Education of girls and young women in Coleorton

This is a longer version of the article published in Community Voice March 2023.

Coleorton school class photo 1905

This photo is of pupils at Viscount Beaumont’s School in 1905. Head teacher Harold Cuthbert stands on the left and his sister Miss Lizzie Cuthbert, looking rather stern, on the right. The little girl in the middle holding the plaque is about 9 or 10 and was able to write a postcard to her friend in Ticknell telling her about her class. This is something we take for granted today, but children and girls in particular, weren’t always lucky enough to learn how to read and write.

Up until the 1700’s most children did not receive any education. Sons of the gentry and middle classes were often sent to school, frequently boarded. Girls learnt, if at all, from their mothers or from governesses. In 1624 Sir Willoughby Beaumont, younger son of Sir Nicholas and Anne Beaumont of Coleorton Hall, fell into debt after a number of failed mining enterprises, and died in Nottingham Gaol. His wife Joan was able to write a letter to the magistrate pleading for the return of her husband’s body so she could give him a proper Christian burial. She wrote and signed this letter herself so had clearly received a reasonable education. However at that time, the preoccupation of most wealthy or aspirational families was to get their daughters married advantageously and education of girls was focussed on social etiquette and obedience to their family and future husband.

Working class children had no schooling at all. Probably they and their parents and potential employers didn’t see the need. There were no local, free schools for the majority of boys and girls.

In 1702 Thomas Beaumont the third Viscount Beaumont of Swords died; his will established a trust to set up a Free School to teach children of Coleorton to read and write. Both girls and boys were to be taught and the original building accommodated 60 boys and 60 girls,

This is an engraving by S Shaw which shows the School and almshouse building in 1794 - quite an imposing building.

We don’t have any information about what schooling boys or girls received at the Free School. It’s likely that boys and girls were taught separately. In 1820 John and Lucy Beckwith came from Essex to be the headmaster and mistress. Lucy’s role was to teach the girls and also to look after the 6 widows who lived in the alms-house that shared the building. John Beckwith received the salary for both. Lucy did not have a salary in her own right. About the Free School and the Beckwiths >>

Although both boys and girls were able to receive free education in Coleorton it would seem there were differences. In 1884 Harriet Lord completed a needlework “sampler”. There is mention in the school log of needlework prizes, which VB School girls did well at, but not for boys. Actually there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent “vocational” subject for boys, so what were they learning while the girls were doing their needlework? William Briggs was head teacher from 1867 to 1900 and began the school log book in 1891. At that time boys and girls were taught in separate classes. However, in February 1898 Mrs Briggs, who taught the girls, was ill and William Briggs writes: “I have during last week and this taught boys and girls together. I think it would be well if such an arrangement were made permanent.” Later on he mentions that for “drill exercises”, scripture and singing lessons boys and girls are taught together.

Mr Briggs made notes of when older boys left to go to work and the need to achieve a “leaving certificate”. During that period there are no similar entries for girls, the expectation being presumably that they would stay at home.

By the 1900s some girls were going on to secondary education at age 13 or 14. Secondary Schools such as Ashby Girls Grammar School, which opened in 1889 as part of the Boys School, were fee-paying and so entry was limited to the relatively well-off families or those who could obtain a scholarship. Many Ashby girls who passed the School Certificate at 17 became student teachers. A few went onto teacher training college.

Interestingly, the page in the register for girls at Ashby Girls Grammar School has a section for “Pupil Teacher”. It seems that the School anticipated their girls going into the teaching profession at 18 year or even go on to teacher training college.

In 1910 14-year-old Florence Cuthbert, daughter of the Headmaster of Viscount Beaumont’s School started at Ashby Girls Grammar School. She left in 1914 to become an assistant teacher at Viscount Beaumont’s. By 1939 she was married to George Walker and in the 1939 Register her occupation is noted as “unpaid domestic duties”. She was the mother of Esme Walker who went on to become a popular teacher in the area, see Esme's story >> - so her education and teaching skills were not entirely wasted.

Bear in mind that Florence leaving her teaching job may not have been voluntary. Women were barred from many jobs, especially public roles and teaching, after they married, sometimes even if they were widowed and had no employed man to support them. See the piece in the 1935 Evening Dispatch about a rent collector sacked after her marriage.

In the previous two centuries no-one really had a problem with the wives of headmasters working as teachers in the same school, in fact it seemed to be encouraged; but in those days women were considered part of the same economic unit as their husbands.

In the early 20th century authorities used 'marriage bars' to prevent married women working as teachers. This rule meant that if a woman teacher married, she had to resign from her job; if she was already married, she was sacked. It was not until 1944 that the law was repealed and married women could be employed on the same basis as men.

Sources & References

Sandra Dillon
March 2023