Fanning a fervour for reform

The mother of Wisbech’s most famous daughter has taken her place in a memorial to unsung heroes.

At a ceremony at Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House a plaque was unveiled in Heroes’ Arcade to Caroline Southwood Hill, who helped to shape Octavia’s ideas about social reform.

The ceremony was performed by the great, great nephew of Octavia Hill, James Cash, the president of the Octavia Hill Society, who explained that she was always known as Aunt Octavia in the family and that her mother had been a decisive influence.

He said:  “She was a very forceful matriarch in a very female family with no sons.”

In a talk before the ceremony his wife, Susan Cash, spoke about her husband’s ancestor at the launch of a series of lectures at the museum at 7 South Brink, Wisbech, on the sisterhood of women who played a pivotal role in Octavia’s story.

Describing Caroline as the mistress of the house which is now the home of the museum, Mrs Cash said that the influence of Octavia’s mother on English education was very significant and it helped to shift the aim of schooling from being taught in a classroom to learning to think for yourself.

Caroline’s life in Wisbech came to an abrupt end when her husband, James, went bankrupt for a second time and she was left to look after five children under the age of 11.   Among her responsibilities was the home schooling of Octavia, who was to become a co-founder of the National Trust and who would later refer to herself as a disciple of her mother.

The children were regarded as wonderful by the poet, Robert Browning, who said:  “You can talk to them about anything.”

Mrs Cash described Caroline as a woman of “intellect, vitality and tremendous faith” whose published works included two books for children, ‘Roundling and other fairy tales’ and ‘Wildflowers and their uses’.

The next talk in the Saturdays at No. 7 slot, on Henrietta Barnett, the founder of the first ‘University Settlement’ at Toynbee Hall and the model Hampstead Garden Suburb, is at 2pm on Saturday, June 30.