Saturday, February 14, 2015

Florence Hancock

From the L.R. Reeve* collection of short sketches of people that he had met - this affectionate piece about teacher Florence Hancock. There is a more famous Florence Hancock who was a union leader and, confusingly, our Florence was also involved in union politics (National Union of Teachers)…

Florence Hancock

Perhaps I ought to remind readers of my main purpose throughout these pages. It is to stress the fact that wherever you live for a few years you meet very intelligent people, many of whom seem to be unaware of their distinctive qualities, who would, if they felt a compulsive urge, be leaders of any locality in which they happened to be placed. This fact has long been noted by observant members of the human community for hundreds of years, but in any century too little comment has been made of such people who are worthy to be inscribed on the pages of history, and sometimes the final mention of these 'Village Hampdens', even in a local paper, is also the first public acknowledgement of their existence. The Second World War gave us innumerable surprises in this phenomenon.

  Miss Florence Hancock cannot be placed exactly in the ranks of the unknown because she is bound to be mentioned in the local press. She is, however, one of those unusual people whose presence is sure to be felt in any society, and whose capacity for engaging in any society, and whose capacity for engaging in any major activity appears to have no human limit. Yet she may not be known beyond the usual circle of acquaintances and the local newspapers, unless her national journal, The Teacher, pays her a final tribute.
Possibly her early education at one of England's best training colleges, Stockwell, gave her the right emphasis at the right time to develop into an unusually important member of her particular locality.
  The influence of the Stockwell environment will never entirely fade away. It began to take effect shortly after her return to Devon from London, for she became headmistress of a school at Moreton-Hampstead. After a few years she was promoted to a larger school at Newton Abbot, where she developed her little empire into one of the happiest educational establishments in the town.
  It is not my intention to indulge in a lengthy, detailed dissertation of her career as a headmistress, but I must emphasize the impression of a tremendous worker, never hesitating to take over any class during the absence of a teacher, ever ready to listen to a suggestion of the staff, always anxious to promote the welfare of every child, quite unafraid of any unpopular action if, to her mind, it were the right one, and I am sure that she and her loyal staff fully earned a high reputation.
  Her extra-mural activities were prodigious. During the Second World War she was one of the most prominent women on duty at the soldiers' canteen in Newton Abbot, and no lengthy description of her duties in this line needs any emphasis. Also, during that period she encouraged and guided evacuated teachers on rambles and excursions, and welcomed them consistently throughout their stay in the area. Moreover, as her old training college was evacuated to Torquay she encouraged teaching practice for students in training. After the war she became secretary to the local branch of the National Union of Teachers, and anyone with knowledge of secretarial duties of professional societies will appreciate her persistent, honorary duties to voluntary body.
  Another commitment was the membership of an important Education Committee (maybe concerning the county of Devon). It would be impossible for her not to be an active and useful member. Her advice and evidence, especially in relation to infants and primary education, would be sure to receive a respectful hearing. Then, as a deacon of her Congregational Church her interest, activities and general assistance are probably as intensive those of any other member.
  However arduous one's vocation has been retirement awards us happy memories. In one teacher's general remarks on a small girl's report were the words, "A happy little soul." I am credibly informed that when Miss Hancock read the report she chuckled for ten minutes. Moreover, I smile at the sequel. The next morning an excited little girl came running up to her teacher: "Sir! My mother says I am a happy little soul."
  On retirement she made a trip round the world, and when in New Zealand she stayed with one of her ex-pupils. When in America she visited an ex-member of her staff, and since her return her notes, camera and descriptive powers enable her to entertain hundreds of people whose knowledge or America, Australia, New Zealand and some of the world's largest ports is now more comprehensive than ever. And here I think we come to her greatest achievement, for she not only has a perfect platform voice which can be heard by every normal listener, but her running commentary is that of a genius.
  Now in the West country there are hundreds of retired women: locals, professionals, Londoners, Lancastrians and Midlanders who, having spent many years in public life, are excellent chairmen, secretaries, organizers and speakers who can hold their own on any conceivable occasion in any part of the country. Yet it would be hard to find a more commanding figure on the platform than Miss Florence Hancock.

* Found among  the papers of the long defunct literary agency Michael Hayes of Cromwell Road S.W.5  - parts of a manuscript memoir by one L.R. Reeve of Newton Abbot, South Devon. Mr Reeve was attempting to get the book (Among those Present: Very Exceptional People) published, but on the evidence of the unused stamp Hayes never replied and  L. R. Reeve published the book himself through the esteemed vanity publisher Stockwell two years later in 1974.

L R Reeve had, in a long life, met or observed a remarkable selection of famous persons. He  presents 'vignettes' of 110 persons from all grades of society (many minor or even unknown) they include Winston Churchill, Dorothy Sayers,  H H Asquith, John Buchan, the cricketer Jack Hobbs, J.B. Priestley, H.G. Wells, Marconi, E.M. Forster, Duchess of Atholl, Marie Stopes, Oliver Lodge and Cecil Sharp -- 'it is unnecessary to explain that  many I have known have not known me. All of them I have seen, most of them I have heard, and some of them have sought information, even advice from me." Reeve states that the unifying qualification all these people have is '… some subtle emanation of personality we call leadership, and which can inspire people to actions  unlikely to be undertaken unless prompted by a stronger will."

Reeve was a teacher throughout his life and deputy head of 3 London schools, headmaster of Loughborough emergency schools, ex-president of London Class Teachers Association  and very early member of the British Psychological Society (55 years)... I calculate he was probably born in about 1900. His style is markedly unexciting but he has much information unavailable elsewhere.. He sent several typed manuscripts to (from the smell) the chain-smoking agent Hayes…

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