Caroline Herford and Laura Herford: Family Connections

Flier for Dr Lyons’s presentation (image from the University of Reading Art Collection)

On Wednesday 12th July, Dr Hannah Lyons, Curator of Art at Reading University, gave a talk with the title ‘Art Unlocked: University of Reading Art Collection’. The presentation was hosted by Art UK in collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Anatomical drawings by Minnie Jane Hardman (University of Reading Art Collection)

During an analysis of the drawings of Minnie Jane Hardman (1862-1952), of which there are about 125 in the Reading collection, Dr Lyons pointed out that Hardman had enrolled at the Royal Academy of Art barely more than 20 years after first woman had been accepted there.

Laura Herford

The woman in question was Laura Herford (1831-1870) and she gained admission to the Royal Academy in 1860 by giving her name simply as L. Herford; it was assumed that she was a man.

The name Herford has previously appeared in four posts on this blog, and it occurred to me that Laura Herford might have been related to Caroline Herford who had been appointed to University College, Reading in 1909 as the College’s first Lecturer in Secondary Education.

John Herford(1789-1855) & Sara Smith Herford (c. 1818-1870)

To establish the family connection we need to go back to John Herford, a Coventry businessman who married the landscape artist and educationalist Sarah Smith Herford. They moved to Altrincham, Cheshire (now part of Trafford), in 1822 where Sarah founded the Unitarian Boarding School for Girls, and John set himself up as a wine and spirit wholesaler in Manchester. John appears to have had a varied career that also included stockbroking, insurance, pharmacy and membership of the Manchester Town Council.

Of their surviving children the most relevant here are William Henry Herford (1820-1908) (see below) and, of course, Laura Herford (1831-1870) who, as already noted, was the first woman to be enrolled at the Royal Academy of Art. Tragically, Sara died giving birth to Laura.

Another daughter of William and Sara was Mary Chance Herford, the mother of Helen Allingham a gifted watercolour painter. Thus, three generations of women (Sara Smith Herford, Laura Herford and Helen Allingham) achieved distinction as artists. Charles Herford, the nephew and biographer of William Herford commented thus:

‘…the distinguished career of Laura Herford (who first obtained the opening of the Academy Schools to women), and in the next generation, of her niece, Mrs. Allingham, indicate a strain of not inconsiderable artistic endowment in the family. (Herford, C. H., 1916, p. 30).

William Henry Herford (1820-1908

William, the older brother of Laura Herford, was an innovative educationalist and clergyman. He founded Lady Barn House School in Fallowfield, Manchester in 1873, a co-educational day school for pupils aged from seven to thirteen. William’s approach to running his school was strongly influenced by the ideas of Froebel and Pestalozzi. His espousal of co-education and experiential learning with the child at its centre was controversial at the time and produced shock in some quarters.

William Henry Herford, Brother of Laura and Father of Caroline (image obtained from Lady Barn House School)
Caroline Herford (1860-1945)

William Herford retired in 1886 at the age of 67 and passed on the headship to his second daughter Caroline who continued to run the school according to her father’s ideals.

This continued until 1907 when she gave up the headship to care for her father in his old age. A year after William’s death in 1908 she accepted the post of Lecturer in Secondary Education at University College, Reading.

C. Herford
Caroline Herford, daughter of William Henry Herford (image Courtesy of the Manchester Art Gallery)

So there is indeed a family connection between Caroline and Laura Herford; Caroline was Laura’s niece and the cousin of Helen Allingham.


To Dr Hannah Lyons for permission to use the image from her presentation.

To Dan Slade, Deputy Head of Lady Barn House School, for information, documents and his Powerpoint presentations about the Herford family.


Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography: Brooke Herford.

Herford, C. H. (1916). A memoir of W. H. Herford. In W. H. Herford, The student’s Froebel (revised edition). Bath: Isaac Pitman.

Lady Barn House School website:

Sadler, M. E. (revised by Curthoys, M. C.) (2004). Herford, William Henry. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: OUP.


The Tamesis Scandal Supplement

In January 2023 I mentioned that in the early 1900s, University College, Reading had a good reputation in some quarters for its treatment of women students. At the same time I pointed out some of the unpleasantness women students faced, and cited examples of misogyny in Tamesis, the official College magazine. The worst of these, though, was not in the magazine itself but in an unofficial ‘Tamesis Scandal Supplement’ published, presumably by male students, in June 1927.

Brief details of its content are in the earlier post but, for the moment, I want to use it as an example of the meticulous preservation work that is undertaken by the University’s Museums and Special Collections team.

When I came across it nestling among the official copies of Tamesis, the four-page supplement was seriously damaged, flaking (see image below), and very fragile. In my post I explained that it has been removed from the Reading Room at the MERL to be repaired.

This work has now been painstakingly completed by Victoria Stevens ACR, Paper Conservator at the University Museums and Special Collections Services.

Before & after
The Tamesis Scandal Supplement before and after repair

Victoria explained to me the process of repairing and preserving this and similar documents. She describes this as a ‘light repair’ with a minimum amount of ‘filling in’ the missing parts:

    • Cleaning with a latex sponge;
    • resizing with methyl cellulose dissolved in alcohol;
    • repairing with Japanese paper made from kozo fibre (a thin, but very strong, long fibre);
    • storing in a folder of acid-free card within a transparent Melinex archival polyester wallet.

The document is still very fragile but available for reference in the Reading Room at the MERL where it can be found in its original location among the 1927 issues of Tamesis (Call No.: University History Collection–TAM).

Unfortunately, the rejuvenation of the supplement does not make the sentiments it contains any more palatable. But more of that and the context in which it appeared in a future post.


To Victoria Stevens ACR, Paper Conservator at the University Museums and Special Collections Services, for carrying out the repair and sharing all the details.