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Susanna Corder's Pioneering Girls’ School in Church Street (1824 - 1832)


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A talk by Peter Daniels presented at the 6th Stoke Newington History Talks event, Feb 28th, West Reservoir Centre

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Susanna Corder's Pioneering Girls’ School in Church Street (1824 - 1832)

  1. 1. Susanna Corder's Pioneering Girls’ School in Church Street (1824 - 1832) Peter Daniels
  2. 2. Quakers in Stoke Newington The first Meeting House 1698 till 1741
  3. 3. William Allen (1770-1843) was one of the most prominent Stoke Newington Quakers in the early 19th century. He was a chemist, and started the pharmaceutical company Allen & Hanbury's, but he was also a philanthropist with a wide range of interests covering anti-slavery, international peace, and helping local people grow their own food. He started allotments in what is now Lordship Road.
  4. 4. Susanna Corder, 1787-1864, had a clear vocation as a teacher. She was from Essex but taught at a school at Clonmel in Ireland, and learned much from the educational methods there. In 1820 William Allen met her on a visit to Ireland, and when a Quaker girls' school was proposed for Stoke Newington in 1824, it seems that she was already intended to run it.
  5. 5. The first prospectus proposed: "An Establishment in our religious society on a plan in degree differing from any hitherto adopted, wherein the children of Friends should not only be liberally instructed in the Elements of useful knowledge, but in which particular attention should be paid to the state of mind of each individual child."
  6. 6. Fleetwood House (1635-1872)
  7. 7. It started with 12 pupils, but more than doubled in three years. Subjects included astronomy, physics, and chemistry, which were taught by William Allen. Languages included Italian, taught by the poet Ugo Foscolo.
  8. 8. Susanna Corder was well known for her order and decorum, and views on dress by then somewhat old-fashioned even in the Society. The girls wore stiff cardboard Quaker bonnets, which were an object of ridicule to the girls in a non-Quaker school next door.
  9. 9. In 1827 Joseph Pease, a Quaker visitor, wrote a verse letter to his cousin in which he describes the school: No science, no art, in their tribe is a mystery The path of the earth and the tides of the sea, Cosmography, Algebra, Chemistry, History, To those juvenile Blues are a mere A.B.C. And in languages - oh, you'd not credit their skill! One can scarce name a tongue, Coz, but what they can reason in, Greek, Hebrew, French, Latin, Italian at will, With Irish and Welch for occasional seasoning. Nay more - if our principles did but permit I doubt not ev'n fortification and gunnery Might be added with ease as a kind of tit-bit, To enliven the studies at Newington Nunnery.
  10. 10. A pioneering bus When the school started in 1824, there was no Quaker meeting house in Stoke Newington so they worshipped at Gracechurch Street in the City. The prospectus announced: "On account of the distance from Meeting the Proprietors have made arrangements for the comfortable conveyance of the children without any additional expence to the Parents."
  11. 11. Susanna ordered a vehicle with bench seats facing each other. This was a new idea, as vehicles of this kind were only just being used as passenger omnibuses in Paris, developed by George Shillibeer who had worked for the coach company Hatchetts in Long Acre (the coach-building centre of London). George Shillibeer (1797-1866) was an English coachbuilder.
  12. 12. Gracechurch Street meeting in the 1770s
  13. 13. In Joseph Pease's poem about "Newington Nunnery" he refers to this bus: “The straight path of Truth the dear Girls keep their feet in And ah! it would do your heart good Cousin Anne To see them arriving at Gracechurch Street Meeting All snugly packed up, 25 in a van.”
  14. 14. But the bus must have been too small for all 25 girls. We also have an account of the bus from Louisa Stewart. She and her sister were pupils, and Louisa describes how half of them would walk ahead to meeting, the others catch up in the bus, and they would change over half way.
  15. 15. Newington Nunnery in a Pretty Considerable Uproar. William Allen had been married twice when at 56 in 1827 he became engaged to the widow Grizzell Birkbeck, 69, who was already a close friend. Some Quakers considered this outrageous at their ages.
  16. 16. Stoke Newington meeting house in Park Street, now Yoakley Road (1828-1957)
  17. 17. An inspired pupil Louisa Hooper Stewart, 1818-1918. She became keenly interested in women's suffrage: in 1869 she published The Missing Law; or, Woman's Birthright.
  18. 18. An inspired pupil After her husband's death she opened a girls' school in Reigate, on the lines of Susanna Corder's, with weekly visits from professors of Classics and Science from the University of London.
  19. 19. An inspired pupil In 1874 she moved back to Stoke Newington with her daughter, organising the Women Friends' Total Abstinence Union and starting a successful coffee cart. She was a great fan of carts, buses and caravans.
  20. 20. An inspired pupil Louisa set up a school in a caravan for travelling show people, and was always welcome when they came to the Agricultural Hall in Islington, where her granddaughter describes them taking tea with the Fat Lady.
  21. 21. Thank you