Newsletter 5 from Jennifer Topham, of Malmesbury, England

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The Risdons of Somerset
Newsletter No 5
September 2004

Hello everyone

Four months just seems to fly by, so it’s newsletter time again.

Once again, we start with some sad news. My sister Celia’s elder son Marek John Powiecki went missing in early May, whilst walking alone in the Italian mountains. Marek’s body was found on Sunday 6 June just 24 days after what would have been his 25th birthday.

On a much happier note, congratulations to Jane and Darren Simmons, on the arrival of Emma Jane on 12 July, in Western Australia.

I promised you a story about boarding school in the 19th century. In this case the Hampden House School was run by Charles VEYSEY and his second wife, Sarah Ann, at Ashwater in Devon. Firstly though, Charles was the son of John Veysey and his wife Maria nee Veysey - yes, they were first cousins who married. Maria was the daughter of Richard Veysey and his wife Rebecca nee Risdon, with Rebecca being the daughter of Edward and his wife Betty nee EVETT.

In a book called North Devon History, there is a story taken from the Bideford Gazette dated 23 November 1984 which was quoting from old newspaper articles. Starting on page 205, I found the following : “A School from the Pages of Dickens. Dickens, in his novel Nicholas Nickelby, shocked his Victorian contempories with his fictional account of school-life at ‘Dotheboys Hall’ under the infamous Wackford Squeers. This first appeared in 1838 and readers of the North Devon Journal in April 1878 must have been riveted by the headline, “A Devonshire Do-the-boys Hall - Extraordinary Disclosures”.

The report concerned a civil action at Holsworthy County Court between James Rawlings, a retired solicitor of Newton Tracey, and Mr and Mrs Charles Veysey, proprietors of the Hampton House Boarding School, Ashwater. Mr Rawlings was seeking £50 damages for the Veysey’s negligence in looking after his daughter Eve.

In 1874 Eve had become an “articled pupil” at the school. This meant that she taught the juniors for a day and a half a week and only paid £14 per annum to the Veysey’s for her own tuition in English, French, music and callisthenics. She arrived to find not only the 20 girls she had expected but also 30 boys which she had not expected. Also a surprise were her duties which included helping the single maid-servant make all the beds and also looking after the cleanliness of the girls.

Only four wash-basins were provided for the pupils and she found “a large number of vermin on the pillows and the linen”. This wasn’t surprising as the sheets were only changed twice in six months. Worse was to come, however, when one of her girl charges “was seized with the itch” - an outbreak which rapidly spread through the school. Apparently no medical help was called, every sufferer (whatever the complaint) being given “Holloway’s Pills” a well known nineteenth century quack medicine. In one case even a child with measles was given these pills. It is a wonder in the light of all this that Eve stayed the two and a half years that she did - on one occasion she arrived home with her head covered in vermin.

Mr. Veysey denied everything saying he had “conducted the school for nearly twenty years without a blemish on his character”. Under cross-examination he did admit that the 30 boys slept two to a bed in a room only 30 feet long. The judge not surprisingly found Mr Rawlings’ case proved and set damages at £20.

The case did not finish there however, as in May 1878 Eve Rawlings had to appear at the same court to answer a charge of “having committed a wilful perjury” in her evidence at the April case. Mr Veysey began by producing letters written by Eve to his wife of which one typically began, “My dear, dear Mrs Veysey - I write to thank you a million times for all your kindness and love to me ever since I have been here,” - hardly the letter of an aggrieved person. The schoolmaster then noted that “the inspector of nuisances had visited the school, but had never complained of uncleanliness.” He then produced a string of witnesses including Rose Moore a former pupil who said that “after Miss Rawlings left no one had skin disease.” The school laundress Ann Callacott said she washed between 15 and 20 sheets a week and another ex-pupil Elizabeth Harden said the sheets were changed twice weekly (though she added that the cutlery was often dirty!).

Against these witnesses Mr Rawlings produced a series of parents who had withdrawn their children from the school, including a Mr Bartlett whose daughter caught the “itch” there, came home and was cured but was promptly re-infected when she went back to the school. Another parent had to burn his children’s vermin-infested clothes when they came home. One ex-pupil said that her sheets doubled as table-cloths.

The poor judge must have been bemused with such conflicting evidence and he took the easy way out by dismissing the whole case. Very soon, and not unexpectedly after such damaging publicity, Hampden House School closed permanently and it pupils were redistributed to other (possibly cleaner) establishments.”

By the time of the 1881 census, there were two servants at the school, but no boarding pupils. By 1891 Charles and Sarah Ann VEYSEY were in Cornwall, where they were running the Grove House School at St Cleer, once more with boarding pupils. By now, both Charles and Sarah Anne were entering their sixties, so I am wondering how long they continued as teachers. Their deaths have still to be found.

The promised story on illegitamacy will once more have to wait, until the end of January 2005. The above article didn’t look very long in the book, but, I’m running out of space!

A list of 4 email and address changes was deleted on Jennifer's request

Joanna Hanes-Lahr has also moved house. She sent me an e-mail with the new address which I printed out and put in a “safe” place. Well, it was too safe and I cannot find the piece of paper. Please Joanna will you send the information again, and I’ll include it in the next newsletter.

In newsletter 4, I unfortunately typed an incorrect website address for the CAVILL family.
The correct version is

Alternatively type “Silke family from Somerset England to Australia” in your search engine.

There has been a deafening silence to my request for addresses (snail or e-mail) for the list of American/Canadian cousins in the last newsletter. Please will our American and Canadian cousins help - don’t rely on others to send the info required!!

Best wishes to you all for a very Happy Christmas.

Jennifer Topham, 2 Orchard Court, Arches Lane, Malmesbury, Wiltshire SN16 0ED
Prior to 2008:
Email after 2008 :