Letitia Simpson (1926-2012): Education and Schooling

Letitia’s education is not anything unusual for a working-class city girl of the 1930s and 1940s. In that period, and still to this day even, religion made up most of education. That meant that if you were a Roman Catholic you went to a Catholic school, usually ran by priests or nuns. If you were Church of England, you went to an Anglican school ran, usually, by teachers who weren’t clergy. Letitia being an Anglican went to an Anglican school.

But Letitia did receive an offer to be educated in somewhere more prestigious. As I mentioned in the previous blog, her father was a Freemason and the lodge offered for Letitia to be educated in a Masonic school, in which she would have to board. Letitia’s account of this goes as follows: “They [the Masons] offered to educate me at a Masonic school, I would have to be boarded and it was impossible for my Mother to face this as such a time. The schools were first class and offered much to the pupils, but me being me, I think I would have fretted and derived no good from it” (21). From what Letitia says here, her mother turned down the offer due to being unable to cope with losing two family members, her closest family members, which is understandable. Letitia looks on the bright side a little in this quotation and says that it wouldn’t have been any good for her anyway. She would never have known whether it was for her but, she makes it clear that it was better for her to be at home than in a dorm. Masonic schools seemed to have died out nowadays as, as I mentioned earlier, coming from a Masonic family myself, I am unaware of being offered to be educated at one.

After Letitia and her mother went around looking for schools for Letitia, they eventually selected a small Anglican school ran by the council “near Marble Arch.” She describes her life at this school: “the whole atmosphere was foreign to me, on my first day I was continually told to stop talking” (22). Here, Letitia implies that it was hard for her to adapt to the different climate of school from her home. Obviously, she would have lost certain liberties and would have embraced a world of order and discipline. It must have been hard for her to forget she had lost the liberty to speak whenever she wanted to as she keeps being scolded for it by the teacher. Dr C. W Kimmins writes that in pre-war London, “under the London City Council there is a very elaborate scholarship scheme consisting of Junior, Intermediate and Senior scholarships which makes ample provision for all the children of exceptional ability.” From what Kimmins is saying here, the London Council schools were establishments that offered education to children who were not of a wealthy background but still showed academic prospects. Therefore, Letitia must have shown some academic promise to the school for them to enroll her. The school Letitia is referring to could be Hampden Gurney C of E Primary School established in 1863 as this school fits the description of the school Letitia gives.

EDUCATION A London schoolroom in 1937. Photographer: Pictorial Press

Letitia’s last experience of schooling was at St Austell in Cornwall whilst being evacuated. Letitia writes about one of the teachers there with: “How he disapproved of my perpetual talking in class, “Pay attention Audrey Dawson” he would shout out” (59). Clearly, from what Letitia writes here, Letitia (being called by her middle name Audrey, something she would be known as later on) seems to still be one who is unable to keep quiet in class and this could be to do with her growing up in a pub, a hotspot for chatter and gossip. Letitia was also unhappy at this period of her schooling, what with her being away from home, so through a sense of not belonging, she would know no sense of duty or discipline so would be disobedient to the people above her.


Bourke, Joanna. Working Class Cultures in Britain, 1890-1960: Gender, Class and Ethnicity (London: Routledge, 1994).

Burnett, John. Plenty and Want: A Social History of Food in England from 1815 to the Present Day. London: Routledge, 1989.

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3828397 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

  History of Hampden Gurney. (2019, 04 20). Retrieved from Hampden Gurney Church of England Primary School: https://www.hampdengurneyschool.co.uk/about-us/history-of-hampden-gurney/

Kimmins, C. W. (1910). Trade Schools in London. The Elementary School Teacher, 10(5), 200-219.

Light, Alison. Common People: A History of an English Family (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2015) [19th & 20th centuries – very good model for work we are doing on author blogs] 

Rose, Jonathan.  The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. [Very influential survey of reading habits and cultural ambitions based on autobiographies collected by Burnett, Mayall and Vincent] 

 Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. 1 (1992): 47-70 http://www.jstor.org/stable/2709910 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Savage, Mike, Social Class in the 21st Century (Pelican)

Simpson, Letitia. My Day Before Yesterday, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, Vol 4

Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247 http://www.jstor.org/stable/4284976 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

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