We’re celebrating Women’s History Month with a series of posts to coincide with our Women at Heatherleys Exhibition.
In this article we’re appreciating the contributions of Mary Ellen Crompton (1852 – 1949).
When Heatherleys namesake Thomas Heatherley retired as principal his nephew John Crompton (1854–1927) and His wife Mary Ellen became the new Principals. The couple ran the school from 1887 until they handed it over to the Masseys in 1907.
One of John Crompton’s students E.H. Shepard, known for his illustrations of The Wind in the Willows and Winnie-the-Pooh, wrote that he “was an imposing presence… a small man, but his carriage lent him height so that he seemed to tower above me… Nothing seemed to put him out and he never forgot his dignity. It was a rare thing to see him smile”. What John lacked in warmth was made up by Mary who was adored by the students who called her “little Mummie”. (Eva, 1996)
From Bohemia to the Bourgeois
After the “Bohemian and outwardly artistic mannerisms and attire of Leigh and Heatherley”, the animated supper parties of Leigh and the theatricals of Heatherley, the bourgeois appearance and demeanour of Crompton was quite a contrast. Summer picnics in the country and stately “At Homes” were more the Compton’s style. (ibid.)
According to Sheppard, when they weren’t looking and the “old trouts (elderly ladies who painted at the school)” had left the studio, the younger students played hockey among the casts. They used a rolled up paint rag as a ball and played “until the noise brought Crompton downstairs to register a dignified protest” (ibid.).
Their daughter Dorothea (1878 – 1964) also attended Heatherleys for a time before going on to become an accomplished singer. She often helped her father put together elaborate costume set ups in the studio. She would source details such as wigs, old shoes and other theatrical elements to create a picture as in keeping with the period as possible.
Dorothea sang in aid of the Titanic Disaster Fund and promoted affordable concerts. One of these performances at South Place on 24 January 1915 was a “Concert of Compositions by Women Composers – with Margaret Wild and Dorothea Crompton performing a duet called ‘Maying’ by Alice Mary Smith”. (4)
She was so successful in her time she left an estate of £57,415 when she died. With this she established several cash prizes to support aspiring musicians via the Artist’s General Benevolent Fund, the Royal Academy of Arts Benefactors’ Fund and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where she had been a student.
2. City of London (2022) Focus on Women: Dorothea Crompton Availlable at: https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/history-and-heritage/london-metropolitan-archives/collections/dorothea-crompton [Accessed on: 09/03/2023]
All images are copyright of Heatherleys, unless otherwise stated.