Mary Juliana Pyne

Mary Juliana Pyne

b: 17 FEB 1841
d: 1927
1901 Census:

Gibbs Farm, Middlemead, Little Baddow, Essex (Parish of St Mary) [RG 13 Piece 1675 Folio 46 Page 16]

Mary J Pyne Head S 60 Retired Hospital Matron Born London, Paddington
Margaret A Kirman Boarder S 57 Retired Matron of Home Born Ireland
Effie Forbes Boarder 10 Born Gloucestershire, Cheltenham

From the James, Pyne, Dixon Family Book, 1977: By Alicia C Percival

"In 1874, Miss Mary Pyne terminated her probation. She had completed a year at that remarkable pioneer institution, the Florence Nightingale Training School for Nurses, and was about to start on her nursing career. In this she continued for over twenty years, most of which she spent as Matron of one of the largest London Teaching Hospitals. A tablet on the Chapel wall there testifies to her eighteen years of service. At the end of that period, she retired to Essex and bought 'Gibbs', then a farm, in Little Baddow, where she remained till her death and where there are still people who remember her. The three periods - before, during, and after her professional career - seem like three different lives, but one can clearly see the same personality running all through..

Mary Juliana Pyne was the eldest of six sisters, daughters of Henry Pyne, a solicitor in the Civil Service. The family came from Somerset; 'Juliana' was a name in the Rawlins family with which Pynes were connected. Henry worked in the Poor Law Commission; then in the Tithe Commission, with an office in Somerset House. His most important piece of work was the compiling of Tables to be used in commuting the tithes. Mary was proud of being his daughter and devoted to both her parents (her mother had been Harriet James, granddaughter of the Rugby Headmaster) and loyal to the family, with which she kept in touch all her life. In the last century, a strong feeling for the 'clan' or outlying family was more usual than it is today. There was a great deal of visiting among the cousinry, as well as correspondence, friendship and gossip - though, quite apart from such visits, Mary was a travelled young woman before she took up her career.

She was a Londoner born (1841), of Porchester Terrace, Bayswater, though the family moved soon after to Bloomsbury to be near her mother's parents, close to St. Pancras church, where Harriet James and Henry Pyne had been married. The Pynes lived in a house in Crescent Place (now Burton Place) which had been designed by Burton the architect for himself. The sisters went to the school and classes in Bedford Square which was eventually to develop into Bedford College. But when Mary was fifteen, she was sent from August 1856 to March 1858 to Dresden, to study music and languages so that she might teach her younger sisters. She was there for the full time without returning for any holiday, and was visited once only by her parents. This was undoubtely from shortage of money, not lack of affection, for her mother wrote to her every fortnight during that time, her sisters fairly often, and her father contributed a few but affectionate letters. The letters from her family, received at this time, have by a quirk of fate survived; her answers have not, so we cannot tell except by implication what her life at Madame Jung's school (she is always 'Mad.'-never 'Frau') was like. But the budget which was preserved and - fortunately - dated gives a vivid picture of an intelligent professional London family in the mid-Victorian era. They confirm and complement the account later written by her younger sister, Edith (see Reminiscences, EEC).

One impression has been mentioned-which agrees with other Victorian memoirs-the strong feeling for the larger family of aunts, grandparents and cousins, who so enriched the small group of parents and children. The series of news items referring to these (as well as to neighbours and to Mary's own friends; but these are much less frequent) is unending - and most of it bad! Laura (Dixon) is found to be consumptive and spits blood ('but rcmcmber to say nothing when you write'), and her mother, Aunt Bessy, is considering all the family's going to the Channel Islands for Laura's health. (They did eventually go there but on this occasion got no further than Hastings.) Fred King has an accident with a gun and loses a thumb -and perhaps finger - of his left hand. Louisa, a distant cousin on the Rawlins side, has fits. (These were epileptic--but she survived into her seventies.) Lionel Robinson -a neighbour, possibly son of their dentist of the same surname -is given a nomination to the Treasury but fails to pass the required examination. There is a constant reminder that Grandmama likes to have letters addressed to herself; not enclosed in anyone else's; this in spite of the extra expense. For the first few months the old lady is always 'intending to write' but eventually this pretence is given up and 'it is troublesome to her to write'.

There is the fascinating account of an abortive engagement, that of their cousin, Minny King. (She has to be distinguished from Minny/Herminah Dixon.) Mr. Harris, their neighbour at Minny's home in Chilmark, Wilts, is much older than Minny, who must have been about twenty, but Mary 'must not call him "old fogie", for Minny told [us] he was not more than thirty.... and if Minny does not think him too old, no-one else can object'. Unfortunately there is some financial trouble; Papa in one of his rare letters tells Mary: 'His property is in great danger from the failure of the British Bank which has made a great sensation throughout England during the last six months in consequence of the great number of persons whom it has ruined.' Whether because of his 'perplexing' finances or of the disparity of age, however, Minny breaks it off. Writing from 'Aunt King's', where she has taken one of the girls to stay, Harriet writes that Minny 'does not quite seem to have made up her mind about Mr. Harris.... a most unsatisfactory state', but eventually 'the luckless affair' is over. What would one give for Mary's, probably rather serious, comments on it! Minny, one is glad to know, married not long after; Mary was almost certainly at the wedding. Minny's daughter survived into the second half of this century, reaching her own centenary in l963.

One constant theme in the family news is health. Mary's is naturally a matter of some concern to her mother though fussing is not encouraged. She has to visit the dentist more than once and to get new spectacles. But it is generally good - or perhaps she omitted to report when it was not. Her mother is relieved to hear that she has got rid of one of her usual colds and that her 'swollen gland' is better. But the sisters seem to be constantly ailing. Had they, as their mother complains,' a constant propensity to take cold', or with five of them at home, was it only an average hazard for one to be indisposed? We hear that Edith has earache, that Harriet's eyes are so sore that she cannot work (i.e. sew) nor read ('but she is a good little soul and very cheerful'); and that Nelly (Helen) has a cold which makes her quite deaf. (Helen did, in fact, become permanently deaf at quite an early age.) Several times the children were held back from school and even Conny, 'the little monkey', looks peaky and in need of that never-failing prescription, 'country air'.

Fortunately one great advantage they had was that the children could always be packed off to their father's sister, Aunt King, at Chilmark, for convalescence or recuperation, and several of the sisters' letters are written from there. Alice once became seriously ill (see in Longer Accounts) - a feverish cold which turns to pneumonia. The nursing of the little girl without trained help must have been a serious business. 'Last night', writes her mother, 'I went back to my own room, having either slept or sat up with Alice since her illness first began last Friday fortnight'. Of course Alice goes to Chilmark to convalesce (but the word is not in use yet). Even here misfortune overtakes her as she and Aunt King are upset out of' that foolish little Dragonfly', evidently a very flimsy horse-drawn vehicle, and though Alice escapes with a few bruises Aunt King has to spend several days in bed to recover.

The great family event was that the Pynes moved house, though still remaining in Bloomsbury; they went from Burton Crescent to Endsleigh Gardens, to the house now occupied by the National Union of Students. The sisters described to Mary at some length the layout of the new home, telling her where each of them slept, including the French girl, Celine -not yet referred to by that senseless use of the term 'au pair'. (This originally meant that two girls from different countries exchanged visits without expense to either of the pair; later usage is quite illogical.) Rooms were shared, for they were a large party, Grandmama and Aunt Marianne joining forces with the Pyne household. Harriet Pyne's comment: 'It is rather a new life, joining with Granny and difficult to manage at first', is probably an understatement, as the old lady was partially invalid, quick-tempered yet intelligent. (It was by playing with her that Alice and Edith became s6ch good chess-players.) Later, old Mrs. James left them to go and live with her other daughter, Mrs. Dixon, at Tonbridge. No sigh of relief is admitted -but the Pynes reduced their servants from four to three!

Dress as a subject appears fairly constantly but not often in detail. (Expense is a factor, though not the only one.) It is a pity that Mary did not take out another winter dress, but this would be so difficult to send that she had better get one in Dresden. Other things can evidently be sent:
What sort of collar do you want, crochet or thick work? Is it a muslin skirt you want? with flower or plain? I should hardly have thought you would require it as you have your light silk frock if you require to go out - but you shall have what you really think necessary because I do not like you to be shabby and you will not abuse my confidence and will consider how many there are to provide for.

But there is no description, even of 'a toilette for Mad. Jung's birthday party' - which is disappointing, considering how much detail is often given in letters and memoirs, but of course we have not Mary's own letter about it. Almost the sole reference to clothes at home indicates that they were made by the invaluable Celine, who combined a talent - perhaps a French flair? - for dressmaking with nursing and looking after the girls generally. She must have had plenty on her hands; Mrs. Pyne says: 'I am having five grey winter cloaks made; it is like fitting out a school'. It was probably from her husband's family, rather than from her easy-going father, that Harriet had acquired the strong puritan spirit which eliminated any frivolous talk about dress and also showed itself in plain speaking on the most personal matters:
I hope you do not run out without a hat, it will make your complexion so very coarse and there is no occasion for that, you scarcely are attractive enough personally and We may as well make the best of ourselves, and there need be no vanity in doing so. I hear.... you have got quite stout, so you are destined to follow me after all; however, I hope you are quite well and that it ir not puff instead of strength

More advice about her figure is: 'take care not to have a botch of petticoats under your waist', also: 'Do not screw your hair back, but try to give yourself a look of more consequence'. (But one may note that when in her sixties, she was remembered by one child as having 'her sparce hair drawn back into a tight bun and no nonsense' - that did not detract from her 'consequence'!). Towards the end of her stay Mary is asked by a sister: 'Do you wear your hair in a cushion now?'.

Mary is constantly being reminded -though not unkindly - of how fortunate she is to have the opportunities, of which she should take full advantage. The family was not particularly well off and their means had evidently been stretched by this venture, for which Papa probably had to stint himself somewhat, considering the five others to be provided for. Mary does not seem to have complained that she came home for no holidays, except for a very natural depression during the first Christmas spent away from home. Bravely, after this first separation she implies that she will be happy in the holidays so they are not to be 'uneasy' about her. Madame Jung was evidently kind to the girls left in her charge and arranged expeditions for them. One of these visits or parties must have been noteworthy; Harriet writes:
1 am so glad you are in such good health and spirits and have had so much more pleasure than could have been anticipated during your holidays and trust that the recent expedition will give you ah the more vigour to return to your work when shool recommences. It was very kind indeed taking you that visit for meeting a celebrated literary man like Mr. Hans Anderson (who I know perfectly by name: he ir a Dane). It is something for you to remember with pleasure. By the Bye, I did not think much of those fairy stories, and his other work I do not know.

Mary was learning German, French and music (which meant primarily piano, though there are references to singing) and two hours' practice a day was considered the minimum needed in order to get the full benefit from the expensive weekly lessons. When owing to changes her practising time is reduced to one hour, her mother is very vexed. ('Shall I write anything about it to Mad..Jung? But she is not one to like interfering, is she?") She is very anxious that Mary shall return home 'très forte musicienne' and is prepared to be proud of her: 'Bring home some pretty music for playing in company.' Yet with all this encouragement, there is no reference to Mary's enioying her music, only to her father's pleasure in hearing her play when he returns from the office in the evening. She would be giving lessons to the younger sisters, and probably did his, though not one of them became anything of a performer in the art. Mary herself kept up her music in her old age, but the career of her middle life had nothing to do with the art or knowledge she acquired in Dresden.

In the next few years after she returned, Mary did take some responsibility for the sisters until one by one they left the schoolroom. They all married (one of them twice); she did not. Mary was intelligent and energetic; she was well-made though rather short and square, with a pleasant open face and blue eyes. Her hair was rather dark (and went white in her old age) and she carried herself well with an upright figure to the end of her life. She worked for a time under Octavia Hill, that great pioneer of social work, managing properties, collecting rents, etc., probably as a voluntary worker. This experience must have started when she was quite young, as in 1876 she mentions that she had been connected with work among the London poor for twelve years. By the time she was thirty, Mary evidently decided that voluntary social work was not enough and she must have her own career, permanent and professional, for which she would need training. Octavia Hill must have approved of her choice, for she herself wrote one of Mary's references for the Training School. Two were needed by Miss Nightingale; Mary's other one was from the Rev. Llewellyn Davies, a remarkable and progressive clergyman whose sister, Emily Davies, was a founder of Girton College.

Mary entered as a Lady Probationer (i.e. she was not supported from the Nightingale Fund which had been subscribed by the public; there was no other difference among those on the course). The training for the Nightingale Nurses had been devised by Miss Nightingale herself but though she saw (and set down incisive remarks on) every probationer, generally more than once, it was carried out by Mrs. Wardroper, the Matron at St. Thomas's Hospital. A large ledger survives in which an assessment of each probationer was noted every month under numerous heads: her characteristics and qualities as well as more detailed skills in the techniques of her work - dressings, bed-making, enemas. Not surprisingly, the summing up of Mary was: 'Moral character, perfectly satisfactory'. Her record was almost uniformly 'Good', on a scale of Excellent, Good, Moderate, or Indifferent; her 'Observation', however, improved from 'Moderate' to 'Excellent'. One week happens to survive from the diaries which had to be kept of the day-to-day tasks -washing patients (and crockery), giving bed-pans, feeding babies. Dates are given of the periods when (which would cause some surprise today) she was given charge of a ward. This must have drawn Miss Nightingale's comment: 'Felt her wants in Ward Training - a professional sort of mind; would develop very well.'

Mary Pyne came satisfactorily to the end of her probation on 16th January 1874. Ten days later, she went to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary as 'Head Nurse'. This was not her position in the hierarchy, where she was third or fourth, but the equivalent of 'Sister'. (That title, because it was used by nuns, was in some hospitals regarded as 'Romish'; Miss Nightingale, who never courted opposition, was quite prepared to have her qualified ladies given some other designation.) In the July after she went there, the Matron, Miss Pringle, with whom, as with her other superiors there, Mary got on very well, recommended that she should be appointed 'Assistant Superintendent of Nurses', to which post she was shortly afterwards appointed. It was perhaps then that she discovered that her best work lay in teaching nurses rather than in actual nursing; this became important in her later career.

In 1875, she made an attempt to come south to take a position in London and the first surviving correspondence with Florence Nightingale is about this attempt, which proved somewhat unfortunate. Mary's devotion to her parents partly accounts for her wish to get to London; she also had ambitions for a post of sole responsibility, but she had to wait for this quite a long time. In all, she was for six years at Edinburgh-which period included the move of the whole Infirrnary to new quarters.

Then there came a spate of activity -letters, applications, testimonials -and with Miss Nightingale's support she applied for what was evidently considered the plum job: the Matronship at Westminster Hospital. This post was really a dual one, for she was in fact 'Lady Superintendent of Nursing' and Matron, being the first in the history of the Hospital to have this double position. At a recent reorganization of the Westminster's nursing arrangements, the Matron had ceased to be merely the Housekeeper without teaching responsibility and became the teacher of the nurses as well as supervisor of the nursing itself. As explained, it was the teaching which Mary seems to have enjoyed most and at which she was most successful- (shades, perhaps, of her ancestor, the Headmaster!). A Home Sister was appointed to run the Nurses' Home and Miss Pyne was evidently able to have some say in this, as the first holder of the post was Miss Margaret Kirwan, with whom she had worked in Edinburgh. She and Mary Pyne became close friends and when they retired together, Miss Kirwan devoted herself to Mary's concerns, living with her till the latter's death.

To Westminster then, was Miss Pyne appointed on 5th October 1880 and despite some slight difficulties at the start (her predecessor went off without giving her any information about the Hospital, Home, work or patients) she settled down quickly. She found the Wcstminster a great contrast in size to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary but wrote cheerfully to Miss Nightingale that she was reconciled to living in a band-box as it was a snug little place with many advantages. Almost all we know of her in her capacity as Matron is derived from the minutes of the Hospital's House Committee and it does seem as if the good terms on which she started continued almost unbroken till the end. The one serious criticism voiced seems to have been on the catering for the hospital medical staff, for which she was responsible and, by family tradition, not very successful. But, supported by much book-keeping evidence and a majority of the Committee, she got away without censure though perhaps slightly disturbed and more prepared for retirement. When at last she sent in her letter of resignation the House Com- mittee unanimously resolved that it should be accepted, with much regret, and desired 'to record their high appreciation of the unremitting zeal, ability and loyalty with which she had carried out the duties of Lady Superintendent of Nurses and Matron of the Hospital for the past 18 years'. As a summary, this can hardly be improved on.

Mary Pyne's long retirement was spent entirely at Little Baddow, except for travel which included visits abroad, certainly up to the 1914 war. She went to see old friends, including those with whom she had stayed in Dresden. In her own village, she was one to whom people turned for action in emergencies, but this did not exhaust her energy; two activities specially absorbed her - her home, especially the garden, and teaching children. She never exactly set up a school, though her classes were sometimes described in this way, but she did a great deal to supplement the work of school in a most delightful and characteristic way. (Music in all its forms, including what we should call 'Music and Movement', was still her first love; she kept up her playing as well as teaching it.) Her teaching was chiefly given to children who, being delicate or for some other reason were not attending the village or private school, or else lessons were given in holidays, on Saturdays or otherwise out of school hours. With all her sisters married, and most of them having grandchildren, there was no lack of the younger generations to keep up her interest. 'Gibbs' was an ever-open door to cousins and local children but more widely to strangers also. A Rhodes Scholar from New Zealand came in vacation; a family of children connected only through a sister's husband; a notable Suffragette, supporter df Mrs. Pankhurst in her prison days; a party of camping scouts; soldiers from the War - all were welcomed. But it is as a teacher that most who survive now remember her. 'When I was a Matron', she once wrote,'I used to teach girls to nurse; now I am old, I teach children to dance.'

She once had as a visitor a very small girl who had first been brought to Gibbs as a baby by her mother, a much-loved niece. The child, though staying away from home for the first time, was blissfully happy. There were always things to do at Aunt Mary's: you sang French songs; you were pushed in the swing or you picked currants with her, but she also let you loose to play all by yourself in the exciting garden. There was a rustic porch facing the morning sun where you had breakfast on fine spring days - boiled egg and honey from the honeycomb. At night you had bread and milk, but if it was brought to you in bed, you had to get out and clean your teeth afterwards. Aunt Mary was a managing old lady with a firm decided manner; 'Aunt Maggie' (Miss Kirwan) was gentler and more cosy but both were so kind that you were never afraid, not even in awe of the ex-Matron. They gave what children need most - affection, activity and complete reliability.

To fill out this summary of Mary Pyne's life, there are three sources of information: such family correspondence as survives, especially from her mother*; Hospital references (unfortunately the minutes of the Westminster's Home Committee were pulped during the last war); and the reminiscences of those who knew her in retirement. The first gives a revealing picture of the family from which so many of us are descended. The second has the wider historic interest of showing something of the training and work of a profession that was just developing and is now fully accepted. The last is interesting because of the person she was and the way that the new generations looked on this active survival of the Victorian age. The reaction of her community can be summed up in the subtitle given to the portrait painted of her and Miss Kirwan: 'Friends of the Village'-a judgment not lightly given.

[*but not forgetting the remarkably interesting letters from (and her drafts to) Miss Nightingale.]"
  • 17 FEB 1841 - Birth -
  • 1927 - Death - ; Little Baddow, Essex, buried Woodham Walter, Essex
  • BET 1856 AND 1858 - Fact -
  • BET 1873 AND 1874 - Fact -
  • BET 1875 AND 1880 - Fact -
  • BET 1880 AND 1898 - Fact -
John Pyne
1774 - 1853
Henry Pyne
2 JAN 1809 - 9 FEB 1885
Mary Juliana Pyne
17 FEB 1841 - 1927
Thomas James
1780 - 1853
Harriet James
25 DEC 1819 - 13 MAR 1895
Family Group Sheet - Child
PARENT (M) Henry Pyne
Birth2 JAN 1809
Death9 FEB 1885 Woodchester, Gloucestershire
Marriage7 APR 1840to Harriet James at Old Church, St Pancras, London, England
FatherJohn Pyne
MotherHannah White Rawlins
PARENT (F) Harriet James
Birth25 DEC 1819
Death13 MAR 1895 Eastbourne, buried at Woodchester, Gloucestershire
Marriage7 APR 1840to Henry Pyne at Old Church, St Pancras, London, England
FatherThomas James
MotherMary Ann Watkyns
FEdith Elizabeth Pyne
Birth28 SEP 1845Porchester Place, London, Middlesex
Marriage2 JAN 1868to Ayrton Chaplin , Rev
FMary Juliana Pyne
Birth17 FEB 1841
Death1927Little Baddow, Essex, buried Woodham Walter, Essex
FAlice Pyne
Birth21 OCT 1843
Death191718 Merton St. Oxford, buried St. Cross, Oxford
Marriage1869to John Granville Grenfell
FHelen Sophia Pyne
Birth27 MAY 1844
Death1931The Manor House, Stawell
Marriage1865to Edward Frederick Grenfell
Marriage1878to Allen Dowdeswell Graham
FHarriet Pyne
Birth22 AUG 1847Bloomsbury, London.
Death1929Warneford Hospital, Oxford - buried in Ealing Cemetery
MarriageFEB 1866to Frederick Henvey , I.C.S
FConstance Pyne
Birth2 APR 18515 Burton Crescent (Cartwright Gardens) Bloomsbury, London
Death19294 Ladbroke Square, London W11, buried at Kidlington, Oxfordshire
MarriageOCT 1874to Jervoise Athelstane Baines , K.C.S.I.
[S12758] Ann Gregory (Mendell)'s copy of 'A short account of the Families of Chaplin and Skinner........' with annotations by Ayrton Chaplin & others
[S3841] The James, Pyne, Dixon Family Book, compiled by Alicia C Percival, publ London 1977