Friday, 9 January 2015

22 Hans Place: Mrs. Rowden’s School

It is my pleasure to welcome Caroline Warfield, author of Dangerous Works, today with a tale of 22 Hans Place: Mrs. Rowden’s School.


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Education for girls in the Georgian period generally ran from mediocre to truly dismal.  Most girls were schooled, if at all, in a “Dame School,” the general name for a private school taught by a woman.  In Britain such schools varied from glorified day care to institutions that gave a decent grounding in the basics. Sometimes these schools provided boarding in a building dedicated to the school. In other cases they existed in private homes of varying levels.  One school stands out as above the norm: Mrs. Rowden’s School at 22 Hans Place.

The name is something of a misnomer. The school actually belonged Dominique de Saint-Quentin, a French émigré of aristocratic background from Alsace. He had come to England and accepted the position of French teacher at the girl’s school in Reading, sometimes called the Abbey School. Jane Austen and her sister had earlier and unhappily attended that school. It seems to have had a reputation for teaching little more than housekeeping; the headmistress spoke not a word of French, one of the intended subjects. Both discipline and curriculum were loose. St. Quentin raised the reputation for quality and eventually he obtained ownership of the school.  
St. Quentin then moved the operation closer to London and set out to establish a first-rate school for ladies. According to A. G. K. L'Estrange, (in Life of Mary Russell Mitford, 1870)
He was assisted, or rather chaperoned, in his undertaking by his wife, a good-natured, red-faced Frenchwoman, much muffled up in shawls and laces; and by Miss Rowden, an accomplished young lady, the daughter and sister of clergymen, who had been for some years governess in the family of Lord Bessborough

St. Quinten advertised his school as a school of French. He located it at 22 Hans Place, a neighborhood between Kensington and Chelsea just being built between 1770 and 1790. Miss (or as she styled herself, Mrs.) Rowden joined the staff in 1798.

The curriculum sounds moderately robust. 

M. St. Quintin himself taught the pupils French, history, geography, and as much science as he was master of, or as he thought it requisite for a young lady to know; Miss Rowden, with the assistance of finishing masters for Italian, music, dancing, and drawing, superintended the general course of study; while Madam St. Quintin sat dozing, either in the drawing-room with a piece of work, or in the library with a book in her hand, to receive the friends of the young ladies, or any other visitors who might chance to call. (L'Estrange)

The comment about what he thought “requisite for a young lady” would be amusing if it weren’t a sad reflection on expectations for women. Latin and Greek, required of all young gentlemen, are nowhere to be found. The French, however appears to have been first rate.  Letitia Landon for one was reputed to have an exquisitely correct accent. St. Quentin himself published A New Grammar of the French Language (Smart and Cowslade, 1790).   He also wrote A Complete System of the Commercial Geography of England; Laid Down In Plain and Concise Manner For the Use of Schools (William Baynes, 1794).

L’Estrange’s “general course of study,” taught by Mrs. Rowden focused on literature and the arts.  

…she cultivated, what is now so greatly neglected, the committing to memory the English classics, and the reciting before an audience the best passages, as they do now at Harrow and Eton on prize days. She was herself a poetess…
(Mrs. A.T.Thompson and Philip Wharton, The Queens of Society, 1861)

Mrs. Rowden also published her own works, notably: Poetical introduction to the study of botany (1801) and The pleasures of friendship, a poem (1810). What many of her students later remembered most were trips to attend lectures and plays. The school itself came to be known as Rowden’s School.”

The most significant indication of the quality and nature of education at 22 Hans Place, however, lay in the lives and accomplishments of its students.  

In 1795 Lady Caroline Ponsonby, daughter of the Earl of Bessborough, aged ten, was sent to the Rowden School, probably to curb her unruly behavior.  Her family may have actually been trying to get rid of her.  It is unclear how long she stayed, but she certainly took away a love of literature. She grew up, of course, to be Lady Caroline Lamb. As an adult she ran with the literary set and her outrageous obsession with Lord Byron is legendary. Her novel Glenarvon remains in print to this day. 
Letitia Landon
Letitia Landon

Letitia Elizabeth Landon achieved considerable fame as a poet, publishing under the initials L.E.L.  Landon came from a much humbler background than Caroline Lamb.  Her father was a clerk, later partner in a business, and later the owner of a failed agricultural experiment.  She lived at 25 Hans Place as a young child and began studying with Mrs. Rowden at age five in 1807.  She had left two years later, and appears to have been largely self-taught after that. The facts of her life are tough to document. She may have been as scandalous as Caroline Lamb—or not.  What is known is that she published her first poem at 18 and continued until her death at 36. During her lifetime she met with considerable critical success.

Mary Russell Mitford
Mary Russell Mitford
Much of what we know about Mrs. Rowden comes from Mary Russell Mitford who attended Mrs. Rowden’s school from age ten to fifteen, or approximately between 1788 and 1803.  Mitford wrote poetry, drama, and prose. Her best-known works today are her play Rienzi, her sketches in Our Village (believed to be one of the bases of Gaskell’s Cranford) and her letters and memoirs. In Introduction to Mitford, Dramatic Works (1854) she describes Rowden’s love of the theatre and trips to see plays. Mitford describes her as a “clever woman” and indicates that Mitford’s father hired her to provide one-on-one tutoring outside of school.  Mitford says,
…her whole heart was in the drama, especially as personified by John Kemble; and I am persuaded that she thought she could in no way so well perform her duty, as in taking me to Drury Lane whenever his name was in the bills. (Mitford, Introduction)

The letters of Mitford’s mother mention that both Mrs. St. Quentin and Mrs. Rowden dined with the Mitfords and that Rowden maintained friendship with Lady Bessborough.

By 1809 Rowden took over full management of the school and, upon the death of Mrs. St. Quentin married the owner.  Later, presumably after the fall of Napoleon, they left the school in the hands of a Mrs. Lance and migrated to Paris. In Paris they opened a prestigious school for primarily English girls on Rue d'Angouleme, Champs Elysees. 

One of Rowden’s final pupils, Fanny Kemble, described it as: 

a handsome house, formerly somebody's private hotel, with porte cochere, cour d'honneur, a small garden beyond, and large, lofty ground-floor apartments opening with glass doors upon them. (Kemble, Records of a Girlhood, 1878)

 Kemble, niece of the actor John Kemble, also describes Rowden’s love of poetry and drama. As an adult Kemble became a noted actor and wrote several successful plays. She also published memoires and descriptive travel books. Perhaps most her most notable work still in print is Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838–1839 (New York: Harper & Bros., 1863), which expressed her outrage over conditions of slavery that she had witnessed.

Schools for women in popular romance are often presented as finishing schools at which young ladies were taught French, music, drawing, and dancing. One fictional exception is Miss Martin’s School For Girls in Bath, setting for a series of wonderful novels by Mary Balogh.  My own most recent work, Dangerous Works, centers on the drive of one woman to succeed in spite of deficiencies in her education.

Perhaps the finishing school is an accurate picture of Mrs. Rowden’s school’ s intent. The accomplishments of so many of Mrs. Rowden’s students, however, argue that it rose above.  The women themselves found their own way to success, driven, one wants to believe, by Mrs. Rowden’s greatest gift, the belief that they could do it.

About the Author
Caroline Warfield has at various times been an army brat, a librarian, a poet, a raiser of children, a nun, a bird watcher, an Internet and Web services manager, a conference speaker, an indexer, a tech writer, a genealogist, and, of course, a romantic. She has sailed through the English channel while it was still mined from WWII, stood on the walls of Troy, searched Scotland for the location of an entirely fictional castle (and found it), climbed the steps to the Parthenon, floated down the Thames from the Tower to Greenwich, shopped in the Ginza, lost herself in the Louvre, gone on a night safari at the Singapore zoo, walked in the Black Forest, and explored the underground cistern of Istanbul. By far the biggest adventure has been life-long marriage to a prince among men.


She sits in front of a keyboard at a desk surrounded by windows, looks out at the trees and imagines. Her greatest joy is when one of those imaginings comes to life on the page and in the imagination of her readers.

Find Caroline on:

Dangerous Works
Lady Georgiana Hayden has struggled for years to do scholarly work in the face of constant opposition and even outright derision from the scholarly community at Cambridge. Her family ignores her as long as she doesn’t draw attention to herself.

A little Greek is one thing; the art of love is another.  Only one man ever tried to teach Georgiana both.  She learned very young to keep her heart safe.  She learned to keep loneliness at bay through work. If it takes a scandalous affair to teach her what she needs to complete her work, she will risk it.  If the man in question chooses not to teach her, she will use any means at her disposal to change his mind.  She is determined to give voice to the ancient women whose poetry has long been neglected.

Some scars cut deeper than others. Major Andrew Mallet returns to Cambridge a battle scarred hero. He dared to love Georgiana once and suffered swift retribution from her powerful family. The encounter cost him eleven years of his life.  Determined to avoid her, he seeks work to heal his soul and make his scholar father proud. The work she offers risks his career, his peace of mind, and (worst of all) his heart.

Andrew and Georgiana battle their way through the work to a fragile partnership. Even poetry, with its musical lyrics and sensual traps, can be dangerous when you partner with the love of your life.  In Regency Cambridge it can lead a lady quickly past improper to positively scandalous.

Buy Dangerous Works

Written content of this post copyright © Caroline Warfield, 2015.

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