Thursday, 7 August 2014

The gout sticks to me: two previously unknown letters by William Morris : Part 2

Last week on the blog I published the first part of an article about two previously unknown letters by William Morris. The article originally appeared in the William Morris Society Newsletter in autumn 2013. The letters had been glued into an incomplete set of Morris's The Earthly Paradise which belonged to Reverend John Pincher Faunthorpe, principal of Whitelands Training College.  

In addition to the two Morris letters, Book I of the set  contains a slip of paper dated “Nov 27th 1883” which reads: “Dear Mr Faunthorpe, Please accept this little gift as a token of gratitude & affection from your Senior Pupils for Language. Kate Stanley. Harriet A Martin.” This paper bears the stamp of “Whitelands Training College, Chelsea”. 

A grim sense of humour and kindness of heart: Kate Stanley 

Kate Stanley was one of the two signatories of the 1883 note to Rev Faunthorpe “from your Senior Pupils for Language”. This suggests that she herself was, with Harriet A Martin, a “Senior Pupil”. In fact, she was at this time Principal Faunthorpe’s most senior member of staff.

Kate Stanley came from St Mary Church, Devon. Her father was a slater and plasterer.  Like so many of Whitelands’s students, she worked as a pupil teacher before entering the College in 1855. Her training was funded by a scholarship, and while at the college she studied mathematics, English, science, French, needlework and religious studies.  

In 1857, Kate Stanley left Whitelands to take charge of Lord Ashburton’s School in Alresford, Hampshire. Originally a cottage school for 45 children built by the 1st Lord Ashburton, by Kate Stanley’s time the school accommodated one hundred children. In 1859 she went back to Whitelands as a teacher. She became a member of College staff in 1862, and in 1876 was appointed Head Governess – the most senior role after the principal’s.  

Whitelands College had a reputation for the excellence of its needlework. Kate Stanley was such a proficient needlewoman that a book she wrote for teachers – Needlework and cutting out: being hints, suggestions and notes for the use of teachers in dealing with difficulties in the needlework schedule (1883) – was praised by John Ruskin in Fors Clavigera: Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain, a monthly publication founded by Ruskin in 1871. In her will, she provided for a Stanley scholarship in needlework at Whitelands. She also became a Fellow of the Royal Botanic Society in 1882, although too modest to put “FRBS” after her name.  

Kate Stanley was Head Governess for twenty six years, and retired in 1902. She died on 31 May 1913, aged 81, after a short illness and was buried in Brompton Cemetery. The Whitelands choir sang at her funeral service. She was remembered for her grim sense of humour and kind heart by Rev Faunthorpe's successor, Miss Clara Luard. 

It was very lovely, the Irish message coming: Harriet A Martin

Harriet A Martin was another Whitelands student who returned to the College as a teacher. She held the post of governess between 1874 and 1884. When she left Whitelands to become head of Cork High School for Girls the students gave her a set of botany books.

Shortly after taking up her post at Cork, Miss Martin consulted Ruskin about setting up a Rose Queen Festival for the school, along the lines of the Whitelands May Queen Festival. Ruskin was delighted to hear from her and told Rev Faunthorpe in a letter written in May 1885, “It was very lovely…the Irish message coming”.[1] Each year he presented a golden brooch of wild roses to the Cork Rose Queen, together with books to distribute to her maidens as at Whitelands. He also wrote letters of advice to her: “be yourself…in sincerity and simplicity”.[2]

I am Dear Sir William Morris

I have always treasured my Morris letters. Reading something written in his own hand brings me a sense of connection to this great poet, novelist, artist, and socialist. It’s true that my two letters reveal nothing of the writer. They contain no personal information apart from the reference to gout, nor do they expose any secrets or scandal. I like them all the more because they are so humdrum and business like, and so embedded in Morris’s everyday life.

Now I have discovered more about them, I find that sense of connection has expanded. There is not one connection, but a network of them. Through these apparently insignificant books and letters, many lives coincide. William Morris, John Ruskin, Edward Burne Jones, John Pincher Faunthorpe, Kate Stanley and Harriet A Martin meet and mingle. Their stories are written in the ink of those hasty notes dashed off by a gouty man in March 1883.


Printed Material 

Whitelands College: The History, Malcolm Cole (Whitelands College: 1982)

 The Collected Letters of William Morris, Volume II, Part 1 1881 – 1884, ed. Norman Kelvin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987)

The William Morris Chronology, Nicholas Salmon with Derek Baker, (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1996) 

The Whitelands Annual, June 1913

Printed Material in Digital Editions 

The Life of John Ruskin, E T Cook, Vol II 1860 – 1900, (London: George Allen & Company, 1912), Internet Archive (accessed 24 July 2013)

Letters From John Ruskin to Revd. J. P. Faunthorpe M.A., Internet Archive (accessed 24 July 2013) 

Who’s Who 2013 and Who Was Who

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Internet Sources

History of Whitelands College, University of Roehampton

History of St John’s College, Battersea

AIM 25: Archives in the London and M25 Area: Roehampton College – Whitelands College

 History of Parkstead House

 Further Sources

 Rite of spring: Mr Ruskin’s May Queen, 1 May 2013, Blog by Local StudiesLibrarian, Kensington Library

With a special thank you to Gilly King, Archivist, The University of Roehampton


[1] Letters From John Ruskin to Revd. J P Faunthorpe M.A., letter dated May 1885, Internet Archive.
[2] The Life of John Ruskin, E T Cook, Vol II 1860 – 1900, (London: George Allen & Company, 1912), Internet Archive, p. 380-1.