Date:January 06, 2013

Emma Shellaker


Teacher Training


Willow Tree Brunswick Street, Leicester

Back in the pre-internet day in March 1998 I received a letter from Patrick King of Wales who was researching the family history of his wife Anne who was descended from a Hannah Shellaker of Lyndon in Rutland. Patrick had found Emma, while searching for ‘Shellakers’ on a surname index, living in the ‘St. Margarets’ area of Leicester in the household of Mr. Robert Johnson.

The information in the 1881 Census reveals Emma was living at 94, Brunswick Street, in the St. Margarets area of Leicester. Brunswick Street can be found located off Humberstone Road, in what is now the ‘St. Matthew’s Estate’. Only part of the street remains in name, none of which remains residential or contemporary to the time Emma lived in the street.

This photograph, which was taken around c.1912 shows the Willow Tree pub which stood on the corner of Willow Street and Upper Brunswick Street and is thought to have dated back to around 1850.The people seen here are standing in Willow Tree, Brunswick Street is the street on the left on the picture, in which a small part of a residential house can be seen, which in all probability is very similiar to the house in which Emma Shellaker lived in 1881. This public house, together with the house in which Emma boarded in 1881, was demolished in the general slum clearance of the area that took place after the Second World War.

Below is a copy of part of the relevant Census Return for 94, Brunswick Street, Leicester. The entry for Emma Shellaker is the second name from the bottom.

1881 Census Emma Shellaker Brunswick Street

1881 Census – Emma Shellaker in Brunswick Street , Leicester

Name Relationship Condition Age Occupation Where Born
Robert Johnson Head Marr 61 Framesmith Leicestershire, Smeeton
Mary Speckly Neice Unmarr 28 Housekeeper Leicestershire, Syston
Mary Speckly Neice Unmarr 25 No Occupupation LeicestershireEast Norton
Emma Shellaker Boarder 14 Scholar Leicestershire, Tugby
Keturah Kempin Boarder 12 Scholar Leicestershire, Tugby

I speculate this ‘Katurah Kempin’ is ‘Kate Kempin’ who attended the village school at Tugby with Emma. Her name can be seen on the bottom of the page of the school register shown above. She was the daughter of Mary Kempin who ran the village grocery store in Tugby. Incidentally that there is a ‘Mary Speckly’ on the Tugby School register, but it must be a different girl to the ‘housekeeper’ above as the dates of birth are dissimilar. However it increases the probability that Emma Shellaker knew the Speckly family.

The street map of Leicester below is from 1885, a mere four years after Emma Shellaker lived there. It shows the street – Brunswick Street on the far right –  as it was when Emma was boarding in the area. Most of the houses in the street have now totally disappeared – demolished in 1961 as part of slum clearance. Humberstone Road still remains but the Leicester Inner Ring Road (St. Matthews Way/St. George’s Way) and Dysart Way now dissects through this area. For those who know Leicester, the area of the map in the bottom right showing railway siding is now the St. George Retail Park.


The picture of the house above was taken around 1960 and shows a house in Upper Brunswick Street, located directly north of Brunswick Street. This house is typical of the house in which fourteen year old Emma Shellaker boarded. Brunswick Street was situated around ten to fifteen minutes’ walk from the Wyggeston Girls School which, in 1881, was located in Humberstone Gate, which was then a tree lined street (The building is now used by ‘Age Concern’). A tramway ran along Humberstone Road which Emma may well have used to make the short daily trip to and from her school.  This map above shows the location of the School on the left. The Clock Tower, an famous Leicester landmark, is also situated to the left of the map above the Market Place.

In August 1998 I received conclusive proof Emma Shellaker attended Wyggeston Girls School when Christine Bates, one of Emma’s granddaughters, sent me a letter, part of which is written below ;

“I remember my mother saying that Granny (Emma) went to Wyggeston School and what a help she was to Granddad when he had to give estimates for work. She also kept the accounts of the business, as she could do this better than granddad. At the back of my mind I could remember seeing a book of Granny’s while she was at the Wyggeston School, so I have been turning out draws and cupboards and Hey Presto! After much looking I found the two enclosed books which I’m sure you will be interested in and I’m please to lend them to you. One is dated May 26th 1879 and the second one has items dated 1884, so these tie in with the dates of 3rd April 1881 as in your newsletter.”

The one below on the left dated May 26th 1879 is a school book dating around the time that Emma attended Tugby School (14th October 1872 to 18th June 1880). This book contains Dictation and Transcriptions on subjects including Scottish Kings, the History of Ireland, Richard the Lionheart, Robert the Bruce, Boadicea, Catching wild-fowl in St. Kilda, Insects, Mites & Ticks, Napoleon Bonaparte, The God of Nature, The Silk Worm and the Reigns of Kings of Israel. Emma used the books, sometime later, to stick various general newspaper cuttings and also to press leaves from trees and ferns. These old pressed leaves still remain in the books.

It is the book on the right proves Emma Shellaker attended Wyggeston Hospital Girls’ School; the name of the school, together with Emma’s name is on the front cover. In this book the date – ‘November 29th 1881’ is written on the first page. (Emma, at this time, had passed her fifteenth year.) The book is headed “Scripture” and contains prose and poems by Scott, Wordsworth, Alfred Tennyson and Longfellow. There is a report, possibly copied from a newspaper, dated 17th November 1883 also the date ‘1884’ is written towards the back of the book. Emma was seventeen years old at the start of 1884, her eighteen birthday was on 15th August 1884.

Emma Shellaker's School Books

Top corner of Emma’s School book from Tugby                                           Emma’s School book from Wyggeston School

From these dates, together with information contained in the history of the school, it can be speculated with a high degree of confidence, that Emma Shellaker attended Wyggeston Girls School for about three or four years, most likely from August 1880, around the time of her fourteenth birthday on 15th August 1880. The dates in her school books prove she was there in November 1881 and in 1884, which was the year she left the school. Below I have included details of the school taken from the published history of the school, including the rule that “no girl was to be allowed to remain in …. the senior department after attaining seventeen years.”

Below is one of the examples of the poems in the books, on a page dated 1884, written in Emma’s own handwriting.

Emma Shellaker 1884 School Book


The School building.
Wyggeston Girls School The Girls’ school, is situated on the north side of Humberstone gate, occupying the whole of the ground between Clarence Street and Hill Street, standing back a little distance from the thoroughfare.

The building, which is Tudor in style, is composed of red brick and has a playground to the rear. The space in front of the school is laid out ornamentally. The building cost £8,000 when built. The main entrance is from Clarence Street, through an arched doorway, leading directly into the entrance hall, the floor of which is of white & red Mansfield pavement. Cloak rooms and lavatories are placed at the back of the hall. On the left is a waiting room; on the right are the Head Mistress’ room ; the teachers room ; the music room and the class rooms. The music room is 22 feet by 17 feet, and through it are reached four small compartments, each containing a piano, and having double doors, the inner ones covered with baize to exclude the sound of the instruments. The classrooms here of the same size as the music room.

The photograph above of Wyggeston Girls’ School was taken in 1878. Just two years prior to the year in which Emma Shellaker started at the school.

Outside, at the back, runs a covering of glass, as a protection for the girls in wet weather. Along a corridor to the left of the hall, are a lecture hall and more classrooms. From the back of the entrance hall, in the centre, a broad flight of stone stairs leads to the upper floor, on which is a large hall with an open timber roof and two large bay windows facing the front. Adjoining this large hall are three more classrooms.

School fees.
The school opened on Monday, the 17th of June, 1878 and had over 150 pupils prior to the opening, but had accommodation for 200 day scholars. The school was exclusively a day school, and was divided into junior and senior departments. The entrance fee was not to exceed 10 shillings in the junior, £1 in the senior department, and the yearly tuition fees were to be between £3 and £5 in the junior, and between £4 and £8 in the senior department. The minimum age for admission to the junior department was to be seven years, and to the senior department thirteen years, and no girl was to be allowed to remain in the junior department after attaining fourteen years, or in the senior department after attaining seventeen years.

Entrance Examinations & Daily Lessons
The examination for admission was to be graduated according to age, but never to fall short in the junior department of – reading monosyllabic narrative, and writing text hand – and in the senior department – reading ordinary prose narrative, writing from dictation, the elements of arithmetic, English grammar, geography, outlines of history, and elements of French.   The subjects of instruction were to be – in the junior department, reading, writing, arithmetic, geography (physical and political), English history, French, English Language and literature, drawing, domestic economy and the laws of health, needlework, vocal music, and one branch of natural science. In the senior department, in addition to the foregoing, – ancient history, Latin, German or Italian, additional branches of natural science, elements of geometry, and algebra.

“The History of Wyggeston’s Hospital and Schools”, written by George Cowie.  This book, published in 1893, contains information extremely contemporary to the time when Emma Shellaker was a scholar.

During the first year of Emma’s attendance at Wyggeston Girls’ School, after she had reached fifteen years old, her mother gave birth in the December of 1881, to her thirteenth and final child; a boy named JOHN. (He was my Grandfather).

Emma left Wyggeston Girls’ School in 1884. Some time afterwards she taught the children of the vicar of Tugby but she was not allowed to teach at the local school, which was probably her aim. The village school was controlled by the Church of England and as the Shellaker family were nonconformist it was said those in authority at the school would not permit it. She did, however, teach music and singing later in her life. She also taught her younger sister Nellie after they had moved from Tugby to their new home near Billesdon.

During one of our many discussions around 1999, Olive Swift, the daughter of Emma’s sister Nellie, told me Nellie had told her about Emma’s aims to be a school teacher and how this was prevented by those in charge of the school in the village of Tugby due to Emma’s non-conformist upbringing.  Olive also said her mother spoke of their father’s (Richard Shellaker) great annoyance over this decision.

On the Nellie Shellaker page of this website I offer a theory to account for a 18 month gap in Nellie’s schooling between the time she left Tugby School and later started at Billesdon.  I have included those comments below as they obviously also relate to Emma’s story……

  • It is proven Richard Shellaker sent Emma Shellaker to Wyggeston Girls School in Leicester having already achieved highest academic standard achievable during her time at Tugby School – the ‘sixth standard’.
  • We know Emma had spent between three to four years at Wyggeston Girls School from August 1880 to the summer of 1884 with the aim of achieving a level of education to the ‘seventh standard’ - the required qualifications for entry into the teaching profession.
  • It is probable Richard Shellaker went to considerable expense in providing this education for Emma – an entrance fee of £1 and yearly tuition fees of between £4 and £8. The school was a day school and so incurred additional costs for the boarding of Emma in the centre of Leicester plus the travel costs when she returned to the family home at weekends and during school holidays.
  • After Emma had completed her schooling at Wyggeston in 1884 she returned to Tugby and attempts were made to secure a teaching position for Emma at her local school in Tugby.
  • However we believe this was unsuccessful as the Church of England controlled the school and would not allow a teacher from a nonconformist family to teach at the school. Richard’s late mother, Sarah Shellaker, for a case in point, had been a paid member of the “Wesleyan-Methodist Society” and the family were very active members in the chapel congregation in the village.
  • Considering the time and expense of Emma’s schooling it would be understandable for Richard Shellaker to be infuriated that his daughter Emma was not accepted for a teaching post at Tugby.
  • Consequently he may have took the option if it was not acceptable for his daughter Emma to teach at the local school then he was not going to allow his youngest daughter, Nellie to be taught at that same school and subsequently he may have removed Nellie from the school in some form of ‘reprisal’ for Emma’s rejection.
  • Once the family had move to Billesdon in 1886 - see below, Nellie was enrolled into the school at Billesdon (in Gaulby Road) where she remained until June 1890 when she left at the age of eleven

The above is speculation but the dates and circumstances work.

In January 2013 I found a newspaper cutting proving Emma Shellaker taught Tugby village children in a ‘private school’ and I can be almost certain one of her pupils would have been her sister Nellie. The cutting is from The Northampton Mercury dated February 14th 1885, around eight months after Emma left Wyggeston Girls School.  The report is of a criminal case at the East Norton Petty Sessions* on 6th February 1885 against a man called J. Taylor of Tugby who was summoned to appear before the local Justices as he was not sending his son to the local village school and was charged with ‘neglecting to provide efficient elementary education for his child’. Mr Taylor called as a witness in his defence, Emma’s father, Richard Shellaker.

* Petty Sessions were courts of summary jurisdiction at which two or more local Justices would meet to deal with the more minor criminal cases and routine business that threatened to overwhelm Quarter Sessions.

Northampton Mercury

 East Norton Petty Sessions -1885 Feb 6EAST NORTON. PETTY SESSIONS, FEB 6. [1885] before Sir A. G. Hazlerigg, Bart (chairman) and Colonel Palmer.

George Harrison, school-attendance officer, summoned J. Taylor, of Tugby, labourer, for neglecting to provide efficient elementary education for his child. This was a case affecting teachers of private schools. The school-attendance officer stated that the attendance committee had to be satisfied that each child received efficient instruction, and they were informed upon his report that defendant’s child was not attending a certified efficient school but a “private enterprise” school in the village. Application was made to the Education Department, as to what should be done in this and similar cases. They replied that “school” in the bye-laws of the attendance committee was defined to be a “certified efficient school”.

If a child were attending some school not certified efficient, the attendance committee could test the efficiency of such school if they had reason to suspect it, by prosecuting the parents of the children attending. The onus would lie on the defendant to prove that the child was receiving efficient instruction. The Officer said he had no power to make inquiry into private schools, except by the courtesy of the teachers.

The Chairman asked the defendant if he had any proof that the school his child was attending was efficient? Mr. Shellaker, father of the schoolmistress, produced two certificates his daughter received from the Tugby school, and stated that she attended for two years after passing the examination. He produced the recent and former handwriting of defendant’s boy to show the progress made.

The Chairman considered the certificates were satisfactory evidence to prove that the school was efficient. Mr Harrison said the only proof of efficiency was to bring the child for examination. The Chairman: Who is to examine it?

Mr Harrison replied that is was for magistrates to do that. The Clerk said in a similar case brought before a stipendiary magistrate, the latter said he was not going to constitute himself a school examiner. The Chairman said it was not for the Bench to examine a child in order to ascertain the means at hand for the purpose of giving instruction. What they wanted to know was whether the mistress was competent to educate the children, and he considered the certificates put in proved she was. The Clerk said they might was well “pull him up,” as his children were not receiving instruction from a “certified efficient school”.

The Bench dismissed the case.

Obviously the daughter to whom Richard Shellaker refers at the Petty Sessions is Emma. I find it strange that the report does not detail her education at Wyggeston Girls School but it appears one sentence is missing something… the report reads  “…..produced two certificates his daughter received from the Tugby school, and stated that she attended [Wyggeston Girls School?] for two years after passing the examination. That makes more sense to the sentence (although Emma was a Wyggeston Girls School for four years not two).

Maybe the court reporter did not get everything written down correctly – it would not be the first time a newspaper had omitted or got the facts wrong! So it appears Emma taught at the very least, her sister Nellie, Mr Taylor’s son, the children of the vicar of Tugby and maybe even the children of the Clerk at the Petty Sessions who admitted his children attended a school not “certified efficient“.

Next Page: The Family move to another village