It has proved very tricky to sort out the story of this (or these) school(s).
Miss Wheeler's School is our earliest known dame school, with records from 1787 - 1795.
This date overlaps with Mrs Wheeler's Ladies Boarding School, for which we have records from 1795-1805.
It is possible that the family involved were the Wheelers who were known to live at what is now 15 High Street. This had been owned by George Jones from c1770. George Jones took out a Sun Fire Insurance on the property in 1781, when it was "in the tenure of Wheeler" for £100. The Commoners' List for 1781 includes "Widow Wheeler" in the property.
The family appear to be:
William Wheeler, who married Mary Hamblen (born 17 Apr 1729, d/o William Hamblen) at Hungerford, 21 Dec 1756 (so Mary was aged 27 yrs).
William and Mary Wheeler had two children: Mary (born 3 Mar 1769, when Mary was aged 39 yrs) and William (born 28 Jun 1775, when Mary was aged 46 yrs).
It is still unclertain that "Miss Wheeler" refers to this Mary Wheeler. It is also unclear whether the transition from Miss Wheeler's School to Mrs Wheeler's Ladies Boarding School relates to the same school, or even the same family!
Miss Wheeler's School:
As explained above, we are unsure just where "Miss Wheeler's School" was located, although we believe it to be at what is now 15 High Street.
The earliest record of the school relates to the annual school ball. An advertisement in the Reading Mercury of 1 (8 & 15) Oct 1787: "Miss Wheeler respectfully informs her friends that the Ball for her school will be at the Townhall on Tuesday the 30th October. Tickets to be had at the school."
It sounds as though the school must have been well established by this time, but Mary Wheel (born 1769) would have been aged only 18 yrs. Her mother (Mrs Mary Wheeler, born 1729) would have been 58 yrs.
In 1788 the advert in the Reading Mercury (on 20 and 27 Oct) included: "Hungerford. Miss Wheeler respectfully informs her friends that the Ball for her school will be at the Assembly Room on Wednesday November 12. Tickets 5s. to be had at the Bear Inn and at the School." By 1790 the School Ball had moved to May. The Reading Mercury of 10 May that year advertised that it would take place on Friday 28 May.
The 1790 Universal British Directory (one of the very earliest trade directories we have for Hungerford) gives Mary Wheeler as a schoolmistress.
Another Advert in the Reading Mercury of 17 Jan 1791 announced that Miss Wheeler's School would "open after the Christmas holidays on 24th January."
The School Ball was held in the Assembly Room on Thursday 10th November 1791. See notice in Reading Mercury 31 Oct 1791.
The school re-opened after the Christmas holidays on 23 Jan 1792. See notice in Reading Mercury 16 Jan 1792.
The school re-opened on 23 July 1792. See notice in Reading Mercury 16 Jul 1792.
Miss Wheeler became unwell in 1792, and the Reading Mercury of 14 Jan 1793 advertised "Miss Wheeler respectfully informs her friends and the public, that, on account of her ill health, she has appointed Miss Harrison (who has lately been a Parlour Boarder with her) to superintend the schoold for the ensuing half year. Miss Wheeler returns her best thanks for the favours she has already received; and (as she is convinced of the abilities of Miss Harrison) hopes a continuance of them. School opens 21st January."
In an advertisement in the Reading Mercury of 6 Jul 1795 Miss Wheeler (sic!) announced that her school would re-open "under the direction of her assistants" on 20 Jul 1795. We believe this may have been some sort of typo - and should have been "Mrs Wheeler"?
Mrs Wheeler's Ladies' Boarding School:
The Reading Mercury of 12 January 1795 advertised "Ladies' Boarding School, Hungerford. Mrs. Wheeler returns her warmest acknowledgment she has received, and respectfully informs them and the public, that her school will be opened again on the 19th of January, under the direction of Miss Cundell and Miss Denham."
George English kindly emailed (Sep 2016) saying "We have transcribed some family letters and diary entries that may be of interest. These include: 14 July 1799 Margt Dobson came from Woodbro. Stayed till 24th when I took her & Elizth Barker to Mrs Wheeler’s school."
Another advertisement in the Reading Mercury on 13 Jan 1800 says that "Mrs Wheeler of Hungerford returns her grateful acknowledgment to her friends and the public. Her school opens on Monday January 20th."
There is some further confusion regarding Mary Wheeler's death. There are at least three diffierent dates:
- A Monumental Inscription on her tomb in St Lawrence's Churchyard states "179 STTMO/ Mrs. MARY WHEELER who departed this life December 13th 1803 aged 60 years. Tomb."
- George English also wrote that "There's also a diary entry that Mrs Wheeler died 25 Augt 1803 though this could be another Mrs Wheeler.
- The Berkshire Family History Society records Mary Wheeler's death as 20 Nov 1805.
- Strangely, I have not been able to find her death certificate on Ancestry.co.uk - HLP
It seems that the BFHS entry is probably the correct one, as an advertisement in the Reading Mercury on 30 Dec 1805 announced that "Miss Batten has taken over from her late aunt Mrs Wheeler".
However, the mystery continues, as Mary Wheeler (born 1729) would have been aged 76 yrs in 1805, and her daughter Mary (born 1769) would have been only 36 yrs!
Miss Batten: It is possible that Miss Batten came from Eddington. A Sun Fire Insuracne records: Vol. 6 Policy No. 80460 7 April 1781: Matthew BATTEN of Eddington, parish of H. farmer. on furniture including utensils in his dwelling house in Eddington: £55.
Apparel in the same: £10.
On utensils and stock in a barn in a yard nearby: £43.
Ditto in a stable in the said yard: £30.
On stock in trade in ricks in the rickyard near: £20.
On a granary in the garden near: £20.
On utensils and stock. in trade therein: £10.
On utensils and stock in a carthouse belonging: £12.
The said buildings brick or timber built and thatched.