One of the most mysterious figures in the Margaret Rope life-story has, for some time now, escaped the clutches of the historian. References to a ‘Peg Poore’, Marga’s supposed best friend, are scattered throughout Rope family anecdotes and stories – but look for actual evidence that she existed, and you will be disappointed.
Researchers looking through an old family photo-album have found a photo of a young woman dressed in Land Army uniform. On the reverse of the photo, someone has scrawled ‘Peg Gradon Poore’.
Peg Poore, whoever she was, is very unusual in the Margaret Rope story in that she is the only person, outside of her family and her family’s priests, whom Marga seems to have been close too. (… that is… as far as we know; as we have said before, personal biographical details about Marga are very thin on the ground).
For example, Peg is given surprising prominence in Marga’s famous Lumen Christi panel. This very personal scene shows almost all the members of Marga’s immediate family plus Father Carl Whitefoord. Yet, there is a surprising ‘outsider’ in this roll-call – the serene woman kneeling, below and next to Marga herself, who has been identified as Peg (see pic right).
Dr Peter Phillips, the Shrewsbury Diocese archivist, goes even further in his monograph and asserts that “Peg Poore, a one-time Olympic swimmer and later hygiene teacher in the town, was the model for the figure of Our Lady in Shrewsbury Cathedral’s Visitation Window” (see below).
One can presume from this depiction of Our Lady that Peg must have been a strikingly attractive woman.
Also, in a recording she made before she died, Dorothy Rope, Marga’s sister-in-law, remembers Peg very well: “…she lived with the Ropes in Shrewsbury and was secretly in love with Denys, Marga’s brother. But she was disappointed in love; and later became a Sister of Charity nun. She died of TB.” (Interestingly, Marga’s sister Monica was also a Sister of Charity).
Sadly, Dorothy did not elaborate further. Why did Peg live with the Ropes? Was she always a Catholic, or did she convert when the family did?
So – an attractive woman, an “Olympic swimmer”, a teacher, later a nun – living at a known address in Shrewsbury. You’d think she’d be easy to trace in the records.
The “Olympic swimmer” description of her seems to be part of family and then Shrewsbury lore. However, Chris Cannon, archivist of the Wenlock Shropshire Olympian Society – the original of the Olympic Association – can find no reference to her, while the official lists of the sportswomen representing Britain at the first five ‘proper’ Olympic Games do not mention her.
Jane Morgan, one of the archives-researchers at Shrewsbury Museum, has tried sifting through newspapers of the time, censuses, town directories, and so on… only to draw an almost complete blank. Jane did find one reference though: “I did find a Margaret Poore, born 1890, living in Wandsworth in London in 1911 working as a school teacher.” For more of this Margaret Poore, see below.
It had been hoped that when the diaries of Harry Rope, Marga’s favourite brother, turned up, there might be some reference to Peg there – but no.
At this point, with so little to go on, some of us in the project were beginning to wonder if Peg was some sort of imaginary figure, a sort of psychological projection!
But then the photo turned up.
Some of the few family photographs from the time are kept in the small Rope Family Archive in Suffolk in old photo-albums.
By sheer chance, this photo tumbled out of one when a researcher was glancing through it recently; there was no indication why it is there.
The only clues to its provenance are: the name of the photographic studio in Shrewsbury where the photo was taken; and, on the reverse, some handwriting, which says ‘Peg Gradon Poore’.
It’s an unusual photo in that it shows a woman in Land Army uniform. (This indicates that it must have been taken during the First World War, 1914-18).
Although it was very common for young male-soldiers to have a studio-photo taken when they joined up, it is much rarer to see the equivalent for a woman.
As the researcher who found it said: “So, when Peg Poore went to a photographer’s studio in Shrewsbury to have herself photographed in her land girl’s uniform (wearing gaiters/trousers) that was a sign of the new times, something novel. Women in uniform, women in trousers, single women having themselves photographed…”
The presence of the photo in this album at least now establishes that Peg Poore was a real person; and gives heart to historians who will continue to try to trace her.
Why does it all matter though? Well, apart from it being a fascinating thread in Margaret Rope’s own story, there is the tantalising hope that somewhere, kept by Peg Poore’s descendants, is a cache of letters between her and Marga. Wouldn’t that be a find….!
Can you help? If you are experienced in tracing family histories, maybe you can help us find Peg Poore. Please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org if you have advice
There are some facts about the Margaret Poore discovered by Jane (see above) that do look more than coincidental. As Jane says:
# The father of this Margaret Poore, born London in 1890, was Graydon Poore; and her siblings seemed also to have taken the name (Emily Graydon Poore and brother just Graydon Poore). Allowing for a slight misspelling, we can thus tie in the Gradon part of Peg’s name.
# According to the 1911 Census, Margaret Poore is then with her family in Wandsworth – and Fulham (where Margaret Rope had her studios) is quite close. The coincidental fact here is that Marga made the Visitation Window, for which Peg was supposed to be a model, also in 1911 … at Fulham.
# Margaret Poore (and her two sisters Jessie Kathleen and Ruth) were school teachers. Interestingly, in Margaret’s Teacher’s Registration form (dated 1920), it states Margaret does have a certificate to teach physical training (as well as drawing).
# However, there is no indication of this Margaret becoming a nun. The 1939 register has her living in Chichester, and still a teacher. She died in 1976 in Wimbledon.
# There is also no official record of a Shrewsbury connection so far – apart from the address of the photographer’s studio written on to the photo of Peg