Annie Moberley

Stern expressions, dark clothes, rectories the size of small palaces – these are all clues to what life was like for the middle class in Victorian England. No place was probably more typical of this than Winchester. Not to be ordained, not to have gone to a Public School and Oxford, not to go to church without fail, and above all, not to have close contacts with those who could fix up a good job – these could all spell disaster.

The Moberly family par excellence exhibited mid-Victorian life in the cloistered walls of Winchester College, and in the wider world. Its men especially were embedded in an Anglican coterie that struggled with the ‘polluted’ style of ministry that had emerged from the Reformation and the Enlightenment. Some of them yearned for a more Catholic ministry – some even converted – they saw themselves as direct descendants of the Apostles. Encased in a rigid way of life, it took a World War to release them.

The women, with a few notable exceptions, were trapped in a different sense. And yet from a family of 15, it is Annie Moberly who today commands the longest entry of three assigned to her family in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. A brother with a life committed to theological philosophy comes second, and the shortest entry goes to their father, for 30 years headmaster of Winchester College. Men, it seems, were crowding into a cul-de-sac, whilst some women were stirred by hopes of women’s suffrage and a decent education. The story of Annie Moberly illustrates some of these elements.

In 1901 two middle-aged ladies from Oxford reported that during a trip to Versailles they had seen Marie Antoinette, the wife of Louis XVI, both guillotined during the French Revolution. These were not ecstatic pilgrims overcome by the moment, but two serious academics accustomed to vigorous debate.

One of them was ‘Annie’ Moberly, christened Charlotte Anne Elizabeth (1846–1937),  brought up within the walls of Winchester College, where her father was headmaster. She was the seventh of eight girls in a family of 15. At a time when girls could only be educated at home, she benefited from learning music with the school’s organist and sharing her brothers’ lessons in Latin, Greek and Hebrew.