I was nearly fifteen when I went to the Godolphin School in the autumn of 1861. Up to that time I had been taught by my sister at home, and, before being accepted as a candidate, one of the curates at our church put me through a simple examination in writing and arithmetic, and I suppose also in reading. We had three governesses, the head being Miss (I suppose Emma) Polhill. She was most kind and we all liked her, she was so broad-minded and always seemed on the look-out for what was good in us. She took a Bible Class I think every Sunday, and besides the Church Catechism we learnt Dr. Neale’s Catechism and the Thirty nine Articles! these last twice over! The curate at St. Martin’s, a middle-aged priest, came once a week to give its a Bible Class, and then saw two girls separately in the dining-room after it. We brought him replies written out to two questions given us the week before.
The discipline was severe, more like that of a reformatory, I should think. After seven a.m., when we were called, we had to speak French, and atrocious it was, but we did it till, I think, five p.m. The second governess was the exact opposite of Miss Polhill; she was really strictly and severely conscientious, and I think that made her more on the look-out for our faults than our virtues. I was especially unfortunate, as she had been governess to two cousins of mine, whom she was always holding up to me as paragons of virtue, which no doubt they were, and if I did anything wrong she would say, ” I should never have thought that of you ! ” I knew nothing of these cousins and never met them. We had mark-books and prizes, and marks for conduct, neatness, politeness, punctuality, besides lessons. A drop of ink or the slightest mark on the table would mean a loss of a mark for neatness, and I remember my school friend lost one for politeness for saying “My aunt has vile taste in dress,” which remark the second governess overheard as we were walking out two and two. When once in the country we rambled about, but always went two and two into Salisbury from Milford Hill, and once on the pavement were not allowed to speak. I fancy this rule held good even on the monthly half-holiday, when those who were not invited out were taken to the Cathedral Service at three p.m. I remember the high, dark seats and small congregation, and once my friend was reproved by our second governess: “Emily, do not sing so loud.” On this followed in the psalm, “Sing unto the Lord a new song, sing praises lustily unto Him with a good courage.” I do not wonder that Mrs. Whitehead had a “terribly dull time” there. It was a system of strict regularity and repressions. We were not encouraged to ask questions and always had to read aloud in class in a low tone, so as not to disturb the others, consequently when the Bishop’s chaplain came to examine us, and we were put at one end of a long room and told to read, he said we were failures in that respect.
Our day began with a Bible Class taken, as all or nearly all were, by the second governess. I think this was before breakfast. We repeated by heart I think three verses from the Bible,, and if we even missed one word we lost a mark. After breakfast we all said four lessons by heart. I was good at this. We learnt a “History in All Ages,” with very long answers in small print, and I remember my delight when girl after girl failed and it came to my turn to say it perfectly. The education was poor. We learnt Mang nall’s Questions, I believe, and Mitchell’s Catechist, and I rolled off answers and names such as quartz, feltspar, with no idea whatever as to what they were like or their uses. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we read for half an hour in class the same chapter in Mrs Markham’s History of France, and, I think, were questioned on it. Then we each read it to ourselves for half an hour on Wednesday and then wrote it from memory, getting marks for it. My friend had learnt French from a French lady, and she had battles-royal with the second governess, who insisted on her pronouncing it in her English way. We walked out, mostly in pairs, every day, and the rest of the time was devoted to lessons which went on till tea-time, and I think the evening was spent in preparation work. Looking back, it seems to me we were always at it. Directly after dinner we lay extended on the floor with an old copy book under our heads for an hour, learning the lessons by heart which we had to say next day.
On one evening a week we mended our clothes, and, in darning stockings, were careful to take one stitch and miss two, or we should have had to take it out and do it again. The stockings of those days had coarse stitches, not like they are now. We went up to bed carrying shades with tallow candles in them, and were allowed, I think, twenty minutes to undress; then the governess came and took them away. We were never allowed to speak on the stairs or to the servants. We dressed as we liked. I was always too old to wear a hat except in the week, and had a bonnet for Sundays. I remember at another school wearing a square black shawl, worn double with a point falling down the back.
On Sundays we attended St. Martin’s and occupied the choir seats in the chancel, going in by that door, I think, to keep us quite separate from the congregation. We knew nothing of “slang” nor of games, but used, I think, to dance together when rain prevented our going out for walks. The eldest girl in my day was a Miss Edwards. I do not know whether she is still living; as I am eighty-one, she must be still older. We filed into meals in the dining-room, and my friend remembered that I was once reproved for making fun with my tea-cup during the meal. When we were marked each evening, we said whether we had been polite, neat, etc., and the discipline made me so nervous that I was constantly getting bad marks for such things. It depressed me so altogether that my mother removed me after three years, and I went to a school where there was less discipline and more freedom and encouragement to think for oneself. Still, in spite of the faults of the system I agree with the author of a poem in a book, probably still in the school library, which was started in my day:
“These ladies have reason to bless thro’ their life Godolphin the Dr. and Eliza his wife.”