Mary Davies (1889-1943) Brighton and Hove


Brighton and Hove

In my research of the history ‘An Insignificant School’, by Mary Davies, I discovered a website which is dedicated to the history of Brighton and Hove, ( Although the main theme of my blog and research is education, I decided that it would be useful to include a post about Brighton as a place, in order to understand the culture and society of the time.

Aldrington School was predominantly a school for working class children. Mary Davies in her commentary of the school log book, (which is dated 1889-1919) says, ‘the financial details of the pupils and their poor backgrounds do not suggest that many would have had money to pay for photographs.’ (p7)

Miss Mainstone, a former pupil (1889-1911) states that ‘Boots and shoes (if you had any) had to be clean. Some children never did have any.’ Also, ‘most children ate the food that they had brought for their dinner when we went out to play at 10.30…so they had nothing left to eat later.’(p8) This is again a loose indicator of the financial status of the families that attended the school.

According to the website, Brighton was nicknamed the ‘school town’ in Victorian times because of the number of private boarding schools which prospered there. This is interesting as it shows that the middle classes were also prevalent in Brighton in this era, and the website refers to it as a ‘thriving health resort.’ The proximity of the sea was a feature which encouraged more of the middle classes to settle in Brighton, as it was widely believed in Victorian times that being near the sea promoted good health due to the freshness of the sea-air.

In her postscript of the memoir, dated 1983, Mary Davies seems perplexed at the fact that none of the accounts refer to the sea, ‘which is in fact just around the corner from the church they all mention’. (p24)

Mary Davies attributes this to the possibility that Brighton and Hove was not as popular as a tourist destination in the early days as it is in the present day. In her words, ‘or perhaps swimming or even paddling were not encouraged.’ (p24) This latter explanation ties into her later admission that her mother took summer visitors ‘at 3gns a week full board’ (p24), and it was only they who went to the beach, swam and paddled. This may be due to the fact that leisure was not a feature of working-class life in the early and mid-1900s.  Mary Davies says that ‘perhaps beaches and the sea were vaguely upper-class activities and as such neither I nor the Aldrington children took part in them.’ (p24)

Miss Mainstone’s father was the bailiff to the duke of bailiff who ‘had the selling of his land to Hove Council.’ The road that they lived on ‘was only a lane in younger days, surrounded by fields.’ (p9) On the request of the duke to ‘honour his bailiff when a road was made’ (p9), it became Mainstone Road. Out of interest, I Google searched ‘Mainstone Road, Brighton’ and it has not been re-named since, so that is the history behind that particular road!

Miss Mainstone, talks of her father letting out the meadows that he owned ‘each year to Sanger’s Circus during August’ (p9). This seems to be a regular fixture at Hove; however it is not mentioned in the later accounts. Mrs Clegg, another former pupil circa 1924, asserts that festivals were an important part of their life. ‘I had a sister who was the May Queen of Hove back in the 1920s, when we used to celebrate Empire Day. All those festivals were very important then, and we talked about events like that for years.’ (p20). This suggests a very typical community spirit often found amongst the working class communities of the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

For further information please use the sources listed.




‘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)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *