Saturday, 28 February 2015

At Oxford and Stratford

Continuing with my 22-year-old grandmother's 1922 summer tour for teachers from Canada (and other British Dominions and Colonies) to Britain and the battlefields of France with the Overseas Education League .. 

In the previous post, she had crossed the North Atlantic on the Canadian Pacific steamship Scotian. On docking at Southampton, the group was taken to London to where they would finally meet Major Frederick Ney - who was making the final arrangements for the group's tour. Contrary to the original printed itinerary, I believe they must have first rallied at the Pembridge Gardens Hotel in London, rather than travelling direct to Oxford by special train from the Southampton docks.

While he appears in OEL literature as the 'Honorary Organizer' Major Ney was actually the originator, promoter, main organizer and key person raising funds and 'services in kind' to transport, shelter, receive, educate and entertain the groups. His devotion to his mission spanned a period of decades from the time before the Great War 1914-1918 until after the Second World War and into the 1950s.
In writing these posts, I am using the terms Colony, Dominion and Empire as Major Ney employed them - for historical reasons. Many Canadians were thoroughly finished with the concept of 'Empire' after the Great War.  
Further, on terminology: Recently-written scholarly papers on Ney state that he continued to promote the 'Empire Youth Movement' as the name for his student tours even into the 1950s rather than using the term 'Commonwealth'. There was debate about this as .. 'some officials felt strongly that "the word Empire stirs up so many noxious feelings" in the colonies'.

The map below shows the British railway system circa 1900. Southampton appears at the south-west corner of the map. From London, the group would have travelled roughly west to Oxford and later to the north-west corner of the map to visit Stratford-on-Avon, before returning to Oxford.
from: Handy Reference Atlas of the World; J G Bartholomew; 1904; London.

from: The Railways of Britain, Past and Present; OS Nock; 1947; BT Batsford, London.
The Southampton docks after World War 2. The ship-to-passenger-train connections may have been made at the far side of the docks. In the centre is a large ship in a floating drydock.

from: Alden's Oxford Guide 1903; Alden and Co Ltd, Oxford.

[note: it is actually a 'Norman crypt' or Romanesque.
The Victoria League program - see July 16 - below is incorrect.]
from: Alden's Oxford Guide 1903; Alden and Co Ltd, Oxford.

from: Google Earth, 2015

I believe this was the house to which Mabel and three others were invited for tea after church.

The Victoria League was a voluntary charitable organization which still exists. Back in this era it functioned as a type of Imperial glue to foster better relations with the far-flung parts of the Empire. A similar organization existed in Canada - the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire - "One Flag, One Throne, One Empire". As the IODE was not at the 'centre of the Empire', it generally felt it was getting short shrift from the VL and the relationship always suffered accordingly.

from: Alden's Oxford Guide 1903; Alden and Co Ltd, Oxford.
The martyrs were: Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer.

from: Alden's Oxford Guide 1903; Alden and Co Ltd, Oxford.

Letter continued from above:

'We spent Friday at Stratford ..'

from: Stratford on Avon; HW Tompkins; 1904; JM Dent, London.

from: Stratford on Avon; HW Tompkins; 1904; JM Dent, London.

In a small, separate album, I have found a handful of tiny, uncaptioned prints of Mabel's tour with the OEL.

Mabel Rodger (right) and fellow OEL tour participants in Britain

Beginning the tour at Oxford and Stratford immediately presented several concepts about 'the centre of the Empire' to the teachers just arriving from the Dominions and Colonies. Here are a few passages from the letter above:
  • We have been through all the Oxford Colleges and all they contain and show would take a month for me to relate. 
  • .. the English well-to-do people are so nice. 
  • .. the afternoon teas we are invited to are unexplainable. 
  • .. we have scenery at home it is Nature's; here, everything is so well preserved.

The women teachers stayed at an ancient centre of knowledge which had existed for 800 years and which had eventually been 'encouraged' to provide undergraduate examinations to women for almost 50 of those years.

Reference was made to the monarch-centred mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Local church officials had been martyred for their beliefs by a church based in Rome.

The teachers were warmly received into a sophisticated foreign social sphere with its own complex traditions and customs.

They were taken to the home town of an astute observer of the human condition - whose observations were still apt 400 years after his death. His works were widely known and studied in their home Dominions and Colonies.

In terms of understanding The Empire .. the teachers had seen little of what made it a successfully functioning 'empire' up to this point in the tour. The things they saw were worthy of continued preservation because human knowledge and genius, and ancient objects of aesthetic beauty, are worthy of careful preservation.

*  *  *

There are more letters and artifacts to follow. I have only skimmed the letters to ensure they are in chronological order before I assemble the components for each post.

There is also the 15-page manuscript my grandmother prepared about her tour. This was presented, by invitation, as a speech to a meeting sponsored by the Women's Institute after her return to Canada.