The Church of England and Education for Surrey Girls, 1870 – 1914.

Catherine Freeman is a part time doctoral student at the University of Greenwich. She is looking at education and employment for girls in Surrey between 1870 and 1914 and the relationships with ideas of respectable femininity across classes. This piece focusses on some of her research into an industrial school for girls, the archives for which have not been used for academic research before.


My overall thesis looks at education and employment for girls in Surrey during this period, the relationship between the two and being respectable. I am looking at a range of schools a cross the county, adhering to the borders as they were at the beginning of my period throughout. Thus far my research has mainly focused on an Industrial School that opened in Addlestone in 1870 and schools belonging to the Church Schools Company. The Church of England established the latter in 1883 to address education for the middle classes. It does not come as a surprise then to find the Church of England being involved in middle class education. Their involvement in working class education through the National Schools is well documented. What did come as a surprise was that the Church appeared to be more involved in the industrial school than the Church Schools Company schools.

The Princess Mary Village Homes for Little Girls (PMVH) was established and managed by Mrs. Susanna Meredith, always referred to as Mrs. Meredith. The village was purpose built for the school and the archives are held at the Surrey History Centre in Woking. The archives consist of the registers, detailing girls’ names, parents’ names, the reason they are in the school and date of birth, the annual report and for later years, committee minutes. There are also maps of the site and a few photographs. Further images are held at Chertsey Museum, who also have part of the gates in their garden. A substantial amount of material, which other than for cataloguing and a few family historians, has not been looked at before.

The Church Schools Company, as explained in the Church of England Year Book for 1886, was established “for boys and girls above the class attending elementary schools” and attendees were to “be annually examined in religious and secular knowledge by representatives of the Universities, or of King’s College, or by competent persons appointed by the Council”.[1] The boys’ schools were unsuccessful. Only four opened and by 1892 is was decided to abandon that aspect of the Company.[2] In Surrey the Company operated five schools: Surbiton, Guildford, Streatham, Richmond and Reigate. Of these, the former two still operate; Guildford High School has copies of its magazine for 1893 to 1904, and the register whilst Surbiton High has a few recollections from early students. Streatham has a Log Book and a few pictures in Wandsworth Heritage Service. Information on Richmond and Reigate is difficult to come by.

When the Church Schools Company began, it made clear that an Anglican aspect of their schooling was crucial: “A great debt of gratitude is due to the Girls’ Public Day School Company for the excellent secular education which their schools offered, but they are nor do they profess to be Church of England Schools, any distinctive religious teaching being from their constitution naturally excluded from their otherwise excellent syllabus.”[3] From General Knowledge exam papers found in Streatham College’s Log Book that were set for all schools in the Company, it can be seen that Christianity was taught. April 1905’s paper started with, “In what Book, chapter and verse do the following verses occur? A) The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. B) Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. C) Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness; according unto the multitude of they tender mercies blot out my transgressions. D) Thou shalt have none other God but me. E) He was despised and rejected of men; A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”[4] From this paper and the other examples in the Log Book it can be seen that a lot of Biblical knowledge was expected of the girls. No mention of Church life or even preparation for Confirmation.

The First Annual Report of the Princess Mary Village Homes for Little Girls lists as the official visitors Anglican clergy.[5] From the third annual report in 1873 onwards, the school has a Diocesan Inspector visit, an extract from his report published in the overall report. From 1873’s Annual Report we know that they were performing better in religious instruction than as an Industrial School. Of industrial training, the Home Office Inspector reported that, “Not much has been attempted in this direction. A laundry has been constructed for future use, and the girls were learning a little needlework” whereas the Diocesan Inspector wrote that “These girls have been taught very carefully and their religious knowledge is thoroughly satisfactory. The repetition of Scripture was remarkably good”.[6] The Twelth [sic] Annual Report contains information on 10 girls having been confirmed, 29 receiving prizes or certificates in the Diocesan exams.[7]

Religious instruction permeated life in the PMVH. The ‘Mothers’ taught Scripture in the cottages, while Morning Prayers were led congregationally.[8] The Homes were used to train women to go as missionaries.[9] There is boasting of one girl winning the Bishop’s Prize in 1885! She went on to be a pupil teacher, quite different from the domestic service for which the school generally trained girls.[10] In 1887 the PMVH acquired its own church within the village. Each cottage was presided over by a woman employed as Mother, “selected from Christian women”.[11] Looking further at Mrs. Meredith, the other aspects of the Prison Mission, from which the school had sprung and her publications, her concern for the girls’ religious education is not surprising. That though is a complete other topic.

It is not possible to draw a direct comparison between schools of the Church School Company and the PMVH as the same information is not available for both. However, there is enough of the lives of the Church School Company’s girls to see that being part of the Church of England was not such as integral part of the their education as for their contemporaries in Addlestone. This could in part be due to PMVH girls having to live in – Mrs. Meredith was their guardian. Despite this, given that the Church of England’s concern was that there should be a visible Anglican element to education, it is noticeably absent in the records. This invites the question of why. Is the reason related to ideas of respectability? There is a hint at this in the Christian women being employed to demonstrate how a working class family should operate at the PMVH and further articles in the annual reports from Mrs. Meredith show this was the case. Mrs. Meredith’s aim was to make the girls into respectable, useful women. Was the greater involvement of the Church in her school because it was considered a way to respectability whereas girls in Church Schools Company schools were already deemed to be respectable? As my research continues and other types of schools are considered, I look forward to seeing how education for girls, Anglicanism and respectability fit together.


The featured image is of PMVH pupils, 1880 from the Chertsey Museum Online Exhibition No Place Like Home.

[1] 1886. The Official Year-Book of the Church of England. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.£britgoog#page/n16/mode/2up, P. 194. [Retrieved 2nd. May 2017] P. 194

[2] Moberly Bell, Enid. 1958. A History of the Church Schools Company 1883 – 1958. London: SPCK. P. 39

[3] 1884. The Official Year-Book of the Church of England. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. P. 186.

[4] Streatham College for Girls. School Log Book 1900 – 1915. [Document] Wandsworth Heritage Service S3/1/2

[5] Meredith, Mrs. S. 1871. The First Annual Report of the Princess Mary Village Homes for Little Girls. London: Simmons and Botten. [Document] Surrey History Centre 6699/1 P.1

[6] Meredith, Mrs. M. 1873. Report for 1873 Being the Third Annual Report of the Princess Mary’s Village Homes for Little Girls, with an Abstract of its Financial Condition, and a List of Donors’ Names Presented with Most Grateful Thanks, To Its King Supporters. [Document] Surrey History Centre 6699/1 P.9

[7] Meredith, Mrs. 1883. The Twelth [sic] Annual Report of the Princess Mary Village Homes for Little Girls, Addlestone, Surrey. 1882. London: Simmons & Botten [Document] Surrey History Centre 6699/1 Pp. 8, 9.

[8] Ibid.:9

[9] Meredith, Mrs. M. 1886. The Sixteenth Annual Report of the Princess Mary Village Homes for Little Girls. Addlestone, Surrey. 1886. [Document] Surrey History Centre 6699/1 P.7.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Meredith. Mrs. 1892. The Twenty-First Annual Report of the Princess Mary Village Homes for Little Girls. Addlestone, Surrey. [Document] Surrey History Centre 6699/1 P. 5

One Comment Add yours

  1. Maritza Zhang says:

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