More history for CM Wonks and Geeks

I spent way too mch time on this today but I got kind of wrapped up in cool rabbit trails and connections all around.

We have a Quaker thing.
We have a few very cool connections with India and people working hard for good causes.
We have a P.N.E.U. school in England founded by an incredible wife and mom of five while her husband is off trying to do some peace making mission in South Africa after the Boer War.
We have a courageous journey across the ocean with nearly 2 dozen students, a 78 year old headmistress, and her adult son and daughter in law, and then they set up the whole boarding school in a basement at a college in Canada for the duration of the war (maybe after, because the school was done when the war was over and the son became a farmer).
We have that school in England with some of its students being Indian (not Anglo-Indian, but Indian). In 1905.
joan hicksonAnd Joan Hickson, who played Miss Marple on tv, went to this school in the 20s.

I’ll go on in chronological order, of some sorts:



John Frederick Denison (F. D.) Maurice, (29 August 1805 – 1 April 1872), was a writer, reformer, and theologian in the Church of England. He was founder of the Working Men’s College, and one of the original members of the Cambridge Apostles Club, a discussion or debate group of close friends formed for ”the pursuit of Truth with absolute candour by a group of intimate friends’. (nearly a hundred years later, several members would be implicated as spies for the KGB).

oriental herald front pageKeenly interested in reforms anywhere he perceived injustice, he was involved in a number of causes. As a young man, he helped an influential politician with Quaker roots, Charles Forbes, establish a publication called The Oriental Herald and Journal of General Literature, designed to keep the British public informed about conditions in India with a goal of reforming British treatment of the Indian people and seeing the country as an equal rather than a vassal of British Commerce. (It was edited by James Silk Buckingham, whose mother had been a Quaker before her marriage)

Charles Forbes had urged Quaker Joseph Pease to get involved on behalf of India and her people and to encourage more of the Quakers in particular to be as active in this worthy pursuit as they had been in ending slavery in Great Britain.

Maurice was also one of early members of Joseph Pease’s ‘British India Society’, formed to convince the British public of the evils which had become part of Britain’s relations with India, including an unregulated form of an indentured servitude which was worse than slavery, because it was generally fatal.  Forbes, incidentally, didn’t wish to see it regulated, but abolished because he saw no humane reform was possible. Most of these Quaker 0r Quaker connected reformers wanted to see and end to  the influence and power of the British East India Company.

When the Slave Trade Act of 1843 passed, Pease was jubilant. “Joseph Pease died on March 10th, 1845. He bequeathed to each of his five sons and grandsons a copy of the law of 1843, which he regarded as the crowning happiness of his life to have witnessed. His friend Thomas Clarkson followed him six months later.” – Source

Notice in this jumbled list of names and events, the reformation fervor of Quakers and even their apostate relations, the India connection, the theme of the brotherhood of man.  And keep in mind that Margaret Coombs has told us Charlotte Mason’s father was a Quaker, and he had been in India with one of his sons when Charlotte herself was born out of wedlock back home in England. (more here)
ahmad khan sir sayyidNow we come to a very interesting British family with connections to India, and later, to Charlotte Mason.

Syed Ahmad Khan 17 October 1817 – 27 March 1898), commonly known as Sir Syed, was an Indian Muslim pragmatist, Islamic modernist, philosopher and social activist of nineteenth century India. He worked for the British East India Company and was one of the founders of the Aligarh Muslim University.

In the Indian Rebellion of 1857, he remained loyal to England and saved many British lives. However, afterwards he wrote a booklet pointing how British policies had contributed toward the rebellion and he advocated reforms. (The Causes of the Indian Mutiny) His booklet was not well received, and afterward he resigned his position. After the rebellion Britain had required all business in India to be done in English. Syed Ahmed Khan wished to improve his people’s position in their own country by helping them learn English and promoting education and a more cooperative spirit between Muslims and Hindus. He founded founded Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in 1875 with the aim of promoting social, scientific, and economic development of Indian Muslims which later developed into the famous Aligarh Muslim University.

Sultan_Shah_Jahan,_1872_(Begum_of_Bhopal)While Aligarh was a Muslim college, he welcomed the many Hindu students who also attended. Its first Chancellor was a Sunni Muslim noblewoman, the Sultan Shah Jahan, Begum (female ruler) of Bhopals, and the Syed imported its principal from England.  (later Sir Sayid become more pessimistic about Hindu-Muslim cooperation and focused on Muslim self-rule issues).

theodore beckThat principal was Theodore Beck, another devout Quaker who believed strongly in improving Anglo-Indian relations in India, particularly by improving British treatment of Indians. He was just 24 years old. He worked at Aligarh until his death at 40. He was chosen in part because of his connections with the Apostles Club at Cambridge (see above).

Sir Ahmed Khan had, 14 years previously, sent his own son to Cambridge. He sent him back to England to recruit a Cambridge man for his school. While in England, he stayed with a friend of his father’s, Sir John Strachey. Sir John’s son Arthur was a friend of Beck’s, and they had both been in the Apostle’s Club while at Cambridge. Arthur introduced the Syed’s son to Beck, and Beck was offered the job.
Beck’s family were Quakers, keenly interested in education and reform. His next younger sister, Jessie, would later join him in India to run his household. A much younger sister, Hannah, would come after his death to be house matron for the youngest pupils. Back at home, Elizabeth, second of his younger sisters, was one of the first students to enroll at a new high school for girls (although she was already 16 when it opened). She had attended several University extension courses, and she worked with a club for working girls in the slums, using her old ties from the high school to raise money for it.

While in India, Beck developed a friendship with a young businessman named Frederick Hickson. Hickson had been more interested in education than business, but his family preferred he pursue business, so he did. On one of his return trips to England, Beck sent him with an introduction to his family at home and an invitation to visit. Hickson returned engaged to be married to one of Beck’s younger sisters, Elizabeth, or Lizzie. They were married at Aligarh in December of 1890.  She was around 28 years of age.

For four or more years, they lived in Calcutta, where two children were born. Most of the ‘Anglo-Indian’ families ended up sending the children home to England for schooling, but the Hicksons did not wish to divide their family that way. Hickson had been working for his firm in India for 16 years but he gave it up and entered into business for himself, and also served as chairman of the local education committee in Bollington. The Hicksons had three more children.

“Then when the Boer War was over Frederick who was a great peace-maker, felt impelled to visit South Africa. During his absence Lizzie rented a house at Swanage on the south coast, and settled down to teach her own children and any others who cared to come. She called her school ‘Oldfeld.’ When Frederick returned in 1905 they bought a house, and began together on a life-long teaching career.” (more here)

Lizzie had long been interested in Charlotte Mason’s Parents’ National Education Union, and this is where I first learned of this remarkable family.

In 1896, she sent this letter to the editor, which Miss Mason published:
“DEAR MADAM,–I feel most strongly on the subject you refer to about the over-pressure of the present day in all our schools. Although my children are but babies, and have not yet begun their school careers–a period of their lives which I look forward to with much dread–I am delighted to send my name to be added to any list of parents protesting against the present pressure of work and long hours indulged in at all modern schools. A leading member of the educational department in India once told me that up to six years old a child should not be taught regularly at all, that after that age one hour a day should be given, and that each year another hour a day might be added until five hours a day were reached, and that never should more than five hours a day be devoted to intellectual study. Can we not demand that our children should not have more than four hours in school per day and one hour for preparation? Children should have at least two hours in the open air if the weather will permit, and if there is time unoccupied there are many occupations which train the hand and eye which might employ them, without overtaxing their brains. And we should find our children more fully developed and far more fitly prepared for their careers in life.
Trusting that many other parents will add their names to the list.
Brook House, Bollington, I am, yours truly,
Near Macclesfield. ELIZABETH HICKSON”

She must have written very shortly after their return to England in 1894 or 5, since they lived in Bollington only for a short time afterward. And don’t you wonder who that official connected to education in India was? I can see her at a dinner party engaging in a lively conversation on the education of the young.

In 1899, her two oldest children, Eric and Philippa Beck Hickson, sent in art projects to the childrens’ section of the PR, as well as drawings and I am not sure she is a child of Elizabeth’s and Frederick’s, however, a Josephine Hickson, aged 7, received very high marks for her button holes.. (Updated- yes, Josephine was one of the children)  I know their youngest son was Arthur. He also had hoped to go into medicine, like his big brother Eric, but when their father’s health failed, he stepped in to help his mother run the school.  She remained as Headmistress until her death, or very near it. But while her children were still young:

In 1901, she attended a P.N.E.U. conference and we only know this because she is named as somebody who joined in a group discussion.

And, in 1905, she and her husband bought a house in which to continue the school Lizzie had started, and ” in the lists of pupils were many
well-known Quaker names (in addition to Allens, Becks and Hicksons),
and other names honoured in India, including a sprinkling of Indians,” slightly unusual at the time for a boarding school.

Mrs Theodore Beck visited them, and Uncle Theodore wrote regularly.  His niece Philippa preserved these letters.

In a 1905 volume of the Parents’ Review, their school is included in a list of schools which used some or all of the PR materials.  I was reading this list of schools because I am always yearning to find some pre-1924 (when Mason died) programmes for forms V and VI.  I found it interesting that in this list of schools, none of them had classes for those two upper forms.  In fact, barely half of them had classes up to form III, and only three schools offered PNEU based courses for forms IV.  One of those was the Hickson’s school.

PR schools page 310 PR Our WORK pneu schools page 311 Oldfeld was the boys’ school.  Hestercombe was for girls.oldfeld PNEU school 1908

I also found this very interesting bit:

“In 1905 the Hickson family, who were Quakers, founded one of the first Parents’ National Education Union (PNEU) schools in Britain. It was situated in Ilminster Road, Swanage, in a house called Oldfeld; later a house opposite, named Hestercombe was also acquired. The boys slept at Oldfeld and the girls at Hestercombe. The fees for boarders ranged from 20 to 24 guineas per term and 3 to 5 guineas for day pupils. The school was primarily for children whose parents lived abroad and was so successful that the Hicksons acquired a hilltop site between old and new Swanage and built what became Oldfeld House, the school moving into its new home in the summer of 1914.

“One of its pupils during the 1920s was Joan Hickson, better known as the actress who played TV’s Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.”

Although they and many of their pupils were Quakers, they attended a church of England in the thirties: 

“The congregations at our usual Sunday morning Services were greatly helped by Oldfield (Co-educational) and Spyway (Preparatory) Schools, who came along and added considerably to our numbers. When Forres Chapel was built, Oldfield missed the schools’ service I had taken at All Saints’, Swanage, and which was discontinued; so they came up to Kingston in buses on alternate Sundays all the time I was vicar there. The Hicksons of Oldfield and the Warners of Spyway, were long-standing frends and we were always very glad to see them with their bus loads of boys and girls whom they brought along because they liked our simple short service.”


“During the war, in July 1940, the Hicksons and around 25 pupils evacuated to Canada, sailing from Liverpool aboard the Duke of Richmond, and were absorbed into Stanstead Wesleyn College in Quebec. They took over the Infirmary and were known as ‘Little Oldfeld’. …”

I do not believe Mr. Frederick Hickson was still alive then.  Lizzie was in her late 70s, still Headmistress.  Her grown son Arthur and his wife helped out with the school.  So this redoubtable lady traveled from England to Canada by ship  with nearly 20 children (at least five of them her grandchildren)  to protect the children from bombings when she was around 77 or 78 years old.

As far as I have been able to tell, this marked the end of the Oldfeld school as a PNEU school.  However, you can see one of the original buildings here.  It is now part of Harrow House, a prestigious international English language school for children and families around the world.

Mrs. Hickson’s title or degree is listed as MBE here:  (Swanage trade directory )

You can read more here about this fascinating bit of history, and you may read more of the Canadian stint at Stanstead College here.


And Wikipedia

Eric Blanford Hickson;  Else Philippa Hickson, Josephine Beck Hickson; Marcus Beck Hickson and Arthur Thomas Lister Hickson were F.G. (Frederick) and Lizzie Hickson’s five children.

As mentioned above, Joan Hickson was one of their students, as was David Donnison, author of The Last Guardians.


The remarkable Lizzie ran her household, plus a boarding school, plus managed her own five children while her husband was away.  They ran the school together when he returned.  Their school was one of a very few which offered courses above form III.  She managed to go to PNEU conferences and clearly kept up with her own reading.  Her son delivered a presentation on teaching science at a PNEU conference.   And she traveled to Canada with her students and household to protect their students from the bombings of WW2.

Their school advertisement says ‘Great stress laid on development of Character.”  I think she herself must have had it in spades.



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One Comment

  1. Bev
    Posted July 23, 2016 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    This was fascinating. Great post!

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