Sutton National schoolteacher Hannah Rosbotham was the first woman to be awarded the Albert Medal – the honour that was known as the civilian Victoria Cross. Her act of bravery occurred on October 14th 1881 when a “gale of terrific fury” – as one newspaper called it – struck St Helens.
At Sutton “Nash” almost 200 little children were crammed into the infants’ schoolroom as the gale reached its climax.
The winds struck the school belfry and blew down a stone weighing almost a ton onto 40 infants that were standing on a gallery.
Four-years-old Harriet Bradbury from Blinkhorn Row in Sutton was instantly killed and other youngsters were badly injured.
Assistant schoolmistress Hannah Rosbotham was teaching elsewhere as the disaster unfolded but immediately rushed to the scene.
While others fled to safety the 23-years-old entered the schoolroom and rescued five pupils that were covered in debris, as slates, bricks and pieces of rafter rained down.
One little girl was completely buried and would have suffocated if it hadn’t been for Hannah’s prompt action.
The poor people of Sutton thanked teacher Hannah Rosbotham from New Street for her bravery by holding a collection that raised the sum of £13 (about £1,500 in today’s money).
On December 16th 1881 Queen Victoria conferred the Albert Medal on the heroine from Sutton and she became the first female recipient.
Fifteen years later when Strand Magazine profiled Hannah (pictured here) she was still the only woman to hold the award.
In 1887 Hannah married James Parr and the couple lived first in Peckers Hill Road and then in New Street. Hannah rose to become headmistress of the school and died in 1935 aged 77 and was buried in Sutton Parish Churchyard.
Surprisingly Hannah’s grave fails to reveal that she is a rare holder of the Albert Medal and officially one of the bravest women in the country. In fact she is one of only sixteen ladies to have received it.
The medal’s rarity value is enhanced by the fact that the award no longer exists, having been replaced by the George Cross. So Hannah Rosbotham of Sutton will always be in a very select band of courageous females.
Read more about this on the Sutton Beauty & Heritage website.
‘The Sutton National School Storm – A Story of Tragedy and Heroism’