Our Staffordshire dame school is a fairly rare treasure. The several that I have seen are quite consistent in appearance, with one exception: sometimes the benches holding the tiny pupils are angled, sometimes they are parallel to each other. The dame always holds a book in one hand and a very large broom in the other!
Recollections of the Potteries' early 19thC Dame School Students: Charles Shaw attended “Betty W’s school” until he was seven, and tells in his memoir, “The school was the only room on the ground floor of her little cottage. It was about four yards square, with a winding, narrow staircase leading to the one bedroom above. The furniture was very scant, consisting of a small table, two chairs, and two or three little forms about eight inches high for the children to sit upon.” Betty did not teach writing, but she did teach knitting, so boys like Charles learned to read and knit, not read and write.
Emanuel Lovekin was born in the Potteries in 1820. “When quite young, I was Sent to an Old Lady’s School, Whose name I know they called Tilly Wilson,” he wrote. “I must be very young for I cannot remember any thing I learnt but a Song. She was a Primitive Methodist and She used to place us on a bench or form, and sing ‘O ye young ye gie ye proud, you most die and ware a Sroud,’ And that’s about all I learnt, I was Small for my age. Still at about Seven and a half years old, I was Sent to work in a coal pit.”