Teachers at Bremhill School

A Village Schoolmistress

The village school in Bremhill, consisting of a school room and school teacher’s house, was built in 1846. Between that year and the school’s closure in 1969 it saw many school teachers come and go. Here are the stories of some of them.

Ann Selman: A Life’s Journey

The 1851 census shows the school mistress at Bremhill School to have been Jane Prior, a young lady of 21 years born in Surrey. She was assisted by the “teacher” Ann Selman, a 14-year-old local girl from Studley who would have been a pupil at the school. Ann lived with Jane Prior in the schoolhouse in Bremhill. In the nineteenth century It was quite a common arrangement for the pupil teacher of a village school to live with the school mistress as a companion cum housekeeper.

Ann’s family is a sad illustration of infant mortality rates in Victorian times. It seems that her father, George Selman of Calne, and her mother, Elizabeth Summers of Bremhill, had a child together out of wedlock when they were just nineteen and sixteen respectively. Sadly, the boy, whom they named George, only survived for a year and seven months. In 1830, four years after their child’s death, George and Elizabeth married at the Parish Church in Calne. In 1833 they had a daughter, Ann, who was buried on New Year’s Eve 1835, not having reached her third birthday. In 1836 our teacher Ann was born, followed by a brother William in 1839. Then came a sister Sarah, who died aged two, and finally a brother John in 1844 who lived only to the age of fifteen.

We do not know how long Ann worked at the school in Bremhill. 1859 must have been a particularly hard year for her, as she lost both her mother and her brother John. In the 1861 census she was living again at home in Turnpike Road, Studley, presumably keeping house for her widowed father, her brother William having moved to Overton near Marlborough to work as a groom. All was not sadness, however, as just before Christmas 1862 Ann married Joseph Brown, a bachelor three years her junior, in the Parish Church in Calne. It would be fascinating to find out how they met, as Joseph lived in Frome, working as a ticket collector at Frome Station.

By 1864 Ann and Joseph were living in Waterloo Place in Frome, where their daughter Florence was born. By the end of the decade, however, they had moved to Islington, Middlesex and according to the 1871 census now also had two small sons, Frederick and Joseph, aged two and 10 months. Ann was a full-time mother; her husband Joseph’s career had taken a completely new direction and he was working as a warder at nearby Pentonville Prison. Ann was also to experience the pain of the loss of a child, George, born in 1872 and buried in 1874. She was to have a further daughter, Emily, in 1875.

The trail for the Brown family disappears until 1891, when Ann, now a widow in her fifties, was living at 115, Arlington Street, Islington with her four children, ranging in age from twenty-seven to sixteen. She was once again working as a school mistress. Ten years later, Frederick as the elder son was head of the household at 41, Gloucester Road, Islington, which included his mother and two unmarried sisters. Ann was now Head of a school, described as an employer, and Florence was keeping house for the family. Ann’s final appearance is as a widow of seventy-four, now retired and still living with Frederick and Florence at the same address. What a long journey, personally and professionally, from her school days in Bremhill.

Sources: Baptism and marriage records for Calne Baptism records for Frome Burial records for Bremhill Census records for Studley, Bremhill and Islington

Alice Lovell: An Unexpected Change of Career

In 1881 Bremhill School was run by Alice Lovell, a 24-year-old National School Mistress, the daughter of a blacksmith in Eling, Hampshire. Her 17-year-old sister Helen lived with her in the schoolhouse and no doubt assisted her with her daily duties. Alice’s tenure at the school was clearly nearing its end, as in January 1882 she married Francis William Palmer at St Martin’s Church, Bremhill. Francis was two years older than her and, like his father William before him, was the Innkeeper of the Dumb Post Inn in Bremhill. By the time of his marriage, his father had died and Francis was in charge of the Dumb Post with the support of his Irish mother Sarah.

Before the year of their marriage was out, Alice and Francis had a daughter Helen. There followed three more children, Clara in 1883, Bertram in 1885 and Frederick in 1887. Alice’s still unmarried younger sister Helen lived with the family at the Dumb Post. Sadly, in 1896 Alice and Francis’ daughter Helen died at the age of just thirteen. By 1901, son Bertram was listed in the census as working “at home”, so at the age of fifteen was clearly already assisting his father at the Dumb Post.

It seems that the Dumb Post was Alice’s life for at least twenty years and possibly longer. In 1911 after 29 years of marriage, Alice and Francis were living in retirement in Norley Lane, Studley together with their two unmarried sons, Bertram, now working as a carpenter, and Frederick, a house painter. Alice died in 1912 at the age of 55. Unlike some of the village school mistresses for whom their teaching days in Bremhill were a springboard to a life elsewhere, Alice came to stay and took on an important role in the local community.

Sources: Census records for Cadnam and Bremhill, Marriage records for Bremhill Church England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915

Frances Elizabeth Vockins: Teaching in the Blood

It seems that by 1891 Bremhill School was fortunate in having the services of a very experienced school mistress in the person of Frances Vockins. She was a lady in her early forties, originally from Bletchworth, Surrey, herself the eldest daughter of a school master and school mistress. She lived in Bremhill in the schoolhouse, at this time known as St. Martin’s School House.

Frances was born in 1850 and by 1857 the family had moved to Ninfield, Sussex, where her parents worked as school master and school mistress. At some time between 1859 and 1861 her father must have died, as in the 1861 census Frances, now aged eleven, was recorded as living in the same schoolhouse in Ninfield with only her widowed mother and two young sisters. Nine years later in 1870 her mother was to die at the age of forty-three, leaving three orphaned daughters and effects of under £100. Times must have been hard for Frances as she clearly took on full responsibility for her sisters. The 1871 census a year later shows Frances, now aged twenty, as head of the household in Ninfield, working as the school mistress and caring for her sisters, Mary aged fourteen and Catherine aged twelve.

We next meet Frances, aged thirty, in the 1881 census. Many changes have happened within her small family and she is now living alone as school mistress in Tattingstone, Suffolk. In the same year, her sister Mary, who has become a Certified Teacher, is working as Assistant to a Certified Private Teacher in Ipswich, and living with the teacher and her elderly mother. Mary remained in Ipswich, dying there a spinster in 1902 and leaving a not inconsiderable sum of over £1,500. Also in 1881, Frances’ sister Catherine is a Certified Elementary teacher in Chidham, Sussex, living alone. Sadly, Catherine died in 1887 aged twenty-eight.

So what was it that brought Frances to Bremhill in the West Country? And what happened to her after her time at the school here? Disappointingly, the trail runs cold at this point. What is interesting about the Vockins is to find a family where every member was a school master or school mistress. It is likely that, as a school mistress, Frances did not marry. As far as we know, she remained loyal to her profession, amassing a wealth of teaching experience, and it seems that teaching was truly in her blood.

Sources: Census records for Bremhill, Ninfield, Tattingstone, Ipswich, Chidham England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915 England & Wales, National Probate Calendar, 1858-1995

Ada Rachel Kersley: An Island Girl

In 1911 the village school mistress was Ada Kersley, a fifty-year-old spinster. You could say that Ada was born into the profession, as her birth took place in 1860 in the National School in South Stoneham, Hampshire. She was the youngest of five children and her parents had been school master and school mistress at the school since at least 1851.

It comes as somewhat of a surprise, therefore, to discover that by 1871 Ada’s father David had become a baker. At the age of ten Ada was still living in South Stoneham, but no longer at the school, where a younger couple had taken over the reins. In the 1881 census, David Kersley was described as a grocer and he was clearly still working in South Stoneham as a grocer in 1891 at the age of seventy-six.

We lose track of Ada for some years, but catch up with her in 1891 as a thirty-year-old school mistress living in the School House at Thorley on the Isle of Wight. She was still school mistress there in 1901. Perhaps it was the death in of her father in 1898 or that of her mother in 1901 which prompted her to move away from the Isle of Wight. Whatever the reason for that was, she is next found as school mistress at Bremhill School in 1911. The schedule she filled in for that year’s census tells us that she lived alone in the schoolhouse which had four rooms, including the kitchen. She was assisted at the school by Daisy Smith, a young teacher also from Hampshire.

It seems that after her tenure in Bremhill Ada returned to the Isle of Wight. She died in 1949 at the age of 89, predeceased by all her siblings. She was living in Sidney Cottage in the village of Niton and her death was recorded at Ventnor. Her estate was valued at a little under £1,000 and she left everything to Frederick David Peach, her nephew and now a retired carpenter, and to George William Rashley, a carpenter, also living in Niton.

There were clearly links of friendship between Ada and the Rashley family. When George Rashley’s mother Elizabeth died in 1932 at the age of a hundred and one, her address was Sidney Cottage, Niton. It seems that Sidney Cottage had originally been the home of Elizabeth’s sister Mary, her husband and Elizabeth’s daughter Rose, while the widowed Elizabeth and her son George lived next door in Enfield Cottage. After her sister’s death in 1896, Elizabeth moved into Sidney Cottage to live with her brother-in-law and daughter Rose.

It is not clear when Ada came to Niton. She may well have known Elizabeth or perhaps she moved into Sidney Cottage after Elizabeth’s death. Next door to Sidney Cottage on the other side was the School House - the school in Niton had closed in 1905 - and it was here that George Rashley lived with his wife and two sons. It is fitting that Ada is now reunited with her good neighbours the Rashley family in the churchyard of St. John’s Church in Niton on the Isle of Wight.

Sources: Census records for South Stoneham, Thorley, Bremhill and Niton England and Wales, National Probate Calendar 1858-1995

Isobel Moore