BIGRAVE, Rickmansworth, 1830's

June 2001

Paul Tidman (ptidman @t of North Canton Ohio USA writes: My great grandmother was Gertrude BIGRAVE who married George TIDMAN--they immigrated to Canada at the beginning of the 1900's. Gertrude's father was James Samuel BIGRAVE, who, according to the 1881 census was a hairdresser in London. James was born May 1 1838 in Rickmansworth which is what has brought me to your pages. I've just received James's birth certificate. His father was Thomas Woods BIGRAVE whose occupation is listed as School Master. I'm a college professor so I'd love to find out more about this educator in my family tree--where he taught, what subjects, etc. James' mother has quite an exotic name-- Peace Marie DE LA CALLEY, which has me intrigued to find out more about her if possible. I found a listing for Thomas' baptism on the IGI for October 1, 1805, Tabernacle Ind. St. Luke, Finsbury, London --father John BIGRAVE, mother Sarah. That's as far as I've been able to trace things back thus far. I'd be grateful for any information or suggestions you might have. Thank you..

A check of the Rickmansworth entries in the Hertfordshire trade directories of the period throws some light on what Thomas Bigrave was doing.

In Pigot's 1823/4 directory the only school listed was a gentleman's boarding academy run by a J. Smith. I do not have access to the 1832 edition to be able to say who was listed then.

The 1839 edition lists Thomas Bigrave, Misses Miles (day and boarding), Joshua Smith (boarding) at Basing House, ant the National School with William Plaistowe as master and Jemima Plaistowe (possibly his wife) as mistress. 

The 1850 Post Office Directory is alphabetical and none of the individuals in 1839 are listed and a quick scan revealed no private schools. The National School was run by Stephen Yates and Miss Mary Yates. (If Thomas moved to another similar school in London or Middlesex you may be able to find him in a London directory of the period.)

The Rickmansworth Baptismal Register for the period has been indexed on the British Vital Records Index CD - and there are no relevant entries - but this is no great surprise if his father was baptised in an Independent chapel in London..

My interpretation is that Thomas ran a private day school (almost certainly for boys only) in his own house. He almost certainly taught everything himself, possibly helped by his wife or even a older pupil teacher if the size of the school justified it. Instruction would probably have been limited to the three "Rs" (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic), religious instruction (non-conformist were more active in promoting education than the Anglicans) and perhaps a bit of general knowledge. 

As a teaching aid he may well have subscribed to "The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge" which was published weekly (8 pages an issue) and covered a wide range of encyclopaedic topics which the children would have found interesting. For instance the issue of 2nd January 1836 had articles on dancing (with an engraving by Hogath), the lemurs of Madagascar, umbrellas, the tallow-tree of China and a visit to a lead-mine plus several short items.

The very fact that he was listed in a trade directory suggested he was several steps above the straw plait schools which would have taught pupils from a tender age to earn up to six pence a day by plaiting straw, with a little education thrown in by the often ill-educated dame that ran them. In fact Thomas's pupils were probably a dozen or so sons of reasonably well-to-do local trades people, and a few may later have moved on to a public (i.e. private) boarding school such as Eton or Rugby.

There was no general examination system, no inspections, and the only records of who attended the school could well be his personal account books - which is very unlikely to have survived. In fact I suspect that most surviving information on how such schools were run come from biographies of people who were educated in such schools, and contemporary fictional accounts.

It would be well worth checking the microfilm of the 1841 census to see if Thomas was still in Rickmansworth then - and whether there were any boarders staying in his house - which would show that it was a boarding school.

After that the best one could hope for is an advert for pupils in a local newspaper - and it may be that he had all the pupils he needed by word of mouth and never advertised. (If an advert exists it may say little more than "Mr Thomas Bigrave can take new pupils from October" - which hasn't told you much.

You might be lucky in finding out more about Thomas (but not his school) in other Rickmansworth records - for instance rate books may survive which lists the dates he paid rates (and so was resident in the area). However such documents will not normally be indexed and often are not microfilmed so the search for "needles in the haystack" is not easy even if you live near the records office (HALS)

Shirley Disson  (ldisson @t has written:

To Paul Tidman

Hi Paul

Your great grandmother Gertrude was my grandmother's sister, Sarah Francis.  It was just great to see all that information, and so exciting.  I have only just found James Samuel as in my edition of the 1881 Census the name has been misspelt as Bygrove, but I have linked it all up okay now.  I have my grandmother's marriage certificate to George Alfred Perry dated 31 July 1887 and her address is stated as 18 Fann Street, Aldersgate, London.  This is within the City of London (within the City walls).  James Samual is a hairdresser who is married to an Eliza DellSarah' certificate is also witnessed by Peace Marie Bigrave whom I presume is her sister and a William Henry Reeves.  I can recall my mother talking about  Auntie Peacie and I think I must have met her as a child. I have some rather ancient photographs which I will send a copy when I get the scanner working, they may be of interest to you.

Happy hunting, will be in contact when I find out more.

Just off to France for a week so look forward to hearing from you on my return.

Shirley Disson.

I find it very rewarding when this web site brings "lost" relatives together.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.


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