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Margate Welcomes a Visionary Schoolmistress

Margate is rapidly expanding eastwards and a large building is constructed on our site. It is owned and occupied by Mrs Margaret Bryan who runs a Boarding School for Young Ladies. This is one of a number of small boarding and day schools in the town, including one down the hill in Love Lane, which artist JMW Turner had attended a few years earlier.

Mrs Bryan is an enlightened educator of some note, and introduces her female pupils to the wonders and principles of scientific enquiry and natural philosophy – all generally considered to be a male preserve in the 18th Century. In 1797, while living in Margate, she publishes a Compendious System of Astronomy, earning her a degree of fame. A year later, she moves her academy to Blackheath in London and publishes Lectures on Natural Philosophy (thirteen lectures on hydrostatics, optics, pneumatics, and acoustics) in 1806 and then in 1815, an Astronomical and Geographical Class Book for Schools.

While Bryan’s books are popular, it is Jane Marcet who publishes the first truly bestselling scientific book for young people in 1805. Her Conversations on Chemistry is the book that Michael Faraday reads in 1810, while still working as an apprentice bookbinder. He later said: “I felt I had got hold of an anchor in chemical knowledge and clung fast to it.”

The book he read was in the form of the dialogue of a series of imaginary scientific lessons in which a teacher referred to as Mrs B talks to two pupils, Emily and Caroline. It is now widely accepted that the teacher is based on Margaret Bryan.

Image – Mrs Bryan and Her Daughters – Frontispiece to A Compendious System of Astronomy, the whole engraved by William Nutter from a miniature by Samuel Shelley, 1797, 1799 and 1805.

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