Nora Hampton (1895-1918): Education and Schooling

Nora was lucky enough to stay in education until she was in her late teens. She wrote about her schooling in a chronological manner, Sunday School to our equivalent of GCSEs but also reflected on how this formal education went alongside training at home in housework, ‘like all girls did’. In part, this domestic schooling was designed to prepare them ‘for the future’; thus ‘I was taught to dust and polish, plush made beeswax and turps made by mother – scrub the floors – clean the knives and forks on a board with a bath brick’ (Hampton, p. 28).

Emma Griffin finds similarly that many other female autobiographers ‘revealed that their life had already become filled with a raft of domestic duties long before leaving school’ (2020, p. 27). In this way, girls lost much of the freedom that boys had to themselves once their schooling was done: ‘part of the problem was that working with mother at home did not come with payment or any of the other rewards enjoyed by those who worked outside the home’ (Griffin, p. 31). From a relatively well-off family, Nora was lucky to get pocket money, although she does not say why she received this pocket money. We can perhaps infer that it was partly from helping her mother with the domestic duties.

Overall, Nora’s education seems to have been positive and she never mentions not wanting to go to school. However, she writes that for some of the poorer students, school may have been a relief from their difficult circumstances. Nora noticed some of her ‘friends and fellow classmates, coming to school with thin, patched, but clean (some of them) clothes. One girl who sat in front of me, Laura White, expressionless sallow face, dull thin black dirty infested hair, smelt so much it attracted the teacher’s attention’ and one girl who never spoke ‘was thin and miserable looking – with sore eyes and a rash all over her face and probably in her head – she had no hair that I could see’ (Hampton, p. 17). Nora acknowledges here that ‘whichever party was in power – the poverty was awful’ (Hampton, p17). I find it interesting that when Nora describes her schoolmates and also the local beggars, she classes them as her equals and friends even though her own life was much more comfortable. She does not recall being disgusting by them, scared, or intimidated, and this highlights Nora’s sincerity and compassion since childhood.

Working-class children all had access to school due to the Elementary Education Act 1880 (“the Mundella Act”), which required attendance upto the age of 10 everywhere in England and Wales. In 1891, elementary schooling became free in both board and voluntary (church) schools. Nora mentions her grandmother’s wealthy aunt, Ann Parsons, called Old Aunt Nance Parsons had ‘endowed a school in Dudley, for poor children, which is still going now. “Parson’s School” in Parson’s Street’ (Hampton, p. 20). Nora was fortunate enough to not be enrolled in a school for the poor but instead at the age of 15 started at Dudley Girls School. Her ‘father had to pay a fee per term as I was too old to sit for the scholarship’. She described herself as ‘very much indebted to my father for his thought in sending me there – it opened a new world [for] me.’ (Hampton, p. 42)

Dudley Girls School enabled Nora to pass her exams with the aim of going to Teacher Training College. Becoming a teacher offered ‘working class girls a living wage and the prospect of independence’ for the female teacher’s salary was sufficient to allow women ‘independence from a male breadwinner’ (Griffin, 2020, p59). By the end of the 19th century, teacher training and clerical work was the furthest most female autobiographies were able to go, (Griffin, 2020, p60), even those from upper working-class families like Nora. Her father ‘decided that Dudley Training College was good and I could go there’ but ‘in the end I didn’t go anywhere, but continued as an uncertified for several years’ (Hampton, p. 58). It was not until her husband Ernest died that Nora formally qualified as a teacher.

As you can see, Nora took full advantage of her education, and you can see how she took full advantage of her reading in my post on Reading and Writing.

Primary sources:

  • Hampton, Nora, ‘Memories of Baptist End, Netherton, Dudley in the period 1895-1918’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 3:68. Accessible by: http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10931
  • 3:0068 HAMPTON, Nora, ‘Memories of Baptist End, Netherton, Dudley in the period 1895-1918’, TS, pp.63 (c.26,000 words). Brunel University Library.

Secondary sources:

  • Roy Fisher (2019) Gender, class and school teacher education from the midnineteenth century to 1970: scenes from a town in the North of England, History of Education, 48:6, 806-818, DOI: 10.1080/0046760X.2019.1584649 To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/0046760X.2019.1584649
  • Griffin, Emma. Bread Winner: An Intimate History of the Victorian Economy (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2020).
  • Feature image: Macadam, R., 2021. Nora in a school photo. [image].
  • Interviewing Nora’s daughter Rosemary Macadam: Macadam, R., 2021. Asking Rosemary about her life and her mothers – Nora Hampton.

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