Schools: Mill Hill School

Pages 307-308

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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Mill Hill School

Argent on a cross quadrate gules an open book argent on a chief azure three martlets or [Granted 1935]

Mill Hill School was founded in 1807 by a group of dissenting clergymen and merchants, of whom the most prominent were Samuel Favell, warehouseman and citizen of London, and the Revd. John Pye Smith, of Homerton College. (fn. 1) Their intention was to provide a classical education equal to that which the sons of Anglicans enjoyed at public schools, while maintaining the broader curriculum of the nonconformist academies. (fn. 2) A boardingschool was opened at Mill Hill in the house (fn. 3) once occupied by Peter Collinson the botanist, with about 20 boys and the Revd. John Atkinson as principal and chaplain. The choice of assistant masters, the curriculum, and many of the details of organization were decided by the committee without reference to the principal; Pye Smith, in particular, visited the school monthly and examined the boys quarterly until his death in 1851. These arrangements produced so much friction that the first two principals resigned, but under the third, the Revd. John Humphrys, the number of boys increased to 83, and in 1824 it was decided to build a new school for 120 to the designs of William Tite. (fn. 4) Before the new building was begun Humphrys was asked to vacate the office of principal, to which the senior master was to be promoted, and to retain the chaplaincy at a reduced salary; instead he advertised his resignation and attacked the committee in a lengthy pamphlet. (fn. 5)

The new building was occupied in 1826, but dissensions continued until the appointment of Thomas Priestley as headmaster in 1834. He was popular, a good teacher and disciplinarian, and under his guidance the numbers rose to 139. Later, however, numbers declined, and Philip Smith, his successor, faced salary reductions, staff reductions, increased fees, outbreaks of scarlet fever, a rebellion led by his own son, and finally dismissal. Numbers continued to fall, debts increased, and in December 1868 the school closed. (fn. 6) Narrow sectarianism could not be blamed for its decline, since in the first 25 years of its existence the school had had an Anglican headmaster, Robert Cullen (1828-31), and had educated a bishop, a dean, and two canons of the Established Church. (fn. 7) The school had never been confined to the sons of Free Churchmen, and is Christian rather than denominational. (fn. 8)

The revival of Mill Hill in 1869 was largely the work of Thomas Scrutton, who, together with his supporters, formed a new trust and appointed Dr. R. F. Weymouth as headmaster. The new headmaster was a scholar and an organizer. (fn. 9) Numbers rose to over 180, but on the other hand it was felt that Weymouth did not encourage his boys to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the abolition of the religious tests at Oxford and Cambridge. During this period the first boardinghouses were opened, Dr. Murray-for fifteen years the mainstay of the staff-began his work on the Oxford Dictionary, and Gladstone visited the school to distribute prizes. In the latter part of Weymouth's headmastership, however, numbers fell and the future of the school was once more in doubt. (fn. 10)

The second revival was the work of John McClure, appointed headmaster with an almost entirely new staff in 1891. Numbers rose above a hundred again for the third time. A new chapel (designed by Basil Champneys), a physics laboratory, monitors' studies, and a headmaster's house were erected; music played a much greater part in the life of the school, astronomy was added to the curriculum, standards of scholarship rose, and over all McClure presided with an easy discipline. In 1907 the Prime Minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, was guest of honour at the centenary celebrations, and Lord Winterstoke (Sir W. H. Wills), an old boy and chairman of the governors, presented the Winterstoke Library to the school. In 1913 McClure was knighted for his services to education both at Mill Hill and in the world outside. (fn. 11)

In 1922 McClure died suddenly. His successor, M. L. Jacks, discouraged excessive specialization both in studies and in sports by organizing the curriculum, providing new and better facilities for games, and stimulating the growth of a wide range of clubs and hobbies. (fn. 12) During the 1920's notable experiments in radio communication were carried out under the direction of W. H. Brown, the senior science master. In 1924 the school was visited by the Prince of Wales, who unveiled the War Memorial Gates in front of the main building. (fn. 13)

In 1938 Jacks left to become Director of the Institute of Education at Oxford University, and in 1939 the school was evacuated to St. Bees in Cumberland, where it remained until 1945. On its return the school, in partnership with the Middlesex County Council, inaugurated an unusual experiment. Each year about twenty boys whose parents live in the county are admitted by interview as boarders, the County Council giving assistance with their fees. These boys constitute about a fifth of the school. A new building for arts and crafts was opened in 1960. In 1962 there were about 450 boys in the school, 390 in six boarding-houses and 60 in the day house. (fn. 14)


  • 1. Mill Hill Sch. Register 1807-1926, 452-3; D.N.B.
  • 2. Statement of the Design and Plan of the Protestant Dissenters Grammar School.
  • 3. Since demolished, but trees believed to have been planted by Collinson are still to be seen in the school grounds.
  • 4. N. G. Brett-James, Mill Hill, 18-24, where the spelling 'Humphries' is adopted.
  • 5. The Times, 23 Mar. 1825; The Committee of the Protestant Dissenters Grammar School Brought to the Bar of the Dissenting Part of the Religious Public.
  • 6. N. G. Brett-James, Mill Hill School 1807-1907, 77-210 passim.
  • 7. Brett-James, Mill Hill, 93, 97.
  • 8. School Prospectus (1960), 1, 4.
  • 9. R. F. Weymouth, Inaugural Address at Re-opening of Mill Hill School.
  • 10. Brett-James, Mill Hill Sch. 1807-1907, 211-57; D.N.B. 1901-11; D.N.B. 1912-22. The connexion with the N.E.D. is commemorated under 'anamorphose' and by the Murray Scriptorium at the school.
  • 11. N. G. Brett-James, Hist. of Mill Hill Sch. 1807-1923, 271, 289, 298, 313, 408; Foundation Day at Mill Hill 1907 (priv. printed); D.N.B. 1922-30; K. M. G. Ousey, McClure of Mill Hill, passim.
  • 12. MS. history of school kindly lent to the present writer by its author, Mr. T. F. Jackson, a former master.
  • 13. Brett-James, Mill Hill, 143-5.
  • 14. Ex inf. the headmaster.