MATHILDE BOWSER, HEADMISTRESS,  1874-1971

Mathilde Bowser

In October 1918 Miss Mathilde Bowser returned to the Copperworks School in Burry Port as Headmistress. She had been a pupil there and later it was here that she began her teaching career as a pupil-teacher.  Born in 1874, she was the eldest child of Captain George Bowser (1829-1911), grandson of the industrialist who had come to Burry Port in 1787 to mine coal and help develop two harbours.

Mathilde was born in France, hence the unusual spelling of her name. Her father, Captain Bowser, had to put into the port of Dunkirk, where his wife Ann gave birth to a daughter, Mathilde.  The family lived first in Cardiff and then moved to Burry Port. The 1881 census shows her living at the Harbour View where her father was the licensee.

Mathilde was a pupil at the Copperworks School, and, as a child,  there she decided that she wanted to be a teacher. In 1889, aged 15, she signed a memorandum of agreement, which was similar to an apprentice indenture. She would start a four year term of service at the school. Her salary was £8 a year with an annual increment if she passed the necessary examinations and fulfilled various other conditions. These may include having charge of a section of 40 children and teaching daily for sometimes 5 ½ hours  a day. Mathilde would have to prepare the schoolroom for her class and clear things away when the lesson was finished.

Miss E. Williams

Most of her training was under the supervision of the headmistress, Miss E. Williams. Mathilde would have a strict regime to follow as laid down in her memorandum of agreement. Her professional education would include lessons on grammar, writing essays on English history or poetry, map work as well as mathematical subjects.

Mathilde was examined in these and other subjects and in 1890, as a first year pupil teacher, we read: “E Edmunds and M Bowser have passed fairly, but M Bowser should attend to Composition, Needlework and writing”. She is mentioned in the log books of 1891 as a second year pupil teacher and in 1892 as a third year pupil. A further entry in the Pembrey Copper Works log book states, “M Bowser should be informed, that she is now qualified Under Article 50, but not under Article 52”.  (These Articles defined what the pupil-teacher was allowed to do).

In Pentre she would have taught in a large hall with a gallery similar to this one at Dowlais School – Courtesy Merthyr Libraries
In Cardiff Mathilde would have taught in a classroom similar to the one in this photo Copyright Unknown

We next hear of Mathilde Bowser as teaching in Pentre Board Girls School in the Rhondda, where in 1898 the Glamorgan Free Press records her as having resigned from that post.    She then moved to Cardiff, to Grangetown Board School where she is mentioned in the South Wales Daily News in 1899 as one of a list candidates being examined in First Year Papers.  In 1911 Mathilde is still teaching in Cardiff, boarding with a family in Canton and now described as an assistant teacher.

Mathilde left Cardiff  in 1915 and returned to Burry Port where she moved into a bungalow next to her old home at the Harbour View.  It was here she would live for the rest of her life. An entry in Pinged School Log Book dated September 13th 1915 states: “Today Mathilde Bowser took charge of this school”. From Pinged school in 1918 Mathilde Bowser came full circle and was appointed headmistress of the Copperworks Infants’ School. She stayed as headmistress until she retired in 1934. The school was warmly known as ‘The Bowser School’ by her ex-pupils well after she had retired, and as an old lady she was affectionately known around the town as “Tilly Bowser”, always busy and “up and doing”.

An infant class in the Copperworks school in the mid 1920s when Mathilde Bowser was headmistress
Mathilde was headmistress of the school in this building, Copyright Ray Hobbs

The indomitable Miss Bowser lived alone in her bungalow by the harbour, fiercely independent. In retirement she travelled widely throughout Europe and in 1940 , then in her late seventies, spent some time in USA, in Allen, Indiana.  Perhaps she had inherited the spirit of adventure from her sea captain father. While in the USA she developed a deep dislike of television. She decided it was “not to her taste” and when she returned home refused to have one in her house. “Television! I just could not sit and look at it, I want to be up and doing”.

Mathilde Bowser died in Bryntirion Hospital, Llanelli in 1971 aged 98.

She had one regret in her life – that she had never visited Russia, a country which had fascinated her after seeing the film Leningrad many years earlier. “But I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. I think that perhaps I may have left it too late to go now”.

Sources

  • Copperworks School Log Books
  • Census 1881, 1891, 1911
  • 1939 Register
  • 1940 United States Federal Census
  • Pembrey and Burry Port: Aspects of Their History, Bk 1, John A. Nicolson, 1993.
  • Looking Around Llanelli, Harry Davies, Llanelli Town Council, 1985.
  • Glamorgan Free Press.1898
  • South Wales Daily New, 1899.
  • The Training of Teachers in England & Wales During the Nineteenth Century, R.W. Rich, Cambridge University Press 1933.

ELLEN DAVIES     July 2021

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