Dame Schools- William West and Charles Dickens

Before this blog moves on to the next industrial heritage theme there will be brief excursion into Victorian literature 

Great Expectations and Mr. Wopsle’s Great Aunt

I have just finished my first reading of Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’; a novel that is often considered to be the best of the Victorian writer’s work. It is the tragic character of Miss Havisham that many remember best from the book, but for me is is unnamed character hidden away in chapter 7 that grabbed my attention.

William West’s success as an engineer was founded on a sparse, almost non-existent childhood education. His only eduction was for a brief period at  ‘Dame school’ ; a period shortened by an incident involving gin, a drunk school mistress and a fire place. His  school mistress he called ‘Old Betty Hip’, and  he is reported to have said that:

” she thought much more of sending him to the drams of gin in which she delighted than of imparting the small amount of knowledge she possessed” Sketch of the life of William West of Tredenham

Charles Dickens in Great Expectations also describes a ‘Dame school’. His descriptionDSC00398 describes so much about these Victorian institutions in very few words.

“Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt kept an evening school in the village; that is to say, she was a ridiculous old woman of limited means and unlimited infirmity, who used to go to sleep from six to seven every evening, in the society of youth who paid two pence per week each, for the improving opportunity of seeing her do it”  Charles Dickens Great Expectations.

Such a brilliant sentence, and one must use in my future talks.

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