Our Collection · Project Updates

Making connections

Black History Month (BHM) was first launched in London in the 1980s, to inspire local communities to challenge racism and educate themselves and others about the British history that was not being taught in schools. 

To mark the start of Black History Month this year, we launched a new project, The Locals: object_ive. 

For this follow up post we wanted to take a more historical view as we recognise and celebrate Black citizens from, or associated to, our borough.

BHM aims to be a celebration of the history, achievements and contributions of Black people in the UK. Having the opportunity to explore our archives for such stories is very satisfying, and something that we try to do throughout the year. One such past resident of Sutton, which in recent years we have researched and celebrated, is Dr George Rice BA, MB, C-M Edin (1848-1935). 

Born in Troy, New York, USA, Dr George Rice was an exceedingly well regarded African-American physician who worked in Sutton for more than fifty years. We previously explored Dr Rice’s history and life in the borough in this post. This year, though, we want to take a closer look at his family, specifically his daughter Mary Lucinda Rice. 

Mary Lucinda Rice, known more commonly as Lucinda, was born on 11 September 1882 in Plumstead, Kent. The daughter of Dr George Rice and his wife Mary Florence Rice (née Cook, 1849-1933), she came to Sutton with her family in 1884 when Dr Rice took up the position of Resident Medical Officer at the South Metropolitan District School, which was situated on Brighton Road. The originals of the photographs above, which are held in Sutton Archives,  depict Lucinda as a child and as a young woman. They are undated, but both were taken at a photographic studio situated at 18 High Street, Sutton. These premises were owned by W. J. Chivers in the 1880’s to 90’s, and were taken over by Ellis and Co at some point in the 1890’s. We know Miss Rice was photographed by each of these photographers, because the cardboard mounts supporting the images detail the name and address of each.

What is curious about the two images of Lucinda above,  is their connection to Edwardian high street photographer, David Knights-Whittome – those familiar with Sutton Archives will know that we hold a large collection of glass plate negatives by Knights-Whittome (DK-W). This unique collection features over 10,000 images of local people from the early twentieth century, and was the subject of a National Lottery Heritage Fund project from 2014-2018, The Past on Glass. The connection between the above photographs is that the shop where they were taken, was, in 1904, taken over by David-Knights-Whittome.

Image: 18 High Street, Sutton shopfront c. 1905, when David Knights-Whittome had his studio there. (Ref:DKW_18_High_Street)

Intrigued by this connection, we asked our archive volunteers to search the DK-W collection to see if there might be any further links. Whilst they didn’t find an individual portrait of Lucinda by Knights-Whittome, we believe that what they found is a likeness of her in the following group image: ‘Kindergarten, Brighton Road, Sutton, 2 Jun 1908’ (Ref:DKW_29597_Kindergarten)

Image: Kindergarten, Brighton Road, Sutton, 2 Jun 1908 (Ref: DKW_29597_Kindergarten)

We believe Lucinda is in the third row back, 4th from left. If we zoom in to the image and compare it in close up to the image of Lucinda as a young lady, there is a distinct similarity. The school pictured is possibly Clanricarde, which had a Brighton Road address at this time, and was photographed a number of times by Knights-Whittome. This placement of Lucinda within an educational environment, quite obviously as a teacher, very much supports other evidence we have regarding her profession.

We are yet  to definitively prove that Miss Rice was a staff member, but the evidence we have strongly points to this. What we do know is that in the 1911 census, Lucinda is listed as school mistress at a Kindergarten in Sutton, and this could be Clanricarde. Perhaps Lucinda undertook training at this school, she certainly looks young in the image.

By 1938 we know, because of a listing in the local Piles Directory for that year, that Lucinda was the School Principal of Sagamore Preparatory School, which she ran from the family home at 50 Egmont Road, Sutton. The name Sagamore, is taken from a district of her father’s native New York. Not only was she the principal, but she was also recognised as being a Member of the Royal Society of Teachers (MRST).

We also know that in 1939 this address was an ARP First Aid Post, as it’s listed as such in the ARP register for that year. Dr Rice had died in 1935, but we wonder if Lucinda, aged 57 in 1939, had picked up some medical knowledge from her father and therefore may have assisted with the first aid post. No doubt because of Dr Rice’s status in his later years as District Medical Officer for Sutton and Cheam, the family would certainly have been well respected locally, and indeed trusted. 

For most of her life, Lucinda lived with her parents as an only child. But Dr Rice and his wife Florence did in fact have three children in total. Mary Lucinda was the eldest, but they also had two boys, George Lister (named after Dr Rice’s famous tutor) and Noel, who was born on Christmas day. Both boys sadly died at just 4 and 14 months old respectively. 

Amongst the Rice accession from our archives, is a third photograph labelled on the reverse ‘Miss Rice, daughter of Dr Rice’. The image shows an older lady, seated in her home, with a birthday cake. There is some uncertainty if this is actually a photograph of Lucinda Rice as some speculation suggests it may be her mother, Florence Mary Rice. But Florence died in 1935, and the dress and decor of the room seems later than 1935. We do know that Lucinda never married and remained in the family home at 50 Egmont Road until she died in Sutton in October 1967 aged 85.

Image: Photograph labelled ‘Miss Rice, daughter of Dr George Rice’ (Ref: Acc 39/25)

The archives we hold for Dr George Rice and his family provides some factual information that has enabled us to contextualise a broader story and understanding of the family’s life in the borough. Whilst we have also been able to make connections with other material in our collections, there are still many unanswered questions, particularly about Lucinda. Is she indeed the young school teacher in the Knights-Whittome image and did she train to teach at Clanricarde? How long did she run the preparatory school at 50 Egmont Road and who were her pupils? Was she always a teacher? We also wonder what life was like for this Black family living in the area at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 

We know other notable Black citizens lived fairly nearby: Samuel Coleridge Taylor (1875-1912) the English composer and conductor who grew up in Croydon and who later returned to live with his wife at Dagnal Park, South Norwood until 1912; and politician John Richard Archer who was London’s first black mayor in Battersea in 1913, but also a member of the Wandsworth Board of Guardians. Did George Rice know either men? Of course we can not assume this, but with his love of music George may well have been a fan of the composer who was greatly influenced by native sounds from Africa and from George’s country of birth, USA. Within our archives for Rice we also hold a letter of recommendation from the Fulham Board of Guardians (the Poor Law Union that owned Belmont workhouse), if Archer was a member of the Wandsworth Board, might their paths have crossed?

We can look to the wider context of knowledge there is for London, the rest of the country and indeed the world, but without more detailed contextual evidence for the Rice family themselves, we can not make assumptions as to what their lives were like or indeed who they knew. To have questions that still need answering is a good start, and we look forward to continuing our research into the Rice family in the future. 

If you are interested to explore your family history, or the history of your house, our Local Studies room at Sutton Central Library has much information that can help you on your way. Access is currently by appointment on Thursdays only. Thursday bookings to look at specific material must be made by 10am on the preceding Tuesday in order to allow time for retrievals and 48 hour quarantine of materials.
For general queries, please email local.studies@sutton.gov.ukTo make a booking, follow this link.

One thought on “Making connections

  1. Reblogged this on The Past on Glass & Other Stories… and commented:
    This re-blogged post from our sister wordpress site explores the fascinating life of Lucinda Rice, daughter of Dr. George Rice (1848 – 1935), celebrated and respected African-American physician, who worked as chief medical officer at the Belmont Workhouse in Sutton from the 1880s. Lucinda’s own professional teaching career in Sutton as a teacher spanned many decades, but interestingly, it is only recently that we have realised that she is also a subject of the Knights-Whittome ‘Past on Glass’ collection; not photographed in an individual studio portrait, but rather as part of a larger school tableau. This fascinating post reveals more…

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