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News > Heritage > Mary Annie Bullen

Mary Annie Bullen

A much-loved Matron
7 Mar 2024
The B 1900-01
The B 1900-01

Bradfield College flourished during the final decades of the 19th century under the leadership of Headmaster Herbert Gray.  Much of the pastoral success enjoyed by the school during this period reflected the influence of its long-serving Matron, Miss Mary Annie Bullen, who was appointed in 1881. Little is known of Bullen’s early life and previous career, but it appears that she had been born in London and worked as a carer for orphan children and at the Westminster Hospital before coming to Bradfield. Her practical duties included the supervision of domestic affairs, but her impact extended far beyond into the emotional life of the school. Gray depended heavily upon Bullen in caring for the welfare of the boys, ‘there was no crisis in the life of individual members of the school or of the school itself in which he did not seek, or generally follow, her advice. He regarded her as the wisest woman he had known and said “Her insight into the physical, mental and moral condition of the boys amounted to genius.”’ Bullen’s devotion to Bradfield was emphasised by her offer to reduce her salary in 1914 when the school was struggling with a financial crisis. 

Upon her retirement in 1918, C.L. Graves (SCR 1918) published a poetic tribute to Bullen in Punch entitled ‘A Very Noble Lady’. She remained at Bradfield for the remainder of her life, living in a cottage rented to the school by one of its first boys George Blackall Simonds. For much of the time Bullen cared for an ill sister. Of the many tributes paid to Bullen by her devoted former charges, one of the most touching was a letter presented to her on her 80th birthday, signed by 164 Old Bradfieldians. It concluded, ‘whether we appreciated all you did for us at School, or whether we only came to realise it in after years, we feel that the good effect that Bradfield had on our lives is, in a great measure, due to you.’  

Bullen passed away in 1928 and in her obituary for The Times, House Master Thomes Steele (SCR 1882-1924), quoting from Graves’ poem, wrote, ‘Her big heart and shrewd common sense enabled her to know boys inside and out... She had the keenest eye for the evil-minded or the bully and a very rough side of her tongue for the complacent prig... because she had, as a child, known loneliness herself, she knew well, too, the shy, sad boy who shrinks close to the passage wall, and often she helped the lonely soul along’. In another heart-felt tribute, Old Bradfieldian Bishop C.M. Blagden called her ‘the guardian angel of us all’. In Bullen’s memory, a public reading prize was created in 1930, which is currently awarded to Year 10 or 11 English pupils and a college residence bears her name 'Bullens'.

Although Bullen gave the college an album of 57 photographs, no photograph of her has yet been identified. The Archives, however, preserve a fond cartoon of ‘the large and smiling and bespectacled’ figure playing football, created by John Freeman-Mitford (1900-01).        



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