“So why are you going up to Staffordshire?”
Explaining that at least part of the reason for a half term expedition to that county was to visit a little village where a distant ancestor lived and taught, produced mixed reactions. Fellow family history enthusiasts completely understood the desire to see the place for oneself. Colleagues seemed less convinced. Daughters – well – it was the expected tongue-in-cheek reaction of “the parents know how to have a good time!”
Undeterred, we set off for the tiny village of Church Leigh on the first day of our holiday. We found the little village school easily and decided to park in the village hall car park. Getting out of the car it was my husband who noticed that the building adjoining the village hall said “Old School House”. Ah – that’s interesting. Well the village hall could well have started life as a school too, having those annoyingly high windows. But the old part of the school across the road looked as though it dated from a similar period. So where did Edith Mayne live when she first moved up to Staffordshire from Berkshire somewhere between 1891 and 1901?
Well, a Google search revealed that the village hall was built as the Boys’ School in 1857. The website of the current school indicates that it was also built in 1857 and I suspect that it, too, provided living accommodation originally. The 1901 census shows that Edith was a ‘Certificated Elementary School Mistress – Head’ and was working (and living) at the Girls’ School, Leigh, Staffordshire. Her aunt, Louise Allen, also moved up with her, probably to ‘keep house’. At the Boys’ School across the road, meanwhile, the schoolmaster was one George Greenhill and his 24 year old son Edmund was also working there as an Assistant Teacher.
Although slightly older than Edmund, Edith obviously developed a close friendship with her colleague in the Boys’ school, and on 26 September 1908 they married in Leigh.
The Lichfield Mercury, on 29 April 1910, reported that the managers of Leigh School were urged to “reconsider the desirability of re-organising Leigh School in one department under a headmaster”. This is what appears to have happened, since the 1911 census shows Edmund’s occupation as ‘Head Teacher, Elementary’ and Edith as ‘Assistant Teacher’. Living with them by this time was Edith’s younger sister Annie, who had also apparently decided to pursue teaching as a career and moved to join them as an ‘Assistant Teacher’ in 1905 (source: Teachers’ Registration Council registers on FindMyPast – registered 1 Aug 1920).
It would appear that Edith and Edmund did not have any children of their own – they appear to have dedicated their lives to the children they taught. I had hoped that Edmund was too old to enlist in the First World War, but unfortunately not. His service record unfortunately does not appear to have survived, but I do know that he was a Lance Serjeant in the 4th Battalion the North Staffordshire Regiment, service number 27779. He died on 25 March 1918 in France. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission site reveals that he is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial just north of Albert. The entry states “Husband of Edith Emily Greenhill of Bleak House, Leigh, Stoke on Trent. A schoolmaster at Leigh School”.
The 4th Battalion was an Extra Reserve Battalion, raised in Lichfield in 1914. I can’t be sure whether Edmund joined up then or whether he waited until conscription for married men started in May 1916. At that point he would have been 40 years old. In the Spring of 1918 the Battalion took part in the First Battle of Bapaume 24-25 March, and this is quite likely when Edmund died.
I already knew that Edmund is commemorated on the Leigh war memorial outside the church, so having taken photos of the schools, we walked round to the church and duly found the war memorial. The Church itself was unfortunately all locked up, which was a shame.
I had previously wondered what happened to Edith after Edmund’s death. It seems that she continued her teaching throughout the time that her husband was away. The Teachers’ Registration Council Registers available on FindMyPast indicate that Edith resumed her responsibilities as Head Mistress in 1916, a post that she was holding at the time of her official registration in 1920. Only a few days before our holiday I had the idea of trying the 1939 Register on FindMyPast. Although I did not pay to view the entry properly, I was able to see that she was still in the Uttoxeter Registration District at that date, living with Annie F Mayne and one other person. Leigh was in the Uttoxeter District at that time. Edith was by then 67 and Annie 53. I then found a death registration for Annie, aged 59, in the March Quarter 1945 and one for Edith, aged 76, in the December Quarter 1948. Since the National Probate Calendar revealed that Edith “of Bleak House, Leigh” died on 29 October 1948, I realised that it was highly likely that she was buried in the churchyard. Accordingly we proceeded to scour the churchyard for graves of the right period and were about to give up the cause when we found the grave just inside the lych gate! I was so thrilled.
The granite headstone reads: “In loving memory of Annie Frances Mayne called to the Higher Life Feb 23rd 1945 aged 59 years. The Communion of Saints. Also of Edith Emily Greenhill widow of Edmund Oldrieve Greenhill who entered into her rest Oct 29th 1948 aged 76 years. RIP.” I wonder who erected the headstone? Maybe surviving relatives of Edmund’s.
Whether ‘Bleak House’ was synonymous with the living quarters at the Girls’ School or a separate house nearby I may never know. The Greenhill seniors were living at the ‘Boys’ School House’ at the time of the censuses in 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911. Edmund’s father died two years before him on 15 Dec 1916 “of the School House Leigh”.
My maternal grandfather was Edith and Annie’s cousin and Mum recalls the sisters visiting them in Guildford in the early 1940s – as it turns out not long before Annie’s death. I still have no idea how it came about that Edith moved 150 miles north to teach, but it was a really special day for me to be able to see where these ancestors lived, loved, taught and died. Leigh is a lovely little village, in very pretty countryside, and we enjoyed our Staffordshire expedition.