A Model Schoolmistress - Preshute's Finest

on Tuesday, 31 March 2015. Posted in Schools

Preshute Parochial School was founded in 1845 in the Main Street of the village of Manton near Marlborough. It was a small building comprising of one main school room and outside privies.

The school was built to provide all children within the sprawling parish, basic elementary education. This included youngsters from the outlying areas at Preshute Down (way up by the Ridgeway), Rockley and Clatford. Some pupils were as young as four and the trek into school would have been an epic one.

The school at Preshute was governed by a group of school managers. The members of the committee were made up of local gentry, landowners and businessmen. They held meetings to discuss everything from the school building, funds, staff and general day to day running of the establishment. It was this group of managers that decided to appoint a very capable new head teacher in December 1881.

Miss Emma Louisa Thorp accepted the post of head mistress after 59 written applications had been received. The post had been advertised in the ‘Schoolmasters’ publication and Miss Thorp’s application had already caught the eye of the Managers, despite the high volume of other potentials.

She preceded the previous mistress who had been dismissed along with two others before her. Miss Thorp agreed to a wage of £30 a year and a partly furnished house, despite her predecessors being paid £50 annually and having a fully furnished school house. She only agreed to become mistress on the proviso that she be given a pay increase at the end of the year and that her sister, Miss Florence Thorp, be given a position at the school as an assistant teacher. Her wage was to 2/ per week.

These conditions were agreed and the two sisters began very long and interesting careers at Preshute School.

Miss Emma Thorp was baptised on 4th January 1858 in Rogate village in Sussex. Her father was grocer William M Thorp and her mother was Esther E Thorp. Emma had several brothers and sisters including Ada, Walter, Florence and Frank. They all lived above the grocer’s shop in Rogate where their mother and father worked. Mr and Mrs Thorp were both from London and may have decided to move to the country to raise their family.

By the age of 23, Emma had moved to the small village of Flexford near Godalming in Surrey. She had taken the post of assistant school mistress and was living with Ann Paxon Headmistress in the school house. This was probably Miss Thorp’s first placement as a qualified teacher where she would have begun forming her instructional skills and rapport with pupils.

Interestingly, Emma’s younger sister, Florence had moved to Marlborough, Wiltshire, where she was employed as a draper’s assistant in the Market Place. Her employer was draper, Eli Heath, who had been recently widowed. He employed his two sons and three female assistants at his draper’s shop including Florence.

In the 1881 census, it shows that Emma Thorp had moved into the school house in Manton with her sister and colleague, Florence. They were to live there for several decades. In 1891, their parents joined them after their retirement. By 1911, Mr and Mrs Thorp had both passed away and the two sisters were left on their own again.

The log books from Preshute school did not survive before 1903, however the reports made by the Diocesan Inspectors were very complimentary to Miss Thorp. In 1886, the school received a Merit Grant of ‘excellent’; ‘The school is skilfully controlled and has shown a marked and steady advance for the past three years. All the standards have done their work uniformly and with considerable merit’.

In a H.M Report of 1920 the following remarks were noted; ‘The regularity of attendance in this school are most praiseworthy the children are in good order and are well behaved and industrious. All their written work shows care, neatness and generally, accuracy.’

Although Miss Thorp had remarkable control of the school and disciplined the children effectively, she had a softer and compassionate side too.

There were regular drawing and flower arranging competitions in which the children were given money prizes. School day outings into Marlborough often took place to join in with celebrations and special events such as visits to see a menagerie, town fairs and other large gatherings. The summer treat for the children always saw them spoilt with lots of goodies to eat, in the form of a picnic laid out for them in Savernake forest.

Miss Thorp retired in 1923 and it is not known if she had any further involvement with the school. One could imagine the elderly spinster visiting the children and unable to stay away from a place that probably felt very much like home.

Her last entry in the log book was on Thursday 21st December 1923;

Emma Louisa Thorp passed away on 15th November 1937 aged 79 years and buried in St. George’s churchyard, Preshute. She had been living in a house named ‘Ferndale’ in Manton, not far from the village school.


Preshute School Log Book F8/500/225/1/1

Preshute School Managers Minutes F8/600/225/1/3/1

Preshute School HMI Report F8/300/229

Preshute School Photo F8/320/182/BW


Anna Ervine, Relief Library Assistant



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