In Memory of Jessie Durbidge, B.A. (1905-1927)

Jessie Durbidge was a former student of University College, Reading and a teacher at Alfred Sutton Primary School. She died tragically of influenza in 1927 at the age of 21.

Jessie became a focus of interest as a result of recent research conducted by Professor Yota Dimitriadi and others into the burials in Reading Old Cemetery. Unfortunately, Jessie’s grave is unmarked and the precise location is unknown at present.

Jessie’s short life was recently commemorated on the cemetery website by Dr Rhi Smith of Reading University’s Museums and Special Collections Services. Dr Smith’s biography of Jessie can be found here.

Some additional information about her is contained in the University’s Special Collections and in the archives of Kendrick School.

Reading’s Special collections

Details of Jessie’s time as a student are fairly sparse – the annual report of the University College for 1923-24 states that she passed the Intermediate Arts Examination of the University of London in July 1924. And the Proceedings of the University for 1926-27 shows her degree from the University of London as ‘B.A., November, 1926. Pass, Division II.’

Jessie belonged to one of the last cohorts of students at Reading who were  entered for external degrees because their enrolment preceded the granting of the Royal Charter in 1926.

The short obituary below was published in the Old Student News in April 1927, part of a list that shows she wasn’t the only former student who failed to recover from an attack of influenza.

Old Students obit
Death notice published in Reading’s Old Student News.
Kendrick school

The archives of Kendrick School are a richer source of information thanks to the preservation of copies of the Kendrick Girls’ Magazine and the records of those leaving the school.

example of the magazine
School magazine from 1922 (the archives of Kendrick School)

Under the heading ‘Prefects’ Notes’, Jessie’s appointment as the new Head Girl was recorded in the Summer 1922 issue. A few pages later there appears an enthusiastic review of a charity concert written by a J. Durbidge. The event had taken place in St John’s Hall and had raised £15 in aid of the East Reading Day Nursery.

In Autumn 1923, a paragraph in the magazine’s editorial recorded Jessie’s move into higher education:

‘We are pleased to have good news of our former head girl… Jessie Durbidge is working for Intermediate Arts at University College, Reading, her subjects being English, History, Latin and Mathematics… we send our best wishes for the coming year.’

The same opening page documents Jessie’s success in the Oxford and Cambridge Higher Certificate and contains the following ‘Prefects’ Notes’:

‘We were very sorry to lose, at the end of last term, our Head Girl, Jessie Durbidge, and our Deputy Head Girl, Muriel Beasley, both of whom held office for five terms.’

Jessie’s final leaving record is shown below. It shows that she was a day-scholar who progressed to Kendrick in the Autumn of 1916 from Battle Primary School. Before her success in the Oxford and Cambridge Higher Certificate noted above, she had achieved Class I Honours in the Senior Oxford Examination in 1921.

Edited final record

Following her death, this obituary was published in the school magazine in the summer of 1927:

‘On March 25th, at Marlborough Nursing Home, Jessie Durbidge, B. A., of 16, Gloucester Road, aged 21.

It is with the deepest regret that we record the passing of Jessie Durbidge, who had been so helpful to the School as a Prefect and Head Girl prior to 1923, and from 1923-1926 was a Student at Reading University. In November last she had graduated as B.A., and had been appointed to Alfred Sutton Junior School.

Jessie had served on the Old Kendrick’s Committee since January 1924, and a wreath was sent in the name of O.K.G.A. friends and committee, in memory of one who had served the Association so happily and helpfully.’

It was not possible to identify Jessie on a school photograph of the time, but the enlarged section of an image from 1919 below shows how she and her fellow pupils might have looked during that period.

Detail of school photo
From the archives of Kendrick School
Thanks to:

Dr Emma Duncan of Kendrick School who searched the school archives for references to Jessie, and to the School for permission to quote from these sources and reproduce them here;

Dr Rhianedd Smith, Director of Academic Learning and Engagement, University Museums and Special Collections Services, University of Reading;

Professor Yota Dimitriadi of the Institute of Education, University of Reading. A book edited by Yota about Reading Old Cemetery is due to be published soon by Two Rivers Press. The provisional title is ‘Beyond the Arch’.


Kendrick School. Kendrick Girls’ Magazine, Summer Term 1922.

Kendrick School. Kendrick Girls’ Magazine, Autumn Term 1923.

Kendrick School. Kendrick Girls’ Magazine, Summer Term 1927.

The University, Reading. Old Student News, No. 13, April 1927.

University College, Reading. Accounts & Reports, 1923-24.

University of Reading. Proceedings of the University, 1926-27.