A Charlotte Mason Education, History of Charlotte Mason
Comments 4

Margaret Coombs – The Authoritative Biographer of Charlotte Mason

Margaret Coombs Speaking at the 2012 ChildLightUSA Charlotte Mason Educational Conference

June 6, 7, 8, 9, 2012

Gardner-Webb University, Boiling Springs, NC

Near Charlotte, NC

Margaret Coombs at Newtown School Archives

Margaret Coombs is a social historian, researcher and retired mental health practitioner, who has worked in a variety of mental health posts, including community care rights and as a Mental Health Act Commissioner. She is married to an Anglican Priest and has two children, an artist and a theatre director. Through exploring the history of education for parenthood for a post-graduate degree in the 1980’s, she first discovered Charlotte Mason  via the Parents’ Review, listed in the vast hand-written catalogues in the former round Reading Room of the British Museum, where the Founder of the PNEU had studied for her Geographical Readers, around 100 years earlier! Margaret met with Essex Cholmondeley, Charlotte’s first reluctant biographer, at Nynehead in 1983. Finally retiring in 2008, she resolved to research Charlotte Mason’s secret family history in preparation for a new, more accurate biography. Although there is no substitute for visiting the relevant places, significant discoveries have come to light via the Internet and records offices, due to widespread interest in ancestry. The joy of this longstanding research has been the making of many new friends.

PLENARY 1 Charlotte Mason and her Hidden Quaker Heritage.

Following up wide-ranging discussions with PNEU people during the 1980’s and 1990’s, explorations in Dublin, Birkenhead, Liverpool, Carlow, Waterford, Lisburn and Bangor in Wales as well as at Ambleside revealed that Joshua Mason (1780-1859), a birthright member of the Religious Society of Friends and father of 12 was Charlotte’s father, by Margaret Shaw (1818-1858), a Catholic. In exploring Joshua Mason’s life and work during the 62 years before his thirteenth child was born, we now know that his grandfather, John Gough and great-uncle  James, who spent much of their lives teaching in Friends’ Schools in Ireland and England, as well as travelling in ministry, were born to Quaker parents in Kendal, eleven miles from Ambleside. It is pleasing to reflect that, by finally settling in Ambleside in 1892, Charlotte Mason was unwittingly returning near to where her great, great, grandparents, John and Mary Gough had lived, at the turn of the eighteenth century.

Q. Why do you think Charlotte concealed her family background from everyone she knew? Do we have the right to open up her hidden past?

Session 2:  Charlotte Mason’s Early Experiences of   Education.

From about 1854 until 1859, Charlotte Mason was apprenticed as a pupil-teacher at the Holy Trinity National School for Girls and Infants in Birkenhead. Winning a Queen’s Scholarship at Christmas 1859, Charlotte Mason was accepted for Pestalozzian training as an elementary school teacher, at the Home and Colonial Infant School Society’s Training College, in the Gray’s Inn Road, London. Obliged to leave at Lady Day, March 25th 1861, she was appointed Mistress of the William Davison Infantine School in Worthing, Sussex, where she remained until December 1873.

Q. What do you think were the effects of Charlotte’s early educational experiences on her educational ideas, lifestyle and work?

©  Margaret Coombs 2012


  1. How very interesting! I am now viewing several passages and quotes that I have on my desktop for inspiration in a new light. I know a “Friends” family here in Charlotte and through my admittedly limited interactions with them I have noticed a gentle support for individual talents and an individualism in general — that each child should be nurtured and decide for himself the direction he/she wants to go in life (and in religion, though that is not my take away in all this). Can’t wait to hear more — though I will be a bit busy preparing for a wedding during the conference.

  2. Not only is it a wonderful occasion that Tim and Hannah are getting married, but you must squeeze some time for the conference! You will want to hear Makoto Fujimura and Margaret Coombs and there will be others!

  3. I am thrilled that Margaret Coombs is coming to the ChildlightUSA conference. I have been interested in the “person” of Charlotte Mason for years and can’t wait to hear more details of her life. What made her who she was and what circumstances formed her ideas and gave her the great insight into humankind that she possessed? I’m counting the days.

    • Dear Gladys

      Thank you for your warm response and your kind offer to be my driver at the Conference which is very good of you. It will be great to meet you.

      I am looking forward to ithe conference very much : to meeting with old friends and new people and to lots of interesting discussions,questions and challenges as we search for the truth!


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