‘A great deal of taste’: Mr Leach’s houses

Leach & Simpson tradecard, © David Parr House Cambridge

“Mr. Leach is a man who has a great deal of taste & people send all over England for him to do their houses.” Maud Darwin (UL, DAR 251: 778)

I’m giving an online talk for the David Parr House on 28 April 2022 about the Leach firm’s domestic commissions in Cambridge in the 1880s and 1890s (more details and booking here). After the university permitted its academics to marry, the late Victorian saw substantial family homes springing up around Cambridge in areas including Grange Road, Madingley Road, St Paul’s Road, Brooklands Avenue and the De Freville Estate. The Arts and Crafts movement had also begun to catch the public imagination, and the ‘university brides’ and other women who made their homes in the town wanted their houses to be both artistically beautiful and up-to-date, with modern drainage, heating and lighting.

Since the late 1860s the Cambridge-based ‘artworkman’ Frederick Leach had become well known for his work in decorating churches, grand houses and civic buildings all over England. In 1867 Leach worked with the Gothic Revival architect G.F. Bodley and the stained glass artist Charles Eamer Kempe at St John the Baptist, Tuebrook in Liverpool. In his book Kempe: The Life, Art and Legacy of Charles Eamer Kempe (Lutterworth, 2018), Adrian Barlow describes this work as ‘one of the greatest schemes of painted decoration in any nineteenth-century British church’ (you can read about Kempe’s pelicans in Adrian’s excellent blog here).

In Frederick Leach, A Cambridge Artworkman and his Firm (Casita Press, 2021) Shelley Lockwood describes how although Leach continued to work with William Morris and others, he also wanted to expand his business closer to home, and to tap into the growing interest in home decoration. In 1880 he opened a fashionable shop and showroom, to be run by his sister Isabella Simpson Leach, at 3 St Mary’s Passage. It was an elegant showroom that showcased finely crafted tiles, paperhangings, cabinetwork and picture frames; the ‘Leach Simpson’ business card pictured above gives an idea of the range of items for sale.

In my talk on 28 April I’ll be exploring the stories of some of the fascinating women behind Leach’s domestic commissions, including Maud Darwin, Caroline Jebb, Ida Darwin and Kathleen Lyttelton. Louisa Greef, a Cambridge-born woman who ran a successful decorating business at the time will also feature. She took over Leach’s work at Newnham College, and went on to become his rival for larger commissions in Cambridge too.

You can find out more about the talk, including booking details, by scrolling down the David Parr House website here.

F.M. Mayor’s The Rector’s Daughter (1924)

Flora Mayor (1872-1932)

The Rector’s Daughter belongs to the finest English tradition of novel writing. It is like a bitter Cranford… Mary Jocelyn’s ‘nothing’ is a full and rich state of being.’ Sylvia Lund, Time and Tide, 18 July 1924

When F.M. (Flora Macdonald) Mayor’s second novel, The Rector’s Daughter, was published by the Hogarth Press in 1924, the Woolfs were surprised to have a bestseller on their hands. ‘Lytton Strachey, my sister and Duncan Grant have all been reading it with great interest’, Virginia Woolf wrote. E.M. Forster described it as ‘a very great achievement’, and critics on both sides of the Atlantic praised it. The Rector’s Daughter was a runner-up for the 1925 ‘Prix Femina-Vie Heureuse’, a literary prize for a work ‘calculated to reveal to French readers the true spirit and character of England’ (Forster’s A Passage to India won that year instead). Then, for almost fifty years, F.M. Mayor’s novel was out of print and apparently forgotten, although reading it during the Blitz did give the English novelist Rosamond Lehmann some comfort: ‘In its quiet and personal way The Rector’s Daughter is a piece of history’, she wrote in 1941.

But it’s not exactly a neglected twentieth-century classic. After Penguin Books reissued it in their Modern Classics series in 1973, The Rector’s Daughter hasn’t been out of print for the last fifty years. In 1987 the new publishers on the block, Virago, took it over and reissued it in their own highly successful Virago Modern Classics series, with its distinctive bottle green spines, and it was reprinted in 1999, 2008 (twice) and 2009 (three times). The Rector’s Daughter has the rare distinction during the same period of being one the few novels that merited new editions as a Penguin Twentieth Century Classic (1992) and a Penguin Modern Classic (2001). Even so, in 2010 BBC Radio 4 ‘Book at Bedtime’ described it as ‘an unfairly neglected classic’ when it was read in ten episodes by Juliet Stevenson (it’s still available on BBC Sounds, and well worth listening to). In 2021 The Rector’s Daughter was reissued by Persephone Books in an elegant new edition with a biographical foreword by Flora’s great-niece, Victoria Gray, who in 1992 wrote a radio play based on the book with her late husband, the dramatist Simon Gray.

Yet, for all this, The Rector’s Daughter is still a novel that seems to exist just below the literary radar, much loved by its readers, but also, somehow, not widely read. Little has been written by scholars about this or F.M. Mayor’s other works, perhaps because she produced so few in her lifetime (a collection of her ghost stories, said to be admired by M.R. James, was published posthumously). Her two other novels, The Third Miss Symons (1913) and The Squire’s Daughter (1929), were also reissued by Virago Modern Classics in the 1980s.  Sybil Oldfield’s Spinsters of this Parish: the life and times of F.M. Mayor and Mary Sheepshanks (Virago, 1984) is a well-researched dual biography that provides a fascinating social context for Mayor’s life and unsuccessful attempt to make a living as an actress. The chapter on her four years at Newnham College, Cambridge in the 1890s is particularly revealing, including the revelation that Mayor and her former tutor, Mary Bateson, remained close friends until Bateson’s early death in 1906.

Flora Mayor’s lifelong poor health made her unable to fulfil much of her literary promise, sadly. However, she was a successful author with a three-book contract with Constable when she died of pneumonia in 1932, aged fifty-nine. In a recent piece for The Times, the writer D.J. Taylor describes The Rector’s Daughter as ‘one of those curious novels in which a cauldron of suppressed emotion and unrequited love boils away behind a landscape in which, for all practical purposes, hardly anything happens’ and says that as a novelist, F.M. Mayor ranks with Jane Austen and George Eliot.

I would agree, and The Rector’s Daughter is Mayor’s masterpiece. My essay on it will be published in a forthcoming issue of Slightly Foxed.

© Ann Kennedy Smith, all rights reserved

Mary Bateson (1865-1906): an invigorating life

‘We think back through our mothers if we are women,’ Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One’s Own (1929). Thirty years before Woolf gave her 1928 lecture to students at Newnham and Girton – published the following year as A Room of One’s Own – a young Cambridge historian called Mary Bateson became convinced that women researchers would never be able to pursue serious scholarship without the professional and financial support of an academic institution, and so she decided to do something about it.

Mary Bateson was born in Yorkshire in 1865 and grew up with her brothers and sisters in the Master’s Lodge at St John’s College, Cambridge, where her father William Henry Bateson was Master from 1857 until his death in 1881. Mary’s mother Anna (née Aikin, 1829-1918) was a lifelong suffragist, and her parents were among the group who founded the residence for women that became Newnham College in 1871. They probably always assumed that their daughters would study there, and the oldest, Anna, began her studies in natural sciences at Newnham in 1882. Two years later Mary followed her there, taking the new subject of history as her subject. She achieved the equivalent of a distinguished First in 1887 (placed second in the whole University), and her dissertation ‘Monastic Civilisation in the Fens’ impressed Mandell Creighton, the Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History, so much that he advised her not to expend her energies on women’s suffrage, but to become a scholar and ‘write true history’. Bateson took his advice, but only up to a point: while she went on to research and publish many scholarly books and papers, she never gave up her suffrage campaigning or her lifelong fight for greater rights for women at Cambridge.

While a student at Newnham, Bateson had discovered her skills in debating, so it was not surprising that in 1895, now a college lecturer, she became one of the leaders of the campaign to give women the title of degrees at Cambridge. When in 1897 the Senate House vote was heavily defeated, after thousands of men crowded into King’s Parade to protest against it (see ‘No Women at Cambridge: the 1897 protests’) Bateson’s energies turned instead towards a less visible change, but just as significant for the status of women at Cambridge in the twentieth century: raising funds for the first research fellowship at Newnham.

She wanted to establish postgraduate funding for the women who didn’t have her own advantages of an academic background and private means. As a child of St John’s, Bateson knew that a college wasn’t just about bricks and mortar but about a fellowship of proven academic distinction. One of the criticisms made in 1897, and well into the twentieth century, was that women students only got their good exam results by hard work with no original talent, and could be dismissed as ‘hard swotters’. This view conveniently did not take into account the fact that women were routinely excluded from scientific societies, scholarships and prizes, and as non-members of the University, could only work in the U.L. in restricted ways (see ‘Locked Out of the Library, 1891‘).

Newnham College, Cambridge

Mary Bateson knew that although she was able to pursue her own research and writing thanks to her family connections (her older brother was the famous biologist William Bateson), other women required the financial and professional support of an academic institution. Even though Newnham was run on a shoestring, there was no time to waste. The historian Alice Gardner wrote that Mary Bateson never allowed Newnham students or staff to ‘rest on [their] oars, to be satisfied if [they] produced good tripos results or merely came up to an ordinary college standard.’ Bateson insisted on academic excellence in her own work, and she wanted the same for her college. Under her influence (and active fundraising) the first research fellowship for former students was established at Newnham in 1898: Jane Ellen Harrison was appointed, and the formal recognition of her college gave her the confidence to produce her groundbreaking Prolegomena to the Study of Greek religion (1903). Harrison’s books on the origins of Greek myths and rites wrote women back into history, and influenced Woolf and others. ‘Few books are more fascinating,’ wrote T.S. Eliot in a graduate paper at Harvard University, ‘than those of Miss Harrison’.

By 1903 Bateson’s research interests had turned from ecclesiastical history to municipal customs and laws, and she worked closely with F.W. Maitland, who had been appointed Downing Professor of the Laws of England in 1888. Her most important work was the huge two-volume Borough Customs (1904 and 1906) which brought together texts from the tenth to the seventeenth centuries, and from 1890 she also published an article or edited text almost every year in the English Historical Review, including her 1899 essay ‘Origin and History of Double Monastries’, rewriting gendered assumptions by establishing that many houses for monks and nuns were ruled by an abbess. From 1885 to 1900 she also contributed 108 articles to the original edition of the Dictionary of National Biography, founded by Woolf’s father Leslie Stephen (see my post ‘An invasion of croquet’). None of Bateson’s entries in the DNB were on women: her subjects are all men, including saints, monks and noblemen.

Although close to her family, Bateson did not want to live the typical life of a Victorian spinster and set up home with her widowed mother. Instead, Mary bought her own little house at 74 Huntingdon Road and was very happy there. Her individuality was reflected in her approach to her work, too: as well as scholarly tomes and research articles, she wrote history for the general reader. Her book Mediæval England 1066-1350 (1905) originally appeared in the popular Unwin history series The Story of the Nations in 1903, and was  ‘an original and brightly written survey of mediaeval social life’, according to historian Thomas A. Tout. Unusually for a history book of the time, it had more than 90 illustrations, some clearly chosen for their humour (such as the giant chicken from the Luttrell Psalter, below).

In her introduction, Bateson writes that ‘there is not one way, but rather there are many ways of telling a nation’s story’, and regrets that so little is known about lives of ordinary people: ‘of the lives of women, outside nunneries and outside courts, there is little recorded.’ By writing this book, Bateson was implicitly pioneering a new approach to historical research and writing: away from a largely political, narrative-driven style, and towards a granular investigation of social and economic history that would become the twentieth-century model.

She never stopped fighting for equal rights for women. ‘Mary Bateson did not spend her life in a library’, as Dockray-Miller puts it, but ‘lived in a world that was overtly political, activist and liberal as well as traditionally academic.’ Her mother and sister Anna were founding members of the Cambridge Women’s Suffrage Association, and another sister, Margaret Bateson Heitland, was a campaigning journalist and political writer. On 19 May 1906, Mary Bateson gave a speech in support of suffrage to the Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and presented a petition signed by 1,530 university women graduates, among them professors and lecturers, teachers, civil servants and doctors. It was absurd that these women could not vote, she told Campbell-Bannerman. Less than six months later, at the age of just forty-one, Mary Bateson died of a brain haemorrhage following a nine-day illness. Her death deeply shocked her friends, fellow scholars and students. She left her house, library and financial resources to Newnham, and obituaries appeared in the Times, the Manchester Guardian and the English Historical Review.

It’s bittersweet that, following her untimely death, Mary Bateson was among the first women who was not a royal or noblewoman to have an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography. Her entry in the Supplement of 1912 was written by her good friend at Manchester University, Thomas Tout, who also wrote her obituary in the Manchester Guardian. Throughout his article he lists evidence of her dedicated scholarship and extraordinary output, and his concluding lines pay warm tribute to her personal qualities too. ‘High-spirited, good-humoured, and frank,’ he writes,

she was innocent of academic stiffness, provincialism, or pedantry. She delighted in society, in exercise, in travel, in the theatre, in music, and in making friends with men and women of very different types. Outside her work, what interested her most was the emancipation of women and the abolition of imposed restrictions which cripple the development of their powers.

A ‘Mary Bateson Fellowship Fund’ was set up at Newnham College in 1909 and still supports a Research Fellow in History today. Her teaching, scholarship and the influence of her life rippled outwards to inspire generations of women who followed her, both in and outside academia.  ‘When I ask you to earn money and have a room of your own,’ Woolf writes in A Room of One’s Own, ‘I am asking you to live in the presence of reality, an invigorating life.’ It was exactly how Mary Bateson lived her life.

© Ann Kennedy Smith, March 2022, all rights reserved

With thanks to the staff of Newnham College Library and its archives.

Bateson, Edith; Mary Bateson (1865-1906); Newnham College, University of Cambridge; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/mary-bateson-18651906-272928

Sources: Mary Bateson, Mediæval England 1066-1350 (1905); William Bateson digital archive, Cambridge University Library; Mary Dockray-Miller, ‘Mary Bateson (1865-1906), Scholar and Suffragist’ in Jane Chance, Women in the Medieval Academy (Wisconsin 2005); Alice Gardner, ‘In memoriam Mary Bateson’, Newnham College Letter 1906; Ann Hamlin, Pioneers of the Past (Newnham College, 2001); Ellen A. McArthur, ‘In Memoriam: Mary Bateson’ in The Queen 8 Dec 1906; Reginald L. Poole, ‘Mary Bateson’ The English Historical Review, Volume XXII, Issue LXXXV, January 1907, Pages 64–68; E. Sidgwick, ‘Report of Principal’, Records of Newnham College 1907; T.F. Tout, ‘Mary Bateson’ in Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 Supplement; ; A Room Of One’s Own (1929) Virginia Woolf

Locked out of the library, 1891

This week I’m delighted to be taking part in a panel discussion organized by St John’s College FemSoc on the theme of Women In Academia with University Librarian Dr Jessica Gardner and Professor Helen McCarthy, author of the prize-winning Double Lives: A History of Working Motherhood (2020). As well as the history of women at Cambridge, wider issues to be discussed include the experiences of women in different professional settings and the importance of remembering histories to inform our future. For their support of my research this year I am personally grateful to the Women’s History Network, the national association for historians with a passion for women’s history. To mark the occasion I’m reposting my blog ‘Locked out of the library’ (below) about Cambridge University’s pioneering women scholars who were denied access to the University Library in the 1890s. I’m pleased to say it’s a welcoming space for all scholars and researchers today, both within the academy and beyond.

‘Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.’ Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (1929)

For many years the University Library (known as the U.L.) was ‘a contested space’ for women at Cambridge, as Dr Jill Whitelock, Head of Special Collections at the University Library, puts it. She has been researching how the control of access to the U.L., alongside the university’s lecture halls and laboratories, was bound up with the status of women at Cambridge between 1869 and 1923, and gave a fascinating talk, ‘Lock up your libraries’, as part of the ‘The Rising Tide’ exhibition and events of 2019-20 (curated by Dr Lucy Delap and Dr Ben Griffin). I am very grateful to Dr Whitelock for alerting me to a remarkable letter that was sent to the University Library Syndicate in November 1891, and for sending me a photograph of it. My blogpost below is about some of the women who signed the 1891 letter; there is much more background in Whitelock’s excellent recent article ‘”Lock up your libraries”? Women readers at Cambridge University Library, 1855–1923’ now published in Library & Information History, (Volume 38 Issue 1, Page 1-22, ISSN 1758) and free to read online.

Nowadays, the U.L. is based in the striking Gilbert Scott-designed building that opened in 1934 in the west of the city (see Whitelock’s blogpost ‘The abandoned library’ here). Before 1934 the University’s library was situated in the Old Schools building, by the Senate House. The Old Library was ‘a chaotic but atmospheric medley of disparate rooms, uneven floors and dark places for which readers could borrow lamps to light their way,’ as Whitelock writes in ‘M. R. James and the ghosts of the old University Library’ here. It was chiefly a space for male academics and researchers, but Whitelock’s research shows that there were also women readers who used the university library for their research long before the first ‘ladies’ college’, Girton, was established in 1869. These included a ‘Miss Henslow’, one of the daughters of Professor Joseph Stevens Henslow who had taught Charles Darwin in the 1820s. Miss Henslow was probably Frances Harriet (later Mrs Hooker), who in 1851 married Darwin’s friend Joseph Hooker; her translation of Maout and Decaisnes’ A General System of Botany, Descriptive and Analytical from French into English was published in 1873 and can be consulted in the U.L.’s Rare Books Reading Room (MD.40.65).       

Girton College was founded in 1869, Newnham College two years later. That year, following a vote by the Syndicate, the first woman reader’s card was issued to Newnham’s Ella Bulley (who would become renowned later as the scholar and archeologist Ella S. Armitage). In 1871 she was one of the ‘first five’ students who lived in the Newnham College’s earliest premises, a rented house in Regent Street. Because she was 30 when she began her studies, she was permitted a year-long card (all of the library’s readers then had to be over 21). Three years later, she would become Newnham’s first research student and, after her marriage to Reverend Elkanah Armitage, with whom she had two children, she continued her academic work, teaching at Owens College in Manchester (which became part of the University of Manchester) and publishing several books on medieval history. Her library card was preserved by the U.L. and was displayed in ‘The Rising Tide’ exhibition of 2019-20.  

(Ella Bulley, U.L. library card, 1871)

One of the other five students was Mary Paley Marshall (then Mary Paley) who took charge of the small collection of books that students could borrow. She was, in effect, Newnham College’s first librarian. In 1874 she became the first of two women to take the Cambridge Tripos (final year exams) in Moral Sciences, along with Ella’s younger sister Amy Bulley. A year later Paley Marshall became Newnham’s first resident lecturer, teaching Political Economy ‘from a philanthropic woman’s point of view’, as a former student, Winnie Seebohm wrote.

By the 1880s, women at Cambridge seemed to be gaining ground. In 1881 female students gained the right to take the Tripos exams on equal terms to the male students (see my blogpost here), and in 1887 the University Library’s age restriction for readers was dropped, allowing women under 21 to use the library for the first time.

Coincidentally, this was also the year that a Cambridge woman student made the national headlines. In 1887 Agnata Frances Ramsay (later Butler) of Girton College was the only student to be placed in the first class of the Classical Tripos. Three years later, Newnham College was in the spotlight when Philippa Fawcett, Millicent Fawcett’s daughter, outperformed all of the male students in the 1890 Mathematics Tripos. Their success in the two subjects that were traditionally considered as the preserve of men -Classics and Mathematics – caused a sensation. Cambridge women had now proved that their intellectual ability could be superior to that of their male counterparts, and conservative forces at the University were becoming uneasy that they would invade other, traditionally male, spaces.

This was reflected in a tightening of the rules permitting access to the University Library. The hours that readers who were University ‘non-members’ (which included women) could use the library were reduced from 10 until 2pm (from 4pm previously), and in autumn 1891 it was proposed that a fee should be introduced. Non-members would now be permitted to use the library only from 10am until 2pm, and were restricted to certain areas. As Rita McWilliams-Tullberg points out in Women At Cambridge (revised edition 1998), this restriction ‘was most hardly felt by the staffs of the women’s colleges who, whatever their degree of scholarship, could only use one of the world’s finest libraries on the same conditions as members of the general public’ (p. 156).

Crucially, by now Girton and Newnham’s academic success had been proven not only by the excellent exam results of their students, but also by the research record of their lecturers and tutors, who had published books and academic papers. Regardless of their achievements, they could now only use the library on extremely limited terms. In November 1891, twenty years after Ella Bulley’s reader’s card was issued, a petition in the form of a letter was delivered to the University Library Syndicate. The letter politely asked for the new library rules to be reconsidered, and was signed by twenty-four women who described themselves as ‘former Students of Girton and Newnham Colleges who have obtained places in Various Triposes’. They respectfully requested permission ‘to work in the Library with the same freedom as heretofore’, explaining politely that for those who had ‘morning engagements’ (that is, teaching students) the reduced hours meant that it would now be almost impossible for them to use the library for their research.


In ‘History of the Library’, vol. V, 1886-1900, UL classmark ULIB 6/5/5

The letter was signed by twenty-four women lecturers and librarians, researchers and laboratory demonstrators, star students and scholars from the first twenty years of Girton and Newnham. They include the linguists Margaret Janson Tuke (Dame Margaret Tuke, D.B.E.), the Newnham lecturer who would later head Bedford College in 1907 (now merged with Royal Holloway, University of London) and Bertha Skeat, the first resident lecturer at the Cambridge Training College for Women Teachers (now Hughes Hall).

Scientists who signed the letter include Ida Freund, who was the first woman to become a chemistry lecturer in the UK; Dorothea F.M. Pertz, who had co-published papers on geotropism and heliotropism in plants with Francis Darwin; and the botanist and geneticist Edith Rebecca Saunders, who worked closely with the biologist William Bateson. ‘Saunders had several years of independent research under her belt when she started to collaborate with William Bateson,’ writes Susannah Gibson in The Spirit of Inquiry (2019) ‘she was not a junior colleague, but very much his equal.’ Saunders conducted her groundbreaking plant experiments at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, and with Bateson co-founded the Genetics Society in 1919. Christine Alexander, librarian of Cambridge University’s Plant Sciences Department, has compiled a fascinating online collection about Saunders’ influential work.

The 1891 group also included Newnham’s most famous student, Philippa Fawcett (Mathematics tripos Parts 1 & II 1890-1), as well as one of the first women to sit for the Tripos almost 20 years previously, Mary Paley Marshall (Moral Sciences Tripos 1874). She was now back in Cambridge after some years teaching male and female students at Oxford and the newly founded Bristol University, where 30 years later she would be awarded an honorary doctorate for her contribution (see post here). The letter is also signed by two of her fellow Ladies’ Dining Society members and ‘sometime’ (i.e. previous) Newnham lecturers Ellen Wordsworth Darwin and Mary Ward; like Paley Marshall, they were active in promoting higher education and suffrage for women, and continued to research and write. The letter is also signed by E.E. Constance Jones, then a lecturer in Moral Sciences at Girton, who would become Girton College Mistress (head) from 1903 until 1916.

The two women who organized the 1891 petition One was the Girton economic historian Ellen A. Mc Arthur (History Tripos 1885), who would become the first woman to receive an honorary ad eundam doctorate from the University of Dublin, based on her academic publications (see my ‘Steamboat Ladies’ post here). The other person was the Newnham historian and lecturer Mary Bateson (History Tripos 1887) a sister of William Bateson. Her mother Anna Bateson and sister Anna, had co-founded the Cambridge Women’s Suffrage Association in 1884, and Mary was also an active suffragist as well as a serious scholar.  She worked closely with the legal historian F.W. Maitland and was instrumental in the foundation of Newnham’s first research fellowship in 1903. As Dockray Miller writes, Mary Bateson ‘firmly believed, twenty-five years before Virginia Woolf addressed the faculty and students of Newnham College about the necessity of “a room of one’s own,” that women could not pursue serious scholarship without the financial and professional support of an academic institution.’

The 1891 petition offers a snapshot of twenty-four extraordinary women who had studied, researched, taught and published at Cambridge during the past twenty years. It is ironic that their books were welcomed by the U.L. even though they were not – including Paley Marshall’s The Economics of Industry (1879), co-written with Alfred Marshall, and E.E. Constance Jones’s Elements of logic as a science of propositions (1890). (Jones’s An introduction to general logic would be acquired in 1892; W. Cunningham and Ellen A. McArthur’s Outlines of English Industrial History in 1895; Mary Bateson’s Mediaeval England, 1066-1350 in 1903) . These and many more of their books and scholarly papers can still be consulted there today.

In 1891 these women had already achieved much – and would go on to do much more – but it was a period when the tide had turned against Cambridge women who dared to excel. Their request for greater access to the library fell on deaf ears, and the Syndicate’s policy became more, not less restrictive. In May 1897, after thousands gathered outside the Senate House to protest against the vote to allow women the title of degrees, the U.L. Librarian Francis Jenkinson confirmed that non-members’ access to the library would be limited yet again, until midday only.

So, locked out of the University Library as they were, staff and supporters of Girton and Newnham raised funds to build up their own magnificent college libraries, which today have around 100,000 books each. Tennyson, Ruskin, George Eliot and many others were early supporters of Girton College’s Stanley Library, and Newnham College’s beautiful Yates Thompson Library, see below. It was not until 1923 that Cambridge women students finally won the right to become readers at the U.L. on the same terms as the men.

©Ann Kennedy Smith, all rights reserved

Yates Thompson Library, Newnham College (photo: Ann Kennedy Smith, 2022)


Girton College by E.E.Constance Jones (1913); available at the UL (Cam.c.913.2)

SOURCES: My thanks to Jill Whitelock and to Carolyn Ferguson for their generous help. Any remaining errors are my own. Christine Alexander, ‘My Colleague, Miss Saunders’; E. Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (1999); Mary Dockray Miller, ‘Mary Bateson (1865-1906): Scholar and Suffragist’ in Women Medievalists and the Academy, edited by Jane Chance (Wisconsin, 2005); Susannah Gibson, The Spirit of Inquiry (OUP, 2019) (see my TLS review here); Rita McWilliams-Tullberg Women At Cambridge (CUP, 1975; revised edition 1998); Jill Whitelock, ‘”Lock up your libraries”? Women readers at Cambridge University Library, 1855–1923’ in Library & Information History, Volume 38 Issue 1, Page 1-22, ISSN 1758-3489 (available online Apr 2022)

A Cambridge love story: Ida & Horace Darwin

The Darwin Correspondence Project has just released online for the first time Charles Darwin’s letters from 1880: read more here. This is a post about his son Horace’s first year of marriage to Ida Darwin, and how moving to Cambridge in 1880 gave them both unexpected new opportunities.

Ida Farrer married Horace Darwin in London on 3 January 1880. After a chilly honeymoon touring Cornwall, they were both glad to move into their first home in Cambridge later that month. Horace had rented a house on St Botolph’s Lane, a narrow road running alongside the church wall near King’s Parade. He had wanted to find them a larger house with a garden, but there were only four such houses to let in Cambridge, he was told. More colleges were now allowing their fellows to marry, and accommodation suitable for families was scarce.

The start of February 1880 was busy with unpacking furniture and hanging pictures, but Ida was keen for Horace to get back to his work. ‘Father’s klinostat has been so much on Ida’s mind, that I knew I should have no peace until it was done’,[i] Horace told his mother Emma. He had promised his father, Charles and brother Francis – who collaborated on their father’s botanical projects – to design a special instrument to measure the gravitational pull of climbing plants two years previously.[ii] Horace had put off the project, blaming his poor health and feelings of ‘slackness’. But, encouraged by Ida, he had taken out subscriptions to the scientific journals Engineering and Nature to try to keep up with new developments, and he completed the klinostat in time for his father and brother to use it.

Cambridge in 1880 was the right place and time for Horace to develop his skills as a mechanical designer. He was already designing a pendulum with his mathematician brother George, a fellow at Trinity College, and designing a self-recording thermograph for the Meteorological Office. Well-made measuring instruments were badly needed in the UK, as scientific work was increasingly taking place not in a gentleman scientist’s home – where Charles Darwin had always conducted his experiments – but in the rigorous atmosphere of the laboratory, where results could be properly tested. Apart from in London and Birmingham, there were few skilled instrument makers to cater for the growing needs of the university laboratories.

As a newly married couple there was also, inevitably, much socializing to do and introductions to be made. Ida was amused to see how uncomfortable her husband’s Trinity College friends clearly were about having a woman in their midst. She wondered ‘in the most heartless way’[iii] who was most frightened by such introductions, and concluded that it was probably Horace. She knew that one of his closest friends, Albert Dew-Smith had been downright hostile to the idea of his marriage.  ‘I can understand her wanting to be with you’, he told Horace when he heard of his engagement, but ‘I don’t see why you want to see her.’[iv]  

When a Cambridge man married, it was believed that his allegiance to his college and to his friends changed forever. Dew-Smith, known to his friends as ‘Dew’, was an amateur photographer and lens-maker and had helped to fund Cambridge University’s new Department of Physiology with his inheritance. He had an urbane, sardonic personality, and Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have modelled the character of Attwater in Ebb Tide on him. Horace had often stayed with him in his rooms in Bishops Hostel adjoining Trinity College, dining together at High Table and sitting up late, smoking and drinking. Since 1878 Horace had assisted Dew-Smith in making scientific instruments in his workshop above a carriage shed in Panton Street, where he shared a business with the mechanic Robert Fulcher.

Ida had her own projects to pursue. Marrying Horace and moving to Cambridge in 1880 had given her a sense of her own independence, far away from family duties and expectations. Two years previously she had wanted to follow her brother to Oxford and to study Classics at the newly founded college for women, Somerville. But her father Thomas Farrer simply would not permit it. Now, as a married woman, she could attend a wide variety of university lectures and meet men and women who were as passionate about learning as she was.

It was a passport to another country. Ida took Greek lessons with Francis Jenkinson, a fellow of Trinity College who tutored women students at Newnham College, and was introduced to Anne Clough, the principal, and Helen Gladstone, by then in her third year of studies there. The Liberal Party swept into power in April 1880 and Helen’s father William Gladstone was elected Prime Minister for the second time. Although he was, like Ida’s father, opposed to the idea of women in higher education, Gladstone was proud of his daughter’s achievements in Cambridge and approved of her becoming the college’s Vice-Principal later that year.

Ida’s friendships at Newnham led to her campaigning actively on women students’ behalf, including being able to sit for the university’s final exams as a right, not a privilege (see my 1881 blog here). Horace supported Ida in this, as did many like-minded dons such as Richard Claverhouse Jebb, and there was a remarkable spirit of optimism in the air for women at Cambridge in the early 1880s.

In August 1880 Charles and Emma Darwin travelled to Cambridge to visit Ida and Horace. They stayed at 17 Botolph Lane, and met both Dew-Smith and Helen Gladstone. Despite Ida’s worries that Dew-Smith would not approve of her, they all got on famously well. ‘Our recent visit to Cambridge was a brilliant success to us all, & will ever be remembered by me with much pleasure.’ Charles Darwin told Frank Balfour.[v]

By the autumn of 1880 Ida and Horace had moved into a larger house at 66 Hills Road, and Francis Darwin went to visit them. He reported back to his father about Horace’s ambitious plans. ‘Fulcher has come round to going in a peaceable manner & remains friends with Dew,’ Francis wrote. ‘H[orace] looks on it as certain that he shall join Dew but it is still a state secret’. Dew-Smith had bought out Fulcher and persuaded Horace to join him as a partner in a new instrument-making business.[vi] Horace was convinced that he wanted to earn his own living independently from the generous allowance Charles Darwin gave him, but consulted Ida closely before making his decision. The Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company was officially launched on the first anniversary of their marriage, in January 1881.

© Ann Kennedy Smith 2022, all rights reserved


 

Footnotes

[i] Cambridge University Library, Ida Darwin Papers, Add. 9368.1: 3828, 1 Feb 1880, Horace to Emma Darwin. The klinostat developed by Horace Darwin is described in detail in Francis Darwin’s Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1880) pp. 449–55.

[ii] Charles Darwin’s book (assisted by Francis Darwin) Movement in plants: The power of movement in plants was published in November 1880. Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11613,” accessed on 14 February 2022, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/?docId=letters/DCP-LETT-11613.xml. See also Anne Secord, ‘Specimens of observation: Edward Hobson’s Musci Britannici’ in The Whipple Museum of the History of Science (CUP, 2019) eds. Joshua Nall, Lisa Taub & Frances Willmoth, pp. 101-118.

[iii] CUL, Ida Darwin Papers, Add. 9368.1: 3828, 1 Feb 1880, Horace to Emma Darwin.

[iv] CUL, Ida Darwin Papers, Add. 9368.1: 3889, November 1879, Horace to Ida.

[v] Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12706,” accessed on 14 February 2022, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/?docId=letters/DCP-LETT-12706.xml

[vi] For more about Dew-Smith and Horace Darwin’s collaboration, see Cattermole, Michael J. G. and Wolfe, Arthur F. 1987. Horace Darwin’s shop: a history of the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company 1878 to 1968. Bristol and Boston: Adam Hilger