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Biography of Caroline Cooper (schoolmistress)



Early life

Governess and schoolmistress


The Niece



Miss Caroline Cooper was the first Principal of a private School for Ladies established in Great Malvern during the early years of the Victorian water cure.

Caroline started her Ladies' School, which she described as first class, at an imposing house named Elmsdale in Abbey Road, Great Malvern, about 1857, briefly moving to Holly Mount mansion above the Promenade next to Brays on the Worcester Road in the late 1860s (where Princess Victoria had stayed in 1830), and then about 1870 to a large house named Malvernbury, in Abbey Road, which was just two doors south of Elmsdale.

Elmsdale House

Photo above: Elmsdale House built about 1853

Elmsdale House had originally been built for Dr James Loftus Marsden to accommodate his water cure patients.

The 1861 census records that Caroline Cooper was at that time assisted at the school by the Duplock sisters, Matilda, Julia and Eliza.

Following Caroline Cooper's death on 15th January 1873 aged only 52 years, her niece continued to run the school for a short while assisted by Julia Duplock until the school was bought by Miss Janet Leighton, who eventually moved the school to Lawnside.

The photo below shows the architecture of the rear of Elmsdale.

East side of Elmsdale

Rear of Elmsdale

Early life

Caroline Cooper was born in Reading about 1821, the youngest child of solicitor Basil Henry Cooper and Harriot Shoppee. Her father died in 1823, aged only 40 years, leaving her mother to bring up eight surviving children. Basil was buried at St Mary, Reading on 25th February 1823.

A manuscript of the 'Canterbury' will and codicils of Caroline's father, Basil Henry Cooper, can be found on the Ancestry web site; it runs to ten foolscap pages. The script is hard to read, but from a cursory examination he left a house and the proceeds from three insurance policies, and made provision for the guardianship of his children. Possibly the children were also helped and advised by their uncles Joseph Shoppee, a builder, and Peter Shoppee, a hosier and linen draper.

Basil and Harriot Cooper's children were,

Charles Henry (1808 - 1866), Harriott born 1809, Louisa born 1810, Charlotte born 1811, Emma born 1813, John Philip born 1816 who died an infant, Susannah born 1818, Basil Henry (1819 - 1891) and Caroline (1821 - 1873).

We think that in 1841 Caroline and her sister Harriott were visiting their mother who, if we have the right person, was recorded in the census as the Matron of a female penitentiary at Pentonville.

Governess and schoolmistress

The 1851 census records Caroline and her sister Louisa as governesses living at a mansion named Wicken Park in Northamptonshire together with three children (Eleanor Frances Susan Douglas Pennant, Louisa Mary Douglas Pennant and Mary Georgiana Douglas Pennant), and twenty three servants.

Wicken Park was owned by Edward Gordon Douglas (1800 - 1886) who had married heiress Julia Isabella Maria Dawkins Pennant (1808 - 1842). Edward adopted the surname Pennant in order to inherit the Pennant family fortune which had been made from sugar plantations in Jamaica and quarrying slate in North Wales. Edward inherited Penrhyn Castle near Bangor (now a National Trust property) and became 1st Baron Penrhyn; he married second, Maria Louisa Fitzroy in 1846.

Quite possibly it was through Lord Penrhyn that Caroline Cooper established connections with the middle and upper classes that were to serve her well in later life.

The 1861 census records Caroline Cooper and her school at Elmsdale in Abbey Road, but the Malvern Advertiser indicates the school had in fact started about 1857. At the time of the 1871 census Caroline was a visitor in Bath, describing herself as 'principal of a 1st class school', while her assistant Julia Duplock was in charge of the school, which had by then moved to Malvernbury in Abbey Road.

Sadly, Caroline Cooper died at Malvernbury on 15th January 1873 aged only 52 years.

Caroline's executors were her cousins: architect Charles John Shoppee, son of her uncle Joseph, and ironmonger James Godfrey Murphy, the son of her aunt Susannah Shoppee, who had married James Hugh Murphy, one of the executors of Caroline's father's will.

The history of Lawnside School suggests that in the 1850s Caroline Cooper had first started a small school for one or two pupils in the basement of Lady Huntingdon's Chapel of the New Connexion on the Wells Road opposite the turning to The Wyche. We have seen no record of this but note that her brothers and sisters had been baptised at Lady Huntingdon's Chapel of the New Connexion at Cookham in Berkshire, and that her brother Basil Henry Cooper junior was a Minister of the Independent Church.


Caroline Cooper's brother Charles Henry Cooper (1808 - 1866) married and had four children. The family lived in Cambridge, where he is recorded in the 1861 census as Town Clerk, solicitor and author. He was an academic and wrote a history of Cambridge and the notable people who lived there. For this reason he is recorded in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, to which his son Thompson Cooper, also an academic, contributed.

Caroline's brother Basil Henry Cooper junior (1819 - 1891) married and lived in London. The 1881 census simply records him as a journalist, BA London University.  However, there appears much more to him than that; he was also an academic like his brother, a Minister of the Independent  Church and a prolific author.

The publication 'Men of the Time', eleventh edition, published by Basil's nephew Thompson Cooper (1837 - 1904) records:

Cooper, Basil Henry BA, youngest son of the late Mr Basil Henry Cooper, solicitor, of Reading, Berkshire, and brother of the late Charles Henry Cooper FSA, the historian of Cambridge.

He was was born June 29 1819, at Maidenhead, Berks, where his father was then residing. After passing through private schools at Great Marlow Bucks, Hayes in Kent, Orsett in Essex, and Ham Surrey, he entered Highbury College, an institution for the training of Independent ministers, which has since been absorbed in New College, London.

Here he spent four years, and the college having become affiliated during that period to the University of London, he graduated in 1842.

The next year he was ordained pastor of the Independent Congregation at Mayer's Green, West Bromwich, Staffordshire, of which he retained the charge for nine years.

In 1844 he published 'An Essay towards a New Translation of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans', and in 1846 he edited for the Wycliffe Society, 'Select Works of the Reverend and Learned David Clarkson, BD, and some time Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge.'

In 1852 appeared his 'Free Church of Ancient Christendom' an ecclesiastical history of the first three centuries, of which a second edition was published the same year. After relinquishing his first and only pastorate, he has devoted himself almost wholly to literature, especially to Egyptology and the chronology of the Pharoahs ....

A day school in connexion with Mayer's Green Congregational chapel was established in 1844 with the arrival of the new minister, BH Cooper. The chapel, which had been built in 1807, was demolished in 1969.

In old age Rev Basil Henry Cooper was admitted to Coulsden Asylum in Surrey, where he died on 5th May 1891.

We have found out a little more about the family life of Caroline's brother Basil. He married at West Bromwich in Staffordshire in 1848 Sarah Whitehouse Phillips (1818 - 1907). The couple had four children Sarah Harriet Phillips Cooper (1849 - 1939) a teacher, Christian Charles Arthur Cooper (1853 - ) a tutor in later life, Basil Henry Phillips Cooper died an infant, and Caroline Annie Cooper born 1857.

So far we have been unable to trace the lives of Caroline's sisters.

The Niece

The 1871 census lists Sarah H P Cooper, relation niece, age 21, a governess at Caroline's school at Malvernbury. Quite probably Caroline hoped to train Sarah as a teacher and business-woman to help her run and perhaps later takeover the school.

Following the premature death of Caroline Cooper, the school was soon sold and the 1881 census records Sarah as a student at Jersey House school in Hewlett Street Cheltenham. In 1901 she is still single and a teacher of music living at Bonair, Alfred Road, Birchington in Kent. By 1911 Sarah is a school teacher boarding with the family of clergyman Joseph Priestley at Edburton Rectory is Sussex.

Sarah lived to a good age, unlike her aunt Julia, dying in Surrey in 1939 aged 90 years.


What  good father was Basil Henry Cooper who, through taking out insurance policies, making a will and provision for the guardianship of his children in the event of his death, made sure there were funds to educate his children and friends to advise and support them. His two surviving sons became notable academics and his youngest daughter Caroline set up the school which was to transform into Lawnside, with connections to Edward Elgar and George Bernard Shaw.


  1. Lawnside, the history of a Malvern school, compiled by Mary Dixey and Duseline Stewart, Lawnside Old Girls' Association, Malvern 1996
  2. Census of England and Wales
  3. Index of Births Marriages and Deaths
  4. National Probate Calendar
  5. Wikipedia

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