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“I will be with you”

Our Sisters came from a variety of backgrounds, and many places. Several were born abroad, some came from East Anglia, but others came from further afield in the UK. Sr Emmeline is one of those who was born and brought up in the north of England. Her father, John Cooke, was born in Durham, but moved to Huddersfield where he became a woollen merchant. It must have been here that he met his future wife, Elizabeth Nowell, who was born in Huddersfield. They married in 1838, nearby at Kirkheaton. By 1851, four children are registered with them on the Census: Harriet, John William, Elizabeth and Louisa Rosa. Emmeline was born in 1852, and at least three more children followed: Kate, Henry and William. By 1871, John has moved back to Durham, where his occupation is down as Merchant and Farmer. Six of his children are living with him, but Elizabeth must have been staying away from home, as she was not in the census there, although John is still married.

What happened to the rest of the family I haven’t investigated, but Emmeline joined the Community in about 1875. How she came to hear of us down in rural East Anglia, I don’t know. She was professed in January 1878. By 1881, she is working at All Hallows Farm, under Sr Marianna, and with Sr Priscilla. The Grange farm was purchased in the early 1860s, and presumably renamed All Hallows by us. It is not far from the Convent, being just off Draper’s Lane, about 5 minutes walk away, possibly less if you went over the fields. It was let in 1894, and the stock was sold. Sr Emmeline seems to have been associated with the farm for much of her early years in Community, although not always based there. In 1881, the farm had the help of a servant, Elizabet Starling, aged 20. There were also three boarders: Charles S. Marmery (aged 6), Henry Y. Nicker (aged 3) and Annie E. E. Besant (aged 12). While I know nothing more about the two older boarders, the youngest, Henry, was the half brother of two Sisters, Sr Amy and Sr Bertha, who were both professed in 1879. In 1881, their father was dying and their stepmother, Henry’s mother, had already died. Henry had 3 older (full) sisters, who were taken into the Orphanage, while Henry was being cared for at the farm; I assume a place was found for him elsewhere in time. So, at this stage, being based at the farm might have had as much to do with caring for these children as it did the farm. However, Sr Emmeline knew about running the farm as well, and she seems to have been in charge of it for several years. ‘We are expecting Sr Emmeline today for farm business’ writes M. Lavinia to another Sister.

We know that the farm was not Sr Emmeline’s only work for the Community. We have three letters, written to her by M. Lavinia, dating back to the mid-1880s. These make it clear that the path had opened for her to go to University College Hospital for training as a nurse; at first, it had seemed unlikely, as they wanted her to stop wearing her habit, which the Community would not agree to. There must have been some sort of agreement, however, as it is clear from the letters that she did go. She was not able to complete her training, as she was recalled to the Community by M. Lavinia, to be sent to Norwich as Sister in Charge of the Mission House, under M. Adele. Her fellow Sisters expressed great delight in the move, according to M. Lavinia, and she was still to have charge of the farm, being run by Sr Matilda under her, so would frequently have been over at Ditchingham on that account.

It seems from the evidence – and it is mainly evidence from the Census and the electoral register – that Sr Emmeline never worked at the Hospital, despite having some Nursing training. But those areas where she did work would have benefitted from her knowledge. In 1891, she was still Sister in Charge at the Mission House in Norwich, together with Sr Janet and a parish nurse, employed, I think, by the Community, and who seems to have stayed many years. By the late 1890s, Sr Emmeline was back at Ditchingham, working in the Orphanage, until she moved to the House of Mercy in about 1909. She was in charge of there, staying for possibly 8-10 years, before moving back to the Orphanage, now a private School. Both periods of time at the Orphanage/School, she worked under Sr Isobel, a very experienced Sister in Charge. I can think of many ways in which a knowledge of nursing would have been beneficial.

It seems from M. Lavinia’s letters that Sr Emmeline was disappointed not to finish her training; nevertheless, she did as she was asked and returned to Norfolk. Reading between the lines, I think that she was also anxious about her new post. “I was afraid you would be a little shaken at first” M. Lavinia writes to her, “but you will get over that & I am sure God will strengthen & help you to go forward humbly & with a good courage. M. Adele will train you to the work & often be at your side at first. Prepare yourself then by prayer & earnest resolutions - & expect temptations & troubles.” The latter may not be the most reassuring of comments, but is realistic; and Sr Emmeline must have been encouraged by knowing that M. Adele, who had worked in Norwich, would train and support her.

“Make the offering of your will to God & then whether you fail or succeed you will win a blessing from Him.” M. Lavinia writes later in the same letter. It is so easy for us to stay with what we know, stick firmly within our comfort zone, but Sr Emmeline was called out beyond that, and must have fulfilled the faith M. Lavinia showed in her, as she stayed in Norwich for some years, and then later was entrusted with running the House of Mercy. M. Lavinia does not encourage her by writing false comforts, but rather realistic words, which lead her back to her faith in God. A God to whom she offered her will, committed her life; an offering which can form us anew into who we are in God, who we are created to be.

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