Alice Pidgeon (b.1898): Education & Schooling

A girl’s school in the early 20th century.

Having been orphaned at at only six years of age, Alice and her sister Doris took position in St. John Groom’s Home for little girls. Their parents, whom Alice spoke very highly of, left a good impression on the girls.

Being a working class family, Alice witnessed her parents working long hours, sometimes late into the night when the girls had gone to bed. Her father, a reporter for the Daily Chronicle and her mother a high-class dress maker, both worked tirelessly to feed and clothe their two daughters.

This attitude instilled into Alice and Doris the importance of hard work and dedication. In this sense, the girls were educated about having a good work ethic and earning a good living – a nice legacy for their parents to have left. Indeed, Alice proves in her later years to be a hard worker, as described in my blog ‘Life & Labour’.

Alice and her sister did not attend an orphanage school, instead they were sent to schools outside of the orphanage in order to blend in with the other children. She proudly tells how the girls from the home were commonly known to be neat and clean girls and never naughty.

Alice writes very little about her actual schooling, and  much of the education years are skimmed over. She briefly mentions her experiences in school and the silly tricks her and her friends would do to pass the time and have fun, like stealing hot potatoes from the kitchens in the orphanage some mornings, smuggling them to school in their clothes and sharing them out with butter and salt.

Once girls turned fourteen and left school, some would return to their mothers in London and take up jobs there, whilst others were taken on by the orphanage themselves and called ‘house girls’. The matter-of-fact tone in which she states that girls left school at fourteen, shows that this was unremarkable at the time.

Alice scarcely mentions anything she learnt at school, and seems to put more pride and emphasis on other things she has learnt i.e. life skills she has gained from caring for others, and being a good friend and sister. It appears the people she encounters through her story are of more significance than the things she was taught in school. Her challenging experiences in her younger years seem to have shaped the young woman she turned into rather more than those who educated her. As mentioned, she took pride in looking neat and presentable for school but also found fun and friendship; a more exciting topic for the memoir than the content of actual lessons.

Books have some significance in Alice’s education and leisure. She states that one of her most enjoyable times were after Sunday services, where she and the other girls of the orphanage would spend time in their Mother’s room and she would read to them such as Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop and similar tiles. These tales would have been both leisurely pastimes but also a form of education to the young girls.

It is clear, however, that education was important to Alice, from the pride with which she describes how her own daughter, Noreen, won a scholarship to a good school. She mentions her French book and her pen and ink, and it seems very much to be a romanticised scene, in which their younger daughter wistfully watches her big sister go to school and proclaims how one day, she too will go to Whalley Range High School and wear a white overall. It is obvious that this is a memory Alice fondly looks back on.

I think Alice understood the importance of a good education, especially in regards to the education of her own children, but for herself she seems to have placed more emphasis on the building of character and having a good work ethic.

The plaque that marks the place where John Groom lived.
The plaque that marks the place where John Groom, owner of Alice’s Orphanage, had lived.

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