Samuel Danks – School master

Samuel Danks – a man who was integral part of the community for nearly 70 years, knowing everybody and known by everybody.

Origins

Born in Dudley in September 1841, Danks was the son of Joseph and Harriet who took the infant Samuel to the town church a week before Christmas to be baptised. Life was tough for the family as around the time of Samuel’s birth, his elder brother had died, aged three. By the time Samuel was nine his mother was involved with education in some way as she is recorded on the census of 1851 as a School Mistress. She may well have been keeping a ’dame school’ in the family house and as Samuel grew up, he began to help his mother.  By 1861, Samuel was an assistant School master at Kingswinford, five miles from Dudley. Joseph died in 1856, so Samuel was supporting his mother and two sisters. Their accommodation in Kingswinford was not salubrious as it was sandwiched between two inns and there was a couple living in the same house.

Fulwood School

In 1865, Samuel moved to Fulwood, probably in the summer ready for the autumn term. As the master of the National School, he would be expected to attend the church regularly. He was evidently homesick as he described to reporter when he retired some 45 years later sending a letter back to his friends saying that he would be back within a month. Having travelled from his home to Sheffield by railway, he got a horse omnibus to Brooomhill, then another to Ranmoor and then walked to Fulwood. To post that letter, he would have needed to get to Broomhill.

Family

When he first moved to Fulwood, Danks may well have lodged with the family of George and Harriet Mills who were living at Stumperlowe, a term that includes the area either side of Fulwood Road, just east of the church. Henry was a table blade forger and father of four children, the two eldest being Eliza, a dress maker, and Joseph who was working alongside his father also a table blade forger. Now Eliza was the same age as Samuel so it was no surprise to the Mills that Samuel proposed to her and they were married on New Year’s Eve in 1867. Their child, George Arthur was born in June 1869 but tragically Eliza died two months later. Samuel was able to afford a plot in the churchyard for Eliza that became the final resting place for his family and descendants.

Samuel and George were living next door to the Mills family on Goole Green. On visits to his family back in Staffordshire, Samuel met Anna Hughes whom he married in the summer of 1871 and they returned to the Fulwood. Over the next years, five children were born to Samuel and Anna.

A Community Man

Samuel became well-known figure in the local community with much of his involvement being centred on the parish church. He was also in the background of local politics. In 1876 Samuel Danks and Alfred Dearman were appointed as Pinders at the Court Leet of the Duke of Norfolk. There is something incongruous about the local school master and a banker (as Dearman was described in the marriage register for 1865) being responsible for dealing with stray animals. But this time, Courts Leet originally a medieval court were waning so perhaps these posts were mainly nominal.

In the summer of 1881, Danks won first prize for his cottage flower garden at the Hallamshire Floral and Horticultural Society. He was at the annual dinner early in September alongside his neighbour Daniel Coupe who occupied the chair and Captain J W Dixon of the Hallamshire Rifles.

Danks was a regular attendee at meetings of the Upper Hallam Conservative Association and his name is amongst the landowners and industrialists who lived in the area. He was at the committee dinner in September 1883 when John Bingham, later Colonel Sir John occupied the chair along with the recently promoted Major J W Dixon and Daniel Coupe.

In the 1890s the perceived threat to National Schools which were run by the Church of England from the newly created School Boards exercised the minds of Danks and his fellow conservatives. They held meetings to support sympathetic candidates to the Board, one of which took place in November 1894. Chaired by Col John Bingham, those at the meeting bemoaned the potential cost if Board schools took on the pupils of National Schools but more significantly the secular nature of these schools. Henry Ashington, a Fulwood resident and one of the candidates, pointed to ‘the absurdity of talking about teaching religion without doctrine’ commenting that ‘they might as well try to make apple dumplings without apples.’ These views have echoed down the years and are still raised regularly today.

Danks was elected a churchwarden, a position from which he retired in 1899 when he was appointed a sidesman.

Retirement

Samuel Danks on his Retirement

When Danks retired as headmaster in 1909, the Telegraph printed a ‘Special’ article This began by stating that during 44 years at the school he had taught the young how to shoot! Danks, wrote the journalist, had seen mischievous boys and angelic girls grow to be men and women and had taught their children the same lessons. He had also taught ‘less useful lessons imposed by the whim of educational authorities and fads of inspectors.’ One example of the latter type was ‘lectures given by peripatetic scientists to a mixed class on their insides and how to feed and dress a baby’ which had the boys grinning up their sleeves and afterwards laughing and talking about it to the girls. Danks dismissed such teaching as ‘a shear waste of time’ and would be, no doubt, be turning in his grave if he heard about sex and relationship education of today. He bemoaned the change in examinations from individual to collective which he claimed destroyed the competitive rivalry among children and made a teacher’s life more difficult.

The Special ended by Danks was compared to Goldsmith’s Schoolmaster – the man who is an integral part of the community who knows everybody and who is known by everybody. His retirement home would be that which he and Mrs Danks had occupied since their marriage where he tended his numerous roses when not traversing the Derbyshire Hills.

He was, thought the reporter, ‘good for a century’ a thought that was not far off the mark as he celebrated his 90th birthday, still living at Goole Green Cottage.

Reading the article prompted Urban Swift to write to the paper. Swift was an old pupil, along with William Parnell, W Brightmore and William Wall.

Thomas Wilson of the snuff mill family and son in Law of Henry Dixon of Stumperlowe Hall, alerted readers of the Telegraph to the desire of the school managers to mark Dank’s retirement with a testimonial. Was this the result of Sift’s letter? Wilson invited people to attend a meeting to appoint a committee to carry out the idea. However the event was organised, it was a great success. A ‘great many old scholars, some past the prime of life’ were present along with the ‘leading members of the community’ (my emphasis) such as Laycock, Dixon, Wynn and Wilson. The speakers took a ‘pop’ at the unreasonableness of requiring a man of 67 years to retire and Danks himself expressed again his views on the state of education.

Danks was clearly held in great esteem. He was presented with a cheque for a substantial amount which had been collected by the committee. The evening concluded with a concert programme.

After retiring, perhaps not surprisingly, Samuel Danks almost disappears from the records. He maintained a connection with education through his role a trustee of the Fulwood Education Endowment. He represented the ratepayers of the district, a role he relinquished in 1930.

The final two mentions in the Telegraph were on his diamond wedding anniversary 1931 and on his death just under a year later. Both articles rely heavily on the one published back in 1909. Towards the end of the article in 1932, there is mention of Samuel’s children and a brief survey of the records shows their history.

The Next Generation

George Arthur, whose mother was Elizabeth, was a blade forger in 1891 but 20 years later he was an engine driver with the Grand Central railway. He married Clara Fletcher in 1909 and there were four children of the marriage. All the other children were the offspring of Samuel’s second marriage. Charles Edward was a cutlery works manager when he married Edith Clarke at Woodhouse in 1908 and there were three children. Their home was in Nethergreen Road. Laura married Arthur Schofield, a ‘car conductor,’ of Crookes in August 1906 and there were five boys, two being born before the first world war and two afterwards.

The other children were all married at Fulwood in 1920. Helena was 36 when she married Ernest Horatio Jones, a widower, on 5th April, followed three days later by her brother John Ashton who married Annie Mason of South Grove Farm. Then, in early September, Thomas Reginald (born 1883) married Hilda Lee who was 15 years his junior. Thomas was the only child of Samuel to stay in Fulwood. In 1939, he and Hilda were living in ‘White Cottage’ on Brookhouse Hill.

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