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Mark Poxon & Pamela James
"Granny" Hensman
The Rushden Post, Dec 1983

Woe betide if there are any spelling mistakes in this week's Post - because sprightly centenarian Mrs Elsie Hensman can still teach us a lesson or two!
Mrs Hensman of Crabb Street, Rushden, celebrates her 100th birthday tomorrow (Friday), in the company of her niece Audrey Haynes, who's flown in from Malta especially for the occasion.
A keen churchgoer, Mrs Hensman spent all of her working life as a schoolteacher in Rushden.
She has also devoted much of her life to work at Rushden Hospital's sanatorium, for which she was awarded a B.E.M. in 1977.
"When I was teaching, my speciality was English", she pointed out. "If any of this article is wrong I'll ask you to re-write it!"

On her 100th Birthday

Biographical notes by Mark Poxon, 2007

Born Elsie Marion Childs in Crabb Street, Rushden to parents Amos Childs (b abt 1852, Newton Bromswold) and Rosa Deverick (b abt 1847, Wootton, Bedfordshire). Her father was recorded as a "Foreman - Boot Factory" at the time of the 1901 census.  Born on 2nd December 1883, she was baptised at St Mary’s Church on January 6th 1884. 

Later she moved to Newton Road School where she taught H E Bates, who, when he started writing books, always sent her a signed copy. 

In 1912 she married Harry Hensman who was born in Grove Road, Rushden. His birth was registered in Wellingborough in the March quarter of 1887. He was baptised along with his sister Lily, at St Mary’s on 27th June 1899 and their parents were Walter & Annie Hensman. Walter was a shoemaker.  

Harry, a Boot Clicker at the time of the 1901 census, was killed in action on 31 July 1917 probably on the Ypres battlefield. He was a Private in the 2nd Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment and he is commemorated at the Menin Gate, Belgium, one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient.  Elsie was living at 2 Crabb Street, Rushden at the time of Harry's death.

In 1925 when the Rushden Intermediate school was opened Elsie transferred and taught there until she retired.     

Known as "Grannie Hensman", she was notorious as being very strict. Her niece Gladys Maud Hensman (born 1921) said that her aunt was even stricter with her, to show there was no favouritism. Another niece, Audrey Childs kept a shoe shop opposite Rushden Library.      

Above - aged 100 with niece Audrey Haynes.
Top - Granny with Nellie Dickens (l) and Barbara Ward (r) two former matrons of the Sanatorium.

right - "Decorative Stitches - E. Hensman"
Sampler

From an interview by Pamela James 1975, printed in the Risdene Echo in Dec 2004

ELSIE MARION CHILDS (Mrs Hensman) was born on 2nd December 1883. She first went to school at the age of two and a half - to an establishment known throughout Rushden as Mrs Wagstaff s School. From there she transferred to the school at South End and then, at the age of ten, to Alfred Street.

The young Elsie's first teachers at Alfred Street were Miss Ladds and Miss Jacques. Mrs Hensman remembers her English lessons as dealing with grammar, the eight parts of speech, picking out nouns and verbs etc and the writing of compositions. For arithmetic, the children mainly worked from cards and did work involving simple proportion or the imaginary buying of shopping.

With a view to becoming a pupil-teacher Elsie Childs became a candidate on probation in 1896 but, as she was under-age, was not officially recognised as such until 1897. Whilst a probationer Mrs Hensman had to do odd jobs for teachers such as collecting and filling the ink­pots, inking the blackboard and sorting out the knitting!

In 1900 Mrs Hensman became a first year pupil-teacher attached to Miss Jacques. As a pupil-teacher Mrs Hensman attended school from 8am to 9am where she received lessons from the headmistress and after the school-day most of her evenings were devoted to homework. Lessons given by pupil-teachers were referred to as "Criticism Lessons" and, as the name implies, were watched by the teacher and then criticised. Before the lesson, however, careful preparation had to be done - the aim had to be given, the matter and the method detailed and this preparation was shown to the teacher. Mrs Hensman recollects that her first lesson was on "rabbits". During her time as a pupil-teacher Mrs Hensman showed great initiative in starting a cycle club for the girls.

Mrs Hensman became an assistant in 1904 and after taking a correspondence course, became a certificated assistant in August 1905.

Mrs Hensman remembers Alfred Street as having a good name in the town and of various businesses applying to the school for girls when they had vacancies. The library was well-stocked and if any subject was given more emphasis than others it was English and especially the writing of compositions and the appreciation of poetry. In needlework the girls in the upper-school made such things as chemises for their mothers, underclothes and nightdresses. Skills such as crochet and lace-making were also taught. In the lower-school the girls did a lot of knitting, making such things as stockings and babies' bootees. During the First World War, however, the girls knitted khaki socks for the soldiers.

After her marriage in 1912 Mrs Hensman remained on the staff until the summer holidays of that year. She did, however, return on 19th May 1913 as the headmistress and remained as such until the girls' school merged with the boys' school.

Mrs Hensman clearly remembers the County Scholarships that could be competed for. As there was no High School in Northamptonshire at that time the successful candidates transferred to the Dame Alice School in Bedford. Northamptonshire provided twenty-four places - eight for the Rushden area, eight for the Kettering area and eight for the Wellingborough area.

After leaving Alfred Street in 1914 Mrs Hensman taught at several other schools in Rushden until she eventually retired at the age of sixty-three.

Mrs Hensman enjoyed her school career. Although she admits to have being very strict she never used the cane but relied upon her tongue! Although Mrs Hensman was ninety-one on 2nd December 1974 she still teaches on a voluntary basis at Rushden Hospital where she instructs patients in handicraft. Sometimes children are admitted to the hospital and they, too, are taught by Mrs Hensman.

Pamela James, 1975

A selection of silks found with the letter below - dated 1925
Mrs. E. Hensman,
2 Crabb Street,
RUSHDEN.
January 9th. 1925

Madam,

We very much regret that none of the materials sent you for Down Quilts proved quite suitable, and as we have this morning received one or two rather fine Silks, we think these may be of interest to you, and we could make you up a quilt of any style in either of the enclosed samples.

The price for the B.L. Printed Satin, 6x5 with wide insertion of plain Satin, reverse printed Sateen would cost £4. 10. 0. or from the G.L. patterns £5. 7. 6., from the printed Silk patterns marked C.L. with wide Insertion and reverse of Jap Silk, £5. 19. 6. From the H.L.Patterns £7. 7. 0.

We could also make up a fine quilt in the S.B. quality in the S.B. Satin and the reverse plain Sateen for the same price.

Trusting that we may be favoured with your valued order and  assuring you of our best attention at all times to your esteemed commands,

We  are, Madam
Yours obediently,

Jeffrey, Sons & Co Ltd. (Northampton)

In 1977 Elsie was awarded a BEM for her long and devoted work at Rushden Hospital's Sanatorium. As chairman of the "Friends" of the hospital, she organised an annual fete "At Home" to raise funds.

A ward at the hospital was named after her, and she ran a library there for the patients. She would give lessons to any children there who were missing school.


Mrs Hensman's own memories Report of Mrs Hensman's BEM award Full account of the BEM presentation

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