Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Honey & Tippy Thorpe's School in Belguim

Honey & Tippy Thorpe Belgium 1920s

How the middle upper classes educated their daughters in 1920s/1930s

Pop and Ma Thorpe had four beautiful daughters. The first two Auntie Flo and Auntie Jo were born in England in Manchester in the early 1900's then there was a big gap of 6 years before Auntie Tippy( Eileen) was born in Ceylon in 1911.  My mother Honey (Agnes) Thorpe was born in Datchet near Windsor in 1915.

My grandparents must have wanted a son but sadly they had four daughters. What to do with them? Boys would have gone to Public school and Oxford but girls?  Girls education was non existent at that time so the two elder girls were sent a boarding school in Herne Bay and later a rather classy establishment in Chiswick. They remained in England.

The fate of the younger two was not so happy as they got shipped off to a convent in Liege in Belgium. My grandparents socially arisen from the slums of Manchester into the Upper Middle Classes copied what other Middle Class families did and dumped their girl children and in the case of my mother and her sister for years in boarding schools far from home. My mother hardly went home in 11 years! At the age of six my mother and her 9 year old sister travelled across the English Channel to Belgium never to return until they were grown up. In the case of my mother 16. Her mother visited them occasionally and once or twice they went home for Xmas but that was it.

Now this was not all doom and gloom. My mother seemed to enjoy it. My grandmother was a bit of an acid drop so the nuns must have seemed kinder and nicer and indeed both sisters opted to stay in Belgium for Xmas. Says something about granny I think.

Both girls learned to speak perfect French. They were educated in French and my mother learned all her secretarial skills in French. She had very high speeds as her certificates prove. The big problem was that she did not learn English. She was totally uneducated in English and I discovered when I was 45 that she could hardly read in English. The Daily Mail was about her limit although we did change to the Telegraph when I insisted. Reading the world's masterpieces was beyond her.

They were taught religion naturally, and needlework. Belgium young ladies were trained to become lace makers. Brussels Lace to be exact. This is the finest of lace and is a mixture of torchon lace and embroidery. Mother's leaving certificate was a magnificent embroidered table cloth which I use as a bedspread. If she had stayed in Belgium she would have gone to a school in Brussels to be taught this difficult craft.

The problem is that my mother was brilliant academically. She should have gone to Oxford. When it came to numbers her accountancy skills were exceptional. Like her accountant father mother could run up a column of £.s.d. in one go. She did the Family Books all her life to the last farthing.

Sex education was sadly lacking too. On one of the few occasions the two sisters did return to UK Auntie Tippy had her first period on the ferry across the channel. Nobody had informed them that this was natural. My mother thought Auntie Tip was dying in the loo! They made the journey on the boat alone but were met at the other end.

I don't think my mother wanted to return to England. She was totally unprepared for life in London socially and educationally. Life in a big city must have been a shock.

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