fanny sarah cobb
33 years as first Headmistress of Yeovil High School for Girls
Fanny Sarah Cobb was born in Ipswich in the summer of 1862, the daughter of editor and publisher Henry Cobb (1833-1921) and Anna née Coates (1836-1925). Shortly after Fanny's birth Henry moved his family to Colchester, Essex, and the 1871 census listed them at 5 Trinity Street where Fanny was living with her parents, older brother Alexander and younger sister Emma, as well as a female servant.
By 1881 Henry Cobb had moved his family yet again, this time to Yeovil. The 1881 census listed him as a 'Bookseller & Printer, employing 1 assistant, 1 man & 6 lads' and was living above his bookshop at 79 Hendford, on the corner of Porter's Lane and next door to Stuckey's Bank. It was Henry Cobb's bookshop that was to be later the gentleman's outfitting department of Linsey Denner's store. Henry and Anna were living above the bookshop with Alexander, Emma, new daughter Amy and a general servant. There was no sign of Fanny, in fact she was an English teacher at Landswell Hall School in West Bromwich, Staffordshire, at this time and was listed in the census as Frances Cobb.
The 1891 census recorded Henry and Anna, together with Fanny, Emma and a general servant living at 26 Kingston. Fanny listed her occupation as 'teacher of music, drawing etc.' And Emma listed hers as 'teacher of music'. Judging from the relative position in the census, their house was one of the houses facing Fiveways Roundabout just before Sparrow Road. Their next-door neighbours but one was Agnes Nosworthy, headmistress of Girton House School, and her husband Walter.
It was in 1891 that Henry Cobb founded the Yeovil High School for Girls, colloquially known as Yeovil High School, together with Colonel Marsh and others. Fanny became its first headmistress initially with just a dozen pupils. She was assisted by a Second Mistress, Miss Mothersole, and her father Henry acted as School Secretary.
A company was formed called the Yeovil Girls' Public Day School Co Ltd. The school grew rapidly and plans were made to build a new school in a new development which was to become The Park. In 1896 the new school building opened, a date stone of that date being affixed to the fabric, and an advertisement was placed in Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser of 1896 which stated that "New and spacious School buildings, with the latest improvements in ventilation and sanitary arrangements, have been erected in The Park."
The 1901 Census listed Henry and Anna living in Grove Avenue with daughters Fanny, now aged 36 and 'Headmistress of High School' and Amy now aged 26. Their house was being used as the boardinghouse for the school and boarding with them were Frances Mothersole, the Second Mistress, two schoolmistresses, a cook and a housemaid as well as four boarding pupils.
A description in Harper's book is far from complimentary "From various sources one begins to have a picture of Miss Cobb as an autocratic lady. Her staff were apparently expected to board in her house, which did not please all of them. A complaint was sent by them in 1913 to the education committee concerning the general conditions under which they were required to work and more especially the fact that they have been required to board with the Head Teacher and have not had the amount of freedom usual in the case of secondary school teachers." In the same book a former student recalled "The regime was Spartan, only cold water to wash with in winter as well as summer, and the dormitories were not heated. The food was adequate, but monotonous. We had bread, butter and jam for tea. The weekly boarders had to bring their own eggs if they wish to have an egg for breakfast. Every evening after tea, the boarders went for a walk with Miss Goldsworthy. As in winter we had to wear boots, Macintosh and carry an umbrella, we went for a walk whatever the weather.... We dared not appear out-of-doors without gloves, warm ones for winter and cotton ones for the summer.... The rules and discipline were almost Victorian in their strictness. One in particular was that no pupil might walk home with another unless written permission had been obtained from both parents."
Another former pupil recalled "Miss Cobb was quite Victorian, wearing a laced choker round her neck, stiffened at intervals. She wore a wig and when she put her pencil through her hair, the wig would lift and it was difficult to suppress our laughter. She had an ogre of a second-in-command - Miss Rose, who, I think, taught Latin and History.... There was a kindliness in Miss Cobb, but Miss Rose was made of stone."
Harper continues "For a year or two leading up to her retirement in 1924, Miss Cobb seems to have conducted a running battle with the Education Committee regarding her retirement. The Committee informed the Governors that Miss Cobb had passed the age limit had requested that they [the Governors] inform Miss Cobb that the Committee could not consent to her retaining the post after 31 December 1923 and to invite her to tender her resignation to take effect from that date. However, it was July 1924 before Miss Cobb finally retired after being headmistress of the Yeovil High School for Girls for 33 years.
Thirty-three years as Headmistress
Thirty-three years of exacting work and energy of purpose for the attainment of a school worthy of the town, and invariable interest in every girl that was fortunate enough to pass through her hands - these were some of the tributes paid to Miss FS Cobb, who has just retired from the position of Headmistress of the Yeovil High School for Girls.
Many Old Girls and parents gathered in the School Hall on Friday evening to witness two presentations to Miss Cobb - a gold flexible wristlet-watch as a mark of esteem from the members of the School Sub-committee, and a cottage pianoforte, encased in inlaid walnut. On the underside of the piano flap was neatly inscribed: "Presented to Miss FS Cobb by the parents and old girls on her retirement from the Headship of the Yeovil High School 1891-1924."
Western Gazette, 1924
At the same time that Fanny retired, so did her sister Amy who had taught needlework at the school and was also the housekeeper and her sister Emma who was head of the Preparatory School and also taught music part-time.
One effect of the school being taken over by the County Council was the fact that the preparatory class would have to be discontinued - officially. However, unofficially, Miss Cobb was planning to continue this class in her home, and, in 1923, she was doing just that with the blessing of the county. The Yeovil Preparatory School then came into being, and Miss Cobb ran this 'successful experiment in co-education' as the Western Gazette called it, until 1936 when she finally relinquished control."
When they retired in 1936 both Fanny and her sister Amy moved to Beckenham, Kent, where they shared a house with a former Second Mistress at the High School, Miss Rose. Fanny Cobb died 18 June 1951, at the age of 89, at her home 27 Manor Road, Beckenham. She was cremated at Streatham, south London. Her will was proved in October and her estate was valued at £8,553 13s 7d (about £230,000 at 2017's value).
This photograph is taken from a postcard dated 1905 and shows Henry Cobb's bookshop & printers at left, in Hendford, above which he lived with his family. At the time of this photograph it was part of Denner's department store.
Advertisement for the Yeovil High School for Girls in the 1892 edition of Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser.
An early postcard of the new, purpose-built Yeovil High School for Girls, probably dating to just after its opening in 1906.
Advertisement for the Yeovil High School for Girls in the 1916 edition of Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser.