Prologue: A Place at Oxford

Kettlewell P.O. Skipton – Yorks

                Aug 10th

Dear Margaret

Congratulations on your exam results.  What do you mean by “scrape”?  Do you know your marks or do you only think you were near the bottom of the list?  And if you do know your marks what were they?  I am coming to London towards the end of August and will let Mrs Collinson know as soon as I arrive.  I am making inquiries about a History coach, and am trying to find one in your neighbourhood, so as to save bus fares.  I may or may not be able to manage that, as now so many people are doing war work it is difficult.

I am glad you think of getting Responsions1 over at Christmas.  The Greek exam is not difficult but it is tricky – therefore it is well to have plenty of time to try more than once – though I see no reason why that should be necessary for you.  Still it is much more difficult for girls than for boys who have had several years of Greek and therefore ought to know their Greek Grammar inside out.  Let me have a list of the subjects you took in Matriculation and in Intermediate, so as to make quite sure that you are exempted from the rest of the exam.  I am very sorry that I shall not see you when I come to London.  I have noted your dates and if I come earlier than I expect I will arrange a meeting but I am not likely to arrive by the 18th.  I am very glad that you are going visiting.  I hope you are reading a succession of “gnovels”2, and “thinking as little as possible” – for an Oxford scholarship depends much less on how much you know, than on freshness of point of view and a certain facility for putting things down, and I think you have been a little overcrammed, so I am very anxious that you should have a slack time.  Try and cultivate a good letter style.  Write newsy letters – not necessarily long ones – but letters that give a more or less graphic account of what you are doing and how life is using you.  You see how many things there about your exams that I want to know and which you might as well have put in this letter, which is rather a bare recital of facts, leaving me to gather that you are somewhat overdone and rather bored.

Please tell Mrs Collinson how sorry I am that she has been ill.  I hope she is better again now – this weather until lately has been so trying that it is a wonder that anyone is well – but now it seems to have had a change of heart.

Let me have a letter from you while you are with your friends.  Who is your classics coach? and what is his or her university?

Yours very sincerely

A . D. Thompson3

P.S. Convey my congratulations to Freda if you see her.

1 Responsions were a qualifying exam as part of a degree, usually taken before matriculation at a time when school exams were not standardised.

2 Gnovels

3 A D Thompson has been Aunty Margot’s one-time history teacher.  She was a St Hilda’s student and visits from time to time, aka ‘Tommy’ and ‘Dorothea’.  There is a problem over the sequence of Miss Thompson’s letters as they are dated by day and month but not the year.  Neither are they in envelopes whereas all Margot’s letters have the full date on the letter and are often clearly date-stamped on the envelope.  (During the war, beside the date stamp is printed either ‘Buy National War Bonds’ or, later, ‘Feed the Guns with War Bonds’.)


113 Beverley Road


May 15

My dear Margaret

I am so glad you have the bursary.  I knew Miss Burrows would get it for you if she could, and she will do all she can for you with the L.C.C.1  I feel sure she will let you enter in July, and you must leave no stone unturned to impress them, the L.C.C.1, for a £15 bursary is not much to go on.

As regards your doing the course in two years I have considered the matter very carefully and I do not think it would be worth either your time or your parents’ self sacrifice.  You see the benefit of an Oxford course is that it develops personality.  If you are going to work yourself to skin and bone you may as well do it cheaply at London.  You could not hope to take more than a third in two years, and you might take a fourth so a plough.  To do well you must stop working now and forget all you have learned.  We must not be ungrateful to Miss Macrae but her usefulness is now past.  You must read interesting light books and practise assiduously a decent epistolary style.  You must make a point of writing an interesting letter about nothing at least once a week.  Your trouble is that you have learned too much.  You have been overcrammed, and nothing can help you except lying fallow for a bit and then doing work on broad lines with sufficient time to do it in.  Therefore you do not accomplish any real object in going to Oxford for two years.  You see that Miss Levett who would be your tutor and responsible for your work is unwilling to take it on on those terms..

My kind regards to you Father and mother.

Yours affectionately

A D Thompson.

PS  Have you written to Miss Macrae telling her of your success and thanking her for her efforts?

1 LCC  – London County Council


S. Hilda’s Hall


June 14 1917

Dear Miss Collinson

We have just heard from Miss Sadler resigning her Exhibition for private reasons –  I am very sorry that she cannot come up, but it enables me to offer you an increase in the amount of your Exhibition of £5 per annum for 3 years, so that it will stand at £20 instead of £15.  We should of course have been glad to do this earlier had it not been exceeding the amount originally offered in Scholarships.  If you would like to accept this, it might be well to tell the L.C.C. authorities know that you have now been offered a rather larger exhibn. – It might make some difference to their consideration of the case in principle –

Yours sincerely

CME Burrows1

1C M Burrows is Miss Burrows, the Principal of St Hilda’s Hall, Oxford, when Margot arrives. She had been Vice-Principal when her mother was the first Principal and preserved the family atmosphere of the college.


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