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International Women's Day blog post 4

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Changing times at Dalby House…

From the time it was built until the end of the Second World War, Dalby House had been a private house where women were wives, mothers, daughters or servants of the influential men of the house. Censuses from the time do not list women’s occupations, only those of the men, unless those women are servants. But, as society changed, so did the position and influence of women. The status and use of Dalby House would change forever, as would the influence of women on the property and its uses.

In 1946, Dalby House was up for sale. It was purchased by Miss E. G. Wilson, who renamed it St George’s House. She did not buy the house to live in; it now became a boarding house for Michael House School.

Here is the story of Miss Effie Grace Wilson and of Dalby House for much of the twentieth century. Researched and written by our volunteer, Jeff Buck. The main source of information is Alan Clayton, Archivist of Michael House School, who we acknowledge, with thanks.

EFFIE GRACE WILSON Born: 1877

Died: 25th October 1960

On 31st March 1946, Miss EG Wilson purchased what was then Dalby House. The property was brought into use in January 1947 and remained a hostel for boarders until 1965, when it became a residence for some of the teachers from the school, until its sale to Erewash Borough Council on 16th March 1980.

In Michael House days, the property was much more extensive than it is now. Gone are the dovecote, which was just inside the main gate, the cottage, which stood on the courtyard, and the stone balustrade.

Known to many Ilkestonians, Miss Effie Grace Wilson died in her 83rd year. The daughter of a clergyman, she grew up in the conventional atmosphere of a girl of her generation in a quiet scholarly rectory in Somerset. Early in her life, ideas of service to humanity turned her thoughts towards becoming a missionary overseas. However, social conditions in industrial England also claimed her attention and it was first in this sphere that these ideals of service were realised.

In preparation for this work she took a course in Social Study at the Woodbrooke Settlement in Birmingham (established by the Society of Friends) and it was there that she came in contact with one of the pioneers in social work – Miss Edith Lewis – who actively engaged in bringing about better social conditions for the workers in her father’s factory at Ilkeston Junction and for poor families living in the neighbourhood.

Miss Wilson joined Miss Lewis in her work there and from Miss Lewis, she heard about the philosopher and teacher Rudolf Steiner so began a serious and intensive study of his teachings, living for a time in Dornach, Switzerland, where his work was being developed at the Goetheanum.

Among her many studies she took a course in Eurythmy and, having gained proficiency in this new art of movement, she returned to England to teach it, introducing it at the Institute at Ilkeston Junction and also at Bennerley School, then the Ilkeston Secondary School.

Rudolf Steiner’s ideas were relevant to all aspects of life. However, the focus became education, which interested Miss Wilson all the more, as a teacher. She visited the Waldorf School in Stuttgart, which was growing under Steiner’s direction.

When plans were made by English educationalists to open a Steiner school in this country, she was one of the first five teachers prepared by Steiner for this task. From 1925, when the first school was opened at Streatham, London, until 1933, she was actively engaged in the work there as a member of the College of Teachers, taking her class through the school, teaching Eurythmy, and finally working with the nursery class.

During these years Michael House had been founded by Miss Lewis as a centre for the development of Rudolf Steiner’s work, though it was not yet a school. After her death, the trustees of her estate decided to open a school. They turned to Miss Wilson to
as the most suitable person to carry on the work.

Effie Grace Wilson returned to Ilkeston from London at this time, offering all her educational knowledge and life experience to the building up of a school in the town. The rest of the story is well known to Ilkestonians. They have watched Michael House grow by degrees until it stands today, a modern building, a complete well-staffed school, equipped to educate children from nursery to GCSE
standard.

Thus Miss E. G. Wilson ushered in the new era for Dalby House. The successful expansion of Michael House School, under her guidance, led to the need for extra accommodation for boarders and Dalby House was the perfect solution. This change of purpose
changed marks the transition of the building from private to public, as it remains today. Yet it retained its sense of being a domestic space, where ‘house parents’ looked after the pupils.

Since its opening in 1934 several hundred boys and girls have passed through Michael House School. For those who entered between 1934 and 1948, Miss Wilson stands out vividly in memory, for it was she who received all parents, sharing with them their problems and their hopes and introducing their children to the school. An old scholar, now the mother of three children writing to the teachers expressed the feelings of all those who came in contact with Miss Wilson in these words,
when she died:-

‘As long as I can remember there has always been a Miss Wilson at Michael House.

No performance in the Hall whether big or small was complete without her familiar figure. The memories she leaves behind will remain in the hearts of all old scholars. Few women have led such a full life as she and it is with deep sorrow that we mourn this very wonderful person.’

In 1940 when on the completion of the main building she opened the doors of the school in the presence of the Mayor of Ilkeston and a large gathering of friends she quoted words of Rudolf Steiner which are the very essence of his educational principles:-

‘A living science, a living art, a living religion-that is true education, that is true teaching.’

These words were an everlasting inspiration to her. In her endeavour to make them live she bestowed great riches upon the town of Ilkeston which she had grown to love and adopted as her own.

In the story of Dalby House in this era, and of Effie Grace Wilson herself, we see how women’s roles in relation to the house changed in the twentieth century, just as they did in society. No longer just wives, mothers, daughters or servants, women were now capable of professional careers and making influential decisions. From this point onwards, many of those involved in decision making relating to Dalby House would be women.

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