In 2018, I was in touch with Lady Barn House School, a mixed independent school in Cheshire. It was the school my father had attended in the 1920s, and my contact was the Deputy Head, Dan Slade, a historian and the School’s archivist.
Apparently, one their Head Teachers, Caroline Herford, had once lectured at a college in Reading. Maybe it was University College Reading. I promised to see whether there was any mention of her in the University’s Special Collections, a search that made me aware of the wealth of material they held about the London Road Campus and early academic life there, material that led to the creation of this blog.
Caroline Herford did indeed figure in records for the academic years 1909-10 and 1910-11. She was a colleague of Edith Morley, her neighbour in Morgan Road, and a fellow suffragist. Her first cousin, Professor Charles Herford (1853-1931), had been Morley’s examiner and later her colleague at King’s College, London.
By the time she arrived in Reading, Caroline Herford had already spent 21 years as Head of Lady Barn House School and had been one of the founders of Withington Girls’ School in Manchester.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography dismisses Herford’s time at Reading in a few words:
‘After [her father’s] death, she was briefly a lecturer at University College, Reading.’
In her five terms here, however, she certainly left her mark. In fact, hers was a landmark appointment; she was the first Lecturer in Secondary Education at Reading and set up the forerunner of Reading’s Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). It was for women only, starting with a class of 6 – a modest enterprise compared with current recruitment of 246 students – and bore the grand title of ‘Postgraduate Course for the Training of Secondary Teaching (Women).’
Students were entered for the Cambridge Postgraduate Certificate and, like today, it was a one-year course. Fees were £20 per session, reduced to £15 for residents of Reading and the surrounding counties. Students spent three mornings a week in a girls’ school and paid observational visits to other schools.
As the only Secondary Lecturer she had to pull together an interdisciplinary team from outside her department to provide short courses on the teaching of specialist subjects. This included:
- Professor Childs (College Principal and Reading’s first Vice-Chancellor): History
- Professor Morley: English
- Professor Keeble: Elementary Science.
Other courses dealt with Maths, Geography and Drawing, and lectures on Plato’s Republic and the Philosophy of Education were delivered by Professor de Burgh (Dean of the Faculty of Letters).
Caroline Herford left Reading in 1910 for a Lectureship at Manchester University where she remained until 1918. During the War she was a Commandant for the Red Cross in Lancashire, for which she was awarded the MBE in 1919. She was one of the founders of the Manchester University branch of the British Federation of University Women and a member of the Manchester Society for Women’s Suffrage.
During her lifetime she made a valuable contribution to the field of education as a lecturer, teacher and headteacher. She was an advocate of mixed education during a period when it wasn’t popular, promoted cricket and lacrosse for both sexes and campaigned for women’s rights in education. She served on the Manchester City Council’s Education Committee, was a magistrate, school governor and later a member of the Somerset Education Committee.
According to the website of Withington Girls’ School where she taught Biology:
‘Miss Herford enjoyed the reputation of being a redoubtable woman, vigorous, forceful and a splendid teacher. For the most part her pupils admired and stood in awe of her, though there is no doubt she also had the power to intimidate.’
Brian Richards, 14/09/2021
Morley, E. J. (2016). Before and after: reminiscences of a working life (original text of 1944 edited by Barbara Morris). Reading: Two Rivers Press.
Oxford University Press (2004). Oxford dictionary of national biography. Oxford: OUP.
University College Reading. Calendar, 1909-10 & 1910-11.
Dan Slade for sending me his notes and Powerpoint presentations about Lady Barn House School and Caroline Herford’s part in its history.
John Peel of the Manchester Art Gallery for permission to use the image of Caroline Herford.