Saturday, August 17, 2013

Fanny Catherine Hall

During the 1860s the property, then known as Morden House, served as a school with one former pupil who had a very famous local connection.  

Fanny Catherine Hall was the eldest of Martha and William Hall’s five surviving children.  She was born at a house in Wood Street but the family later moved to 5 Prospect Terrace.

Fanny was a cousin of local literary giant Richard Jefferies.  Her mother, the former Martha Jefferies was the sister of Richard’s father James Luckett Jefferies.

In an account of her schooldays Fanny wrote about the establishment at Morden House, a large house with a big schoolroom at the back and a fair sized playground where girls and boys played together.

“The food was on the whole good and plentiful, though of the plainest,” remembered Fanny.  “The bedrooms were closely packed, the boys sleeping in the attic.”

Schoolmistresses Eliza Ann Large and her sister Jane Cox were related by marriage to their eleven year old pupil.  The two women were the sisters in law of Fanny’s aunt, Fanny Cox, also aunt to Richard Jefferies.  “The second in command was a personal friend of Mother’s,” she wrote and another cousin was a pupil teacher in charge to prevent ‘high jinks.’

Perhaps Fanny’s mother thought this was sufficient recommendation, but Fanny was to discover her relatives employed some Draconian methods of punishment.

“The teaching was very elementary, and there were some rather drastic punishments e.g. standing in the stocks nearly heel to heel holding a blackboard,” wrote Fanny.  “I remember once seeing a girl and then a boy fall down in a faint after the ordeal.”

Fanny remembered attending church at Rodbourne Cheney where the ‘keen faced’ incumbent wore a black gown in the pulpit and black gloves.

“We had the Easter Hymn once every Sunday as the organ was of the old barrel type containing, [with] I believe 6 tunes,” wrote Fanny.

But despite the plain food and the terrifying punishments Fanny states that she was quite happy at Morden House, noting that she enjoyed the games in the playground.

Fanny spent three months during 1862 at the school in the former farmhouse.  In September 1863 she was sent to Marlborough to a school kept by a Mrs Byfield who she remembered as “one of the handsomest of women though totally unfit to educate budding humanity.”

The experience of her schooldays did not deter Fanny from entering the teaching profession herself.  In 1871 she was working as an assistant teacher at a school in Ashford, Kent.  Twenty years later Fanny was Joint Principal at Longford School in Bristol where 19 girls aged 10-17 boarded on census night 1891.   She died in 1939 aged 89 years old.

On March 31, 1868 Rev Arthur Evans, the owner, signed an agreement with Mr Robert Bird for letting Morden House and premises from year to year at an annual rent of £40 and the property returned to use as a farmhouse.

Today the former Morden House survives as Park Farm, sheltered housing for older people. And the home of Fanny's famous ancestor Richard Jefferies is open to the public, visit the Richard Jefferies' Society website for further details.

Two views of Park Farm.

Richard Jefferies

The Richard Jefferies Museum at Coate, Marlborough Road, Swindon.

Swindon poet and storyteller Hilda Sheehan at a recent family event held at the Museum - Wood Magic Picnic

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