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Biography of Alice Kate Farmer, schoolmistress and town councillor
Photo right: Alice Kate Farmer courtesy of Malvern Museum
While browsing through a Trade Directory of Worcestershire we came across the name of Alice Farmer (1865 - 1944) who ran a school for young ladies at Langland House in Graham Road, Great Malvern, between about 1901 and 1912.
The curator of Malvern Museum told us that reports in the Malvern Gazette suggested that Alice Farmer had been very active in town affairs and had been one of the founders of Malvern Women's Institute, as was her friend and teaching colleague, Miss Eva Hazlehurst Leather, who lived with her.
Both ladies seem to have trained in Oxford and had family connections to academics and clergymen.
The 1911 census recorded that Alice Kate Farmer was proprietress of a girls' boarding school at Langland House, Malvern. Also in the household were Eva Hazlehurst Leather, assistant school-mistress; Gladys Farmer, sister; 18 pupils aged between 14 and 18 years and 5 servants.
The 1911 census recorded that Langland House had 23 rooms and was probably located between the Montrose Hotel and Buckingham House on the west side of Graham Road. We wondered whether the building might now be called Clanmere, which is the twin of Buckingham House next door which is now a dental surgery. Stevens directories, copies of which are held by Malvern library, confirmed this and showed that by 1917 Langland had become Fairholme nursing home, later renamed Clanmere (ref 13).
Langland House, now named Clanmere, 2016
In 1941 Julie Maria Clancy, born Bombay India, was living at Clanmere. She was the Aunt of colonial officer Gerald Gallagher (1912 - 1941) who wondered in 1940 if bones found on Nikumaroro were those of aviator Amelia Earhart who had gone missing in 1937.
Possibly, prior to 1900, Langland had been named Lambert House.
Langland School was first recorded in Kelly's trade directory of 1904, and last recorded in 1912. As there appears to be no mention of her school after 1912, we wonder if either her father gave her an allowance or she inherited sufficient funds that she no longer needed to take pupils.
There was a school sanatorium at 'The Hostel' across the road between 'The Oaks' and 'Longfleet', and we think , after the school closed, Alice Kate Farmer moved to the slightly smaller Hostel renaming it Langland.
Langland, the later home of Alice Farmer
Local artist Catherine Moody (1920 - 2009) recalled visiting Alice Farmer and Eva Leather at Langland about 1937, commenting on a garden room and staircase added to the house to a design by local architect Troyte Griffith.
Alice continued to live at Langland (previously The Hostel) until her death in 1944.
The book 'Growing up in England' (ref 1) contains an interesting account by Francesca Chenevix Trench of attending Langland school between 1906 and 1908. Francesca was by all accounts a rebellious teenager who disliked the discipline imposed by Miss Farmer, but enjoyed history lessons given by Eva Leather.
Artist and illustrator Francesca Georgiana Chenevix Trench (1891 - 1918), known as Cesca, was the grand-daughter of Richard Chenevix Trench, Dean of Westminster and Archbishop of Dublin. She became an ardent supporter of home rule for Ireland, but very sadly died of Spanish Flu in 1918, shortly after her marriage.
Cesca's brother, Major Charles Reginald Chenevix Trench (1888 - 1918), Sherwood Foresters, educated at Charterhouse and Merton College Oxford, was killed in the Great War. It was somewhat ironic that earlier the Sherwood Foresters had been dispatched to Ireland in 1916 to quell the Easter Rising!
At one time, Malvern WI met at a property in Bank Street opposite the Nag's Head pub, see photo below.
The Women's Institute movement began in Canada about 1897 as a means of bringing women in isolated communities together and passing on skills. Perhaps influenced by the outbreak of war, the first WI in the UK was founded in 1915, at Llanfair PG on the island of Anglesey.
Madresfield Womens' Institute was one of the first to be formed in Worcestershire (ref 8). It formally came into being on 16th April 1917 when Countess Lettice Beauchamp signed the rules at the village school. The first meeting had taken place more than a year previously on 7th April 1916 in the Boardroom of the Beauchamp Almshouses at Newland. In those early days women from the three parishes of Madresfield, Guarlford and Newland became members. The first secretary was Annie Madin, a teacher at Madresfield school, whose sister Mary was the headmistress (ref 9).
Madresfield WI closed in 1993 due to falling numbers; Guarlford became an independant Institute in 1941 and still exists today.
The short history of Madresfield WI (1917 - 1977) by Dorothy E Williams, who had been an archivist at Madresfield Court, relates that Malvern WI was formed at the Girls' Club in Newtown Road in 1918 and that it too had Lady Beauchamp as President, when in May she presented 50 membership cards. Later Miss Butler was described as the first 'Chairman' and President. The plaque on the wall of the meeting room suggests Malvern WI met there from 1924, by which time there were nearly 300 members.
The photo below shows the simple art deco gate of the Malvern WI meeting rooms at 38 Bank Street, with the letters W I incorporated into the top of the metal-work.
We are told that both Alice Farmer and her friend Eva Leather were amongst the founders of Malvern WI in 1918. Alice was the secretary for the first 19 years and President for 2 years (ref 12); today there are several WIs in Malvern.
National Kitchens were a British Goverment initiative of 1917 intended to provide food to the poorer classes at a reasonable price. At that time, with men away and food in short supply, many mothers were having difficulty feeding their families. We gather these kitchens were not intended to be a charity and the State expected National Kitchens to be run as businesses and cover their costs.
The Curator of Malvern Museum told us that Miss Alice Farmer was a very active organiser in the Great War, interestingly representing the Women's Agriculture Committee locally. To quote:
Below is a transcription of a report from the Malvern Gazette, May 17th 1918, which tells of Alice's involvement in the Communal Kitchens in the area, a feature that had become essential with dwindling food supplies and malnourished children:
The 1911 census records that Eva Hazlehurst Leather (1871 - 1962), see photo right, courtesy of Malvern Museum, who was born Waterloo, Lancashire, was an assistant school-mistress at Langland House, and it seems that she and Alice Farmer developed a friendship which would last for the rest of their lives.
Eva was the fourth daughter of wine merchant Isaac Leather, who died in 1876 when Eva was only four. Her sisters were Maud Mary, Ethel Elizabeth, Mabel Eliza Howard, and Mary Steward. Their mother remarried, to Thomas Arnold Goodwin, a wealthy solicitor by whom she had two further children, Una Mary, and Dorothea, Eva's half sisters.
In 1905 Dorothea married clergyman John William Coke Norris. Crockford's Clerical Directory of 1932 records that John was educated at St John's College Oxford BA 1897; curate of St Marks, Waterloo, Liverpool 1900 - 1903; Assistant Master Harrow School 1902 - 1930.
In 1891 Eva and two of her sisters were staying with their stepfather's sister Una Margaretta Goodwin in Oxford. The census records that the children were supported by their mother and Eva had a scholarship.
At that time Alice Kate Farmer was an assistant school-mistress in Oxford, and possibly that's where they first met.
Eva's elder sister Mabel Eliza Howard Leather married John Underhill Powell in 1904, a classical lecturer and tutor educated at St John's College Oxford. Their daughter Mary Howard Powell married academic Rev Ralph Edward Cunliffe Houghton (1896 - 1990) who is recorded in Crockford's Clerical Directory of 1932:
This seems rapid advancement for an academic young man who became an author and editor of several books. On 1st January 1945 he would conduct Alice Farmer's funeral service at Great Malvern Priory.
The 1911 census records that Eva's sister Ethel Elizabeth Leather (1867 - 1941) became a social worker, living in Lambeth, and we wondered what role she took in helping the poor of the district.
When the school closed, and was sold, Eva moved across the road to a smaller property named 'The Hostel' which Alice Farmer renamed 'Langland' after her old school.
Eva Leather continued to live at Langland in Graham Road, Great Malvern, until her death in 1962. Her married niece, Mary Howard Houghton, was one of her executors.
Eva's death was reported in the deaths' column of the Malvern Gazette on Friday 29th June 1962:
The same issue contained the following tribute:
We believe Alice Kate Farmer retired as headmistress of Langland House School in 1912 and thereafter devoted herself to town affairs, serving on many local committees. Mention has already been made of her support of National Kitchens during WWI. Alice was also appointed Hon Sec of the Malvern branch of the Charity Organisation Society, and she served as secretary of the Malvern Branch of the National Council of Women.
The National Council of Women had its origins in social work among women and girls in industrial towns by associations of women mainly coming from the upper middle classes. This work led to the formation in 1895 of a national organisation known as the National Union of Women Workers, which in 1918 was renamed the National Council of Women (ref 11). In those days women did not have equal rights, and in 1918 voting was only extended to women over 30 who were either married or property owners.
In 1920, Alice became Councillor for the Trinity ward of the Urban District Council (UDC), remaining in post for the rest of her life, eventually becoming vice-chairman of the UDC (ref 12).
Alice was one of a group of prominent women, led by Catherine Severn Burrow, who, in the aftermath of the Great War, founded a Public Utility Society known as 'Workers Ltd'. This took advantage of a government scheme and its aim was to build compact and well equipped homes where single women, such as matrons, nurses, teachers, civil servants, companions and social workers, would have the comfort and satisfaction of independence. See cover of prospectus opposite; click image to enlarge.
The first development in Malvern, known as Pickersleigh Close, was in Malvern Link.
A later scheme, circa 1927, provided bungalow flats for retired women at Barnards Close off Geraldine Road in Barnards Green, opposite the Chase School (ref 11); see image below.
Both developments are now managed by the Barnleigh Housing Association.
Alice Farmer was Chairman of the Public Health committee from June 1937, Vice-Chairman of the Public Library Committee, Chairman of the Managers of the Malvern Council School, and was a Governor of Hanley Castle Grammar School, and of the Lyttleton School. We wonder how she found the time!
(Malvern Council School was probably the school we know now as Great Malvern Primary on the corner of Pickersleigh Road and Lydes Road, Barnards Green, which had opened in 1916. The only other Council school in Malvern at that time was in Somers Park Avenue.)
So how was it Alice came to afford to live in Malvern?
The origins of Alice Kate Farmer and her family are somewhat obscure. The census records that Alice was born on the island of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, about 1866. Mauritius was then a strategic base for trade between Europe and the Far East. The 1939 Register lists her as a retired teacher born on 31st October 1865.
In 1866 there had been a sudden and severe epidemic of Malaria, killing tens of thousands of people, and it's possible that Alice's mother either perished from Malaria there, or died in childbirth.
In 1871 Alice, aged 5, was living in Cradley in the household of schoolmistress Sarah Stainton aged 29, and her assistant Janet Bell who was born at Arthuret near Carlisle.
Ten years later the 1881 census records Alice aged 15 as a boarder at the home of widow Emily Smith in St Leonards Hastings. Also in the household were two teenage daughters Emily, and Edith Kate, two visitors, two other young girls, a cook and a housemaid. Emily Smith was the daughter of sugar broker William Haslehurst, and the widow of clergyman John Pound Smith who had died at Broomfield vicarage, Ongar, Essex on 10th October 1878.
The 1891 census records Alice aged 25 years as an assistant school-mistress lodging in Oxford with Rose Katherine Jones, the daughter of Rev Hugh Jones Residentiary Canon of St Asaph and Rector of LLanrwst.
Later that year Rose Katherine Jones married Frederick Arthur Wells at Llanrwst. The 1911 census recorded that he was a Maths Tutor and she was then a Music Teacher.
Mention of Alice's sister Gladys in the 1911 census provided a clue to the identity of their father. Further investigation led us to conclude that Alice was the daughter of clergyman Rev James Farmer (1840 - 1923), by his first wife, who possibly died not long after Alice's birth.
James had been born just south of the Malvern Hills at Redmarley. He married, second, Kate Ellie Gray at Hartlepool in 1882, by whom he had five further children. Kate's father was wealthy Sir William Gray JP DL, the son of a draper who made his fortune by investing in ship building ventures and became Mayor of Hartlepool.
James was educated at Magdalen Hall and New College Oxford. The record of Alumni lists:
Possibly there was a transcription error and he was 21 when he was accepted into the university in 1860. Strangely it was not until 11 years later that he gained a degree; midway through his studies Alice is born in Mauritius about 1866 which makes us wonder whether he travelled abroad on missionary work, such as with the Universities' Mission to Central Africa (UMCA), as part of his training.
James is described as the 5th son of William Farmer, gentleman. We think James might possibly have been the 5th son of agricultural labourer William and Anne Farmer who, without sponsorship, could not have afforded to send James to university.
In middle age, William and Anne Farmer became servants to Rev Thomas Palling Little, Curate of Oxenhall and Pauntley, near Newent, in Gloucestershire. Thomas Palling Little had been educated at Trinity College, Oxford, BA 1841, priest 1842. We wondered if perhaps Rev Little found a way for James to be educated at Oxford.
Rev Little had married Ann Esther Maria daughter of Lt General, Sir Joseph Thackwell, GCB, KH, Col, 16 Lancers; Anne died at Edge Vicarage on 12 June 1902 aged 69. Rev Thomas Palling Little, who for 55 years was pastor of Oxenhall with Pauntley, later of Edge diocese, died on Christmas Day 1903 aged 87 years.
James' entry in Crockfords Clerical Directory reads:
The 1871 census records James, aged 30 years, as a widower and student of theology, and a visitor at the home of banker and farmer John P Dicker of West Molesey, whose son Arthur was also an undergraduate at Oxford. The 1881 census recorded James as a widower and vicar of St Paul's Nottingham.
Rev James Farmer must have taken a step up in the world by marrying Kate Ellie Gray and perhaps it was through this alliance that he was able to help his eldest daughter Alice Kate Farmer set up her school at Langland House in Great Malvern.
In 1911 James aged 71 years embarked as an unaccompanied passenger on SS Baltio at Liverpool, bound for New York; we don't know why.
The Rev James Farmer, latterly of Lucan House, Sharow, near Ripon, died on 1st March 1923 leaving effects of £3,977. His executor was his eldest child Alice Kate Farmer of Great Malvern.
Alice Kate Farmer had three half brothers and two half sisters who were significantly younger than she was, coming from the second marriage of her father. Possibly to them she was more like an aunt than a sister.
Alice's oldest half-brother William Gray Farmer was born at Nottingham in 1883. The 1911 census records him as a pupil aged 27 years at Paunton Court, Bishops Frome, lodging with Francis W J Firkins, a hop grower. Presumably he was learning the trade of hop farming. We don't know what he did during WWI, but he survived the war and Trade directories record him living at Withington Court, Hereford until 1934. A passenger list records him arriving at Plymouth from Port Said in 1929.
The next, John Hall Farmer (1885 - 1950), married Marianne Firbank King in 1913. In 1921 he became a Free Mason joining Harte Lodge West Hartlepool; the register describes him as a marine engineer. Later a passenger list describes him as an engineer of West Hartlepool, arriving at Plymouth from Marseille in 1924.
Gladys Margaret Farmer (1887 - 1972) was staying with her half sister Alice Kate Farmer at Langland School in Great Malvern at the time of the 1911 census and she was an executor of Alice's will. One imagines they were close friends. In 1914 Gladys married surgeon Lawrence Thompson Dean MRCS, who had been educated at Cambridge University. During WWI he served as a Captain with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Malta and in East Africa.
Alice's younger half sister, Agatha Mary Farmer (1890 - 1953), married company director Charles Sabine Baring-Gould at Ripon in 1913. He was born in Natal South Africa and educated at Sherborne and Trinity Cambridge. His father was a director of De Beers Consolidated Mines and a cousin of clergyman Rev Sabine Baring-Gould who is noted for writing the hymn 'Onward Christian Soldiers'.
Sadly, Alice's youngest half brother, 2nd Lt James Ingleby Farmer, was killed in action near Festubert on 9th May 1915, serving with the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. This youngest son of Rev James and Mrs Kate Farmer, then living at Lucan House, Ripon, Yorkshire, was born 1895 in Nottingham, educated at St. Aureleus (Bakewell), Loretto School (Edinburgh) and Clare College, Cambridge (1913 – 1914). His name appears on the roll-of-honour in Ripon town hall. He was remembered again twenty four years later on 9th May 1939 when a touching notice appeared in The Times:
Sadly the publication 'Malvern in the Great War 1915' (ref 10) records that Private 1172 Ernest Wilmot Scallon, educated at Malvern College, 2nd King Edwards Horse was killed a fortnight later at Festubert. He was born in Malvern the son of Edward Brand Scallon, secretary and school-master, Malvern College. Ernest had been farming in Argentina and had returned to England at the outbreak of war. His brother Francis was injured but survived the war and became a school-master. His brother Harold Edward Scallon, educated at Queens College Cambridge, became a clergyman and was a missionary in Canada. They were nephews of Sir Robert Irvin Scallon GCB KCIE DSO who had served in the Indian Army.
The death of Alice Kate Farmer was announced briefly in The Times:
Alice's executors were her friend Eva Hazlehurst Leather, her half sister Gladys Margaret Dean, and solicitor John Bernard Watson Lambert. She left effects of £36,974 which in those days was a considerable sum for the daughter of a once poor widowed clergyman.
A tribute to Alice was published on the front page of the Malvern Gazette on Saturday 6th January 1945, which continued on to page 4. It was entitled:
Death of Miss A K Farmer
'Public Service for Malvern'
The obituary records that she was indeed the daughter of Rev James Farmer, latterly of Lucan House, Ripon, and that Alice had been educated at Clifton House School, Newnham College Cambridge, and Oxford High Schools. It mentions:
The Malvern Gazette of February 10th 1945 recorded Councillors were considering fixing a plaque in memory of Alice to the bird bath in the Rose Garden of Priory Park, which she had helped create. Others felt that a summer-house might be a more fitting memorial.
The area remains a 'secret' walled garden though now it importantly lacks rose beds, the bird bath and seating. The bird bath, and any memorial to Alice, have disappeared but the attached photo shows what it looked like.
Nan and grandchildren standing by the bird bath in the Rose Garden, May 1982
Alice would have witnessed several developments in her lifetime which we take for granted, including for example the introduction of a public electricity supply to Malvern in 1904; telephones for businesses, professional people and the wealthy; powered flight; the appearance of motor vehicles and the first garages; and public broadcasting of radio programmes by the BBC.
She would also have read reports of the Boer wars and felt the impact of WWI on life at home. Sadly she would also have seen war come again in 1939; witnessed military units coming to Malvern for a second time; experienced food rationing; and though she died before the end of WWII, read about the D-Day landings giving hope that Britain would ultimately prevail.
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Last updated 28th October 2018