Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Nott Sisters - Jane Prothero, Martha Lucy and Mary

The only member of the Nott family to be included in Catherine W. Reilly's "English Poetry of the First World War A Bibliography" is Jane Prothero Nott (page 239), whose WW1 collection of verse "A Little Book of Verse" was published by Erskine Macdonald in 1921.  

Phil Dawes has done an amazing amount of research into the three Nott sisters who all wrote poetry during WW1.  Thank you Phil: 

Mary Telfair Nott 1858 - 1947
Jane Prothero Nott 1859 - 1944
Martha Lucy Nott 1873 - 1946

Your mention of Jane Prothero Nott sent me back to Bristol looking for Martha Lucy Nott once again. 

Three spinster sisters, all teachers, set up a private school in 1893: Felixstowe Girls School, Bristol. Mary Telfair Nott was the eldest and the two others were Jane Prothero Nott and Martha Lucy Nott.  Martha Lucy called herself 'Marlu' even on the 1911 census when she was joint-Head, which explains why she was hard to track down.   She was a late comer to the family and she must have come as a great surprise to her parents, being born 13 years after the 'last' child of five, Robert .  Her mother Emma Nott nee Protheroe (sic) was 46 when Marlu was born.  Her father Robert Nott had started off as a Railway Cashier who then worked his way up to a senior financial position.  The girls had a Governess when young so they were home-educated initially but Jane later attended Bristol School of Science and Arts where she won a geometry prize. Marlu attended Redlands High School and she won prizes in English, French and Arithmetic.  After leaving school she started work as a music teacher. 

By 1893 all the sisters were teaching and they banded together and started their own new school, Felixstowe Girls' School in Upper Belgrave Road, Clifton. Father and mother moved in with them and several teachers and servants were employed. In 1901 there were only 8 boarders but in 1911, by which time both parents had died, there were 35 boarders including some children of Indian expats.   Martha Lucy and Jane were both published writers. Marlu usually published under the name M. L. Nott but it seems likely that her pen name, used occasionally, was Mary Lancaster Nott - as no such person exists in the records. 

In 1908, thanks to a Royal visit and tour of Bristol, we find out the school motto. A reporter went around town recording the residents' efforts at decoration and at the school he noted the school's motto in floral work which was surprisingly whimsical: 'Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace'. No doubt all the sisters had agreed on this motto but it was probably Martha's idea. In the same year she published a series of tracts with equally whimsical titles including: 'With the Dagger and the Flowers', 'Our earthly strongest power', The Roses were too weak the Battle to win'. Miss Mary Nott some time later produced a version of Alice in Wonderland. All this must have been intended to stimulate the girls' creativity and it possibly reflects the spiritual side of the Arts and Crafts Movement which Jane would have undoubtedly met at Art School. The Notts couldn't afford to be slack on academic standards however, as there were many rival private schools in the Bristol area competing for scholars.  

In the pre-war period Bristol was a hot bed of the suffrage movement with several branches operating there, including male groups.  There were numerous 'stunts' carried out and some vandalism by both pro- and anti-suffrage supporters.  One wonders what line the Nott sisters took with their young charges.  

The school continued uninterrupted during WWI but it must have been a difficult time with food shortages and men away fighting including relatives of some of the girls. The Nott sisters' own two brothers would have been too old to fight. There were also blackouts as the armaments factories around Bristol were thought likely to be at risk of Zeppelin bombing raids.  It seems certain that the girls would have been encouraged to do knitting and sewing for the soldiers. 

Martha Lucy, writing as M. L. Nott did some war time 'good works'. She wrote the music for a children's song in 1914, and she collected an anthology of Animal Poems and Stories in 1916. She wrote a short work called 'Peace! Justice! Liberty!  It is undated but we can assume that it was connected with the war. She also helped to organise two further anthologies. One was a book to raise money for war horses: The Fund for Wounded Horses at the Front. She collaborated with Sir Henry Newbolt and others on this book. One of the contributors was writer and propagandist Harold Begbie. The other book was a collaboration in aid of the charity Comforts for Soldiers.  The war horse book had its cover sketched by a New Zealand private soldier and a copy was sent to the mayor of Dunedin.  Jane P. Nott had a poem published in 1917 in the Poetry Review Vol. 8, alongside poems of WW1 poets Teresa Hooley and Eleanor Norton.

After the war, Jane continued writing and she published a collection of her own poems 'A Little Book of Verse' (Erskine Macdonald) in 1921. She had poems included in 'The New Spirit in Verse', 1922 and had two poems - 'In Saxon England' and 'At Paddington' - included in the County Series Of Contemporary Poetry, 1927.   In 1930 the Nott sisters retired and the school was taken over by a similar establishment which had started life as a Plymouth Brethren school. It continued as a school until 1940 when the front of the Felixstowe school building suffered bomb damage and was declared unsafe.  Teachers and pupils moved out and ended up in the Welsh countryside for the duration of the war.

The three sisters moved into a house locally and lived together until their deaths. They all died over the short period of 1944 to 1946. Requests for any claims against Martha Lucy Nott's estate, posted in 1945, described her as: 'known as Marlu'.  Mary was the last to die and her effects were auctioned off in May 1947. In addition to furniture and ornaments there were several violins, a harmonium and a 1934 sixteen horse power Morris Saloon. It would appear that Miss Mary Nott was still in the driving seat until she was 88. 

Phil Dawes
February 2015

Catherine W. Reilly "English Poetry of the First World War A Bibliography" (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1978)