MISS EISDELL'S PUPILS

Victorian Studio Photos
Victorian Studio Photos


This should be called Miss Eisdell's Mystery Pupils, as we don't necessarily know who they are. There are several more dotted about in other articles in this series, but in those cases we can find some sort of connection with an Epsom family and have a reasonable identification. As you may have read on this website, for many years Miss Rebecca Eisdell ran a school at The Cedars in Church Street.

'Miss Woolston'

There were two Miss Woolstons at Miss Eisdell's school: they were sisters, roughly a year apart in age. Although we have two wrappers, we are not sure we have two photos, since some of the images have become mixed-up. Having got nearly to the end of this project, I do have a 'spare' photo in the 'W' section, so I am wondering if she is the missing girl. I will show you both of them.

Possibly Miss Woolston, either Harriet Emily or Ellen Maria
Possibly Miss Woolston, either Harriet Emily or Ellen Maria
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

The 'spare' photo, which could be the other Miss Woolston
The 'spare' photo, which could be the other Miss Woolston
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

If you can help with identification of the sitter in either photo, please contact the webmaster.

I would like the first photo to be Harriet Emily (she was normally known as Emily), since she has an interesting story. However, I have managed to acquire a verified image of Emily, so that, although she is very much older than either girl in the photos and there is little resemblance, if any, I can tell you her story.

Harriet Emily Woolston
Photograph of a portrait of Harriet Emily Woolston (then Mrs Thornton)
Image courtesy of Robin Thornton © 2019

Firstly, some background. John Woolston, patriarch of the family, multi-tasked: in the 1851 census he was a farmer, brewer and corn merchant in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. John was Wellingborough born and bred , as was his wife Elizabeth (née Keep). There were a number of children, Emily and Ellen being two of the youngest. They were both pupils at Miss Eisdell's school in the 1861 census, aged 15 and 14 respectively. Sadly, Ellen Maria died in Wellingborough on 23 November 1868, aged only 21, but Emily survived.

Emily was back at home in the 1871 census and on 29 April 1879 in Wellingborough she married Frederick Ferdinand Martin Schleicher Thornton, his names suggesting a somewhat interesting heritage. It seems that he was born Friedrich Ferdinand Martin Schleicher in 1846 in Hamburg, the son of another Friedrich Schleicher and his wife Caroline Henriette, or vice versa, (née Wolff). Apparently Friedrich and Caroline emigrated to Australia without their son, but then returned to Germany and re-emigrated, taking him with them.

I don't know how the younger Friedrich came to change his name to Thornton, but he did keep most of the old name in there somewhere. It may surprise you to learn that this lad with the interesting heritage became a Church of England clergyman and, at the time of his marriage to Harriet, he was vicar of St Sepulchre, Northampton.

There were five children in total, but the only girl, Caroline Emily, died in infancy. The boys were Frederick Edward (1880), Bernard Martin (1881), Gerard Ferdinand (1882) and Archibald Clement (1886). The family left Northampton in 1890 and Frederick became the Rector of Downham; he was also an Honorary Canon of Ely Cathedral.

It was in 1904, whilst still Rector of Downham, that Frederick purchased the Hall and park of Shudy Camps in Cambridgeshire, where he and Emily were ensconced in the 1911 census. Frederick Edward was a regular army officer and had been commissioned into the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1899. He served in South Africa and then transferred to the Indian Army, attached to the 105th Mahratta Light Infantry. The family had already lost Archibald Clement, who had been working in Canada when war broke out and joined the Canadian Infantry as a Private. He died from wounds on 21 November 1915, having endured the amputation of a leg; he is buried at Bailleul in Northern France.

Private Archibald Clement Thornton
Private Archibald Clement Thornton (20)
Image courtesy IWM (HU 93546)

There was a further tragedy on 25 March 1917 when Frederick, by now a Major and serving in Mesopotamia, was killed in action; his body was not recovered and he is commemorated on the Basra Memorial in Iraq. He left a widow, Gertrude Alice Scott Thornton (née Thorburn, married 1914), who died in 1974.

Robin Thornton, who kindly provided the painting of Emily, is Bernard Martin Thornton's grandson, although he never knew him. Robin has written a number of pieces about the family for various websites/publications and his affectionate memoir of Bernard, plus a splendid photo, is on the Oxfordshire Cricket website. Little is known about Gerard Ferdinand Thornton, beyond the fact that he was a leather merchant and died in 1959.

The Thornton family firmly believes that Emily died of a broken heart, as the result of the deaths of her two sons. She was placing flowers on a shrine at St Mary's Church, Shudy Camps in their memory when she suffered a paralytic stroke and died next day, 1 November 1918. She was buried at St Mary's, as was her husband when he died on 7 June 1938.

With thanks to Robin Thornton.

'Miss Wilkins'

There is no record of a girl called Wilkins at Miss Eisdell's in the 1861 and 1871 censuses, which are the primary sources for identifying many of the photos in the Hopkins collection, but I do have a prime suspect, who would have been roughly the right age and had very strong Epsom connections. This is the photo.

'Miss Wilkins, Miss Eisdell's'
'Miss Wilkins, Miss Eisdell's'
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

The suspect is Isabel Emma Wilkins, born 29 May 1849 in Danbury, Essex, but christened at St Martin's, Epsom on 12 August of that year. Her father, Charles Wilkins, was a schoolmaster, who had married Anne Twisden at Lambeth in the previous year. The Twisdens were, or should have been, aristocracy and Anne's father, William, should have succeeded to the Baronetcy of Bradbourne (near East Malling, Kent), but was disinherited by his father - see the Baronets of Adelphi Road.

I can place Isabel in Epsom in 1861, staying with her aunt and uncle, Emma and George Snashall: Emma was Anne Twisden/Wilkins' sister. Therefore, it makes sense that she didn't appear in the census at Miss Eisdell's, since she wouldn't have needed to be a boarder at the school. Mr Wilkins was at the National School in Seal, Kent at the time. Isabel also went on to become a National School teacher and in 1871 she was doing just that in Thorney, Cambridgeshire. And, by 1871, Charles and Anne had settled in Epsom, with the former having changed his profession to that of watchmaker.

A decade later Isabel was in Plumstead, still an elementary school teacher, but by 1891 she had returned to the family in Epsom. Charles was still a watchmaker and jeweller (now in South Street), Isabel's sister, Clara, had also become a teacher and another sister, Catherine Ann, was described as epileptic. Mr Wilkins died in 1897 and Anne moved to Fulham/West Kensington with Isabel and Clara. Catherine Ann had died in 1893. Then Anne expired in 1908, leaving just Isabel and Clara, who were still teaching. Ultimately they retired to Leatherhead, where they died in 1940 and 1943 respectively, both unmarried. All of them are buried in Epsom Cemetery.

The Mystery Pupil

We have no idea at all who this little girl is - she is merely described as 'Miss Eisdell's pupil'. It's a fair assumption that Miss Eisdell asked Cuthbert to copy the original photograph and that might well be because the child had already died, which is often the case when the sitter is not actually in the studio. We cannot ask Miss Eisdell, unfortunately, but if you can identify the child please contact the webmaster.

'Miss Eisdell's pupil', identity unknown
'Miss Eisdell's pupil', identity unknown
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Linda Jackson 2019