St Peter's School and Church, Walworth

St Peter's School and Church, Walworth

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Death of the School Mistress’s Son

In October 1869 Mrs Harriet Church, the Headmistress of the St Peter's Girls School suffered another dire calamity. Only six years earlier, her husband, the late Headmaster, died following a long illness. The School logbook, written up by Mrs Church at the end of each day, reveals that scarlet fever* had become prevalent among the families that lived in the vicinity of the school. Scarlet fever was a contagious disease that sometimes proved fatal. On Monday 11th October she writes, “Pupil Teacher from school nursing my own children who are suffering from it.”

On Thursday two schoolchildren were taken ill with the disease. Three more children were sent home the following day having become very ill. Over the weekend Mrs Church contracted the disease herself and was absent from duties on the Monday. She left the school in the hands of her second daughter Harrietti and Mr Crampton, the Master of the Boys School. She returned later in the week to pen the sorrowful words “My dear child died.” continuing, “Miss Pound kindly conducted school on Thursday and Friday.”

Studying the corresponding logbooks of the Boys School we discover that Mr Crampton made a similar recording. “The death of the Schoolmistress’s elder son and the prevalence of the disease from which he died (scarlet fever) determined the managers to close the school for a few days.” In fact the fever in the neighbourhood had become “very alarming, and the attendance has consequently suffered.” Within a fortnight “the cases of fever [were] more numerous.”

The committee ordered that Mrs Church be allowed a month’s holiday to mourn the tragic loss of her dear son. As a mark of respect, both Girls and Boys schools were closed for a week.


Note: * Once upon a time scarlet fever was a very serious childhood disease. Today it is easily treatable with antibiotics. The symptoms begin with a fever and sore throat that develops into chills, vomiting and abdominal pain. A rash develops on the neck and chest and then spreads around the armpits and groin. It is spread by direct contact with an infected person or by droplets exhaled by an infected person.

Copyright: Jack McInroy © 2010

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