William Powis Nettleton (1814-1888)

by Graham CAMFIELD

William Powis Nettleton was born in Plymouth in 1814, the son of William and Alice Ann Nettleton. Some time before 1826, the family moved to London, where both William and Alice Ann worked as school teachers. In 1826 Alice Ann completed her training as schoolmistress for the National Society and was sent to the National School in Peckham, where she remained until at least 1834. William became schoolmaster at St Bride’s Charity School in June 1828, but had to leave two years later.

William Powis followed his parents into the teaching profession. Both he and his wife Mary Ann (nee Pierce) trained as teachers in 1837 for the National Society at the Central School in Westminster. Both were in their early twenties and had married at St. John’s Church, Hampstead, on 5 June 1836. This was a time when Government was taking greater involvement and oversight of education, particularly among the poorer classes. Between 1834 and 1838 three Parliamentary Select Committees met to receive evidence and make recommendations for education policy. From these and related documents we can get some idea of what it was like to be an elementary school teacher at this time.

William and Mary Ann would have spent five to six months at the Central School in Old Sanctuary, Westminster, where training was very much on the job. In 1838 there were around 20 trainees of each sex. The preferred age for taking trainees was between 25 and 30 years, so William and Mary Ann were younger than average, but by no means alone. It is likely that they would already have had some teaching experience, perhaps as pupil teachers, or as volunteers in a Sunday School. Such a background was evidently favoured by the Rev. J.C.Wigram, Secretary of the National Society, who stated that: “I do not think we could have had a better class of persons…”

Two sorts of trainees were received. The first, “masters and mistresses in training” were to be provided with appointments to Schools in union [i.e. with the Society], if their conduct and ability prove such as to justify recommendation. The second, “masters and mistresses from the country”, who have already obtained appointments to Schools in union.

There was some considerable inequality in the treatment of men and women. The men did not have to pay for their instruction, rather:

  • “The Society pays them, after they have proved their competency and steadiness, half-a-guinea a week till they are provided with a situation; and an arrangement is now made by which the females will be lodged and boarded under a matron, who will superintend their studies out of school-hours at a very reduced payment, which will be in fact equal to an allowance to them”.
  • The only other benefit the women received was a gratuity on leaving, “as a little reward for their steadiness and good conduct”.

The trainees came under the supervision of the clerical superintendent, usually the local clergyman. He was responsible for the “whole of their instruction and examination in religious knowledge, the particular supervision and frequent examination of the division of the School in which they are trained, and of the separate class into which they are formed; the preparation of the certificates upon which they are promoted in the School and finally appointed to situations by the School committee”.

The children were taught in two separate rooms, “which furnish accommodation sufficient for 400 boys and 250 girls, at an allowance of six square feet for each child”. In their respective rooms the boys were divided into 3 divisions by aisles, and the girls into two divisions. These were further subdivided into classes [in 1833] of about 36 or 40 children each, managed by a teacher and assistant teacher, who were often particularly able pupils. Teaching was based on the Madras system, which relied heavily on mutual instruction by pupil teachers.

“One ‘division’ of the classes in each School is set apart for the benefit of the persons in training, and is taught entirely by them, and they are considered to be responsible for the instruction, discipline, good conduct and progress of the scholars under their care, as if the children actually constituted a portion of their own School…; and the other divisions of the School being taught entirely by the children themselves, and superintended solely by the schoolmaster or schoolmistress, present a specimen of the system of mutual instruction.”

The moral character of the prospective masters and mistresses was all important. Each one had to provide:

 “A certificate from the clergyman of the parish in which the party has resided for a number of years, or in the case of his having removed, we require it from the clergymen of the two different parishes, and we also require three letters at least from respectable housekeepers; which letters are to give an account, according to scheme which is drawn up, of his occupation and habits, and general disposition and pursuits in life.

At the end of their training William and Mary Ann Nettleton were appointed in 1838 to the National School in the village of Marden, Kent. Their joint salary would have been in the region of 70 a year. With a population of 2,091 in 1831 Marden was predominantly an agricultural community. The Nettletons stayed there for around four years. From Marden they moved to Bedfordshire and by 1847 had moved again to Chertsey in Surrey. In 1850 the family were in Egham, Surrey. The 1851 Census shows them at an address in Sand Pits. William and Mary Ann are the schoolmaster and mistress of the National School, their daughter Helen, aged 12, is a pupil teacher.

By 1853 we find them in Liverpool, where in October 1857 William Powis was appointed English Master in the boys school of the Hebrew Educational Institution, Hope Place, with monthly salary of 7 1s 8d (85 p.a). The Institute was founded in the early 1840’s to educate the children of Liverpool’s Jewish community, many of whom had immigrated from Eastern Europe following persecution. Some further information can be gleaned from a short history of the Institute, “To Make Them English”, by Cyril P. Hershon.

William P. Nettleton was one of five candidates for the post in August 1857, following the resignation of the previous head. It appears he had applied a year earlier for the post of secretary at a salary of 15, but now was appointed Head at 85 p.a. His arrival brought changes to the Institute; he was permitted to educate his two sons there, the first non-Jewish pupils, and he also persuaded the board to introduce pupil teachers at 1/- a week, one of whom was his own son Harry, “who proved proficient and served for several years”. William later recommended that Harry be appointed as assistant teacher at 20, but the decision was deferred due to lack of funds.

In May 1864 the annual examination of children at the Hebrew School was reported favourably in the Liverpool Mercury. William Nettleton examined the boys. “The scholars were tested in mental arithmetic, reading, grammar, English, and general history, geography, analysis, Euclid, etc and acquitted themselves in most of the subjects very creditably…his lordship [the Mayor] also presented the son of Mr Nettleton with a special prize in the shape of Macaulay’s Essays for his proficiency”.

Hershon continues: “the master’s desire to widen the school’s activities caused trouble at times: when he hired a hall at Compton House for a Purim play he was producing, he was reprimanded for incurring expense”. The year 1866 proved fateful for William’s career at the School. For some years the managers had been considering applying for government aid, for which the School would need to be placed under Government Inspection. With some dismay it was learnt that the School was ineligible for inspection as its teachers were uncertificated. William was therefore required to undertake the required examination and was promised 10 if he passed. In the meantime a provisional inspection took place in July 1868 and reported on the boys school: “The School is in good order. The teaching is intelligent and the results satisfactory”.

William sat his examination at Christmas that year, but was not successful and he resigned on 1 December 1869. It appears, however, that he was still in post a year later and underwent another government inspection which commended particularly his teaching of geography (he was evidently a keen geographer), the introduction of homework and extra night lessons for the top two classes. William finally left the School at the end of February 1871 with this testimonial from the board:

 “That this Meeting have much pleasure in bearing testimony to the able and energetic manner in which he has performed the duties of his office for the last thirteen years, as well as to his honest and zealous endeavours to promote moral and general well-being of the pupils placed under his charge.”

In a large commercial city like Liverpool opportunities for business and employment were numerous. In 1861 the Nettleton family are living at 43 Myrtle Street, not far from Hope Place. The census reveals the eldest sons employed as commercial clerks, while the daughters, with the exception of Mary Ann, are teachers. Mary Ann, it seems, was trying her hand at business, as a Berlin wool dealer.

William Powis, Schoolmaster, National

Mary Ann, Schoolmistress, National

Mary Ann, Berlin wool dealer

Ellen Ann, Schoolmistress, National

William Powis, Corn merchant’s clerk

Julia Maria, Schoolmistress, National

John Pierce, Cotton brokers clerk

George James, Wine merchants clerk

Hugh Harry, Scholar

Cecil Charles, Scholar

Julia H. Walker, boarder, 18, Gov.[erness?] Pupil teacher

 Notes and References:

Founded in 1811 as the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, the National Society still supports the work of Church of England Schools. The Society’s Schoolmasters’ Index records the Nettletons training at Westminster.

Evidence of Rev. Joseph Cotton Wigram to the Select Committee on Education of the Poorer Classes, 1838, p.78ff.

Abstract of Education Returns, 1833, p.588.

National Society’s Schoolmasters’ Index and Pigot’s Directory of Kent, 1840. The School at that time was situated in the churchyard.

Select Committee, 1838, p.85

Cyril P. Hershon, To Make Them English, Bristol: Palavas Press, [19 ]. This account is based on the records of the Institute.

Liverpool Mercury, 23 May 1864, p.5.

Recorded in the Minutes of the School Managers, 10 April 1866. One month earlier on 10 March, a W. P. Nettleton, teacher, of Toxteth Park, Liverpool, is listed in the Times as bankrupt. Also in the London Gazette, 9 March 1866, p. 1740, 2023, 2801. W. P. Nettleton, Teacher of English, Lark Lane, Toxteth Park.

Berlin wool was a very fine wool used for making gloves, etc.

A William Nettleton appears in the Post Office Directory for 1858 and Slaters 1859 as schoolmaster of St John the Baptist National School, Wellington Road, Toxteth Park. Slaters adds the St John the Baptist Industrial Ragged School also.

Green’s directory of 1870 lists Helen Nettleton, flour dealer, 135 Kensington.

They are buried in Wallasey Cemetery, Section 6C, Grave 109. Mary Ann was buried on 24 November 1885, and William on 26 December 1888.

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