The journal of Grace Jane Dexter

A teacher at St Peter's Schools in 1887

Grace Dexter (1865-1957), my great-great-great-great-aunt, trained as a teacher on the 'monitor' system in various Board Schools. Whilst working at Lea School near Whatstandwell she was befriended by Florence Nightingale who continued to show an interest in her career. Grace kept a Journal from 1884 until 1893 from which these extracts are taken. In 1887 she was 21 and lodging with her brother John whilst working at St Peter's Schools in Nottingham. The family were Baptists and Grace attended Stoney Street Chapel.
Rowena Edlin-White

Jan 7 1887

I have been in a situation in Nottingham for about six weeks. I am at S. Peter's Schools. My salary is 40 a year. I am able to support myself entirely. How thankful I feel for this. We have had such a happy Xmas. The first time I have been away from home!

April 3 1887

Nearly 3 months since I wrote anything here! I am always so busy. It is our School exam. on 26th and I am studying for my certificate next Decr. and attending drawing classes at the School of Art. I scarcely ever have a minute to spare. I am still living with my brother and sister-in-law although I may not be for much longer as they are thinking of leaving the town. I like the teachers at S. Peter's. Miss Aram is very kind and free with us. I teach Standards I & II. I hope they will pass well at the exam. I had another letter from Miss F. Nightingale a month or two ago. This is her letter.

Jan 22nd 1887
10 South St.
Park Lane N.

My Dear Grace

I was very glad to hear from you and I hope that I may believe that you are happy at S. Peter's Schools - and that you were fortunate in getting a post there & so near home.

Tell me about your children & how you manage them and I will tell you that I hope you are not sitting up all night, or ever getting your feet wet or reading too many political speeches - but taking reasonable care to keep your "temple of the Holy Spirit" in good health. We were very glad that you were successful at the "Scholarship Exam.", and I suppose you are now studying for your certificate, wherefore I write these few hints and should be very glad to know how you are going on. Your account of Mr Aitkin's Mission interested me very much. May we all remember such seasons in our practical daily work in God's Name as Christ would have done it, did do it when He was here even as a Village Workman - and this is not an effort or constraint but as He did, remembering His & our Father's infinite love, & feeling it as a joy to do God Divine Service every day and not only at Church, thinking of Him in everything as the "handmaid of the Lord" & doing everything as Christ, the Lover of our souls "would have it done, making it our Father's business," as He did, & commending our mind & spirit our whole life into our Father's hands as He did. This is my prayer for you & I am sure it is yours for me.

Christ was such a lover of little children like yours. If I have not written before, you will know that it is because I am so overworked & have little strength for it. Heartily tho' late in sending are always my New Year's wishes for you.

Ever Dear Grace
Yours with the deepest interest,

F. Nightingale.

She sent me three beautiful cards, one for the children which I am going to have framed & two for myself. What a dear thoughtful lady she is to remember me and write when I have done with Lea School. I do feel that I am highly favoured in receiving my letter from one so illustrious.

May 19 1887

Just a minute to spare before going to my certificate class. My Brother John & family have gone to live at Belper & I am in lodgings at Mrs Brown's. Our school exam is over, my two classes Standards I & II passed 84 p.c. each. I thought they would have done better, but I must content myself with the knowledge that I did my best in preparing them for it, only having them five months. I have no teacher to help me yet with the two classes. It is very hard work - between 60 & 70 children every day, but I feel so thankful that I have such good health. I scarcely know what it is to be idle a minute. To think that I am in lodgings! Well, I wonder what the next event in my career will be. John came last week for a few days on business & he came again last night. I am so glad to see him now. Anyone from home is welcome. Everything has the word Jubilee prefixed to it. We are expecting grand rejoicings in the country this 50th year of Her Majesty's reign. I should like to go to London on 21st June - I wonder if I shall.

May 25 1887

On Monday we had a "grand miscellaneous concert" at St Peter's School. A great success. Room crowded. Many could not obtain entrance owing to crush. Children looked very nice & performed their parts very well indeed. I played two accompaniments, that was all. Two or three good short speeches from the managers and schoolmaster. I felt so happy amongst the dear children.

July 1 1887

I went with my brother to London - it being Jubilee Day - and we saw all the great sight of the Royal Procession. To see them go to the Westminster Abbey we stood in Regent St. but had not so good a view as we had on their return, when we stationed ourselves in Cockspur St. From our position there on the edge of the causeway we were enabled to see Her Majesty and all the Royal Princes and Princesses, and the foreign kings and queens with the Indian Princes who were mounted and looked very picturesque in their native dress. It was a very grand pageant, the likes of which I had never seen (of course!) The Queen was smiling when she passed us, and I thought she looked a great deal nicer than her photographs represent her to look. Then the illuminations were beautiful. Almost every house, besides the great shops and other business places, at the West End, were illuminated in some way. We walked about with the surging crowd that thronged the streets till 11 o'clock when we took the 'bus to King's Cross. My feet were so painful and swollen for a day or two after. It did not seem to affect John at all, but he is used to walking.

I am glad I went. My brother and I spent such a pleasant day in each other's company, moralising and philosophising on all we saw and heard. O, how I should like to live in London. The buildings are magnificent.

Now for domestic, or rather school affairs. Dear Miss Aram left us yesterday. I am so sorry on her account and on ours as well, but this question of percentages is the cause... because we didn't get so high a one - not withstanding the great disadvantages - the headmistress must be asked to resign and make way for one whom they think will get the results. I am sure we are like machines and the poor children get no easy time of it, for we are obliged to harass and threaten in order to get a high rate p.c. at the Examinations. Miss Dale and I are going to Miss Aram's tomorrow to see her and take her a little present. We are losing such a kind, sympathetic friend. Our new Mistress comes on Monday.

O, I do wish we had free education! I have had to deal with such heart- rending cases of poverty this week - in getting, or trying, to get arrears for school money. Actually one poor woman had to borrow the money, they had not a farthing belonging to themselves. Just a few shillings a week - and often not that - to maintain a family upon. The trade is terribly bad here and elsewhere. When will things mend. I felt deeply grieved at hearing these accounts of the misery existing in homes in England, so it is but surely it should not be so! Where is the legislation that permits such a state of things. People not knowing where to get a mouthful of bread - independent of charity - in this rich and fertile land of ours. And if these poor people apply to the Guardians to remit their school fees they get shamefully insulted, by impertinent questions, and so forth, till they tell me they would almost rather starve or do anything than apply for relief. I cannot write more now but these are dreadful facts.

July 8 1887

Our new headmistress came on Monday. Her manner with the children is much to be admired. She has such a cheerful yet authoritative way of dealing with them. Exceedingly systematic as she has proved so far, and will expect us to be, yet I think we shall like her. It does not do to conclude that we shall be dissatisfied with people before we know what they are. But we shall miss dear Miss Aram's kind, free, and sympathetic presence & conversation. There has been a change in the organisation already. My pupil teacher has been taken in to the large room & I have now to manage Standards I & II by myself without any help except half an hour or so in the morning. It will be very hard work, for there are 87 children on the registers. I hope my strength will be equal to the task, then I don't mind at all. I feel very, very tired after my day's work. I am now going to my certificate class for three hours from 6.30 to 9.30pm. So the days go by, each one with its ever returning routine. But the Lord upholds us and fortifies us for all our duties, therefore to Him be praise forever. Sometimes - when I am very weary - I grow rather desponding, but always endeavour to check myself on the recollection of all my mercies. "Not more than others I deserve, Yet God has given me more." O, that not a murmuring thought might ever possess my mind, or a dissatisfied word escape my lips, but that my heart might always be overflowing with thankfulness to our Gracious Father, who so richly blesses and endues us with His grace.

July 18 1887

Went last night to Stoney St. Chapel to hear Mr Lacey, a young student at the Baptist College, who is going to India as a missionary. He spoke very beautifully to young people from the parable of the Prodigal Son, and besought his young hearers to keep steadfastly by their Heavenly Father's side and not, by the foolish desire for so-called independence, wander into the paths which will terminate in ruin and remorse. My cousin Mary and I stayed to the prayer meeting at the close of the service, and what with the thoughts of other years and friends with whom I had commingled my prayers and songs in that vestry, and who were no longer there - together with the emotions I felt at the thought of the young preacher going to a foreign land to sow the seed on soil perhaps on which no other hand had ever bestowed care, the tears poured down my cheeks. I could not restrain them. I shook hands with Mr Lacey and wished him, with all my heart, God speed. He asked us to pray for him and I'm sure we shall. At least I will, fervently, for I can conceive of no higher calling than that of a bearer of the precious Gospel of Christ to a benighted world.

When outside the chapel, Mr Stent, the organist, asked my cousin and me to join the choir. I was very pleased, for I have wished to settle somewhere a long time. So I shall, if the Lord wills, when I come back from my Midsummer holidays.

August 31 1887

Have been back at school nearly three weeks. Our new Mistress is very exacting in school work, we have to work so hard. This week I have had neuralgia very bad again - never had it since my coming to Nottingham. I think it is the harassment that has brought it on. Have sat in the choir at Stoney St. two Sundays - feel more settled in that respect now. It only wants about three months to our certificate examination! Oh, how I hope I shall pass.

September 2 1887

The teachers at S. Peter's all went by invitation to the Rectory to an "at home". We passed a very pleasant time from five to half past seven. Singing and conversation were the order of the evening. Admiral Sullivan, Mrs Edgcome's brother, was very entertaining. He sang, "I fear no foe in shining armour." Subsequently he brought out a large book with plates illustrative of the Crimean War. Seating himself next to me with the book on a gypsy table, he vividly explained all that then transpired, describing - from the pictures - the position of the contending forces and frequently showing the ship in which he himself was for the time stationed, interspersing his narrative when alluding to himself, by interesting and sometimes amusing incidents which then took place. I was so deeply interested in this narrator that, seeing how attentive I was, he addressed nearly all his remarks to me, though several others were listening. This makes twice that events relating to the Crimea have been rehearsed to me by distinguished eye-witnesses - Miss Nightingale and Admiral Sullivan. I cannot but think I am greatly favoured by this apparent coincidence in the case of one as humble in station. Oh, it was nice to be there. I often think to associate with people of that class must be highly gratifying. But this is not the end of our existence. There will be a hereafter state when - to the extent of our desires - we shall mingle with the great and good that have been in all ages - our highest powers will be there developed and we shall have communion with congenial spirits for ever.

Grace took her teaching certificate - and passed it - the following December, but her contract at Saint Peter's Schools was not renewed. She returned to live with her family at Whatstandwell and taught in Belper and Burton-on-Trent before finally achieving her ambition to move to London in 1892.

Rowena Edlin-White
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 6th November 2003