CFHS code : HT471
Parish : Holy Trinity
Inscription : STTDMO KATE HARDING STREET First Head-mistress of The Perse High School for Girls Cambridge 1881-1909 d December 3rd 1913 aged 68 and of her beloved friend HANNAH OSBORN d January 7th 1924 aged 87
Monument : Stone cross/Coped stone/Kerb stones
Above information from Cambridge Family History Society Survey
This Celtic cross in grey marble and coped stone with inscription in metal lettering, and with kerb stones, is located in the parish area of Holy Trinity beside and to the west of the eastern path just after it has curved northwards. The grave was restored in September 2012, partly at the expense of The Stephen Perse Foundation.
‘Sacred to the dear memory of Kate Harding Street
First Head-Mistress of The Perse High School for Girls, Cambridge 1881-1909
died December 3rd 1913 aged 68’
‘And of her beloved friend Hannah Osborn
died January 7th 1924 aged 87’
Kate Harding Street
Kate Harding Street (1845-1913) was the first Headmistress of the Perse School for Girls from 1881 to 1909. Hannah Osborn (1836-1924) was a teacher at that School from 1884 to 1894.
Kate Harding Street was born on 20 November 1845 in the village of Renhold, Bedfordshire. Her father was a farmer, and by 1851 the household was a large one: Kate had three older sisters and one younger brother, all of them home-schooled by a live-in governess together with two other live-in pupils and two resident servants. By 1861 she was living in Biggleswade with the family of James Crouch, a linen and woollen draper.
Street taught first at the Clergy Daughters’ School in Casterton, Cumbria (near Kirby Lonsdale) from 1865 to 1869, and it was there that she first met Hannah Osborn. Encouraged, and perhaps financially supported, by Osborn, she resigned from that position, moved to London, and spent some time attending university lectures. After that, she and Osborn were both appointed teachers at Grey Coats Hospital in Westminster (which had become an all-girls school in 1874). In 1881 Street was appointed the first Headmistress of the newly founded Perse School for Girls in Cambridge (the Perse School for Boys having been founded in 1615 by Stephen Perse).
The Perse School for Girls was initially housed in cramped quarters at 68 Trumpington Street (opposite Corpus Christi College), but moved two years later to Panton House, on Union Road, where it remains to this day. At the School’s opening in January 1881, Street and three other staff members taught 28 pupils; by 1904 the School had 217 pupils and a staff approaching 20. The School extended from Kindergarten to Sixth Form, its age-range from 4 to 19.
Known to all as ‘Madam’, Street was a forceful character, ‘short, stout and dignified’, used to getting her way, but approachable, showing warmth, kindness and humour to her ‘children’, and inspiring real affection in them (as the tributes at her funeral attest – see download below). One former pupil described her as having ‘beautiful dark eyes, with their depth of earnestness and sparkle of fun, [a] massive crown of dark waving hair over the broad white brow and sensitive mouth [ready to break] into lines of merriment’.
For her time Street was an enlightened educationalist with firm convictions, and as such, with the School’s managers, she established a strong curriculum, expanding it over the 28 years of her tenure to include such activities as athletics, sport, drawing and photography. The subjects she herself preferred to teach were arithmetic and scripture, with an interest also in music. In addition, she was one of the nine founders of Cambridge University’s first graduate college for women, then called the Cambridge Training College (now Hughes Hall), and remained on its committees and Board of Trustees after its establishment in 1885. Street’s School no doubt benefitted from this by having the pick of the College’s candidates as student teachers.
The highpoint of her headmistress-ship was reached in the early 1900s, but by 1906 the School was showing signs of decline. Women’s education had changed in the intervening quarter century and the need was now felt for a younger person at the helm. Street resigned with reluctance in 1909. In 1911, she was living at 1 Adams Road and in 1913 at 52 St Barnabas Road. She died on 3 December 1913. Her funeral service took place at Little St Mary’s Church on the 8th and she was buried in Mill Road Cemetery, the coffin accompanied by many members of staff and former pupils as well as family, the grave ‘lined by flowers by the old girls’; ‘Ellerton’s beautiful hymn “Now the labourer’s task is o’er” was sung round the open grave’. (See ‘Funeral’ download below for further details.)
Hannah Osborn was born in Stockport, Cheshire in 1836, eldest daughter of the Rev. George Osborn, D.D., a Wesleyan Methodist Minister and learned man from whose extensive library Hannah acquired a love of books. The family moved to Lancaster, and later to the Clerkenwell, in London. Hannah had five sisters and no brothers; by 1861, aged 24, her occupation was given as ‘Governess’.
In 1865 she was employed as a teacher in a wool factory in Rheims (France). Encountering Kate Harding Street in the late 1860s, she fostered the latter’s early career, moving with her to London, and then to Cambridge when Street took up the position of Headmistress of the Perse School for Girls in 1881. At first the two lived at 8 Trumpington Street, but after the School moved to Panton House they occupied quarters in that building — thus Osborn was a presence in the School from the beginning.
Appointed a full-time member of staff in 1884, she took charge of the Sixth Form, her principal subjects being geography, French translation and English. She also had a great interest in religious knowledge and scripture, and in music, especially hymns, and played the organ in School. Described as ‘stately and grave, with bright piercing eyes and firmly compressed mouth’, she is spoken of as an inspiring and erudite teacher. Deeply religious, she took a keen interest in the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa and the Society for the Promotion of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. She was also known as a keen philatelist.
She gave up teaching in 1894 on account of ill-health. It is possible that she continued to live at Panton House until Street resigned, at which point the two women lived at 1 Adams Road with their servant Mary Ann Darwood, and then at 52 St Barnabas Road. After Street’s death in 1913, Osborn moved to 104 Mawson Road, where she lived until her death on 7 January 1924 at the age of 87.
The funeral service took place at St Barnabas Church on the 11th, and she was buried in Mill Road Cemetery, in the grave of her ‘beloved friend’ Kate Harding Street, with many Old Perseans, former colleagues and family members present. Notable in view of the devoutness of the two women is the plainness of the inscription, lacking the Biblical or poetic quotations so common on graves in this cemetery. (See her ‘Obituary’ download below for further details.)
M. A. Scott, The Perse School for Girls: The First Hundred Years 1881-1981 (Cambridge: Governers of the Perse School for Girls, 1981)
M. H. Cattley, Perse School for Girls Cambridge 1881-1956 (Cambridge, 1956)
G. Martin, Hughes Hall Cambridge 1885-2010 (London: Third Millenium, 2011)
–personal communications and kind assistance from the Stephen Perse Foundation Archivist, Ms Catharine Hanlon
By Ian Bent