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Education Discussion Forum
'What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to an human soul'
Joseph Addison 6 november 1711

"Educate every child as if he were your own"
from Dora Russell's book The Tamerisk Tree



Post 1870 Education Act

Despite the advances made in state education after the 1870 Education Act, the working-class mother continued to play a vital role in the education of her children. School attendance for girls (and boys) to the age of ten was not made compulsory at elementary board schools until 1876. The school-leaving age was raised to eleven in 1893, and to fourteen in 1899. Exemptions were allowed for part-time working under local bye-laws, from the age of eleven for agriculture, and from twelve under the Factory Acts, provided that adequate standards of literacy and numeracy were met.
By 1900 considerable progress had been made in developing educational opportunities for girls. Although upper-class girls were often educated by governesses, many middle-class girls were sent to school, including boarding schools. However hard-pressed mothers of large families depended on their older daughters and many day schools allowed girls to finish at lunchtime in order to spend the afternoons in domestic pursuits.
From 1902 the number of girls in secondary education rose and the Girls Public Day School Trust was formed in 1906. High rates of infant mortality prompted a concern after 1910 to ensure that girls were instructed in infant care. In 1910 a mere 70 girls from elementary schools entered English and Welsh universities with scholarships. However the university extension movement enabled a growing number of middle-class women to attend part-time courses on a great variety of subjects.
By 1914, however, academic opportunities for intelligent elementary school girls were increasing and in 1918 compulsory full-time education to the age of fourteen was imposed. The number of girls continuing their education beyond fourteen remained relatively small. However some managed to progress by becoming pupil teachers in elementary schools, prior to entering university after matriculation on scholarship schemes.
Before the (1914-18) War, the proportion of children in school dropped between the ages of 12 and 13, and still further after 13. The unsatisfactory position was aggravated during the war by the attractions of high wages, which induced such large numbers to leave school as permitted by the variety of bye-laws, that the actual school-leaving age was between 13 and 14 rather than the statutory age of 14.


The Goldsmith Girls

The Goldsmith Girls
Gertrude and her sister Bertha attended Grey Coat Hospital in Westminster. Bertha won a scholarship, but unfortunately did not finish her education as she married at the age of sixteen. It is possible that Mary Ann also attended. Gertrude left at the age of 12/13.We now know that Joyce Goldsmith, daughter of Tom, and Nell Goldsmith children of Charles Leonard (ii) ( brothers of Gertrude and Bertha) the granddaughters of Charles, Loraine and Jane also attended. The uniform changed in the late 1800's. A gymnasium was built in 1882 and in 1900 gymn was introduced as an optional subject for the girls. There were two types of costume allowed at the time which included knee length serge bloomers. All the girls wore black woollen stockings and black plimsolls in the gymn. For rope climbing and vaulting. the top of the skirt could be tucked into the bloomers, provided it was dropped back into place immediately.

Gertrude had left Grey Coat Hospital by the age of 12 yrs and was working in a shop by 14. The family may have lived in poor circumstances, although Clara Selina worked as a Court dressmaker in Ponsonby Place and Charles Leonard was in full time employment. On the 1901 Census both Clara and Mary Ann aged 22 were listed as dressmakers. Education for the poor was provided by charity schools, of which a number were founded in Westminster, taking their names from the colour of the uniforms the children were required to wear.

"We all loved her and the rich knowledge and extra dimension she brought to our house. Education skipped a generation , my mum managed very little with all the troubles. "
Gertrude's Grandson

I'm not connected to this family but you might like to know that the photo
that you have of the young child in the Grey Coat uniform of c. 1890 is
actually my great-great-aunt Ida Dorothea Ludwig (who later took her
mother's name Bennett). I think that the original of the photo is from
the book on the history of the school and in that book the child is
either not named or is named incorrectly. I've been able to confirm the
photo from other documentation in the Greycoat archives at the
Westminster Archives. Ida's aunt, Caroline Bennett, was a
school-mistress at Greycoat and Ida is referred to in various documents
as either the 'god-daughter' or occasionally (and incorrectly) the
adopted daughter of Elsie Day. As she was born in 1880, and lived much
of her early life at the school, it is quite likely that Ida would have
known Gertrude; and Gertrude may well have been taught by Caroline who
was my great-great-great-aunt. Ida was from a reasonably comfortably-off
family for whom the education of girl-children had always been a
priority. She was not the youngest, but when her parents and the rest of
the family (including seven other children) emigrated to New Zealand in
the late 1880s, Ida stayed behind at the School. She later became a
schoolmistress at Greycoat herself. It is interesting that your story of
Gertrude suggests that she became an activist for women's rights (among
other things). Ida was lucky enough to continue her education at St
Hugh's College at Oxford University before she returned to teach at
Greycoat. Some of the entries in the St Hugh's college magazine indicate
that many of the girls who had been educated at GreyCoat may have gone
on to become involved in the suffragette movement. Lorraine Elliott

"You would have thought that even in those days an address so close to Parliament would be quite prestigious, but obviously not. I've always known Dad was born in Westminster which sounded quite posh to me and it never seemed to fit when he said about all of them living in a couple of rooms and him suffering malnutrition!" Lawrence's granddaughter

My mother always told me the older Bird children never went to a formal school, they had a 'Governess' at home. We wonder now whether this could have been Gertrude. According to mother she was very cruel towards her because she was left handed, she used to tie her left hand behind her back and force her to write with her 'correct' hand. Consequently mother's handwriting was very poor throughout her life and she never wrote anything down if she could avoid it, relying on her husband for anything that had to be put in writing apart from her signature.
It is now known that this was usual practice throught the beginning to mid the 20th century.

Ida Dorothea Ludwig

Ida Dorothea Ludwig
In 1874 The Grey Coat Hospital became a day school for poor girls. This was the costume worn in the 1890's. Underclothes consisting of home-made stays and black serge petticoats, descended from child to child, unwashed, until they wore out.
Although the school employed a laundry maid, it is difficult to know what she did before the new regime for she was reluctant to do any laundry. The bedding in the dormitories was filthy but was covered by spotless counterpanes whenever there was a governors’ inspection.
Worse still the girls’ stays and black petticoats were passed down from child to child without ever being washed. The laundry maid was shocked when asked to wash them insisting that they’d never been washed in the seven years that she’d been in the school and she threatened to resign.

Opportunities for girls who attended elementary schools were limited. Most were expected to become servants or dressmakers.

On June 3rd 1874, aged 25, Elsie Day was appointed as the first headmistress of ‘The Grey Coat Hospital’ a former charity school that was in the process of becoming a day school for girls. During her first year, due to an oversight, the school continued to take boarders, known as Foundationers, and it was in this area that Elsie Day first made her mark.
The following year the boarders left and the Grey Coat Hospital became a girls’ day school. The first Grey Coat girl passed the Cambridge local examination in 1875. By 1880 the governors had been persuaded to allow girls to stay on at the school beyond the age of 15 and in 1891 the first Grey Coat girl passed the London Matriculation. Elsie Day must have been very proud of her girls’ academic achievements for she recorded examination successes on large wooden boards placed on the walls of the hall.

Ex pupils of the school are called 'Old Greys'

Grey Coat school marks c 1899

Grey Coat school marks c 1899
A gymnasium was built in 1882 and in 1900 gym was introduced as an optional subject for the girls. There were two types of costume allowed at the time which included knee length serge bloomers. All the girls wore black woollen stockings and black plimsolls in the gymn. For rope climbing and vaulting. the top of the skirt could be tucked into the bloomers, provided it was dropped back into place immediately.

See Gertrude's story on pdf - Goldsmith Front page click to view


Grey Coat Hospital Today - photo Janice ©

Grey Coat Hospital Today - photo Janice ©

Child's Labour Certificate

Children needed the certificate in order to start work as it demonstrated their school work was of a reasonable standard. This system ensured that the workforce was competent at reading, maths and general knowledge, and guaranteed all children a basic level of education. Unfortunately it put pressure on bright children from poorer families to leave school as soon as possible. Once they had reached this basic standard of education they could start work and bring an extra wage to their household.

The certificate came into use under the Employment of Children Act 1903 and stipulated that no child under the age of 14 should be employed in any occupation before 6am or after 8pm or for more than nine and a half hours a day or on a Sunday. These regulations outlawed many of the bad practices relating to the employment of children, but were hard to enforce, particularly in remote mining and farming villages, or large cities with a high proportion of migrant labourers.

Ellen Wilkinson

Ellen Wilkinson
Ellen Wilkinson (sometimes referred to as 'Helen Wilkinson') was born in 1891 in Manchester, in a strict Methodist working class home. In 1906 she won a teaching bursary, which allowed her to take training courses while teaching at an elementary school called Oswald Road. In one of her books, Myself When Young (1936), she recounted her classroom experiences at Oswald Road, including her frustrations with the traditional British education system of that time. In one section of the book, for instance, she recalled one incident in which she was reprimanded by the headmaster and advised to become a missionary in China by a school inspector:

The boys were filling in time, bored stiff under they reached 14 years and could leave. I was an undersized girl. They all towered above me. My only hope was to interest them sufficiently to keep them reasonably quiet. One day the Headmaster came in and demanded to know why the boys were not sitting upright with their arms folded. "They are sitting that way because I am interesting them" I replied. To which the Headmaster responded by caning almost everyone. We had a grand row, and I was sent home to be reprimanded by an Inspector. But my temper had not calmed. The surging hate of all the silly punishment I had endured in my school days prevented any awe of the Inspector. I whirled all this out at the unfortunate man, who listened quietly and advised: "Don't do any more teaching when you have finished your two years here. Take my advice. Go and be a missionary in China."

During Winston Churchill's wartime coalition government, Wilkinson was appointed parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Pensions in 1940, and after the elections of 1945, the post-war Prime Minister Clement Attlee named her as Minister of Education, becoming the first woman to hold this post in the country. One of Wilkinson's first proposals as Minister of Education was to increase the school-leaving age to sixteen, but the government delayed this proposed policy because of its potential costs.

In 1946 she was more successful with another proposal, which built on the early campaigns of McMillan sisters and Katharine Glasier, which resulted in the 1906 Provision of School Meals Act. Wilkinson's proposal followed the same argument made by the McMillan sisters 40 years before, namely that malnutrition detracts from good learning. Wilkinson's proposal was passed by Parliament and became the 1946 School Milk Act, which provided a free third of a pint of milk to all British schoolchildren.

Ellen Wilkinson made a great contribution to the struggle for equalization of educational opportunities and for a strong and vibrant public education system.

Class of 1902-1906

Class of 1902-1906
Ellen - back row 3rd from left

Joseph Newton Bird ( b 1878) emigrated to South Africa and sent both his sons to Bishops ( aka Diocesan College ) which is the SA equivalent to Eton, Dennis Bird was there also and it is presumed that Joseph Newton paid his fees.
Bishops is also famous for the fact that the current color of the Springbok rugby jersey was the Bishops school color. After the Springboks took the color of green they (Bishops) had to change to their current blue.
Bishops can still claim to be one of the most famous sporting schools in South Africa. In terms of the variety of sports and the number of junior and senior Springboks the school has produced in recent years, it is still right at the top of the list.

Vera Louise Bird born 1901 daughter of Joseph Newton Bird and Nettie Lee
married Alfred Walker born 1894, their son Henry Newton Walker was a
famous rugby playerand played internationally for the Springboks

Alfred Walker is interesting. He and his brother Will were both Springbok rugby players.
Alfred played against the New Zealand All Blacks in a tour of New Zealand
in the famous "House of Pain". The All blacks won.
Newton played on the same ground against the All Blacks and they won again.
The South Africans had never beaten the All Blacks on that ground until last year
when they finally won.
Will Walker was my maternal grandfather. He played for the Springboks
against England.

Newton Walker, two of his sons (David and Peter) and I, all were at Kearsney which is in Natal in what used to be the country but is now rapidly turning into a distant suburb of Durban. The three boarding houses were Pembroke, Gillingham and Finningley. I was in Finningley Newton in Gillingham. I guess it was the English teachers that we had that caused the use of the English village names. there was a great emphasis on the English "Public Schools" systems. I had Latin flogged into me for absolutely no long term benefit.

From Patrick Bird ( now resident Canada )

Kearsney College takes its name from a small Kentish Village and owes its existance to the foresight and generosity of Sir Leige Hulett who gave his family home on Natal's North Coast near Stanger to the Methodist Church.

link to website


Published 1927 - A book in Thalia's possession

Published 1927 - A book in Thalia's possession

Torquay Girls Grammar School

Torquay Girls Grammar School
I remember mother being very scathing about Public Schools.The snobbish privilige and the posh accents. I think our KHS although private was OK with our parents because the ethos
was very different.I remember walking to the Girls Grammar School in the smart uniform past
Audley Park Secondary Modern where those who failed the 11 plus suffered. They used to lie in wait and shove dog mess on sticks in my face I never responded with any agression because even at that age I realised the unfair dreadful consequences of the 11 plus exam and felt great sympathy with them. I used to cycle most times.
I loved the TGGS, the mainly spinster staff. The building which I thought had been there for ever looking back was fairly new with it two white triangles of classrooms with open internal corridors and french windows on the outer side... oak windows and desks..built before the regular use of antiobiotics for maximum fresh air ...the quiet grassy area within the triangles which only the sixth form could use with sundials and fishponds...I was never a prefect I think my inner rebelliousness shone thro my shyness..
At TGGS there was a free small bottle of Milk and a freshly baked penny currant bun availaible at morning break, a simple meat and two veg and a pudding at lunch prepared on the premises. I remember the shock amd anger of our generation when Margaret Thatcher introduced Junk Food machines into schools.

Curriculm of TGGS in the 1940s/50s
The subjects we studied were in periods of 30 mins some were double periods.
English Language
English Literature
Domestic Science
Art. Purpose built room with oak furniture.
Games twice a week
Physical Education twice a week
Country dancing once a week
We could do German after school. A brief course of Civics in the top
forms. One lesson on sex education in the first year with Miss Wilkinson
the Head teacher. Our school raised money for the local St Dunstans Home
for the Blind. Some must have been service men but there was never any
contact so it did not seem real.

I went to evening classes, Gymnastics at the Technical College, Art classes on Friday evenings and Saturday Mornings at Torquay Art School. Thalia

Corporal Punishment

I remember at Wentworth County Primary School we dreaded Maths lessons. Our Maths teacher was a big man who wore a tweed jacket. He would stride into the classroom with a bundle of things under his arm and before sitting down would lay out on his desk the cane, a slipper, a ruler and an excercise book. During the course of the lesson, these would fly around the room at the slightest murmer, if a wrong answer was given it was up to the desk for girls and being rapped firmly on the knuckles with the ruler and for the boys up in front of the whole class and being caned on the bottom. I lagged behind in lessons and in order to get me through the 11 plus my parents sent me to this man's house for private lessons two evenings a week. I was absolutely petrified but he was as nice as pie to me with his wife and two children in the house. Subsequently I failed the 11 plus mainly on the maths side - looking back it was possibly to do with all this . Janice

Some other recollections of how things were in the 'Good old days' click to read stories
Corporal punishment was outlawed in state schools in 1986, but remained legal in independent schools. It was banned in Public Schools in 1998
MPs voted 211 to 15 in favour of an amendment to the School Standards and Framework Bill that bans all corporal punishment and brings independent schools into line with the state sector and the rest of Europe
"There is no evidence whatsoever that the use of corporal punishment is an effective deterrent, either for a child who may have been misbehaving nor indeed is it a deterrent for other children." Don Foster Lib Dem MP

Until then, Britain was unique in Europe because it retained corporal punishment in some schools.

When it came time for Angus to go to secondary school in the early
1970's there were no League tables and jockeying for the best academic
schools. He failed the 11 plus along with all but eleven children in
his very large class. My over riding concern was that he should go to a
school witout corporal punishment. I knew the education officer and
asked his advice. He said the Victorian school near the bridge in the
centre of Scarborough was a school which used corporal punishment but
the newer one on the outskirts of town had a better philosophy. PARENTS
TO DAY ARE NOT FACED WITH THIS over riding factor in the choice of their
childrens schools Thalia Campbell

Women's Co-operative Guild

Women's Co-operative Guild
The importance of education was first acknowledged during 1886. The Women's Co-operative Guild actively promoted education for all from the outset. They realised that the spread of co-operation could only be achieved on a large scale if the nation was educated in the mechanics and benefits of the system. Initially this focused on practical everyday tasks through a series of workshops but developed into a wider education programme for women's enlightenment as the Guild grew. By 1893 courses on 'Free education' and 'Socialism' were being held. Domestic issues were pushed to the background in favour of topics such as practical social reform, housing and health. By the turn of the century text books were being produced to accompany the Guild's education programmes. Classes for women speakers began in 1911, followed two years later by two day and four day schools which aimed to get away from the evening class style of education favouring this concentrated approach. Special subjects were first considered at the Annual Schools for the Central Committee and Sectional Council members, who then acted as lecturers at one day and two day schools held within each District.

click to read full article

I never felt the lack of education did me any harm at all. I failed the 11+ (see above) and went to a Technical School with a second chance at 13.
I passed 'just' some very mediocre GCE's the best being in Art. I hated the pressure of exams and in English Lit being forced to learn whole passages of Shakespeare or a poem word for word to quote in the 'orals' , it meant nothing to me and I left school at 17.
All this made me very determined to educate myself as I wanted to do it and when I wanted to do it. My first love was languages and travel, so at the age of 19 I left home for Europe for six years, learning French Italian and Spanish on the way 'all by ear'.
I then returned to England and launched myself into Social Services and the caring professions and never looked back, taking advantage of every 'in house' and external course and diploma offered to me.
I was brutally aware of the lack of education of my mother, it showed through in all aspects of her life, she could never sit around discussing the latest novel or piece of poetry as she never read at all. When discussions like this began to materialise when we had guests for dinner, mother always left for the kitchen to 'clear up and make coffee' avoiding anything that might have been the slightest bit intellectual. Alastair was 'possibly' doped and sent to bed to keep him quiet and I was sent to my room never allowed to join in. When Alastair went to Boarding School mother tried hard and went to evening classes, she learnt French for many years but mainly went to dressmaking and tailoring classes.
Our house was never rich in books, magazines, journals or art, nothing to stimulate the senses or give inspiration. Father subscribed to the National Geographic and the Pharmaceutical Journal and this was about all we had in the house apart from an encyclopaedia and a couple of dictionaries. Later on when I was in my teens my parents joined card clubs and went out to play Whist , Canasta, Bezique etc. These are 'silent' games, and although social avoided all opportunities to have stimulating conversations. Their other diversion was dancing which they continued well into their seventies, this of course didn't require any academic qualifications. Later mother took up the piano and resurrected her violin from the loft and used to go out to musical 'soirees' with friends. This activity again not requiring any intellectual converstation.
Looking back over this wasteland of academia and culture I feel proud that I have reached the pinnacle of my career without having had a university or college education.

The lack of education was a constant sadness Gertrude wanted to go to university and mother took O levels later in life along with her friends in a similar position. ( Can anyone confirm this ?? ) Mother was very proud of reading as a child, Dickens poetry etc. Education is the key to self confidence and financial security. Secrecy became a problem here because all the discussions between the adults took place without the children being part of it. I really wanted an education for myself and the others. Mother told me Dad was unhappy at school being always compared unfavourably with older brother Dudley.
I have suffered a long festering back lash for my desire to be educated .It's taken most of my life to unravel the guilt I had imposed on me, grandmother, dad and mum had their rows in secret. Mother told me out in the countryside she used to scream and shout at dad about us all getting an education. I tried to say that getting married was not neccessarily the only future for women and any way, we could be widowed or divorced so please can we have education, there was a big hole in education policy. If we had been poor I would automatically have got a grant and none of that misery would have happened. In the 1970s in Yorkshire when I went to the County Council for a grant I sat around a long polished table with oil paintings on the wall with old men. County Councillors who asked me why I wanted to go to university .I told them my problems and they blushed pink and stuttered . I realised that they had done the same to their daughters. They gave me the grant but not the addition they could have given me as a mature student with children.One of my children was the beer I did not drink and the other the car I did not have so we survived. It was such a complicated undercurrent in our lives. We have always been very open with our children, perhaps they have not had such an 'innocent happy' chilldhood but they seem to have appreciated it. Spencer too educated himself later as a mature student.

It just makes me think how vulnerable in so many ways a lack of education made our family and so many of that generation. I think lack of education was the crux of it all as well
as the vegetarianism and secrets.The confidience and financial security a good ediucation gives was just not there for most of them. How many of us went to University! That was why I fought along with my mother and grandmother for an education for all of us !!. Because this fight on the grown ups side was a secret fight! SECRETS once - More misunderstanding
and division through secrets. I accepted this guilt thrust on me as a trouble maker by the others. it's taken me all my life to unravel this. Their hatred and misunderstanding festers still.

Those two men Maurice and Dudley were very arrogant men like most of their period. Dudley succeeded in school and was always held up throughout their schooling as a shining example to follow. Dudley was good at games and shone at sports. Maurice hated school and could not wait to leave he was made to feel that he let down the example set by his elder brother, his interests were football and music. When I talked with him about his childrens schooling he said he was always at odds with Lilian she loved school and felt cheated that she had not had a proper schooling she was self taught in a cultured but poor environment. In later life after the children left home she went back to studying and took and passed O levels, Maurice hated this. Maurice always said he rescued Lilian from poverty and fed and clothed her Lilians recollections were different. They met through their music Maurice had the money for instruments and the means to travel to gigs, they played in local hotels. He made much of her bare feet, now we know that GMB's influence and that she encouraged the young children at little Ideen to go barefoot.

I am racking my brain to think what mum did in the way of education. I
remember she did read some classic books as part of classes she attended - I
bought her some books on English to help her at the time. I vaguely recall
one may have been Lord of the Flies, or something akin. Whether it went as
far as exams I'm ashamed to admit that I just can't recall. And of course
there were the art classes too. If only we could be wise enough to realise
our parents' problems when we're young. I know that mum's abilities weren't
stretched at school, but she did try and amend that when I was a child, to a
limited extent. I used to sit as a model for her art a lot!

This is not easy to explain but
A few heroes and influences of Gertrudes and Lillians
I used to listen on the radio to the plays of Bernard Shaw and Hendrik Ibsen with my grandmother in her Bed sit at 81 Teighmouth road and look at a large book The Worlds Greatest Paintings. Ibsens The Dolls House and The Wild Duck were a great inlfluence on me.
as a teenager I was just beginning to read her books when she died.
Annie Besant too was a herione of Gertrudes and Ghandi, Dickens and Bertrand Russell as well as the social reformers such as Elizabeth Fry.
The poets they were inspired by were Blake, Keats, Shelley,Wordsworth, John Clare, Ella Wheeler Wilcox and many more.they really believed in the ideas and feelings of those poets.
Grey Owl A british man who pretended he was an American Indian and campaignerd for their culture was a strong influence during Gerties lifetime.
Longfellow was part of the ethos of other cultures being important and the ideas of Gertie that bare feet/nakedness were a good idea which probably tied in with the Suffrage....cant think of the right description.... reform, corsets flat shoes etc. The Cooperative Womens Guild and The Woodcraft Folk carried on these beliefs too and clothes reform as well as international politics.The CWG magazines from the 1930s-1940s are very interesting They took on the world doing the work which now the large Charities and NGOS s do for peace the environment and human rights.They had recipes and sewing patterns mixed in with learned articles about changing the world.I remember a pile of these in Gertrudes room.

My teachers in the 1940s and 50s were inspiring despite large classes.On Desert Island Discs many participants say how their lives were transformed by an inspirational teacher.Since the 1970s this has changed.We were selected to attend a course for prospective head teachers...and were shocked by the criteria to be used to choose future heads, No inspiring unusual people, the search was for the safe and mediocre. This was to be the future.....We left teaching after a few years.


Susan Childs has always been interested in art, drawing and painting. She first went to art classes at the Vivian Institute in Torquay aged eight. At Torquay Girls Grammar school she gained both O and A level in Art and followed this with a foundation course in 1957 at Newton Abbot Art School.
Subsequently she attended courses at several art schools including Tunbridge Wells, Eastbourne and Hastings, specialising in life drawing. She studied and gained an A level in art history in 1988.