History of Charlotte Mason
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Charlotte Mason’s Early Correspondence by Dr. John Thorley

The Charlotte Mason archive in the Armitt Library in Ambleside, UK, contains around a dozen letters to or from Charlotte from the period 1860 to 1873. These were the years when she was at the Home and Colonial College in London (1860) and at the Davison School in Worthing, on the south coast of England (1861-73). These years were in many ways a formative period for Charlotte, since they include her training as a teacher and the 13 years that she spent in her first teaching post, in charge of a large infants’ school (it was in fact a church school, but open without payment to all children of the area). These letters are not the only evidence that we have for this period, since we also have the school log-book that Charlotte completed from 1862 until she left the Davison School at the end of 1873. But the letters are of course a much more personal record.

In the following letters the text is transcribed directly from the manuscript, with the original punctuation and underlinings, though a few notes have been added in square brackets, and a few passages that would require fuller commentary have been omitted.

The Home and Colonial College, London

Charlotte went to the Home and Colonial College (popularly known as the ‘Ho & Co’) in London in January 1860 at the age of 18. She had apparently been a pupil teacher (that is, a teenage classroom assistant; the scheme had been introduced first into ‘workhouse schools’ in the 1830s), in Liverpool or Birkenhead, for the previous four years, and had won a Queen’s Scholarship to the Ho & Co. How Charlotte supported herself at the Ho & Co we do not know for sure (the Queen’s Scholarship covered only tuition). She had probably earned a little money from her work as a pupil teacher, but this must have been minimal. It seems likely that she was funded at least in part by her Anglican church, St Luke’s, in the docklands of Liverpool.

Charlotte made three particular friends at college, Lizzie Groveham from Bradford, Selina Healis from Ambleside, and Sally (later Coleman) from Wolverhampton. She maintained contact with all three for many years. She also regularly met her uncle, William Huston, who lived in London, though he came originally from N. Ireland (as probably did Charlotte herself). He was Charlotte’s only known relative. He appears in the census returns for 1861 as a ‘Scripture Reader’, which was a kind of verger in a church, who also read the lessons at services.

But Charlotte completed only one year of the two-year course at the Ho & Co. We do not know for sure why this was, though we can make an informed guess. She must have been very conscious of her lack of money, especially since her friends at college were from comfortable backgrounds. In the later part of the year she was offered the post in Worthing to which she would go in January 1861, and the offer of real employment and real money must have been too good to miss. How this offer came about is interesting, and probably her tutor, Mr Dunning, about whom we shall hear in a moment, and Mr Brandreth, about whom we shall hear later, both played a part in this. Charlotte also knew that it was possible to complete the teacher training certificate later while she was teaching, as many teachers did.

So we come to our first letter – and it has been misinterpreted by some, so it is worth noting carefully.

Near the end of 1860, probably during Charlotte’s last month at the college, she was due to have a tutor into one of her lessons. She had not been well, perhaps partly because of nervousness about the classroom assessment itself, but her constant financial worries also probably contributed. The result was that at the last minute she could not face the assessment of her lesson. Her tutor, Mr Dunning, wrote to her that very afternoon, probably in December:

Letter 1

I was very sorry indeed this morning when I found that giving a lesson was too much for you. When I saw you first I was exceedingly pleased thinking you were better and strong and not nervous in giving a criticism. Indeed I felt as if you had lost all fear of me as a critic and regarded me as a friendly genius sitting there to do you a good turn. But oh you naughty girl – it was your own spirit and resolution that would not give way even before disease – that would discharge a duty at whatever it might cost you. You must not attempt another. I shall not let Mr Hasselass [another tutor at the college] pound you any more. You can teach well and need only to study our principles. I liked your lesson much [presumably the lesson plan that Charlotte had submitted]. I trust the good Lord will spare your life and permit you to work in his vineyard a while here …

Some have interpreted this letter to mean that Charlotte failed her teaching practice assessment, but there is no indication of that in the letter at all. This was simply one of the regular visits by Mr Dunning to see a student teach. In fact Mr Dunning became a close friend of Charlotte, as we shall see, and she was still consulting him about her career 13 years later.

So Charlotte did not complete her certificate – though that was not uncommon, and she did in fact receive a certificate later after teaching for some years in Worthing.

For the rest of this blog see the new issue of the Charlotte Mason Education Review on the ChildLightUSA website.  It will be posted soon.

This entry was posted in: History of Charlotte Mason


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.

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