Private boarding schools for both boys and girls would advertise in their local newspapers every January. Many would merely thank the public for their support in florid and obsequious terms and announce the day of re-opening. For the majority of the schools in 1816, the first day back was Monday 22 January.
On 13 January 1816, the Oxford Journal had advertisements for 20 private boarding schools. Ten of these were in Oxford, but the others were in Abingdon, Chipping Norton, Bicester, Witney, and Cirencester and as far away as Worcester. Regency parents could bear to live without their children near. The Long Melford Girls School, Suffolk, on sale in 1816, boasted that it was a mere 59 miles from London an on some very convenient stagecoach routes.
Some schools advertised their services in the January announcements. The Girls’ Boarding schools were owned either by a single woman or a pair of sisters. For a rather pricey 35 guineas, the Prospect House Boarding School, the Misses Temple offered English, French, Writing, Arithmetic, Geography and History. As with most Boarding Schools, there was an extra charge for accomplishments- Music, drawing, dancing and French. The Barton Lodge Boarding School offered “plain and fancy needlework” alongside other subjects as part of the mainstream curriculum.
Who attended these schools? It was certainly not the top section of society, who used larger public schools and governesses, but it was people who were ambitious for their children. It is easier to see this in the advertisements for the boy’s boarding schools. Mr Hills School in Hereford, like many schools, tried to straddle two worlds. It offered an education suitable for entrance to University, or the “life of a gentlemen or men of business” Mr Hill offered English, composition and handwriting as the core curriculum, with Latin and Greek ( taught by the clergy). Continental Languages, drawing and dancing were also offered. Accounts were offered for those who felt they were not hoping to become gentlemen.
There seems to have been a division between those schools who offered Commercial Studies as part of the core and those who offered it as an afterthought. Some announced this is their names “ The Mathematical and Commercial School” in Twyford was one. The Reverend J Milner’s Academy was another, and it also had a rather “menu like” fees structure;
Many schools offered the parents the added convenience of keeping the children throughout the year, in this case, for an extra 4 guineas. It was also clear that most of the money was being spent on boarding; some schools make a point of announcing that they did not take day students; but those who did, often at the lower end of the social scale, were charging 4 guineas for mere attendance lessons but 25 guineas for boarders.
Winton School Westmoreland offered a slightly more up market curriculum -“ for the university, professions and all types of business”- but did not quite reach the heights of gentlemen. The brothers Adamthwaite, both established Anglican clergymen provided the core curriculum and employed qualified teachers for other areas. The fee was 22 guineas or 40 guineas for “parlour boarders”- those who would be treated more like members of the family with use of the parlour. One of the brothers was spending January in attendance at the Chapter Coffee House in London-Wackford Squeers style- to encourage people to send their children to the other side of the country. According to the advertisement “there were no holidays” and it was a long time by coach from London to the Lake District.
The excerpt from the website “KIRKBY STEPHEN – IN THE NEWS” suggests what this particular school was like-(below)
[From “The Lake District and Cumbria” by Peter Long …..”In the centre of the village is the manor house built in 1726, and Winton’s only three-storey building. It was formerly a boys’ school where, apparently, the boys were treated like prisoners and not allowed to return home until the end of their education in case they told of their life at the school”. Speaking 40 years later, Charles Dickens described these places as ” cheap distant schools, where neglected children pine from year to year”
Okey Nash’s school in Stony Stratford was one of the most expensive advertising in January. 40 guineas a year would secure you a core curriculum starting with the classics and academic subjects. Entrance was an extra 2 guineas and washing 2 guineas per year. Extra subjects were more academic ones- not the accomplishments done by women- and once again accounts were an add- on, presumably for the lower stratum of the cohort who were headed for Trade. Okey’s was different to Winton’s; it offered “liberal instruction” with domestic comfort- “the Young Gentlemen sleep in single beds”.
After a viewing few advertisements patterns begin to emerge. The school is always somewhere salubrious. It is staffed by Clergymen or spinsters. Only girls draw and do needlework. Boys sometimes dance; girls always do. French teachers are from France; both sexes do continental languages, but probably in a different way and for different purposes. Boys can do accounting if they really have to. Fees are the same for boys and girls; nothing worth advertising could be had for less than 20 guineas a year. French was a key part of the curriculum quite down the social scale, and it was not merely for adornment- it was a useful skill, especially for a post in a government apparently at war with Napoleon for ever.
There was very little Science taught, and none of course, to girls. However, one school is Nottingham did offer some leisure time science, known as “Natural Philosophy”.
The content of these lessons, and the efficacy of the schools is another matter and not so easy to find evidence for. Sir John Soane, who was a social cut above the people sending their children to these types of schools, made this note in his accounts in January 1798
“Paid to Mr Wicks for not teaching the two boys for ½ year £39 17shilling”
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My latest book -PASSENGERS is a social history of Britain 1780 to 1840, centred around stagecoaches, inns and roads but covering all aspects of life in Britain, including a chapter on schools. The publisher’s details are here and my blog on the book is here.