A tatty, but very special box

My grandmother, Hannah Matilda Webster, was born in January 1889 in Bethnal Green, East London. She was the second daughter of William and Mary Ann Webster.

They were not a rich family. William was a gas lamp lighter, a job which we tend to look back on with a rosy nostalgic glow, but which I’m sure was not well paid.

So they were members of the ‘respectable poor’, regularly attending the Mansford Street Congregational Church and ensuring that their children received the best possible education.

To that end Hannah and her sister Mary attended the Pritchards Road Girls School and learned to read and write, and how to sew and knit too. I was not aware that you could buy knitted cardigans and jumpers in a shop until after Grandma died as she kept us all so well kitted out!

William and Mary Ann were strict parents and made sure that the girls went to school every day, and as they lived on Pritchards Road, they didn’t have far to go.

I can just imagine Mary Ann standing at her front door and watching her daughters go into school to make sure that they did actually go. The effort was recognised when Hannah was awarded a school prize for ‘regular and punctual attendance’.

The prize was a box, made of what looks like varnished pine and measuring 8ins x 6ins. On the lid there is picture of a country scene including a windmill. My mother thinks that it was a needlework box, but maybe that’s because Grandma always kept her threads in it, but it’s certainly not fitted out like one.

However, it is the label inside the lid that makes this box unique:

I have tried to find some records of this school from that time at the London Metropolitan Archives and Tower Hamlets Archives, but sadly none seem to have survived.

Grandma married Arthur Wheeler in 1914. My mother was born in 1920 and her brother William in 1928. Sadly Arthur died in 1932 and Hannah had to go out to work. Her parents, William and Mary Ann, moved in with them to look after the children while she worked in the laundry at The London Hospital.

Hannah lived in Bethnal Green until the late 1950s, with both the family and the box surviving the Blitz, even when they were forced to move home because of bomb damage. I do wonder if the damage to the lid of the box was a result of enemy action!

Grandma died on Christmas Eve 1964 when I was ten years old. After the funeral her three grandchildren were each given a memento of this lovely lady.

I received what on first inspection was just a tatty box with a chipped picture of a windmill on the lid. It’s still tatty, but now that I understand more of Hannah’s story, it is particularly precious to me.

Sue from Southend

© Sue from Southend 2008