Researched and written by Christine Shackell
Mary Waller Lambert nee Mingay ran a successful girls’ boarding school in the centre of Norwich for over thirty years, in the early Victorian era.
Mary Waller Mingay was the eldest daughter of Mark Bean Mingay and his wife Clementina nee Browne. She was born in Norwich on 17 October 1799 and baptised on the same day at the Catholic Chapel, St John’s Maddermarket. Her father was a hatter, hosier and woollen draper in the Haymarket in the centre of Norwich. Seven more siblings were born over the next ten years, four of whom died in infancy. In 1811, when Mary was ten years old, her father died, leaving her mother pregnant and with four children to care for.
The enterprising widow, Clementina, put a notice in the newspaper appealing for funds to support herself and her children. These donations enabled Clementina to set herself up in business, initially in a small way selling coffee, but later selling ladies’ boots and shoes. She expanded the trade taking on the premises in the Haymarket. By the time of her death, her son George Nelson Mingay and her two younger surviving daughters were running a very successful business.
But what of her eldest daughter, Mary? It seems that Mary fell in love with a dancing master, as in 1819, at the age of twenty and with her mother’s consent, at St Peter Mancroft church, she married Francis Lambert. Francis, aged twenty-seven years old was in partnership with Francis Noverre, and together they ran a thriving academy arranging balls and dancing classes throughout Norfolk.
The couple initially lived in Cow Hill in the parish of St Giles, from where Francis advertised his Dancing Academy and also that he gave “instruction in the French language” to Young Ladies and Young Gentlemen. Perhaps this gave Mary the idea to set up her own school for Young Ladies at Cow Hill.
In July 1836 the family moved from Cow Hill to Queen Street, Norwich, advertising the cost per term for boarding pupils in the new school as twenty-five guineas and fourteen or twelve guineas per term for day pupils, depending on age. The French language and dancing were part of the curriculum but instruction on the piano by Mary incurred an extra cost. Mary advertised her school as a separate enterprise from her husband’s dancing school in White’s and Pigot’s Directories. Further advertisements advised that parents’ wishes with regard to religious teaching were adhered to.
In the 1841 census the family were still living at Steels Court Queen Street. The household comprised Francis Lambert, a dancing master, Mary, his wife, and their children, Jane ten years, Agnes four years and Teresa three years. Also living in were two teachers, eleven pupils and three servants. Unusually for this census, it records Mary’s occupation as running the boarding school.
In 1849 her husband Francis Lambert died at the age of fifty-seven years. Mary continued to run the school and was still in Queen Street in the 1851 census with five of her children, Jane, now nineteen, Teresa thirteen, Mary nine, Lucy eight and Ignatius five years. Her older sons were at boarding school or already independent.
The school also had three teachers, twelve pupils and three servants living in, although other pupils and servants may have lived locally. By the 1861 census, Mary was sixty one years old and still running the school but by 1871 had retired to Mount Pleasant in the suburb of Eaton. She was described as an annuitant, living with her two daughters, Jane and Mary who were teachers of music.
Mary spent the last two years of her life in Great Yarmouth and died at the age of seventy-six years. The Norfolk Chronicle dated 24 June 1876 described her funeral at Willow Lane Catholic Chapel paying tribute to her life as a devout Catholic and also as a professional woman. She had “a great talent for the instruction, the management and the education of youth”. The priest continued to say that she had never sought to influence any person or child in their religious beliefs and yet, prejudice meant that “If she had not been a Catholic her establishment would have been the most favoured in Norwich”.