The Mary Smith Scholarship Fund - Who Was Mary Smith?
The mystery of Mary Smith, who gave her name to a scholarship fund that still helps Ashby School students 100 years after her death, has been solved by a former student.
The Mary Smith Scholarship Fund was set up in 1936 by Mrs Smith's son, Alderman Frederick Smith, of Liverpool, who was an old boy of Ashby Boys' Grammar School.
When Alison Coates, of Groby, came across a box of old documents in 2007, she discovered that Mary Smith was her great-great-aunt.
Mrs Coates, who left Ashby Girls' Grammar School in 1961, said: "I came across a photograph of a family celebration which appeared to have been taken in the late 19th century against the background of Ashby Castle. Attached to it was a list of the sitters and their relationships to each other.
"The only name that meant anything to me at first was Mrs Richardson, who I later realised was my great great grandmother, née Louisa Smith. Eventually I decided by dating the gorgeous Victorian costumes, that the photograph was the 50th wedding celebration of Fred and Mary Smith, née Hawes or Hewes…
"[The guests included] the family of Fred Smith, upholsterer of Ashby. Louisa was Fred Senior’s sister. Fred and Mary had five children. His sons George and Edward became upholsterers and the upholstery business continued in the family into the mid-twentieth century at the same address at the top of Market Street, Ashby. (When I came with my parents for my uniform fitting for Ashby Girls’, in the late summer of 1954 at Fosters Outfitters near the top of Market Street, we actually called on the aged, retired upholsterer but I did not register his name…)
"However, Fred Senior’s third son, also Fred, studied law at a firm in Ashby and then moved to Liverpool. He married his landlady, Mary Cropper née Hulme (daughter of a well-known Liverpool surgeon) but they had no children.
"Then I was rushing around my house one day and knocked down a deed box. Out of it fell some family papers including two newspaper cuttings, one about the funeral of Mary Smith, the wife of Fred Smith Snr, and one about the will of Fred Smith Junior. What a fascinating find.
"In the cutting, called 'Funeral of an Old Baptist at Ashby', it describes Mary’s funeral in great detail, saying that she died in the autumn of 1901 'in the 93rd year of her age', 'one of Ashby’s oldest inhabitants', 'for 66 years a consistent and devoted member of the Baptist Church'. Among other family members, the chief mourners included 'Mr Alderman F. Smith (Liverpool)'. The address at the church service, given by the Rev T A Plant, formerly minister of the Baptist Church, seems to have been fully reported, describing Mary’s good qualities.
'The other newspaper cutting was dated 1936, the year Fred Smith Jnr died. The headlines are 'Liverpool Fortune', 'Alderman F. Smith Leaves £246,885' (indeed a fortune shortly before the beginning of the Second World War) and 'Large Number of Annuities'. Alderman Fred Smith had been a solicitor in Liverpool and a member of Liverpool City Council for more than 51 years!
"The chief beneficiary under the will was Mr Eric Errington, MP for Bootle, but with a Liverpool address. I guess that Mr Errington, a barrister, was a close friend of Fred Jnr or a business associate. Fred Jnr’s wife, Mary Smith, formerly Cropper, died in 1919. There is some money for a step-daughter, presumably a Cropper child from his wife’s first marriage, and for some Cropper grandchildren. Fred also left annuities to some of the Smith family, to his nurse for 'her diligent care and attention in his illness', £400 and furniture to 'my faithful and attentive maid' and other monies to many others. Alderman Fred was obviously a generous man.
"Then there are two paragraphs of the cutting that describe the allotment of monies to two trusts: 'To pay out of the capital to the Education Authorities of Liverpool the sum of £20,000 free of duty, to pay the Education Authorities of Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire, £20,000 free of duty'.
"It went on to say that: 'These trusts are to provide scholarships for boys showing ability and industry who desire, but could not otherwise afford, to attend university'.
"Fred was educated at Ashby (Boys') Grammar School and apparently won the Queen’s Prize for Mathematics in 1870 (but there seems to have been a mistake here, presumably by a Liverpool newspaper, as he would have been 20 years old in that year).
"My feeling is that Fred would have liked to go to university himself but his family could not afford to send him and he wanted to offer the opportunity he missed, to others in like need. I am glad to see that the award has now been widened to include girls too.
"Not only does Ashby School still have a Mary Smith Award but Travel Scholarships are still available from the Alderman Fred Smith bequest to young people from Liverpool…
"I believe that it is Mrs Mary Smith Senior, the upholsterer’s wife, who is commemorated in the Award but this is difficult to prove, as Alderman Fred's wife was also known as Mary Smith. However, when giving gifts to Liverpool Councillors in 1929, Alderman Fred did give a beautiful silver epergne [table centrepiece] to the Lord Mayor of Liverpool 'as a gift to the city in memory of his mother' so he obviously revered her greatly."
Money from the Mary Smith Scholarship Fund is awarded each year to current or former students of Ashby School, or people under 25 from the Ashby area, who wish to use it to further their educational or career aspirations.
Since discovering her family connection to Mary Smith, Alison Coates has become a Governor of the Mary Smith Scholarship Fund.