Victorian Tour

Willen Schoolmistresses

School teaching provided an opportunity for the educated daughters of skilled craftsmen and the like to make a respectable living and improve their social situation. They were much more mobile than the farm workers, who tended to stay close to their place of birth. The census records give us the following information about the Willen schoolmistresses.

1851 Mary Whitehead, 39, widow, Dewsbury, Yorks.
1861 Mary Perring, 22, spinster, from Totnes, Devon.
1871 Elizabeth Jelley, 20, sp., from Birstall, Leics.
1881 Martha Barnes, 29, sp., from Witney, Oxon.
1891 Janet Meads, 31, sp., from Marylebone, London
We know too that Mary Perring lived with the Benthalls, in the vicarage, while the schoolhouse was being extended. The Benthalls also came from Totnes originally, but whether this is a coincidence or whether John Benthall had some hand in getting Mary the job we don't know. Mary went on to marry James Whitmee, (42), in 1869. He was a widower who worked as a brazier (brass worker) in Newport Pagnell. Mary, herself, was the daughter of a stonemason.
Detail of photograph from the Guy Kennedy collection, showing Miss Janet Meads and some of the pupils at Willen School in the mid 1890s