The original French Protestant School was founded in 1747 and closed on 18th July 1924. The adjacent French Protestant Episcopal Church of the Savoy closed at the same time. In place of the school, the Westminster French Protestant School Foundation was sanctioned on 29th April 1927 with a view to assisting qualified beneficiaries to attend schools where they could prove they are of Huguenot descent and are in financial need.
Pupils of the school outside Hadham Hall, Herts around 1910
The French Protestant School, catering for girls only and known
also as the Blue Coat School, moved to its final site at 233 Shaftesbury
Avenue in London’s West End in 1846. Madame Flecknoe acted
as school mistress from 1894 until its closure in 1924. She
was a widow and it seems that she was retained on a very small
salary and had to run the school on a shoe-string. She normally
stood in class as straight as a poker with her hands behind her
back. She is buried in Hillingdon cemetery.
Although the regime had Dickensian overtones, Madame Flecknoe had the respect and love of her pupils. She had to make all the girls’ dresses herself and her successful management of the school was evident in the admirable qualities of the pupils when they left the strictness of school for the rigours of business and domestic life afterwards.
The pupils wore a blue serge dress, summer and winter, with red flannel petticoats and a white mob cap based on 18th century French costume. The tuckers worn at the top of the dresses around the neckline had to be crocheted by each pupil herself.
Tea consisted of bread served from a large pewter platter and any girl considered to be disobedient was denied this and had to go to bed hungry. There was a hot dinner on Wednesday but because it was hot, there was no pudding.
There was never any butter or jam but sometimes the girls had treacle on dry bread – the treacle being served from giant size Golden Syrup tins. As for puddings, there was just apple pudding on Sunday and on Saturday apple peelings. For this, the girls used to sit on the wooden stairs to the kitchen and one girl used to go round giving each pupil a handful.
When apples were scarce, tapioca pudding took its place. This was made by two of the older girls and when Madame Flecknoe was out of the way, they used to make small extra ones in patty tins. If she was heard approaching, they were hidden in what was known as the beetle cupboard because the kitchen, like most in those days, was infested with large black beetles. The girls also used the grouts from the coffee Madame Flecknoe had – they never had proper coffee themselves.
Liquorice powder was administered every Tuesday night. There was no bathroom and only one toilet for the girls’ use in the basement. Their bedrooms were on the top floor, the schoolroom below this and the Committee Room on the floor below that. This had long black boards around its walls bearing the names of those who had given donations to maintain the school in gilt lettering.
There were two very large bedrooms called the Upper Room and Lower Room with single iron beds, each with a small enamel chamber pot underneath. As there was no bathroom, two large tin baths were utilised. They normally hung on the wall in the scullery next to the kitchen. The older girls bathed the young ones and themselves in front of the kitchen fire which seemed like luxury except for having to empty the baths by hand afterwards.
Otherwise, the girls had a strip-down wash each morning with water being obtained from a cold tap outside on the landing and poured into old-fashioned basins in the bedrooms.
The girls rose at 7am and had to perform all domestic tasks themselves with one to be done before breakfast - which consisted of porridge made with half a pewter mug of milk. The whole kitchen, stairs and outside steps had to be scrubbed, the stove black-leaded and all furniture polished. Meal tables were furnished with pewter plates.
There was even a real-life Cinderella at the school. The older girls laid out and lit the large stove first thing in the morning and one – whoever was on the rota – had to sift the cinders, taking the ash to the dustbin in the outside yard and returning the useable cinders to the fire. A special frock called the ‘cinder frock’ had to be worn by the girl performing the duty which involved swallowing much dust over their years at the school.
After breakfast each girl, still seated at the one very long table, read a verse from the Bible. In the Committee Room were shelves of red-bound books, all being stories of escaping Protestants. Madame Flecknoe encouraged the girls to read a lot in their very little leisure time.
The Committee met monthly and the invitations for it were written out by a pupil chosen by the school mistress. For this she received sixpence, but this was taken from her because the girls were allowed no money whatsoever - other than one penny a term as pocket money – enough to enable them to buy sweets at a shop called Scammels in Seven Dials.
The girls at the school acted as the choir for the Savoy Episcopal Church next door and St Anne’s Church, Soho when the Savoy Church was closed for a time. They were taught singing by Miss Stollery, the niece of the school mistress.
There were two annual trips – one to the French Hospital
in Victoria Park where the school sang to the residents and the
other to Hadham Hall in Hertfordshire owned by Miss Minet.
Three of the older girls were also allowed to go to see a pantomime in the Princes Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. They sat in the gallery, which probably would not have cost more than threepence a head.