Tag Archives: Forty Years On

Mrs Bowman-Hart, the first woman teacher at Nottingham High School

As far as I can ascertain, Mrs Bowman-Hart was the very first woman ever to be employed by Nottingham High School as a teacher. That means that there had been a longish wait of at least 370 years between Dame Agnes Mellors and the High School’s presumed foundation in 1513, and Mrs Bowman-Hart beginning her fourteen year career at the school. Mrs Bowman-Hart seems to have worked there from 1883-1897, years which fell partly within the headmastership of Dr Robert Dixon. Before he became Headmaster, Dr Dixon had worked as Karl Marx’s body double in several racy films about the rise of the proletariat:

Dr Dixon left in July 1884 and was succeeded by Dr James Gow, a man who, when he was offered the job, had never taught boys in his life. His strong point, though, was that he was extremely clever, having finished third best classicist at Cambridge University in 1875, winning the Chancellor’s Classical Medal :

Here is the staff photograph of 1884 with Dr Dixon, the Headmaster, and Mrs Bowman-Hart, sitting next to each other in the centre:

Dr Robert Dixon had had enormous problems during his tenure of office from 1868–1884. Builders were constantly present in the school, often rectifying major faults in the new building. Dr Dixon clearly suffered from anxiety and depression because of these problems, but things deteriorated even further after the death of his wife, which left him with five young children to look after. School standards fell and soon Nottingham’s other schools were gleefully welcoming former High School pupils. They included High Pavement, People’s College and Queen’s Walk School, which would one day be renamed “Mundella”.

In January 1884, though, in his termly report, Dr Dixon was actually able to report to the Governors that better results had now been achieved in Languages and Mathematics. Furthermore, they were better results than at any time in the past sixteen years. Science had also improved, and there was much praise for Mrs Bowman-Hart who was now coming in to teach singing in music classes. The latter were extremely popular because boys could participate enthusiastically in the lessons, rather than just sit there and listen.

Mrs Bowman-Hart was the sister of John Farmer, who had been the Music Master at the famous Harrow School from 1862-1885. He was responsible for writing the music of the Harrow School song “Forty Years On”, the lyrics being written by Edward Ernest Bowen. John Farmer was a popular teacher at Harrow, although for some unknown reason he was always nicknamed “Sweaty John”. After his years at Harrow, Farmer seems have become a Fellow at Balliol College, Oxford.

Here’s Mrs Bowman-Hart next to the Headmaster in the staff photograph above. It’s just slightly enlarged:

It was presumably because of these Harrow connections that Mrs Bowman-Hart had the High School boys singing what were originally Harrow songs, such as “Forty years on”. This latter song was for many years afterwards to be regarded as the High School song.

Its words were exceptionally stirring, especially the chorus…

Forty years on, when afar and asunder,

Parted are those who are singing today,

When you look back and forgetfully wonder,

What you were like in your work and your play,

Then, it may be, there will often come o’er you

Glimpses of notes like the catch of a song;

Visions of boyhood shall float then before you,

Echoes of dreamland shall bear then along.

Chorus

Follow up; Follow up ; Follow up ; Follow up ; Follow up ;

Till the field ring again and again

With the tramp of the twenty two men

Follow up; Follow up;

There were two more verses, and much chorusing of the refrain “Follow up ; Follow up”. Ironically, the best recording I could find on Youtube came from Camberwell Grammar School:

It remains quite a turgid dirge though, and, as a school song, sounds far too much to me like a bunch of Englishmen trying vainly to outdo the Welsh rugby crowd singing “Land of my Fathers”.

Mrs Bowman-Hart lived in Shakespeare Street, or “Shakspere Street” as it was called when she lived there. Her house was in Angelo Terrace and was No 16. Angelo Terrace seems to have included Nos 12, 14, 16, 16½, 18 and 20. Nowadays, Age UK is No 12 and “Bard House” has been built on all of the houses from No 14 to No 22, so the majority of Angelo Terrace has disappeared. Mrs Bowman-Hart’s house therefore, is somewhere underneath “Bard House”, the building on the left with the two people walking past it:

At No 16, Mrs Bowman-Hart ran the Nottingham Branch of the “Harrow Music School” and held the rank of “Principal” there. In addition, at 7.30 pm every Saturday evening, the High School Musical Society used to meet at No 16. Entry was free to all past and present members of the school.

On Tuesday, February 26th 1889, the High School’s new Debating Society held its first ever meeting and the Headmaster, Dr James Gow, was elected President. For the first few years, the society held many more musical evenings, or “soirées”, than actual debates, including, for example, Mrs Bowman-Hart’s class singing “Holiday on the Rhine”. These events formed an important part of the school’s social life at the time.

One final detail about this energetic woman is that she was the person who founded the Nottingham College of Music, in 1863. Operating under the aegis of Harold Edwin Gibbs of 26 Regent Street, by 1900, it had more than two hundred pupils. Mr Gibbs was to become the Chief Music Master at the High School from 1897-1901.

In 1875 Mrs Bowman-Hart and others, along with Henrietta Carey and her sisters had founded “The Nottingham Town and County Social Guild” whose aim was the “social betterment of the common people”. And quite right, too!

What a true Victorian! No task was too large to be attempted, whether it involved an association to get the working class to wash more frequently or held competitions for the cleanest homes or even the prettiest window flower boxes.

And if you think that you have heard Mrs Bowman-Hart’s name somewhere, but can’t place it, it could be because she endowed a High School prize for singing for many, many years after her death. You have probably heard her name read out aloud on Speech Day and thought to yourself “I wonder who that is?”

 

 

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