Home of Catherine and Susannah Winkworth

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31 Cornwallis Crescent.

Catherine and Susannah Winkworth were translators of German religious works, remembered in Bristol for their philanthropy and advocacy of education of women and girls. Catherine came to know the Symonds family well, via her involvement in the Clifton Association for the Higher Education of Women

The Winkworth family came to Bristol in October 1862, following their father’s illness and retirement from the silk trade.1 Catherine already shared a mutual friend with the Symonds: the singer Jenny Lind, who had been a guest of the Symonds family on a number of occasions.2

In 1868, a committee was founded to promote the higher education of women. While her initial feelings seem to have been lukewarm,3 Catherine nevertheless became actively involved in the Association, and by 1870 had taken over from Mrs Louisa Percival in organising and administering the programme of lectures, and the lessons intended to prepare women for the Higher Cambridge Examination.4 One of the Association’s lecturers was Symonds, returned from London in 1868 after a crisis in health, and the close of his abortive law career. In 1869, he began lectures at St Paul’s Lecture Hall.

In 1871, Catherine wrote of the continued success of the classes:

We see a great deal of the Symonds family, and the son, Mr. John Symonds, is a remarkably clever young man. He and the Percivals are my great allies in all the lectures and classes for ladies which go on here, as they are doing now in so many places, under the name of the “Higher Education.” This winter I have had a great deal to do about them, as all my ordinary helpers among the ladies here have been disabled in one way or another, and I have had all the work on my hands. However, I shall have more assistance soon, and meanwhile the affair goes on very flourishingly here. We have from one to two hundred students, all girls (nearly) who have left school, and they really work so well and write such clever papers that I am quite amazed at them sometimes!Catherine Winkworth to Mrs Heugh, March 5th 1871. ((Margaret Josephine Shaen, Catherine Winkworth and Susanna Winkworth, Memorials Of Two Sisters (London: Longmans, Green, 1908), p.283 ))

The Winkworth sisters also took their place among the audience of Symonds’ lectures. Though Catherine had yearned to study Greek and Latin as a young woman, ((Margaret Josephine Shaen, Catherine Winkworth and Susanna Winkworth, Memorials Of Two Sisters (London: Longmans, Green, 1908), p.60-61 Catherine Winkworth to Susannah Winkworth, “There is so much I want to know, that I should like to have two or three years study time, and I never look forward beyond that. First of all, I must read Mill’s ” Political Economy ” some day ; and then I want to learn Latin and Greek and Drawing, and perhaps I shall have to translate, and then there will be occupation enough”.)) the sisters’ education was curtailed in several respects because of their sex: Catherine received only limited tuition in Greek from William Gaskell, husband of Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, and twenty years later confessed to the Evelyn Abbott that “I can’t read your Sophocles, except the English parts.”5

In 1874, meetings took place to lay the foundation for University College – precursor to Bristol University.  The committee of the Association for the Higher Education of Women suspended future lectures in favour of promoting the new College programme, and providing scholarships to enable women to attend.6 The result, as Symonds noted, was that the initial scholarships and lectures of the College were taken up almost entirely by women – a situation which “somewhat vexed” the University College Council, but demonstrated the success of the Association’s efforts.7

In May 1875, Catherine was elected to the Council of Cheltenham Ladies college, and two years later she was involved in yet another project with the Percivals, to establish a High School for girls in Clifton.  In the same era, the Symonds’ time in Bristol came to an end.

“I have felt unhappy about various friends lately. Miss Carpenter’s death was a great loss to us, especially to my eldest sister, and the Symonds’ departure from Clifton is a dreadful loss to me. We may hope for them back in two years, if all goes well, but two years is a long time, and meanwhile we shall have no one the least like them. They are very individual people indeed, and really and truly dear and close friends to me.”

Catherine, 1st of August 18778

Catherine Winkworth died in 1878, leaving her sister Susannah to take over her duties as Governor of Red Maids  girls school, and her place on the Council of Cheltenham Ladies college.  A fund was established to provide a memorial in Bristol Cathedral, and to create a scholarship in Catherine’s name.

In Memory of
Who, in her Lyra Germanica,
Rendering into English verse
The treasures of German sacred poetry,
Opened a new source of light, consolation, and strength
In many thousand homes.

Her works reveal a clear and harmonious intellect
A gift of true poetic insight and expression,
And the firm Christian faith
Which was the mainspring of a life
Rich in tender and affectionate ministration
And fruitful in various fields of active service.

Her loss is mourned by all who shared her labour,
And by the many friends whom death has bereft
Of her rare sympathy, her wise counsel,
Her bright companionship, and her unfailing help
In every time of need.

To commemorate her work, and to perpetuate
Her efforts for the better education of women,
A scholarship, bearing her name,
Has been founded in University College, Bristol
By friends who now dedicate this table
To her memory

Born in London, September 13th, 1827
Died in Monnetier, Savoy, July lst, 1878

“The child has now its Father seen,
And feels what kindling love may be,
And knoweth what those words may mean,
‘Himself, the Father, loveth thee’.”

For more information on the Winkworth sisters in Bristol, visit:

Elizabeth Bird, Curricular innovations in women’s higher education, 1865 – 1900

Heloise Brown, Routes into Women’s History (UWE)

  1. Sidney Lee, Dictionary of National Biography( Williamson-Worden, 1900. Reprint. London: Forgotten Books, 2013. p. 197-8. []
  2. Both Symonds and Catherine Winkworth had visited Lind at her Wimbledon home, and Symonds mentioned in a letter that Catherine had suggested the chosen name of Oaklea. []
  3. In 1868, “Miss Emily Davies has been here too, about a College for Ladies, and I was asked to one or two meetings, &c., about that, but got convinced I didn’t approve of it, except for teachers and very exceptionally clever and studious girls; nor can I get converted to women’s franchise, so some of my friends here look on me as a very half-hearted sort of person, Florence Hill especially.”  []
  4. William Temple, Life Of Bishop Percival (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1921) p. 258 []
  5. Elizabeth Bird, ‘Curricular Innovations In Women’s Adult Education 1865-1900′ Reproduced from 1985 Conference Proceedings, Leeds.ac.uk, 2003 <http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/00002647.htm> [accessed 1 October 2014]. []
  6. Bird. []
  7. John Addington Symonds, Robert L. Peters (Editor), Herbert M. Schueller, The Letters of John Addington Symonds, Vol. 2 : 1869-1884, Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1968, p434 []
  8. Shaen, p. 327 []