The author that I chose to write about is Mary Davies, compiler of the oral history ‘An Insignificant School: Aldrington Church of England School 1889-1943’. The old school setting greatly appealed to me, as I attended a private school which had previously been a grammar school in the Victorian times, and much talk of the school’s history was made. The black and white pictures of the early students and pupil still hang in the school corridors.
Mary Davies attended Aldrington Church of England School, as a pupil in 1979. During her time there, she undertook a project to delve into the history of the school to make an exhibition and fair. In the introduction to this oral history, she writes, ‘Our school- was 90 years old. We thought it would be a good idea to find out as much as we could about its early years’. In the introductory chapter titled, ‘The beginning of the Quest’, Mary Davies outlines her intentions clearly, and although Mary does not state it exactly, the memoir was begun 90 years after the opening of the school which was first opened in 1889 so this puts the time of commencement at 1979.
Rather than being a memoir of Mary Davies’ own life and education, it is in fact an acquisition of accounts from various past teachers and pupils at Aldrington Church of England School, from the years 1889-1943. The accounts in the oral history are chronological, leading up to a postscript written by Mary Davies in 1983. The memoir begins with the school log book from 1889-1919, the author of which is not known. After this, the accounts progress from 1902 by Miss Mainstone, who was a pupil at Aldrington from 1889-1911, Miss Lelliot, a pupil from 1899 -1907, Mr Gale, a pupil from 1910-1915, Mr Goble, a pupil circa 1916, Mr Clegg, a pupil circa 1924, Mrs Cotton, a pupil from 1928-43, and Mrs Page, a pupil from 1938-43.
I will be using the oral history gathered by Mary Davies, along with various other secondary sources to research five headings related to British education in the nineteenth and twentieth century.
The school accounts are set almost one hundred years previous to the time that Mary Davies is collating information for her oral history. There is a huge difference in attitude, with the Victorian period now over, and Britain having gone through two world wars. Generally, by this time, there has been great change in many aspects of life, Mary even comments in her postscript ‘the Second World War made much more difference to the local population-scattered them and changed their outlook’ (p24).
The intended audience is not explicitly stated but Mary Davies intends to compile records of the school history to include in an exhibition, so presumably her expected audience may be fellow students, past students, local people. Similarly she is creating an archive so it would be available for later generations of the school, and anybody interested in local or working class history. The motivations of Mary Davies is not dissimilar to the other working- class auto biographers, as there is the same desire in to capture the voices and lives of the underclass who would be forgotten in the near future. There is no evidence really that the intended audience influenced what was included and excluded in the oral history, apart from the fact it was to be displayed publically in the school.
‘An insignificant School: Aldrington Church of England School’ Mary Davies
Burnett, J. Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education and Family from the 1820s to the 1920s (Penguin: London, 1982)
Ed. A.Krishnamurthy The Working-Class Intellectual in Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century Britain (MPG Books Ltd: Cornwall, 2009)
O.Ashton, S.Roberts The Victorian Working-Class Writer (Mansell Publishing: London, 1999)
Minority Press Group The Republic of Letters: Working Class writing and local publishing (Comedia Press: London, 1982)