|Rushden Argus, 25th May 1917, transcribed by Kay Collins
School Teacher’s Claim
Scene in Newton Bromshold School
Judge Radcliffe Decides the Case
At the Wellingborough County Court on Thursday, his Honour Judge F. R. Radcliffe, K.C., spent a couple of hours in hearing a case in which the late headmistress of the Newton Bromshold Church Day School sued the managers of the school, claiming a month’s salary, and in the end getting a seventh of the amount sued for.
The plaintiff was Miss Rebecca Morton, school-mistress, Eastfields, Newton-road, Rushden, and the defendants were Messrs. J. Harris, sen., J. Harris, jun., W. H. Simpson, and W. H. McCleery, managers of the Newton Bromshold Schhol, and the claim was for £7.10s., one month’s salary.Mr. H. W. Williams appeared for the defendants.
Plaintiff, who is slightly deaf, conducted her own case, and first put in the formal agreement showing that she was appointed in October 1st at a salary of £90 a year, on a three months notice.Mr. Williams objected to the agreement being put in, as it was never completed.His Honour said if plaintiff was allowed to into the school he presumed it was on the terms of the agreement.
Plaintiff, continuing, said there were some things in the agreement which she objected to. These she crossed out and put her initials to. She was entitled to three months; notice, that being the general custom all over the country. She waived that, and merely claimed for the month’s salary, though she still thought she ought to have the full sum. The original document giving her notice was delivered by hand. The next day Mr. McCleery had taken the keys, and she found there was a male teacher in the school. Plaintiff detailed the interview she had with Mr. Holland, and put in the letters which passed between them.Mr. Williams said Mr. Holland was not a party to the action, but the Judge thought the whole of the correspondence should be put in.Plaintiff, continuing, said Mr. Holland was willing for the plaintiff to have three months’ notice if she would work it out at another school. She had had two solicitors to act for her, but finally came to the conclusion to do the job herself. Her last solicitor gave her up because she would not accept the offer made. The offer was something of a nature worthy of Prussian militarism.
His Honour: Why was it you were dismissed?
Plaintiff: I don’t know; I have never been informed.
In answer to Mr. Williams, plaintiff said the piece of wood produced did not bring anything to her memory. She never struck one of her teachers with it. She remembered December 14th (the day it was alleged she was dismissed), when Mr. McCleery came to the school. She did not know why he came. She knew the “person” (Mr. Mortimer) sitting in another part of the court. She was not aware that she was rude to either of the two managers. They had some very queer managers. One of these knocked her away from the door. She could not prevent him coming into the school. She was not holding the door against him, but she was trying to shut the door against Miss Boddington, her assistant. Plaintiff had not previously twisted that young lady by the wrist out of the schoolroom, nor had she laid her hands on her. She was not in bad temper. When Mr. McCleery and Mr. Mortimer came into the school she did not hear anything being said about assaulting the girl. Just before going Mr. McCleery said, “You have assaulted Miss Boddington.” He said the school would be closed next day, but said nothing about plaintiff being dismissed, for she knew it was beyond his power to dismiss her. She thought the coming of the two managers was not with any good intent. In the morning she had told Miss Boddington that she must continue the duty of overlooking the playground. Apparently she had seen someone, for the next day she declined to do it, remarking that her duty was confined to the infants. During 20 years plaintiff had been in the profession she might have had 14 places. She has a disagreement with the rector when he fetched the children to church. The managers, when they came in, seated themselves on the table. Mr. McCleery interfered with the discipline, and told the children to stand. Plaintiff then told him that she was the mistress. Then he pulled out Mr. Holland’s letter, and said he was going to read. Plaintiff then snatched it from him and crumpled it up. If Mr. McClerry went into the school as one of her employers he was interfering with her children, and it was not a proper thing to read a letter to the children. She had a reason for calling Mr. Mortimer the name she did, for he was not fit to be a school manager. She was not surprised that she had been dismissed.
Quarrel with Assistant
Plaintiff now read a lengthy statement denying that the reference to the assault had anything to do with that claim; if there was a case it should have been dealt with before the magistrates. The trouble with Miss Boddington arose through her not obeying her reasonable request. She should never forget her treatment as long as she lived. If she had accepted the offer of the Education Committee and gone to another school she would have allowed herself to be branded as guilty of the offences which had been alleged against her, and would rather sweep chimneys than go under such men.
Mr. Williams, in reply to the Judge, said the school managers as a body subsequently confirmed the action of two of their number who had decided upon dismissing the plaintiff.
Miss Boddington, one of the witnesses brought by the defence, was called at the plaintiff’s request, and proved plaintiff’s alterations and signature to the terms of the agreement. Witness then alleged that plaintiff, on one occasion, because witness w=did not go out into the playground, got hold of her wrist and turned her out into the porch, until the playtime was over. In the struggle witness’s arm was pinched in the doorway, and the foot witness put in to prevent the door being closed was beaten with a stick by plaintiff.
Plaintiff, desiring to cross-examine the witness, was told that she could not, as she was now plaintiff’s witness.
Mrs. Florence Mortimer, with whom plaintiff had lived, spoke of the good relations that exisited between plaintiff and herself.
Mr. Williams, for the defence, said there was considerable legal difficulty in that case, owing to the peculiarity of the law as to the management of such schools by a a body with limited powers in the matter of employment and dismissal. If that had been an ordinary case of master and servant he should, on the admissions of plaintiff, has asked the judge to dismiss the case on the grounds that plaintiff had so misbehaved herself that the employers were entitled to dismiss her summarily without notice. In this case, however, plaintiff was suspended on the occasion referred to, and subsequently that suspension was confirmed and a resolution passed which in effect meant dismissal with a month’s notice. Something, however, had happened in the meantime. The Vicar and plaintiff had both seen Mr. Holland, and with a view of making things easy she was given the opportunity of entereing employment elsewhere as a temporary teacher. She would not consent to that, as her spite was not satisfied, and now he did not feel justified in assisting her in that direction in putting his client, the rector, into the box to be cross-examined, for it would not be in the public interest of the church, or of any other school. He closed by suggesting that plaintiff was technically entitled to the smallest measure of damage.
Plaintiff read another statement to the judge.
His Honour proceeded to give judgement. He presumed that in future no county authority would admit a teacher into the school unless they signed the form of agreement which was drawn up.Plaintiff: Am I bound to it?His Honour: No, you never agreed to it. Proceeding, the Judge went on to say that a person who might have six months’ notice was not entitled to put his hands into his pocket and say he would so nothing more. His duty was to do as much as he could to reduce the loss as much as possible.Plainif: Am I forced to do it?His Honour: No, but in that case you can’t claim damages.
Plaintiff then read another statement on this point, making certain allegations against two gentlemen connected with the County Council, and characterising some of the proceedings as being akin to “petty larceny” and “robbery with violence.”
His Honour said it was clear that if the managers had acted according to their strict rights as to what happened on December 14th they would have been justified in summarily dismissing the plaintiff, because what took place to a large extent before all the school children, and what more undignifying display could they have then a battle encounter between the two mistresses before the children, or a battle encounter between the headmistress and two of her managers? Plaintiff: What about provocation?His Honour (continuing) said the managers did not stand on their strict rights, but gave plaintiff a month’s wages. Having commented on the fact that plaintiff had declined to accept the offer of temporary work made to her in January, the Judge gave a verdict for £1, with costs.