Women of Geddington: Elizabeth Wilkins

Hello. My name is Elizabeth Wilkins.

The year is 1911. I have lived here in Geddington for over 20 years now and my youngest three children were born here.  I know so many of the families because my husband John was appointed to Geddington Schools as Headteacher in 1887.

I have been an elementary school teacher for 25 years or more. In 1894 the Duke built an infant school and when it opened I became the Headmistress and was put in charge of the younger children. In 1897 Her Majesty’s Inspectors reported that provision was greatly improved and the infant school now had new desks for the children. By 1908 I had 32 infants, girls and boys, in my charge.

My family and I lived in the thatched farmhouse at what is now No 39 Queen Street at first, but then moved into the second of the pair of cottages on the corner of Wood Street and Grafton Road. Our neighbour was George Waite, a blacksmith who had a forge opening on to ‘Wood End’. After he died we were able to demolish the forge and make the two cottages into one and give us enough room for our growing family.

 This house became known as The School House and I arranged for a gate to be cut into the back wall so that I could have easy access to the Infant School. (Elizabeth and John continued to live in this house after they retired and their daughter Dora lived there until her death in 1993.)

My husband is known to his pupils as ‘Tuggy’ and he manages them with a firm hand, trying to ensure a knowledge of mathematics, history and geography and something of Shakespeare too.

For my part I recognise that some of the little ones find it hard to be in a schoolroom, so I also add time for nature study, drawing, singing and PE. All the children are taught about food, health and hygiene though, in an attempt to reduce the frequency of ‘nits’!

I am very aware that for some families it is hard to put good food on the table every day and our little ones are at risk of infection. After the measles outbreak in 1903 we had to close the school for 7 weeks and again, in 1906 and 1909, we were instructed to close the schools to limit the spread of the disease. I feel very lucky that my own children have survived childhood and are well. My younger two sons are still single and live at home; William is a foreman plumber and Bernard is apprenticed as a tailor. Ernest, the oldest, was an office boy at Boughton . (In 1917 he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and then after the war became a schoolteacher and a headteacher, following in his parents footsteps.)

Both my husband and I are music lovers and he runs a well established and successful choir at the church as well as being the organist. Both the boys are choristers and little Dora is also very musical. Sunday night is always special with visitors walking from Kettering to hear the beautiful choral music. One of the best soloists is Charlie Townley and the choir’s most enthusiastic, but less accurate, vocalist is Mary Towell!

Life is very busy, working full time, bringing up my own children and playing as full a part in the life of the village as possible. We grow our own vegetables too, which I encourage my husband to do as a way of relaxing and getting some fresh air after a week in the schoolroom. We have won prizes several times at the Village Feast! (In 1913 Elizabeth, with the help of Miss Clifford and Miss Swingler, was responsible for the presentation of a play at The Feast with singing and dancing by the village children called ‘The Crown of Roses’ . Dora Wilkins played the part of the butterfly)

In this coronation year it was good to see the children enjoying the celebrations; each one presented with a coronation mug and then going on to have their tea in the schoolroom. The village was dressed at its best with streamers and bunting and the village band played to entertain the residents.

********************************************************** Edward Jenner and Louis Pasteur were the first scientists to develop the idea of immunisation and inoculation in the 18th and 19th centuries but in 1911, for the children of Geddington, measles was a serious, life threatening disease, particularly where the diet lacked fresh fruit and vegetables and the home lacked water and sanitation. Like our current coronavirus it is spread by droplets and it is highly contagious. It is estimated that between 7-8 million children worldwide died each year from measles before the vaccine was widely available in the late 1960s. Any drop in the take up of the vaccine today still puts children globally at risk of a life threatening disease. Elizabeth Wilkins was right to be concerned and to do her best to protect her infant school pupils. She was by all accounts very well loved by those she taught.

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    4 Comments

    1. Dave Valentine.

      Sun 29th Mar 2020 at 12:13 pm

      Remember Dora she lived across the road when we lived in the priory. I later on delivered her bread when I was a bakers boy for Bill Abbott.

      Reply
    2. Mel Hopkins

      Mon 30th Mar 2020 at 9:13 am

      The measles outbreak in the years 1903, 1906 and 1909 claimed the lives of 21 children in the village.

      Reply
    3. Sandra

      Wed 01st Apr 2020 at 8:49 pm

      My Father would talk of ‘Tuggy’ Wilkins. One time the children conspired to play a prank – while he was out of the classroom for a short time they inserted something in the end of his cane and next time he used it, it splintered and could not be used; I think the result was much laughter by the pranksters!

      Reply
    4. Sandra

      Wed 01st Apr 2020 at 8:51 pm

      I should add that my Father had a wonderful education under Mr Wilkins, especially Mathematics, Literature, Poetry and Art.

      Reply

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