How Miss Cooper's petticoats parachuted her into pond
In last month's Voice, Mangotsfield historian David Blackmore examined the history of the Dame School, which educated generations of children in the village. Here he looks at the story of a teacher who taught there for more than 40 years.
FOR well over four decades, Frances Cooper was the schoolmistress of the little National or Dame School in Mangotsfield, which stands at the junction of Richmond Road and St James Street, opposite The Red Lion pub. For more than thirty years she was a lodger in the nearby village of Downend.
Her story starts in the parish of St Martin-In-The-Fields, Middlesex, which is now part of Westminster, where she was born on December 12, 1792 at Hunt's Court, Castle Street, to parents William and Ann Cooper. She was baptised the following year at their parish church of St Martin, which stands at what is now the corner of Trafalgar Square.
Frances first appears in the 1841 Census, living in Soundwell Lower Pit, as a 48-year-old school teacher. In 1851 she was lodging with Rev Robert Brodie, the perpetual curate of the parish of Mangotsfield, at Cedar Villa, near the Green Dragon, Downend, presumably due to their shared association with the National School. She was shown as the "Mistress of the National School For Girls, Mangotsfield" in 1861, while still lodging with Rev Brodie, who had retired two years earlier and was recorded in the census as “Now without care of souls”. By 1871 Frances was living on her own near Reform Place, Downend, due to the Rev. Brodie moving to live in Cornwallis Crescent, Clifton.
There is a quite novel story relating to Frances, recorded by Rev Arthur Emlyn Jones in his book Our Parish, Mangotsfield and Downend. One very windy morning “Sweet Little Miss Cooper” left her home in Soundwell Lower Pit and set off as usual for the schoolhouse in Mangotsfield. It was slow progress as she struggled along the lane clutching her bonnet, while at the same time frantically trying to hold down her voluminous petticoats in a vain attempt not to show her pantalettes. She was clearly fighting a losing battle when, suddenly, there was a very strong gust of wind, which caused her petticoats to billow out like an umbrella. So small and lightweight was she that it lifted her off her feet and she was blown across the lane into a pool or well of water.
Fortunately someone had seen the incident and swiftly came to her aid. With her teeth chattering and her corkscrew curls now straight, she was taken back to Soundwell, where her neighbour Betty Wilmot, who ran a shop and bakery with her husband William. This good lady no doubt put Frances to bed with a drink or something 'that really warmed her up'.
There was no school that day, much to the delight of her pupils, whom she ruled with strict discipline, in spite of her diminutive appearance, supervising them from atop a little raised wooden platform where she used to sit at her table.
Frances died in Downend on Sunday May 2 1880, when 87 years of age, and was buried on the following Saturday at Christ Church, Downend. She is recorded as being the School Mistress for well over 40 years, which would indicate that she first joined the school some considerable time before the census of 1841.