Sister Emma

Collection date: Feb 1909

Area: Berkshire


Sister Emma at Clewer, nr Windsor, Berks (1838-1909): age 71, 19 songs on 27 February 1909 + 7 songs sent by letter on 13 March 1909 (when she was actually on her deathbed): Some songs are nursery songs, for which there were no special tunes or she could not remember the tunes. These she had learned from her nursemaid ‘when she was not over 6’. ‘As I was going to Banbury’ (FT2095, FW1957) is a splendid nonsense song, sometimes sung today. Other songs were traditional ballads including ‘Long Lankin’ (Child ballad 93, FT2083). Click vwml link above. These were learned from her mother. The song ‘Giles Collins’ FT2078 has some biographical notes written by Sister Emma but transcribed by Sharp.

From her early 30s Sister Emma was a nun (‘Sister of Mercy’) with the Anglican Community of St John the Baptist at Windsor. Her birth as ‘Eleanor Emma Waring’ was registered in Axminster Devon in October qr 1838 (ref 10-17) and she was actually baptised ‘Helena Emma Waring’ on 17/1/1839. When she told Sharp she was 71 in February 1909, she perhaps meant she was in her 71st year. She was the 4th of 11 children (3 boys, 8 girls) of Henry Franks Waring, solicitor of Lyme Regis, and his wife Catherine Mary (née Rankin). Although Catherine was born in Bristol in 1809, the Rankin family had links with the North East, which may explain the flavour of some of Sister Emma's songs.

In 1841 census one of 3 family servants was Priscilla Tucker, aged 29. Sister Emma recalled that ‘her nurse was about 45’ when she sang the nursery songs to her - she herself was 6 (i.e. c1844). Children do exaggerate the age of their nannies and the 1841 census was very loose with its reporting of age. No trace can be found of Priscilla Tucker. She was not with the family in 1851 census.

Eleanor Emma Waring received an education at Bedford College for Women and became a nun in 1869. The 1871 census for Bovey Tracey (edge of Dartmoor in Devon) lists Eleanor as one of 8 Sisters of Mercy responsible for training 48 female inmates as domestic servants. By 1881 she was living at St Stephen’s College, Clewer where she helped run the St Augustine’s Boys’ Home, giving support and training to problem boys. Sister Emma died at St Stephen's College on 22/3/1909, 10 days after sending her songs to Sharp by letter.

Note: Thanks to Martin Graebe, Diane Shaw and Matthew Edwards, who had already done research on this singer.

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