Private Education from the Sixteenth Century: The twentieth century

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1, Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, the Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes To 1870, Private Education From Sixteenth Century. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.

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'Private Education from the Sixteenth Century: The twentieth century', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1, Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, the Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes To 1870, Private Education From Sixteenth Century, (London, 1969) pp. 285-289. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]


The first Middlesex school in which public secondary education under the Act of 1902 was provided was Christ's College, Finchley, founded by clerical enterprise with some help from parish charities, but latterly an entirely private school. (fn. 1) A number of other schools which owed their origin to private or voluntary enterprise passed into the control of the new local education authorities, some, such as the Paddington and Maida Vale High School of the Girls' Public Day School Trust, on account of the threat of competition from projected maintained schools. (fn. 2) The Philological School was from 1908 held in trust by the L.C.C. as the St. Marylebone Grammar School. (fn. 3) The Cardinal Vaughan School for Boys in Kensington, founded for the 'higher education of Roman Catholic boys' as a memorial to Vaughan, also entered into partnership with the local education authority while maintaining voluntary status. (fn. 4) The Cowper Street schools of the Middle-Class Schools' Corporation had been provided with an instrument of government under the Endowed Schools' Act in 1891 and from the outset received scholarship-holders and contributions from the L.C.C. (fn. 5)

Local and social concern was now directed to the building of the municipal secondary schools, and the picture is often complicated. The Isleworth Grammar School for Boys was in part an offshoot of an old charity, the Blue School, whose governors in 1883 formed an upper department teaching Latin and other subjects of a secondary type of curriculum. The Borough Road College of the British and Foreign Schools' Society, now established in the buildings of the old International School, needed this as a practising school. Negotiations were complicated by the governors' fears of exceeding their powers by providing grammar-school education from funds bequeathed for an apprentice school, but finally in 1895 the generosity of Sir William Pears, the enthusiasm and perseverance of W. Regester, Chairman of the Middlesex Education Committee, and of the Principal of the Borough Road College produced a workable solution. Pears offered the site; the Blue school governors were empowered to divert £100 to maintain twenty pupils at the school; the Middlesex County Council used money which had accumulated from grants for technical education to help in its building, control, and management, in return for the grant of scholarships to elementary school pupils; the British and Foreign Society was to have financial responsibility and the right to use the school not for practice but for observation. The governing body consisted of five representatives of the Society, two from the local charity, and two from the County Council, Regester, and the Earl of Jersey, who also represented an older tradition of benevolent local interest, providing a drill court and his countess to open the new building. The school had alarming financial and administrative difficulties, and in 1906 the British and Foreign Society handed it over to the Middlesex County Council, although with the Blue School governors it continued to be represented on the new governing body. (fn. 6)

The supervision of the building of a coherent system of secondary education from such diverse elements was the responsibility of the newly-created Board of Education. As fees were still charged to most pupils even in provided schools, the factor of supply and demand was still important. Schools which had been established by private or voluntary enterprise were, moreover, able to provide candidates for the training colleges and enable the Board to replace the pupil-teacher system. In 1908, for example, the North London Collegiate School had 28 Bursars aged 16 and 108 pupil-teachers of seventeen. (fn. 7) On their side the proprietary and private schools were usually eager to qualify for the various grants, especially as they now had to compete for staff with the provided schools. (fn. 8) The three girls' schools in the county maintained by teachers' training organizations were particularly sensitive to the pressure. Whitelands College School, which later became the Lady Margaret School at Parson's Green, was recognized as efficient by the Board in 1902. In 1908 the Board's Inspector reported that of the 176 pupils 60 per cent. were from public elementary schools, including 20 per cent. from Higher Elementary schools, and 95 scholarship-holders were from the L.C.C. This figure included 19 pupil-teacher candidates, three of them Bursars. The Council paid full fees for these pupils, but did not assist the school by any maintenance grant. As it had no endowment or subsidy from the College, only the low salaries of the staff enabled the fees to be kept down to between £6 and £9 a year. The legal position of the school in relation to the National Society caused something verging on despair at the Board. (fn. 9) The same problems arose with the Home and Colonial Society's school at Highbury Hill, (fn. 10) and the Teachers' Training and Registration Society's Brondesbury school, (fn. 11) but they paled beside those presented by the schools of religious orders. (fn. 12) In negotiations over such problems as the instrument of government of each school, the proper autonomy of the headmistress, the provision of a qualified staff, and the organization of the curriculum and syllabuses, the Board showed urbanity and tolerance, and the religious orders combined a determination to qualify for grants and status with habits of humility and obedience which made an appreciable contribution to the solution. Conviction that neither the Middlesex nor the London County Council was attempting to avoid the provision of new schools by making use of existing Roman Catholic schools enabled the Board to accept their recommendations for recognition. (fn. 13) Friction was not entirely avoided. The case of Howrah House, Poplar, caused delay which led to tension between Sir Robert Morant and Graham Wallas and complaints in the Roman Catholic press. (fn. 14) Morant also suspected that over St. Aloysius Convent School, St. Pancras, the L.C.C. was trying to drag the Board into 'quite needless discussion' over the 'private profit' question of schools conducted by religious orders. (fn. 15) In the early years of the century, however, successful compromises were reached in such cases as the Highgate Road Convent of La Sainte Union des Sacrés Coeurs (fn. 16) and the Islington Convent of Notre Dame de Sion High School, which was recognized first as a pupil-teacher centre and then, in 1909, as a school 'required as part of the secondary school provision for London.' (fn. 17) The Hammersmith Convent of the Sacred Heart School was converted from a higher grade into a secondary school. The new institution combined as far as possible with the centre for pupil-teachers 'to give them a good sound general education leading up to the Oxford Senior Local Examination'. (fn. 18) St. Aloysius Convent School, which established a pupil-teacher centre in 1893, applied for recognition as an Organized Science School in 1900, and was recognized as 'filling a useful place in the educational scheme of this part of London' in 1905. (fn. 19) Howrah House High School was recognized first as a pupil-teacher centre in 1904 and as a secondary school receiving about a quarter of its girls from elementary schools in accordance with the recent regulations on 'free-places' in 1908. (fn. 20) St. Ignatius College, Stamford Hill, was similarly recognized. The Middlesex Education Committee recommended it as a necessary part of the educational provision of the district, and the school admitted 15 per cent. free place holders for 1908-9 and thereafter 25 per cent. (fn. 21) Of schools conducted entirely for private profit Tollington Park College and its Muswell Hill branch were recognized in 1903. (fn. 22) These examples indicate ways in which various elements of private and voluntary enterprise and concern contributed to the newly-provided system of secondary education.

The old schools, however, continued in large numbers, although in a somewhat different form, adapting themselves to 20th-century educational and social demands. A few of the numerous suburban preparatory schools were attached to London public schools: Colet Court to St. Paul's, (fn. 23) Belmont to Mill Hill. (fn. 24) The girls' high schools continued to have 'kindergarten and preparatory' departments. (fn. 25) Some preparatory schools were kept by proprietors for private profit, for example Orley Farm School at Harrow and Arnold House School, Marylebone, recognized as efficient by the Board in 1934, and 1920 respectively. In 1958 the first of these had 125 pupils, 62 of them boarders. (fn. 26) Others were in the hands of companies or trusts. Northwood Preparatory School, recognized from 1922, was owned by a limited company until it was converted into a trust in 1958. (fn. 27) Keble House in Southgate was under a proprietor in 1950 but by 1958 was run by a limited company. (fn. 28) Sussex House Preparatory School in Chelsea belonged to Davies Tutors Limited. (fn. 29) Considerations of status reinforced a tendency which was partly the result of economic risks.

The rising cost of land in the suburbs and increasing ease of transport meant that Middlesex was no longer an ideal area for strictly preparatory schools, and there was a trend towards more flexible institutions, adapted to the needs of parents who did not want to send their sons away to school at eight, or who preferred co-education for their little boys. Many preparatory schools were mainly for children below eleven, combining nursery and pre-preparatory classes with teaching for boys and girls usually preparing for the public schools, and sometimes also for the entrance to the county secondary schools at ten or eleven. The changes introduced by the Education Act of 1944 created a need for schools which ensured a good chance of children gaining a grammar school grading in the selection tests. Byron House School in Highgate in 1958 had 33 children of nursery-school age and 187 boys and girls between eight and eleven. Ashton Preparatory School at Isleworth, Norland Place School in Kensington, and Camden House Preparatory School in Marylebone were meeting much the same needs. (fn. 30) Socially these schools served as alternatives to primary schools. Bycullah School at Enfield, opened in 1919, was a 'private primary school which was very successful in preparing for the public schools and county and other secondary schools'. (fn. 31) In 1956 Halliford School, Shepperton, had nearly 250 boys from four and a half years, and in the early forms the 'curriculum was designed to fit them for the ten-plus examination of Middlesex or Surrey'. This was an example of the many schools in the county which continued the old tradition of combining primary and secondary education, for its older pupils were prepared for the Ordinary and Advanced Level examinations. Here pupils had to satisfy the clerical headmaster that they were 'capable of benefitting from the grammar school course offered', (fn. 32) but many such schools met the needs of children who failed to get a grammar-school place in the county tests, or were unable to pass the Common Entrance examination. Linton House, Kensington, established in 1877 strictly as a preparatory school, found it necessary in 1922 to open a school 'to provide sound education on modern lines' to boys between fourteen and eighteen 'who do not proceed to Public Schools'. The curriculum prepared for the London Matriculation and a 'commercial or professional career'. (fn. 33) Winchmore Hill Collegiate School, founded in 1906, was, in the mid-20th century, still preparing for London Matriculation. (fn. 34) The private secondary school keeping some boys until eighteen was either a tougher institution than had been imagined or had been revived by new needs. Warwick House in Hampstead, founded in 1883, was in 1956 still preparing for the public schools, the General Certificate, and university entrance. (fn. 35) Buckingham College at Harrow was in 1956 a day school for boys between five and eighteen, preparing for the College of Preceptors as well as the General Certificate examinations. In 1962 the school was divided into senior and junior branches at the age of eleven. (fn. 36)

The county contained many private schools of all kinds for girls. Channing House at Highgate took day girls at five, boarders at nine, and gave an expensive education of a public school type. (fn. 37) Northwood College was another rather less expensive boarding and day school with 250 girls between eleven and sixteen and 34 over sixteen in 1958. (fn. 38) St. Helen's School, in the same parish, was rather more expensive. It was recognized in 1918, and in 1958 had 563 girls, 154 of them boarders. It advertised its 'high bracing neighbourhood'. (fn. 39) The Mount at Hendon was an expensive all-age school of over 200 pupils which maintained an earlier tradition by advertising particular timetables and a situation 'on the heights . . . surrounded by fields . . . though only twenty minutes by car from town'. (fn. 40) Heathfield High School at Harrow had 410 day and boarding pupils in 1958. (fn. 41) There were also many preparatory Girls' schools on the pattern of St. Christopher's and Queen's House schools in Hampstead. (fn. 42) There was the same trend away from purely private ownership. The Queen's Gate School for girls in Kensington, an expensive junior, secondary, and finishing school, and the Palmer's Green High School in Southgate, with more moderate fees, (fn. 43) were examples of businesses which passed from the hands of private proprietors to limited companies.

Middlesex continued to provide for special local or sectional needs. From 1951 Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute had Ministry recognition for its Henrietta Barnett Junior School, with 350 boys and girls from nursery age to about eleven in 1958. (fn. 44) The Ministry recognized Jewish primary schools at Willesden in 1951 (fn. 45) and in Hendon in 1955, (fn. 46) and the Jewish Secondary Schools Movement opened the Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys at Hendon in 1950 and, rather later, a similar school for girls. (fn. 47) There were numerous Roman Catholic schools of all kinds. In Ealing alone in 1958 St. Benedict's School had nearly 700 boys of secondary age, St. Anne's Convent School nearly 500 girls of all ages, St. Augustine's Priory School 265 girls, and the Lourdes Mount Convent High School over 300 boys and girls. (fn. 48) Many pupils who were not Roman Catholics attended these schools. Being dependent on fees, the schools run by religious orders found it necessary to admit these children although there were not sufficient places for all Roman Catholic children of secondary age. (fn. 49) A school catering for a special community but also used by other children in the county was the Lycée Français de Londres, opened by the Institut Français in Kensington, recognized in 1920, and with over 1,700 pupils in 1958. (fn. 50)

Surburban demand for supplementary secondary education by coaches and tutors and for further semi-vocational instruction continued unabated. The influx of overseas students brought a new demand. In 1956 Stafford House Tutorial College, Kensington, advertised 'short or long courses in English language and customs', as well as the more usual coaching, and St. Christopher's College, Regents Park, a year's course for overseas students with 'full collegiate life'. The cramming establishment in Lexham Gardens which had become Carlisle and Gregson (Jimmy's) Limited, prepared for all the usual examinations, and gave 'special English courses for overseas students'. (fn. 51) Secretarial training at such colleges as St. Godric's in Hampstead, with its 250 students and 'active social life', still contained an element of upper secondary education. (fn. 52) Twentiethcentury schooling in Middlesex was still being influenced by centrifugal and centripetal forces similar to those at work when a genuinely secular process of secondary education began to emerge in the City suburbs during the 16th century.


  • 1. For the history of this school see p. 290.
  • 2. Paddington and Maida Vale High Sch. Mag. 1912; MS. Hist. prepared by headmistress.
  • 3. Wayne, Philological Sch. 8. See p. 307.
  • 4. L.C.C. Sec. Sch. List. 1959, Division 1, p. 4.
  • 5. Min. of Educ. Sch. File 5426.
  • 6. Richmond and Twickenham Times, 7 Aug. 1937; Mdx. Chronicle, 24, 31 Jan., 7 Feb. 1958.
  • 7. Allen, Morant, 215-20, 252; List of Schs. in Eng. recognised as efficient [Cd. 4374] H.C. (1908), lxxxiii.
  • 8. Baron, 'Sec. Schoolmaster', 264.
  • 9. Min. of Educ. Sch. File 5718.
  • 10. Ibid. 5736.
  • 11. Ibid. 6371.
  • 12. Allen, Morant, 221, 238.
  • 13. Min. of Educ. Sch. Files 5750, 6393.
  • 14. Ibid. 5750.
  • 15. Ibid. 5754.
  • 16. Ibid. 5753; Min. of Educ. List 70, 1949.
  • 17. Min. of Educ. Sch. File 5734; L.C.C. Sec. Sch. List 1959, Division 3, p. 10.
  • 18. Min. of Educ. Sch. File 5727.
  • 19. Ibid. 5754; L.C.C. Sec. Sch. List 1959, Division 2, pp. 16-17.
  • 20. Allen, Morant, 238-9; Min. of Educ. Sch. File 5750; L.C.C. Sec. Sch. List. 1959, Division 4, p. 10.
  • 21. Min. of Educ. Sch. File 6393; Sturges, Schs. of Edmonton Hund. 112-13.
  • 22. Min. of Educ. Sch. File 6388.
  • 23. Pub. and Preparatory Schs. Year Bk. (1962), 676, 677.
  • 24. Min. of Educ. List 70, 1949.
  • 25. Girls' Sch. Year Bk. (1962), 159-60.
  • 26. Min. of Educ. List 70, 1949, 1958.
  • 27. Ibid.
  • 28. Ibid. 1951, 1958; Independent Schs. Year Bk. (1962), 78.
  • 29. Min. of Educ. List 70, 1958.
  • 30. Ibid.
  • 31. Sturges, Schs. of Edmonton Hund. 180.
  • 32. Paton's List of Schools (1956), 153; Independent Schs. Year Bk. (1962), p. xli.
  • 33. Prospectus in Local Hist. Colln. Kensington Pub. Libr. 33240.
  • 34. Sturges, Schs. of Edmonton Hund. 116.
  • 35. Paton's List (1956), 143.
  • 36. Ibid. 137; Indep. Schs. Year Bk. (1962), 85-86.
  • 37. Paton's List (1956), 286; Min. of Educ. List 70, 1949.
  • 38. Min. of Educ. List 70. 1949; 1958.
  • 39. Ibid. 1949; Paton's List (1956), 201.
  • 40. Min. of Educ. List 70, 1949; 1958; Paton's List (1956), 286.
  • 41. Min. of Educ. List 70, 1949; 1958.
  • 42. Ibid. 1949; 1951.
  • 43. Ibid.
  • 44. Ibid. 1951; 1958.
  • 45. Ibid. 1951.
  • 46. Ibid. 1955.
  • 47. Ibid. 1951; 1958.
  • 48. Ibid. 1958.
  • 49. Eng. Catholics, ed. Beck, 360-1.
  • 50. Min. of Educ. List 70, 1949; 1958.
  • 51. Paton's List (1956), 365-70.
  • 52. Ibid. 438 sqq.