So much has been written about Domenico Angelo, the feted fencing master of London and instructor at Eton College that one could be forgiven for believing that the boys’ house Angelo’s is named after him. But it is in fact named after his daughter Sophia, one of Eton’s longest-serving Dames.
Sophia, or Florella Sophia Angelo Tremamondo to use her full name, was born in 1759 at the London home of her parents from where her father ran his famous school, the second of six children to be born to them. A record of her baptism has never been found, so her exact date of birth is unknown. Along with her sister Anne Caroline, she was sent abroad around 1767 for her schooling, to an English convent in French Flanders, the Ursulines at Lisle.
On her return to England, she became acquainted with the future George IV, who is supposed to have exerted his influence to make it possible for her to become a Dame at Eton. Indeed, many of the boys believed she was a former paramour who had been set up with a position following the end of the relationship. She herself made mention of how she had caught the fancy of the Prince. However, the whole family was held in high esteem by the Royal Family: George III was her brother Henry’s godfather, and her other two brothers owed their commissions in the Army to their Royal patrons. The family moved in high circles and several members were painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, including Sophia’s sister Catherine whose portrait by Reynolds is now at the Huntingdon Museum of Art https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/miss-catherine-angelo-joshua-reynolds/ewFuXDvdjY_P0w).
It is not known exactly when Sophia became a Dame. The notice of her death in 1847 printed in the Gentleman’s Magazine described her as “having been connected with that establishment [Eton College] near seventy years”, which has been taken to mean she was a Dame from around the late 1770s. This would have made her under 20 years old when taking up the position. However, she is not recorded as a Dame in the list of the school in 1788, the earliest to include the Dames of each boy, and the house which would later become known as Angelo’s did not become available until 1796. She was registered to pay hair and powder tax at the house in London in 1795, suggesting that that was her primary residence. It seems likely then that her time as Dame did not start until at least 1796, and it may be that the 70 years’ relationship includes that of her father’s time as fencing master. Despite this discrepancy, Sophia still spent nearly 50 years running a boarding house for the scholars of Eton College. Clearly a character of Eton, she was remembered as “She used to wear an ermine tippet and drive out in a pony chaise, and was styled the Duchess of Eton” and “Had been a noted beauty, and to the end of her days used patch and powder and wore ringlets, and when no longer able to walk she was carried to church with some state in a sedan chair”.
She died 15 April 1847 aged 89 and is commemorated alongside her parents in the parish church in Windsor. Her will is stored at the National Archives in Kew and shows that the profession as a Dame could be a rewarding one. It records:
“To my Nephew Henry Angelo, the son of my late Brother Henry, I give all my pictures in my dining room and the Royal pictures in the Back drawing room. To his Wife I give my best diamond Brooch, the two volumes of Findens Tableaux and Flowers of Lochness which may sometimes amuse her. To their son Henry Charles Angelo I give the interest I possess in the house in Carlisle Street Soho and to his wife Mrs Henry Charles Angelo I give the sum of one hundred pounds, my best china dinner service and the annuals he gave me. To my dear niece Levina the wife of the Reverend John Dayman rector of Skelton Cumberland I give the house and property I hold under lease from the Provost and Fellows of Eton College together with all my Furniture plate linen china glass books musical instruments money in the funds monies debts and securities for money and all other my property and effects of what nature or kindsoever except as is herein specifically bequeathed.
To Mrs Rich I give one of the pictures of my dear Mary feeling sure she will value it for her sake. To Captain Edward Rich for his dear daughter the sum of two hundred pounds for remembering her aunt and scribing her first piece of work which was always valued for her sake. To my dear Niece Sophia the wife of General Wood I give the sum of two hundred pounds and my silver tea caddy. To dear Elizabeth Harnage I give the sum of two hundred pounds and one pair of silver candlesticks which she used to admire. To her dear sister Harriett B… the sum of two hundred pounds and my dear sister St Legers picture. To dear Mrs Arthur Drury I give the sum of two hundred pounds and also one of my drawing room clocks and my little miniature there. To my worthy friend Mrs Anna Maria Turner if still living with me at the time of my decease the sum of two hundred pounds six silver forks and six silver spoons. To my dear friend Isabella Vallancey the sum of one hundred pounds to purchase a ring in remembrance of her attached friend. To my servant Daniel Atlee and to my late servant parker, now the wife of … West the sum of twenty pounds each and also a full suit of mourning each for their attention and faithful conduct to me.”
The running of the house passed to the Misses Edgar, before coming under the direct control of the college by the appointment of Rev. George Frewer, Assistant Master to run the house in 1869. It became known as Angelo’s in the early 20th century, some time between 1904 and 1925.
By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist