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Ackworth School, From the Beginning

I have been reading a book titled, Quaker School Girl Samplers from Ackworth, by Carol Humphrey and learning so much about these samplers and how Ackworth came to exist. It is incredibly interesting. Since SGR Programs is offering a presentation by our own Kathy Sanders this month on Ackworth Samplers and more, I thought that I would share a bit of history on the school. (Just enough to whet your whistle!)

Founded in 1779 by John Fothergill (1712-1780), Ackworth School, near Pontefract, Yorkshire was for Quaker children of both sexes ‘not in affluence’. When the school first opened, fees were 8 guineas a year. Originally, the buildings at Ackworth had been constructed as an outpost of the London Foundling Hospital, founded in 1741 by sea captain Thomas Coram (1668-1751). The government made a grant in 1756 stipulating that no child should be turned away from the Foundling Hospital’s doors. As a result, the Hospital became inundated with children. It was then that the governors decided to build similar institutions in rural areas, with Ackworth as one of the chosen sites. But in 1773 the government withdrew its grant, and the building was closed and put up for sale.

Four years later during the London Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends, it was agreed that a boarding school should be set up for struggling Quaker children. All that was required was a building for it. In the six years between the closure of the Foundling site and the opening of Ackworth, Fothergill and several others persuaded the Society of Friends to purchase the empty Foundling building to be used as a boarding school for Quaker children, and in 1779 Ackworth School opened.

The school emphasized quiet reflection during morning meetings, and scholars were encouraged to search for God within themselves and in others. In addition to manual work and the school curriculum (reading, spelling and arithmetic) the children were also expected to make a small contribution to the school’s finances by selling their products, such as the girls’ needlework. The Monitorial System was used at Ackworth whereby elder scholars would participate in educating the younger ones. Normal age for entry was around 9 and scholars were expected to complete their education between one and three years before entering employment or returning home. In the first decades very few scholars remained at the school beyond 13. (University of Cambridge, The Fitzwilliam Museum).

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