely did more than cover our board, books being provided; the only stipulation being that all who came must be ladies over seventeen, who desired to qualify themselves for teaching as a means of earning their living. Lectures on teaching were given, and there were a few little girls boarded in another house to whom we gave lessons; that is, those of us who were about to leave school the ensuing term were allowed to choose certain subjects two or three times a week and give lessons to the children in the presence of Miss Heathcote, who was a very keen critic.
We were fifty in number, some as old as twenty-five ; but the discipline was such as would hardly be considered bearable by ordinary schoolgirls in their ” teens ” in these days. I have in my possession a paper of the sixty-nine rules which were read out every Monday morning, and which were most strictly enforced. The “forfeits ” seem to me now considerable, but then they were taken as a matter of course. The following are a few:
Want of punctuality at class ……………………………….1d.
Want of punctuality in the morning ………………………3d.
Want of punctuality on Sunday ……………………………5d.
Borrowing anything ………………………………………….6d.
Not walking in proper order in or out of the
Each time the surname is repeated unnecessarily ………..6d.
Slamming doors ………………………………………………………………2d.
Kissing, except on birthdays ……………………………….6d.
There were various rules as to health, such as:
“If the young ladies are not able to go out to walk, they must go up and down stairs ten times without talking.”
“No young lady is to sit with her back to the window when open.”
This last regulation being infringed three times by one girl, she was “sent down,” Miss Heathcote saying that one who carelessly and deliberately risked her own health was not fit to look after others.
And yet, with all this strict network of rules, the dignity of the teacher’s vocation was strongly set before us. Nothing made Miss Heathcote more indignant than the idea that “going out as a governess” was a thing to be despised. I can see her keen dark eyes sparkling as she said:” Remember, it is not that you have got to make your vocation worthy of you, but to make yourselves worthy of your vocation.” Wise words and weighty.
There was an atmosphere of earnestness and hard work about Bolham, naturally arising from unity of aim. One rule was that we were not to be up before five-thirty. Few were ever in bed after that hour, and every moment that could be spared was given to study when it did not infringe on the time for exercise.
I could write a great deal more, but I must not take up too much space, and I have said enough perhaps to show what good work can be done by one energetic woman, and how grateful many a young governess felt for the training which was not then attainable elsewhere.
Within a few years of my leaving “Bolham,” Miss Porter, who was the English Mistress there and afterwards mistress of the Bedford Middle Class School, sent round to many of us the petition for the starting of University Local Examinations, which we signed with alacrity. Then came the opening of the Universities to women, and the founding of Girton and Newnham ; and now we have Training Schools for teachers and University Degrees of all sorts, little dreamt of in the days when Miss Heathcote made her gallant effort to better the education of the once despised ” English governess.”
When I left “Bolham” I became a private governess until I became Head Mistress of the Godolphin School. I succeeded Miss Emma Polhill, who had carried on the school after her sister’s marriage, first in the White House I knew so well as a pupil, and then from 1867 in the new school in Elm Grove (now Fawcett House), where I succeeded her in September 1875, an “Old Girl” with happy memories of the old school days, and whose family had long lived in Salisbury.
There were eleven girls when the school reopened after the summer holidays, and I had, as assistants, a Miss Edwards and a French lady, besides Mr. Read for music, Miss Strong for dancing, and Mr. Harris for drawing lessons. Being so small a party we were very home-like, and the garden especially was a great delight.
For some years previous to this a new scheme had been in contemplation by the Charity Commissioners, as it was evident that modern requirements could not fully be carried out under the old one. It would be tedious to tell of the various changes proposed and discussed even during the lifetime of Dean Hamilton, who was one of the Trustees. Delay after delay arose, and it was not till 1886 that the new scheme was finally put forth. Meanwhile the school went on quietly, its numbers being generally sixteen or eighteen boarders, which was as many as the Elm Grove house would hold. Permission was given under certain restrictions for the admission of a few day scholars, and girls were prepared for the local examinations. The first to go up was Effie Carter, who passed the senior Cambridge in December, 1876. In all just over a hundred certificates of different sorts-Oxford and Cambridge Locals, College of Preceptors, School of Art and Royal Academy of Music-were taken by girls between the years 1876 and 1890. There were, of course, many teachers during that time; those who stayed longest and to whom a great debt of gratitude is due were Mademoiselle Simonau, a Belgian lady, who was an artist as well as linguist, Miss Turner of Newnham, whose History classes will long be remembered, and Miss Curtis, of the London University, whose mathematics were only equalled by her tennis! Miss Aylward’s music lessons, and a few courses of “physical culture” from Miss Chrieman ought to be mentioned. Every year, still, the school was examined by a clergyman appointed by the Trustees: the Rev. S. W. Mangin, the Rev. W. Morrice, Rev. Douglas Macleane, and, oftenest of all, Canon Steward, helped in this way.
When the new scheme was really brought out in 1886 and more day-scholars came, various alterations were made in the Elm Grove house. A door was made to communicate with the schoolroom from the little sitting-room, which then became a classroom; desks took the place of the tables and chairs in the schoolroom (the old forms having long been supplemented by chairs in Miss Polhill’s time by good Bishop Hamilton), and an ugly but convenient cloakroom was put at the garden door. In 1888 the numbers had outgrown the house, and “Hill Side” was taken and used for classrooms, and, during the next year, great consultations and plans were made for the new buildings. How these new buildings were erected and how they have been supplemented you all know; and when I was shown over them by Miss Douglas, I felt that all day-dreams and longings ever indulged in by any scholar, mistress or governor of the Godolphin School had been more than realised, and that if Elizabeth Godolphin could again revisit Salisbury she would say, “My desire to benefit future generations is indeed being fulfilled; the acorn has become an oak-tree, and long may that oak-tree flourish!”