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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Schools and School Registers

My latest feature for Who Do You Think You Are? magazine focuses on school registers, which are a wonderful resource for tracing your ancestors' childhood. Until fairly recent times, parents paid for their children’s education.  Admission registers were essential so that schools could check how many children attended, their parents’ contact details, and whether school fees were up-to-date. 

Upper class children, and middle class children whose parents were well-off, were usually taught by tutors or governesses at home during their early years.  When they were about ten years old, boys went to schools like Eton and Harrow to prepare them for university. Girls like Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra were sent to a ‘honest, old-fashioned boarding school… where girls might be sent to …scramble themselves into a little education without any danger of coming back prodigies’ (Jane Austen, Emma, 1815).  Most boarding schools taught a smattering of ‘ladylike’ accomplishments rather than a good, all-round education.  Alternatively girls attended a local day school or a seminary if affordable.

Working class children (if their parents were prepared to pay for their education) attended ordinary day schools for a few pence per week, unless they obtained a charity (‘Blue Coat’) school place or a free scholarship. Thousands of poor children had no education at all, or perhaps just went to Sunday school.
Middle-class parents in straitened circumstances who did not want their children to mix with working-class children at ordinary day schools, tried to get them a place at a charity school where education was free or subsidized.

The Revd. Patrick Brontë (1777–1861) had a very limited income. He sent his four eldest daughters, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte and Emily to the Clergy Daughters’ School, Cowan Bridge after their mother Maria’s tragic death.  The fees for this school were subsidized by a charity.  The school’s regime was spartan, with poor quality food, and the two older Brontë sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, whose health was not robust, died in 1825. Charlotte later immortalized her experiences in Jane Eyre (1847). 

Some public and grammar school registers are available in large reference libraries, and free on Google Books and the Internet Archive.

A class of school girls with their teacher, postcard circa 1910.
Charlotte Brontë.
Plaque marking the location of the Oliver Whitby (Blue Coat School), Chichester.  © Sue Wilkes.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Kindertransport Live

A new play looking at the experiences of child evacuees during WWII is being performed at theatres and railway stations across the UK.  The Kindertransport was a mission to help rescue children fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe.  You can find out more about the play and the history behind the play's story here; tour dates are here.

If your ancestor was a child evacuee in England and Wales, my new book Tracing Your Ancestors' Childhood includes sources for evacuees.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Chester Library Talk: Regency Cheshire

Just a reminder that I'll be giving a talk at Chester Library on 30 November from 2-3pm as part of the library's 'Jane Austen's Regency Christmas' fun day. I'll be reading extracts from my book Regency Cheshire, and I will have some books to sell which you can buy on the day.
However, if you've already bought one of my books (or prefer to buy a copy online first), if you bring it with you, I'll be happy to sign it after the talk.
There are details on how to buy a ticket for the event here.
Image: Eastgate St, Chester, in the 1820s. 

Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives on Kindle!

My book 'Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives: The Industrial Revolution in Lancashire', published by The History Press, is now out on Kindle! 

Photo © Sue Wilkes: 
India Mill, Darwen.