Elsie’s School Book

by House Guide, Felicity Macdonald-Smith

Every object tells a story. Or, in the case of one of my favourite objects in the house, several stories.

In the bookshelves under the bureau in the dining room is a book which belonged to Elsie, David Parr’s granddaughter, when she was a teenager. It is a typical novel in the ‘school story’ genre by Dorothea Moore, entitled The New Prefect. While not in the first rank of authors in this field, such as Angela Brazil or Enid Blyton, Dorothea Moore was a popular and prolific writer of historical novels and stories about Girl Guides, as well as school stories. She was a Guide leader herself, and is credited with having written the first Guiding story for girls, Terry the Girl Guide (Moore 1930, with an introduction by Agnes Baden-Powell).

The New Prefect, first published in 1921, is still available today (£3.99 in the Kindle version), and is described as follows on Amazon:

“There is a note of freshness and real life, at home as well as in the school, which Miss Moore’s readers will find very attractive in this book, which is generally admitted to be one of the best this popular author has written. The “New Prefect” takes on her new dignity under difficult circumstances, but she eventually wins not only the respect of the Head but also the goodwill of the school.” (Amazon, n.d.)

Elsie Mansfield (as she then was) received the book as a Sunday School prize in 1929, as evidenced by the bookplate, which records that she was awarded 1st prize at Christ Church Sunday School. This is the church nearest to her parents’ home in Parsonage Street, so presumably she continued to attend there even after moving to Gwydir Street (in 1927). Unfortunately we have not been able to find any written records of the Sunday School, but a member of the Christ Church congregation told me that “Elsie and her brother Doug were well known to my family”.

The book is in excellent condition, and as well as its original dustjacket, it has a brown paper cover, which seems to have been made by Elsie. 

When we carefully removed the brown paper (which was simply folded in place, no sellotape or glue), it turned out to be the inside of a paper bag from Eaden Lilley, a well-known Cambridge department store. Zooming in on the sketch, you can see that it depicts fashionable ladies in below-the-knee skirts and cloche hats! 

Although the sign outside the shop for many years proclaimed ‘established in 1750’, in fact the origins of the retailers go back much further. John Purchas rented premises in Shoemaker Row in 1676 and his son, who took over the business in 1712, described himself as a ‘mercer and merchant tailor’. The Eaden Lilley family entered the firm in the late 18th century, and by 1833 William Eaden was the sole owner.

In the inter-war period, when Elsie won her Sunday School prize, Eaden Lilley was doing well and had premises in both Market Street and Green Street (Ormes, 2000). In 1993 a major refurbishment of the Market Street store took place, but sadly in 1998 there was a significant drop in profits, and the following year, just before its 250th anniversary, Eaden Lilley closed. The shop was bought initially by Borders bookshop, and is now occupied by T K Maxx.


Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Prefect-Dorothea-Moore-ebook/dp/B07MQKCRFL  (accessed 10 Jan 2020)

Moore, Dorothea: Terry the Girl Guide (1930) https://www.librarything.com/work/3782892 [accessed 2 Sept 2021]

Ormes, Ian: Eaden Lilley, 250 Years of Retailing (2000) [Saffron Walden] W.Eaden Lilley & Co., Ltd.

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