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Sophia of Bilston wrote 30 Sunday school prize books

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: August 04, 2014

Some of the many books Sophia Amelia Prosser wrote

Some of the many books Sophia Amelia Prosser wrote

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THE most interesting article on Sunday School prize books in The Bugle (July 17 edition) ends with a request for more information on the beautifully bound books from the Victorian era which were given as Sunday School attendance prizes.

I thought Bugle readers would be interested to know that one of the most prolific authors of those books was a remarkable lady, Sophia Amelia Prosser (1807- 1882), who spent the last few years of her life in Bilston.

Her son, the Reverend William Prosser, was vicar of St Luke's, Bilston, and in 1881 she and her husband, also the Reverend William Prosser, were living in Wellington Street, Bilston.

Sophia Prosser (pen name Mrs Prosser) was born Sophia Amelia Dibdin on May 17, 1807, the seventh of 11 children born to Charles Isaac Mungo Dibdin (1768-1833), proprietor and acting manager of Sadler's Wells theatre, and his actress wife, Mary Bates.

Her childhood was often disrupted, notably with the death of her mother and three of her siblings, but an early resilience was evident. On her marriage, her father commented: "If she makes as good a wife as she has ever been a daughter, the estimable qualities of her husband for such he possesses will have obtained their dessert. "

She seems to have been a resourceful lady, supporting her husband as he moved to Shrewsbury, where she ran a boarding school for young ladies in Belmont and as vicar's wife in Leicestershire where her writing career began at the age of 50.

In the last 20 years of her life more than 30 of her books were published by the Religious Tract Society and her short stories were often featured in Sunday at Home – a family magazine for Sabbath reading .

In his History of Bilston, G.T. Lawley quotes an article from this magazine.

"Mrs Prosser was the granddaughter of the well-known Dibdin, and seems to have inherited much of his peculiar vivacity. Her magazines from the first found ready acceptance, and she soon secured a wide circle of readers.

"Her stories were distinguished by her cheerful piety, unaffected simplicity of faith, and large charity. She delighted in portraying the rural poor, amongst whom, as a clergyman's wife she had large experience, and was exceedingly happy in presenting the brighter traits as well as the foibles which are common to human nature."

Of particular local interest is How Jarvis Got his House subtitled An Incident of Life in the Black Country, in which an enterprising hero, Joss, travels to London to confront an absent colliery owner on behalf of a wounded workmate who is about to be rendered homeless."

Sophia died aged 74 in March 1882 at St Luke's Vicarage after what was described as a brief illness.

A report of her funeral in the Bilston Weekly Herald states that "although resident only four or five years in Bilston, she had been regarded as a most charitable lady without any form or wish of display."

Sophia, her husband, son and daughter are buried in a family grave in Bilston cemetery.

By September that year, a new organ was installed in St. Luke's Church, designed by her family and friends as a memorial of the worth and work of the late Mrs Prosser.

The Dean of Lichfield, in his sermon, said: "Few in Bilston knew her in her quiet retired life, or knew, except by report, her sweet patience, her large benevolence, and her sound common sense. She died, as she had always lived, in the love of God."

It would be interesting if any Bugle readers know what happened to the organ dedicated to Sophia when the church was demolished in the 1970s and if, indeed, any locally presented copies of her books have survived.

For more information on the Prosser family: http://www.historywebsite.co.uk/genealogy/prosser/prosser01.htm

Jill Loach (Mrs),

jillg4pvz@btinternet.com

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