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Biography of Isabel Greenslade (a founder of Malvern Girls' College)


About 1893, Miss Isabel Greenslade started a small school in Great Malvern which at first took both boys and girls, some quite young, and gradually grew to become Malvern Girls' College, now Malvern St James.

An excellent history of Malvern Girls' College has been written by Pamela Hurle (ref 1) and Isabel Greenslade is also briefly mentioned in our history of Malvern Schools.

We have attempted in this story to tell you a little more about Isabel Greenslade's associates and family background.

Early life

From the census returns and BMD we think that Isabel Greenslade was born in the Bedminster parish of Bristol in 1862, the daughter of Amos Greenslade (1819 - 1883) and his first wife Hannah Pickering. Amos was described in the 1861 census as a master carpenter employing 13 men and 23 boys, but in 1863 he was declared bankrupt (ref 7), and later he was described as a builder, and inspector for the Bristol and Exeter Railway Company.

After Hannah died in 1876 Amos married Emily Huxtable in 1878. Emily had previously married ship's steward George Cott in Sydney, Australia, in 1858, but he was already married, and in 1860 naughty George Cott had been sentenced to 3 months imprisonment for bigamy (ref 8).

Isabel's mother Hannah was the daughter of Thomas Watts Pickering who died in 1847. Thomas's will describes himself as a Stationer and Bookmaker of St Andrew's Parish, Montpellier, Bristol. Hannah's brothers Walter James and Edmund Greenslade became booksellers, so perhaps Isabel developed a love of books from that side of the family.

Amos and Hannah had at least six children: Amos, Elizabeth, William, Edward, Isabel and Ellen.

Isabel would have been 14 when her mother Hannah died, and 16 when her stepmother Emily came into the family home.

The 1881 census records Isabel aged 19 living at Arch House in the Clifton district of Bristol with her eldest sister Elizabeth and her husband shop keeper William Charles Fenn.

William is described as a Milliner and Fancy Draper employing 18 young women, and 1 man and boy. Isabel was then recorded as a Millinery and Drapery apprentice.

By 1891, eight years after her father's death, Isabel is recorded boarding in Bristol at the Young Women's Christian Association hostel, then in Queen's Road. Her occupation was described as 'living on own means'. Two of the other residents at the YMCA were draper's assistants, and another was Louisa Jane Smithbone, a school teacher aged 22 years.

When he died in 1883, Isabel's father Amos left little money and a wife, so Isabel would have wanted to support herself despite having married siblings to fall back upon; perhaps she had decided relatively late in life that a career as a teacher would be more fulfilling, exciting, and of higher status than continuing as a drapery assistant at the shop of her brother-in-law William Fenn in Bristol.


The history of Malvern Girls' College (ref 1) relates that Isabel Greenslade trained at the Bedford Kindergarten Training College and started her school in 1893. Certainly by 1896, Kelly's Trade Directory lists Miss Isabel Greenslade, Girl's High School, at Ivydene in College Road, Great Malvern, which is a large red-brick property opposite Malvern Boys' College.

Ivydene in College Road

Ivydene, 12 College Road

Inset into the brickwork of Ivydene is the date 1886. The 1891 census records that Ivydene was the home of retired architect William Ford Poulton (1822 - 1900), his wife Georgina Selina Bagnall (1819 - 1894), and their daughter Lily Selina Poulton (1852 - 1942). We wondered if the house had been built to William's specification.

How Isabel, from Bristol, came to meet the Poultons and start her school in their home we don't know.

Lily Poulton is described in the 1881 census as an artist/painter staying at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, with her brother, and in the 1891 census as an artist, while her mother was in 1861, aged 42, described as a writer of history and fiction. Clearly there was talent and wealth in the family, and Lily and Isabel formed a business partnership.

By 1899 larger premises were needed, and Isabel and Lily took over the school 'for the daughters of gentlemen' run by Mrs Rosa Norton at Montpellier in Albert Road which they extended and renamed Ivydene Hall. Possibly the poor health of Mrs Norton caused Montpellier to come up for sale and Lily's father or a legacy helped them with the purchase. The photo below shows a glimpse of the building during renovation in 2015.

Ivydene in 2015

The 1911 census records that the business had become 'The College for Girls, Malvern' and that there were then three joint Principals, Lily Selina Poulton aged 59, Isabel Greenslade aged 49, and Blanche Eleanor Mitchell aged 38 years. Kate Dawson joined them as a fourth Principal in 1912.

Over the next eight years the school continued to expand, through acquiring more houses in the neighbourhood of Albert Road and Avenue Road, until in 1919 the opportunity arose to purchase the Imperial Hotel opposite Great Malvern Railway station (see photo below). It was perhaps the downturn in the water cure, the social impact of the Great War and the fact the owner was German which enabled the Imperial Hotel to be acquired for only 32,500.

Malvern Girls' College, Imperial Hotel

 Malvern St James, formerly the Imperial Hotel 

Isabel Greenslade, founder of Malvern Girls' College, retired to Abbotsmead in Avenue Road and died in 1940.


Sketch of Abbotsmead

Business Associates

Lily Selina Poulton

Lily Selina Poulton, one of three children, was the daughter of wealthy architect and surveyor William Ford Poulton. Her mother was Georgina Selina Bagnall who in the 1861 census was recorded as a writer of history and fiction. In early life it would seem Lily occupied herself as an artist, possibly inheriting the drawing skills of her father.

Her younger brother Edward Bagnall Poulton born in 1856 was educated at Jesus College, Oxford, achieving a first class degree in Natural Science. He married at London in 1881 Emily Palmer daughter of George Palmer MP for Reading and head of the Huntley and Palmer biscuit company. Edward had been President of the Oxford Union Society; zoologist, teacher of Biology and Geology; elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1889, knighted in 1935, Sir Edward Bagnall Poulton, an advocate of natural selection, died in 1943.

Lily's sister Georgina Ford Poulton married at Great Malvern Priory on 20th October 1885, farmer Arthur Herbert Savory. In 1901 they were living at the Manor House in Aldington near Evesham in Worcestershire.

PoppiesLily's nephew Ronald William Poulton, educated Rugby and Oxford, played rugby for England, but was sadly killed in the Great War aged only 25 years.

Lily Selina Poulton, a joint founder of Malvern Girls' College, died at Great Malvern in 1942.

Blanche Eleanor Mitchell

Blanche Eleanor Mitchell was born at Wallingford in Berkshire in 1872. She was the daughter of middle class draper William Heading Mitchell (1837 - 1882) and Lucy Anne Richards. Unlike many of her siblings she did not enter the drapery business, and by 1891 aged 19 she was already a Governess (English) at a small  high school for girls in Hackney, London, whose headmistress was Mary A Page, who was born in India about 1863.

The 1901 census records Blanche as a Governess at Ivydene in Great Malvern working for Isabel Greenslade and Lily Poulton. By 1911 she seems to have bought herself into the business and is a joint Principal, but in 1917, after spending nearly 20 years at the school she leaves, either as the result of a disagreement with the founders (ref 3) or because of a new business opportunity, or in connection with her mother's death in November of that year.

Blanche came from a large family and was one of eight children:

PoppiesMary Maria Mitchell the eldest married William Arthur Kershaw, a paper manufacturer and mechanical engineer. They had two sons, Charles Arthur Nairns Kershaw (1889 - 1988) who served in the Royal Navy, and Kenneth Robert Beresford Kershaw 2nd Lt Gordon Highlanders, who was sadly killed in action on 25th September 1915; Kenneth has a lengthy citation in De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour.

Alice Heading Mitchell married master mariner Charles Fawcett Ferguson. Before her marriage, Alice had been a Governess (English) at Stamford Hill High School. Alice had no children of her own but brought up the children from Charles' first marriage to Elizabeth Mark Jean Thompson who had died in childbirth. Sadly Alice's stepson Corporal Charles Henry Ferguson 6 Bn The King's (Liverpool Regiment) was killed on or about 13th August 1916. Before the war he had been an insurance clerk.

William Frederick Mitchell became a draper like his father. In 1899 he married Elizabeth Bertha Lotka born Alsace, the daughter of clergyman Jacob Lotka of the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews.

Charles Henry Mitchell became a draper in Derby. He married Margaret Alice MacMillan.

Ernest Heading Mitchell was recorded in the 1901 census as a partner in a drapery business in Evesham. He married Sarah Ellen Flawn in 1907.

Beatrice Ann Mitchell did not marry and lived at home looking after her widowed mother in later years.

William Heading Mitchell, the youngest son, died an infant.

Blanche Eleanor Mitchell herself, who had been a joint Principal of Malvern Girls' College, died unmarried at Worthing in 1937 leaving effects of 35,000, a considerable sum in those days. Her sister Beatrice also died in Worthing so perhaps the sisters had lived together in old age. Blanche would have had many nephews and nieces to leave legacies to.

Kate Dawson

Miss Kate Dawson was the fourth joint Principal of Malvern Girls' College, in its formative years, from 1912 to 1928. She was educated at York High School, the University College of North Wales Bangor, and Royal Holloway College at Egham in Surrey. She received her BA in 1894, possibly being amongst the first group of women in the country to be awarded a degree.

Kate Dawson was born in 1871 in the city of York; she was the second daughter of William Henry Dawson and Eliza Kirton. William was a commercial traveller in the drapery trade, and he met Eliza, a draper's assistant, while lodging in Boston, Lincolnshire. The couple married in 1869 and had five children, Lillie, Kate, George, Thomas and Edith.

At the time of the 1891 census Lillie and Kate are in York living at home and recorded as 'students' of science and arts. The records of the University of London throw more light upon this:

Dawson, Lillie, matriculated June 1888, High School York; Intermediate Science 1889, University College Bangor; B.Sc. 1892, University College Bangor, 2nd in 3rd Class in Botany. (Address) Queen Mary's School Walsall.

Dawson, Kate, matriculated June 1890, from High School York; Intermediate Arts 1893, University College Bangor, 3rd in 3rd Class in German; B.A. 1894, Royal Holloway College. (Address) 38 Avenham Street, Preston.

Bangor University had been founded as the University College of North Wales (UCNW) only in 1884. Its students initially received their degrees from the University of London, until 1893 when UCNW became part of the University of Wales.

Royal Holloway College for women was founded by philanthropist Thomas Holloway and opened by Queen Victoria in 1879. It was not until 1900 that it was incorporated into the University of London.

In those days Oxford and Cambridge did not award degrees to women!

The 1901 census records Lillie as a schoolmistress in Walsall when Kate, also a schoolmistress, was lodging with the family of Richard France a brewer's manager at 23 Garden Street in the Avenham borough of Preston. We think it very likely she was employed by Preston High School for Girl's at 5 Winckley Square a short distance from her lodgings. The school was started as a limited company, which was dissolved in 1920, but other than that we know nothing about it.

A contemporary of Kate Dawson at Preston High School for Girls was Lena Catrine Dodd the daughter of clergyman John Dodd. Lena was a schoolmistress at the school in 1891 and 1901, and a trade directory lists her as the Principal in 1905. However, like Kate, she leaves the school and Kelly's Trade Directories of 1912 and 1925 record her at a Girls' Boarding School, The Grange and Brooklands, Park Road in Buxton Derbyshire (telephone 134). In 1881 Lena  had been a teacher of music in Cheltenham.

Kate Dawson next appears in the 1911 census as a schoolmistress at St Margaret's School for orphans of the clergy at Bushey in Hertfordshire which is now an independent school. She joined Malvern Girl's College in 1912 where she taught mathematics and left in 1928 (ref 1).

We do not know what happened to Kate's brothers, but in 1911 her younger sister Edith was staying with their widowed mother at Lion House, Holgate in York, and her occupation was also recorded as a schoolmistress.

Kate Dawson, once a joint Principal of Malvern Girl's College, died aged 86 years on 20 December 1957; she set up a charity so that a prize for mathematics could be awarded annually.


So after some background about the women who were Isabel Greenslade's business associates, here is some information about her own family.

Elizabeth Greenslade

If we have the right Isabel Greenslade, she was one of at least six children. As mentioned above, eldest sister Elizabeth married William Charles Fenn who ran a drapery establishment in Bristol. William and Elizabeth had two children; their eldest son Edmund Amos Fenn died aged 18 years. Youngest son William Fenn was baptised at St Andrew's Clifton in 1881 and the 1901 census records him still living at home, aged 20 years. His occupation was then given as an 'apprentice mechanical engineer' at a time when his aunt Isabel Greenslade was establishing her school at Ivydene. Some event must have touched Isabel's nephew William for he changed career and became a Church of England clergyman. A summary of his life is recorded in Crockfords Clerical Dictionary of which extracts are quoted below:

University of Durham BA 1906

Wycliffe Hall Oxford 1906, Deacon 1907

Curate of St Paul's, Newcastle upon Tyne

Chaplain Royal Navy 1913, HMS Bellerephon 1913 - 1915, HMS Weymouth 1915 - 1916, HMS Berwick 1916 - 1917

Chaplain Sarum Infirmary

Married Phoebe Catherine Pope daughter of an accountant at Salisbury in 1921.

Rector of St Andrew's Melcome Bingham 1923 - 1925

Rev William Fenn, clergyman, of Glebe Cottage Starcross, Devon died in 1932 aged 51 years.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that William Fenn was at the same Oxford Hall as Lily Poulton's brother Edward.

Amos Cole Greenslade

We only recently came across Isabel's eldest brother Amos born in 1845, after another researcher told us about a fatal boat accident on Whitsunday in 1859. Amos aged 13 years was amongst a dozen holiday-makers being rowed out to join the steamer 'Neath Abbey' on its way back from Watchet to Bristol. The small rowing boat was overloaded and shipped water before becoming swamped and the passengers being thrown into the sea. Amos survived but sadly six holiday-makers were drowned (ref 6).

In 1867 Amos Cole Greenslade was witness to a US patent by Zebina Eastman concerned with an alternative form of rail track. Zebina Eastman (1815 - 1883) was an American newspaper editor who promoted the abolition of slavery; in the 1860s he was US Consul in Bristol.

 The 1871 census recorded Amos as a bookseller and binder in Bristol. In 1874 he married Jane Fry the daughter of a railway porter, and in the 1881 census he was again recorded, in Bristol, still a bookseller and bookbinder employing one man. Amos died in Bristol in 1886 at the age of ony 41 years leaving a widow who remarried in 1891 and died in 1924. The couple had no children.

William Greenslade

Isabel's brother William married Jane Leworthy and had an ironmonger's shop in Bristol. They had one daughter Minnie Blanche Greenslade who married a commercial traveller.

Edward Greenslade

Younger brother Edward married Henrietta Ann Willey the daughter of a licensed victualler. They went to live in London where Edward is recorded as a warehouseman working for a drapery business. The 1911 census records that the couple had 12 children of whom 8 were living and seven were at home; William, Elsie Beatrice, Arthur Edward, Albert Victor, Isabel Ellen, Gladys Ann, and Herbert Leonard.

PoppiesSadly Isabel's nephew Gunner Albert Victor Greenslade of 146 Heavy Battery the Royal Garrison Artillery was killed in action on 31st July 1917 aged 21 years. Prior to the war he had been a salesman.

Ellen Greenslade

Isabel Greenslade's younger sister Ellen did not marry and died at Bristol in 1942. In 1911 she had been a sub post mistress and stationer.

We had wondered if there might be some thread that connected the four joint Principals of Malvern Girls' College. It is interesting that all these women had connections to either academia or the drapery trade which perhaps caused them to be used to meeting people, measuring, doing sums, looking after money, and travel from an early age; but perhaps their success was due to the fact that their various skills were complementary; maybe Isabel Greenslade had the vision for the school, Lily Poulton provided the financial backing in the early days and was good at administration, while Kate Dixon applied the rigour of her academic training. Being unmarried, they would have been able to devote all their attention to developing and promoting their College for Girls.


  1. Hurle, Pamela, Malvern Girls' College, a Centenary History, 1993
  2. Census of England and Wales
  3. Index of Births Marriages and Deaths
  4. National Probate Calendar
  5. Wikipedia
  6. Fatal Boat Accident, The Times, Saturday June 18th 1859
  7. London Gazette, 1863
  8. Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org), trial of George Cott 1860

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