A Proper Victorian School Mistress




Elizabeth Oliver, 1892, aged 23

Cradley Links is grateful to Margaret Simpson for this extract from the journal, or diary, of her Great, Great Aunt, Elizabeth Oliver, born in 1869, at 16 Church Rd., Cradley where she lived with her parents. Elizabeth never married, she was a school teacher, and devoted her life to her pupils and her numerous nieces and nephews.

Margaret remembers her Great Aunt Annie telling her "She was a proper Victorian school mistress, but she was very kind and always seemed interested and listened to what I told her".

Elizabeth taught at Cradley Church School and at various other schools in and around the Cradley Area.

This is an account from her journal, and we join Margaret in thinking it proves how devoted she was to the children she taught.

As for young Johnny - John Henry Bashford - he was just six years old when he fell to his death at the pit where his father, Sergeant Bashford, worked as a banksman.


6th June 1907

Little Johnny Bashford (my favourite at Wollescote school) walked up to school in the morning with me for the last time before being killed.

10th June 1907

Very heavy rain storm at 2 o clock, children so wet, was obliged to give them half a holiday. Wiped Johnny down and put two picture cards inside his waistcoat before he returned home.

11th June 1907

Little Johnny Bashford came to me on leaving school at ¼ past 4 (Tuesday) for some flowers, I told him I only had buttercups and daisies "well I likes them" said he, come along then and have them. I gave him a nice bunch of blue bells and buttercups, saw him off out of school, and he was never seen again. He didn't go home to tea nor all the evening, him parents searched and told the police, when late bedtime came they gave up the search distracted, thinking someone was keeping him perhaps, though fearing something had happened to him. Next morning when his father, a collier, went to the pit close to his home, poor Johnny was found at 7 o clock, dead at the bottom of the pit shaft, some distance from where he had fallen in. He must have gone straight from school to meet his father, but the workman had all gone home for the day, and had put a low railing round the mouth of the shaft. Johnny I suppose got peeping, climbed up and fell over, someone saw him playing there just after 5 o clock, then not seen again.

The poor boy's parents said someone had shut him in a cupboard when he was 3 years old, and this had so frightened him that it brought on fits to which he was always afterwards subjected and which made his mind a bit wandering at times. He was such a dear little fellow, on his way home from school often went to someone's house or shop to ask for some dinner or tea, this made him well known, and either a nuisance or favourite with all. He once went from Lye station to Cradley Heath on a train and back by himself, and at the time he had a broken arm, he would also wander off on long walks on his own.

15th June 1907

Went with Winnie Lavender and Lucy Ward (teachers) to Johnny's house to take a beautiful cross from us teachers, and an anchor from the scholars.

Sunday 16th June 1907

Johnny buried in Lye cemetery I was there, and some members of the Salvation Army sang as he was buried.

27th June 1907

I went to Lye cemetery took a cross, filled it with water and flowers and put it on Johnny's grave.

3rd October 1907

I went and planted flowers on Johnny's grave.


The fact that this six year old child's death badly affected Elizabeth is beyond doubt, and this came only three weeks after the death of her sister-in-law and friend, Annie Louisa Oliver, who died in childbirth giving birth to Aunt Annie.

In later life, Elizabeth moved to Stourbridge where she died in 1961 aged 91.


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