Pioneering Women 1861-1918: Croker Divett Gould

The Pioneering Women of Bovey Tracey 1861- 1918 : Annie Croker, Adela Divett, Mary Divett, and Lilian Gould.

Frances Billinge May 2018

INTRODUCTION

Over many centuries famous women have been associated with Bovey Tracey. Eva de Tracy as Lord of the Manor obtained the charter for the Bovey Tracey market in 1219 and this led to the town becoming an important trading and residential area in the middle ages. As Eva had several manors, including Barnstaple, we do not know if she ever visited Bovey Tracey.

Lady Margaret Beaufort the mother of Henry VII, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were all lords of the manor of Bovey Tracey but there is no record that they ever visited or promoted particular developments in the parish.[1] These women could be considered role models for women, but they were all either royalty or aristocracy. It was not until the Victorian era that ordinary women started to become significant in local and even national developments and the contribution of four such women from Bovey Tracey until the Enfranchisment of the People Act 1918 will be explored.

First was Anne Croker who established the British School in Bovey Tracey. She was followed by Adela Divett who helped set up the first Bovey Tracey hospital, and her cousin Mary Divett who became the first female local district councillor for the Newton Abbot Rural District. Finally Lilian Gould obtained first class honours at Oxford, had her academic papers published nationally and was one of the first women elected as a fellow of the Linnean Society. Women such as these played a prominent role but it was Lilian who was born at an opportune time to become engaged in the national movement for female enfranchisement in the early years of the twentieth century.

Four Pioneering Women of Bovey Tracey 1861-1918

Bovey Tracey was an historic Manor and Borough which managed its own administration through Courts Leet and Courts Baron under the Lord of the Manor until 1883. It also had a church Vestry which historically managed matters connected with administration of the Poor Law. There is no evidence of the participation of women in any of these local administrative bodies, they did not sit on the juries and are not recorded as attending any meetings.

ANNIE CROKER

Annie Croker was born in Bovey Tracey in 1832 and she was the first local woman who pioneered change. She was the daughter of the local surgeon and from what is sometimes referred to as the middling class. Annie Croker worked tirelessly to establish education for the poorest children in the area. She set up the British School in 1861, taught in it and was involved with it as its treasurer until she died in 1906.[2] Her work ensured non-denominational education was available for all children as she was concerned that the church /National School had strong ‘popish’ leanings as it was run by the Tractarian vicar The Hon. and Rev. Charles Leslie Courtenay. Annie had a personal conviction and she successfully obtained her goal, her portrait was in the prize books she gave to her pupils (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Annie Croker. By kind permission of Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust.

There was another catalyst for Annie’s work that no sooner had she established her school when the vicar brought in a tractarian sisterhood of the Clewer Communit. to Bovey Tracey. Even worse for Annie was that some of these sisters taught in the National Church of England Scool. In 1863 the vicar established  a protestant sisterhood in what was considered by many to be a convent. This was the Devon House of Mercy. This institution provided training for what were then thought of as ‘fallen’ women, whom nowadays we would consider to have been abused. This was a prestigious local institution which soon moved to grand premises (Figure3).[3] It was run by a sister superior who had regular contact with a governing council who were either aristocrats, local landed gentry or Devon clergymen.[4] The sister superior was in an important postion of power with day to day control of a large institution as she was manging as many as nine sisters and seventy eight  inmates in 1881.[5] The local press criticized its popish nature. Despite Annie’s antagonism the history of sisterhoods shows that they were pioneering women who escaped from female domesticity and trivial social activity who even took their work to India.[6]

 

Figure 2. The Devon House of Mercy. Frances Billinge 2017.

 

Mumm has suggested that because of sisterhoods lay-women found themselves able to expand their roles within Anglicanism with less opposition and less scrutiny: ‘This can be seen as an example of how the advanced guard allows the centre of gravity to gradually shift; in this case to a more woman-oriented direction, although with great difficulty and considerable slowness.[7] Annie had started her pioneering work before the sisters arrived in Bovey Tracey but their presence spurred her on to move her school from rented premises and build her own school (Figure 3).

Figure 3. The British School Building, Mary Street Bovey Tracey. Frances Billinge 2017.

ADELA DIVETT

Twenty years later in 1871 Adela Divett was a prime mover in establishing the first local hospital in Bovey Tracey. Adela had moved to the town after her father’s death in 1864 when she was orphaned at only sixteen years of age. Her father Edward had been M.P. for Exeter and her uncle John Divett who lived at Bridge House, Bovey Tracey became her guardian. Bovey Tracey cottage hospital was one of the earliest to be established locally. Nearby Ashburton, Buckfastleigh and Chudleigh were not to get such provision until later in the 1870s. Adela was the treasurer as well as provider of its earliest premises on Heathfield Terrace.  (Figure 4).[8] This was close to where she had had her prestigious house called St Mary’s built next to the new Tractarian church of St John’s, one of the vicar’s other projects.

 

Figure 4. Heathfield Terrace. Frances Billinge 2018

 

Adela was a woman of private means and unlike Annie Croker she fully supported the vicar’s high church leanings. She helped to fund an extension and  and furnishings at the vicar’s new church. After establishing the hospital at a young age Adela moved to India where she married but soon returned and had three children. Sadly for Adela she had several personal problems. In 1885 her daughter Olga was born who had special needs and was boarded out, sometimes described as a patient, from at least the age of five until she died in 1961. In 1891 Adela’s  husband died, they had only been married nine years. It is after this that we find Adela was admitted as a private patient to the Priory lunatic asylum. Her admission was on 12 December 1895 and she was discharged on 2 April 1897. Adela returned to live in Bovey Tracey but in a less grand house than her original home of St Mary’s.  Sadly in 1915 her son Captain Francis Hugh Beaufort was a casualty in WW1. Adela continued to make a  contribution to civic life by helping to fund raise for church and school needs but she no longer played such a high profile role.[9] She passed the treasurership of the cottage hospital to Miss Frances Fox, another supporter of the Tractarian movement.[10] Adela was of the ‘middling sort’ and her family background and private means gave her the impetus to improve health provision.

MARY DIVETT

The next local woman to have an important role was Mary Divett. She was born in Whimple in 1834 but moved to Bovey Tracey with her parents before 1841, and then lived in the same address, Bridge House, until she died in 1914. Mary was Adela’s cousin and the only child of the local pottery company owner John Divett (Figure 5). He provided the major source of work for local people and this would have given Mary an insight into the working and living conditons of ordinary people.

Figure 5.  Bovey Tracey Pottery

Mary started her community work in a traditional way as by 1880 she was supporting a needlework society for girls so they could improve their skills. This was however a prestigious enterprise as Lady Clifford of Ugbrooke was the patron and Mary had a position of responsibility as its president.[11] She was also treasurer of the local Flower Show, being the only female on this committee; she presided over the local Debating Society; and was secretary of a committee raising funds for the church bells and paying off the debt of Heathfield school.[12]

After her father’s death she became a woman of private means and inherited estates in BoveyTracey and Ilsington. This was also when she became involved in local politics. Mary did not only support local groups but was also a member of the Diocesan Association.[13] She had concern for the poor and raised issues in many arenas. In 1886 she contacted the local board of guardians with her concerns that people from Ilsington had to travel too far for medical relief and suggested a more local solution. She was not successful in this request.[14] She soon became elected as a visitor to the local workhouse as the 1894 Local Governement Act allowed women to become Poor Law Guardians and sit on parish rural district and urban district councils.[15] By 1895 we hear of her speaking at a meeting of the Rural Sanitary Authority, where she was the only woman present, as she wished to improve the system for road maintenance[16] By October of that year Mary was a member of the Board along with other South Devon women.[17] In the same year Mary was appointed to a Board committee to investigate cruelty to children in certain placements.[18] In 1896 she and another board member were in charge of allocating prizes for good conduct for boarded-out children.[19] At another meeting of the Newton Abbot Poor Law Guardians she criticised a male colleague for the way he had aggressively interviewed a female candidate for a post in the Union workhouse, ‘I think it disgraceful to speak to a young women as she has been spoken to.’ Mary’s voice swayed the committee and the candidate was employed.[20]

By 1895 she was reported as speaking at Vestry meetings and she was the only female member of the parochial parish council which she attended from 1895. She showed concern for the representation of all classes and she was not afraid to voice this. In 1895 she attended a Vestry meeting at the Bovey Tracey Town Hall where she proposed a motion for all social classes to be represented.[21] It was unusual for a woman both to attend and speak. She pointed out that the Church Council did not speak for the working man as no such men were represented on it. Her motion was carried.

Mary was also involved in championing equal opportunities for women through the Church Council wherby the initial proposal made by the Bishop was to have four eminent gentlemen to give four lectures to men in Bovey Tracey. It was then agreed that the same opportunity would be offered to women.[22]

Her political voice was developing and the following year at the Vestry meeting she persuaded the hierarchy that more members of the working classes should be assisited to be involved as there were too many from the upper classes representing the laity. She proposed that the representation should be increased from twelve to twenty-four and representatives should receive travelling expenses. Furthermore, she expressed the view that for the church to understand the needs of the poor then represenatives from poorer parishes should beenlisted. [23]

By 1898 Mary Divett was listed as a Rural District Councillor on the Newton Abbot Board of Guardians. There were women on the Board of Visitors but she was the only female councillor. [24]

In 1901 we learn that Mary had put herself forward for re-election as a Rural District Councillor for Bovey Tracey as she had been defeated at the previous election. This time she was successful and she had been the only female candidate. [25] The only other female candidiate in these local elections was Miss Gertrude Mallock who stood for Cockington and she too was successful.

Mary continued to regularly attend the Newton Abbot Board of Guardians in 1902-3. Sometimes her reasoning seemed harsh as the example of her disagreeing with feeding travellers who called at the workhouse for food. Mary, along with some others, considered that such requests were really from, ‘tourists travelling at the expense of the public’ and that only bread and water should be dispensed in order to discourage them.  The point was made by the medical officer that Mary had probably never seen a real tramp on the wards and that people should be treated with human decency. This was an argument Mary lost.[26]

When the 1904 elections took place Mary was not successful.[27] Her work had been valued by her collagues and they proposed co-opting her, but were dissuaded as this was felt to be against the wishes of the voting public.[28]

We hear little of Mary after this except that she contributed Christmas presents for the workhouse children. She died in 1914 and her obituary stated that she had been highly esteemed in the district and was a generous subscriber to every good work and local institution. It was noted that she was a cousin of Sir Redvers Buller of Downes and politically a strong unionist. She had been a wealthy woman who left £46251, the equivalent of £2,728,448 in 2017.st.[29]  

LILIAN GOULD

The above three women show how the local standing of women was changing, but further progress can be seen in the nationally acclaimed achivements of Lilian Gould. Lilian was the daughter of a vicar and was born in Stokeinteighead in 1861. She moved with her family to live in Knowle House, Lustleigh, which at that time was in the parish of Bovey Tracey, some before her tenth birthday. She lived there until the time of her marriage in 1895. Her family continued to live at Knowle and her relations are still living not far away from their original home in the area.[30]

We first hear of Lilian in 1890 when she was attending the Newton Abbot District University Extension Association. She received an extra-mural prize from the University of Oxford for gaining distinction in a science course, ‘on the colour of insects.’ Lilian also gained a scholarship to attend Somerville Hall Oxford.[31] The other scholarship winners had their schools listed and as Lilian did not the implication is that she was educated at home before attending the Newton Abbot University Extension Classes.

Lilian was an outstanding student and graduated from Oxford with first class honours in natural sciences in 1894. This was a very important achievement as women had only been admitted to the university from 1870 and women could still not be awarded a degree.[32] Lilian was the only female Bovey Tracey university graduate so far found from the Victorian era.

Lilian went on to published her research on bacteria in a national journal.[33] This was a source of pride for the local extension college where she had studied.[34]

In 1895 Lilian married Professor Victor Veley at Lustleigh church.[35] Her next academic paper which was on her discovery of a bacterium in rum was published in 1897. This was a significant contribution to the sugar and rum trade where the faulty shipments of rum from Demerara were described as being a great loss to that colony and British Guiana. Her papers were published in Nature and also in the Journal of the Society of Industrial Chemistry.[36] In 1900 her further work on an organism in rum was published in Nature.[37]  Her contribution as an early female scientist was acclaimed by a study in 1998.[38]

As soon as the Linnean Society opened its membership to women in 1904  Lilian was one of the first fifteen women to be elected as a fellow.[39] She published in its journal in 1905.[40] That same year she obtiained a Doctor of Science degree from the University of Dublin.[41]

Lilian’s contributed to local science societies by taking positions of office and giving public lectures. She was secretary of the Oxfordshire Natural History Society which met at the Ashmolean Museum.[42] In 1900 she campaigned against the use of birds’ feathers in hats.[43] In 1908 she became a member of the advisory board of the Lyceum Club’s newly formed photographers’ section.[44]

It is from 1910 that we hear of Lilian’s involvement in the women’s franchise movement. She arranged and addressed meetings of the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association speaking on women’s suffrage, and by 1912 she was chairman of its Marylebone and Paddington branch.[45] By 1914 she was a member of its council.[46]  During World War 1 in 1915 she was involved with the Red Cross work of the  Conservative League for Women’s Suffrage and spoke about this in the prestigious setting of the Great Hall, Church House, Westminster.[47] By this time Lilian was recorded as a member on active medical and soon became a Commandant in the British Red Cross.[48]

The Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave some women the vote, was a significant step assisted by their pioneering work in previous decades. Bovey Tracey can be proud that its inhabitants included one woman who championed the education of the poor; one who established an early cottage hospitals; another who was one of the first elected local women councillors, and finally a woman who was one of  the first to obtain a degree from Oxford, and went on to become one of the first female fellows of the Linnenan Society and a prime mover in the women’s suffrage movement. This is a proud local heritage and shows how progressive women of Bovey Tracey were.

REFERENCES

[1] Frances Billinge, 2016.  Lords of the Historic Manor of Bovey Tracey ,Transcations of the Devonshire  Association, 148, 63-88.

[2] Roger R. Sellman, 1967. Devon Village Schools in the Nineteenth Century (Newton Abbot, David and Charles) p. 42.

[3] Janice Wallace, 2001. The Devon House of Mercy at Bovey Tracey 1863-1940, Transactions of the Devonshire  Association, 191-216, p. 204.

[4] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 25 October 1867, p. 6 as an example.

[5] 1881 Census, The National Archives, www.ancestry.co.uk.

[6]  Susan Mumm Stolen Daughters, Virgin Mothers ( Leicester, Leicester University Press 1999) ix-x, 4, 8.

[7] .Ibid., 443-1.

[8] R. M. S. McConaghey, 1967. The Evolution of the Cottage Hospital. Med. Hist.,11, (2) 129-144, 138 reported on Henry Burdett’s survey of 1877 The Cottage Hospitals.and Veronica Kennedy, undated, circa 2004. St Mary’s Bovey Tracey. Pamphlet, Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust.

[9] East and South Devon Advertiser 29 June 1901, p. 8; Metroplolitan Licenses Houses Admissions January 1886- December 1900-UK  Lunacy Patients Admissions Register  ancestry.co.uk admission Priory, Pembrokeshire.

[10] The Western Times 20 March 1914, p.14.

[11] Exeter Flying Post 29 September 1880, p. 6.

[12] East and South Devon Advertiser 21 August 1886, p. 8Flower Show; Totnes Weekly Times 16 February 1895, p. 7 debating society; East and South Devon Advertiser 29 June 1901, p. 8 committee for church bells Heathfiels school.

[13] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 27 November 1880, p. 2.

[14] The Western Times15 October 1886, p. 8.

[15] www.legislation.gov.uk.

[16] East and South Devon Advertiser 23 February 1895, p. 5.

[17] Ibid. 2 March 1895, p. 5.

[18] Ibid. 5 October 1895, p. 5.

[19] Ibid. 12 December 1896, p. 4.

[20] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 30 December

[21]  Devon Heriatge Centre 2160A/PV/2 Vestry Minuites Bovey Tracey 26 May 1895.

[22] Ibid. 23 October 1895.

[23] Ibid. 7 March 1896.

[24] East and South Devon Advertiser 1 January 1898, p5.

[25] The Western Times 14 March 1901, p. 4.

[26] East and South Devon Advertiser 28 March 1903 p.5.

[27] Ibid. April 2 1904, p. 5.

[28] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette  21 April 1904, p. 5.

[29] Ibid. 13 March 1914, p .11.; www.gov.uk probate 1914.

[30] Census 1871-1911 The National Archives; 1939 Register www.findmypast.co.uk.

[31] East and South Devon Advertiser 28 June 1890, p. 8 prize; London Evening Standard, 24 May 1890 p. 3, scholarship.

[32]  London Evening Standard 16 June 1894, p. 5 degree; Oxford University Archives Bodleian Libraries, 2007. First woman graduates of the University, the first women to obtain honours in the university examinations was in 1877, and the first degree graduation was not until 1920 www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk accessed 2 April 2018.

[33] Leeds Times 10 June 1893 p.6.

[34] East and South Devon Advertiser 6 October 1894, p.5.

[35] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette July 1895, p. 13.

[36] V. H. and L.J.  Veley , 1897.  A Bacterium living in strong spirit, Nature 56,  p.197; V. and L. Veley, Micro- 0rganisms of faulty rum Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry. 16, 1897, p. 626; The Globe 9 July 1897, p.6. reported the loss to trade from Demerara. 1897

[37] V. And L. Veley, The Micro-Organism of Faulty Rum,  Nature 61 1899-1900, pp 468-9.

[38] Mary. R.S. Creesework, 1998. Ladies in the Laboratory? American and British Women in Science, 1800-1900  (Scarecrow Press Inc.  Folkeston Kent).

[39]  Morning Post 16 Decembert 1904 p.7.

[40]  Lilian J. Veley ( née Gould),1905.   A further Contribution to the Study of Pelomyxa palustris (Greeff). Linnean Society Journal  of Zoology , vol. 29, pp. 337- 395, p. 374.

[41] Chelmsford Chronicle 14 July 1905, p. 4

[42] Oxford Times 1 February 1896, p. 3.

[43] Ibid. 24 November 1900, p. 3

[44] Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette 31 October 1908, p.2.

[45] The Conservative and Unionist Womens’ Franchise Review 1 February 1910, p.12;  ibid. 1 January 1912, p. 186.

[46] Church League for Women’s Suffrage 1 October 1913, p. 344.

[47] Votes for Women January 22 1915,  p 144.

[48] Church League for Women’s Suffrage 1 February 1918.p 14 members on active service; Ibid.1 November 1915, p.187 Commandant British Red Cross.