Those who can, teach – 1

I am leaving my travel tales for the time being to return to the family history.

After reading a post by Dr B of the “Buddha walks into a wine bar ……” blog (, my cousin and I decided to do some broader research on some of our interesting ancestors. She and I share one common thread and that is my grandma’s line (her great grandma).

We had been beavering away, starting to build our family tree, when I read a post by Dr B, encouraging family history researchers to fill in some background rather than simply adding more names and dates. Around the same time, I received an interesting email from someone I had contacted through Ancestry, who had my great grandfather in her husband’s family tree (albeit only at the margin). She sent me a copy of his obituary which turned out to contain information which was not only of interest to us but started to put some social context around him.

Great grandfather – for ease I will now call him James – was born in 1831 in Wilmslow, Cheshire. He spent most of his career in teaching, after training at Kneller Hall in Twickenham. This name rang a bell but I couldn’t remember why. A bit of research told me that, since 1857, it has been home to the Royal Military School of Music; that’s where I’d heard of it. But during a brief period in the early 1850s it was home to a short-lived, government-funded teacher training college.

The information we now have about the start of James’ teaching career is from “Kneller Hall; Looking Backward and Looking Forward” by Ed Harris of the Borough of Twickenham Local History Society.  Kneller Hall Teacher Training College opened in 1850.  It was named after Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), a society portrait painter, whose country seat it had once been. The government of the time wanted to give the most deprived children the chance of a basic education and decided to create schools which sought to turn the children into “able and employable citizens”. The teachers who were to be trained here were expected to teach in these schools after qualifying and provide vocational training for boys and girls. The Principal was Rev Dr Frederick Temple and his Deputy was Francis Turner Palgrave (he of the “Golden Treasury of English Poetry”.

From the start this venture was doomed to be an expensive failure because (and why does this not surprise me?) the government never delivered on its promise to create the network of District Pauper schools across the country. In fact, only half a dozen of these schools were started, so the new teachers went off to teach in workhouse schools, natioonal schools and prisons.  Some even went overseas to seek employment. Indeed, Dr Temple, who later went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury, was unable to say how many teachers had actually passed through the College.  So this ill-fated venture was over quite some time before the Royal Military School of Music was created. However it had equipped James for his career.

I wish I knew what took James from Cheshire to Twickenham to become a teacher. He was working as a power loom weaver in a cotton mill in 1851.  His father worked in the cotton industry as a “Beamer”,  watching over the machines on which cotton was woven and all James’ sisters worked in the cotton mills.  One of his younger brothers also became a schoolmaster and the other became a tailor.

We don’t know exactly when James emerged from Kneller Hall.  He may or may not have had an earlier position but, in 1855, he was appointed Headmaster at a National School in West Yorkshire.  That is significant firstly because of where it was and, secondly because it’s there that he met my great-grandmother Sybil!

More to follow ……….

3 thoughts on “Those who can, teach – 1

  1. Thank you for the mention, pleased we were of some influence. Interesting to read of government broken promises some time ago, seems like it’s not a new phenomenon 😂😂

    Liked by 1 person

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