Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII

Return to History

THE North of England Agricultural School, at Ayton, which celebrates its Jubilee to-day, owes its origin and its name to two causes.

I. – From the strict administration of “the discipline” in past generations among the Society of Friends there had grown up a comparatively large population, the offsprings of what were called “mixed marriages,” and the descendants of those who had from one cause or another lost their membership in the Society. In the dales of North Yorkshire, and in the Counties of Northumberland and Durham, there was thus a fringe of persons around “the Society,” strictly so called, many of whom had no other religious attachment, and yet who could not claim the full privileges of membership (including the right to have their children educated at Ackworth School), and in various ways failed to receive that pastoral care which Friends have always striven to extend to their own members.

II. – At the time when Ayton School was founded the minds of Friends had been much occupied with a problem which has often arisen in the educational world, the question how to combine mental and physical training, and how to impart to scholars, some of the intellectual treasures of past ages without unfitting them for the rough and hard work of the world. In other words, what are called Industrial Schools were obtaining a large share of attention from Quaker Educationists. This was not by any means a new movement in the Society of Friends, Clerkenwell School and Workhouse, established in 1701 (the predecessor of the school which was lately domiciled at Croydon and now at Saffron Walden) was an attempt to make both the relief of adults and the education of the young to some extent self-supporting by the introduction of manual labour. Though it was soon discovered that this scheme of making education pay its own way was impracticable, for more than half a century some kinds of handicraft were taught in the school, and it was not till its removal to Croydon, soon after 1790, that manual labour was entirely abandoned.

At the time which we are alluding to, however, from various causes the Industrial School had again become a favourite scheme with philanthropists. William Allen had founded an Agricultural School at Lindfield, and James cropper a similar one at Warrington. For children more immediately connected with the Society of Friends, a whole cluster of schools of an industrial character had been established. Wigton, Rawdon, Penketh, Brookfield, and Sibford, all came into being about this time; and the debates in the Friends’ Educational Association (itself founded in 1863) and especially an able paper on the subject, read by the scholarly and statesman-like Samuel Tuke, show the keen interest which the question inspired in the minds of Friends, an interest, however, which in his case, and probably in that of some who listened to him, was mingled with considerable doubt as to the final success of the Industrial School system.

This was the state of things when, in the spring of 1840, Jonathan and Hannah Chapman Backhouse returned from a visit to the Irish Yearly Meeting. H. C. Backhouse (the daughter of Joseph Gurney, of Norwich, and first cousin of Joseph John Gurney and of Elizabeth Fry), was certainly one of the most powerful of the many highly gifted female ministers, who at that time filled the gallery of the Yearly Meeting. She had great natural talents, a strong will, and a fastidious taste. But her character was in a marvellous manner transfigured by the indwelling Spirit of Christ. The strong will became absolutely submissive to the will of her Lord and Master. The keen and critical spirit was willing to be made a fool for her Saviour's sake; the refitted and delicate gentlewoman, accustomed to all the comforts and even the luxuries of a wealthy English home, was content to spend years of absence from her children and her friends travelling through the back-woods of America, preaching the gospel of Christ. Jonathan Backhouse, though not so striking a figure in Quaker history as his wife, was possessed of considerable powers of mind, and is one to whom rather scanty justice has been done by posterity. He was one of the first, if not the very first, to recognise the untutored genius of George Stephenson, and to discern what marvellous possibilities lay hid in the, Northumbrian pitman's great invention. Moreover, to descend from greater to smaller things, he was really more than any other man the originator of Ayton School, though he himself would have been the first to recognise that it was the munificence and industry of others which brought the fruit of his brain to perfection. On their return to their home J. & H. C. Backhouse expressed to their friends how greatly they had been interested in Brookfield Agricultural School which had been established in the North of Ireland for the children of those who had lost their membership in the Society of Friends. In passing through the Northern Counties on their way to Scotland they had found what a large number (relatively) of the same class existed in their own Quarterly Meeting, and it occurred to Jonathan Backhouse that if a school similar to Brookfield could be established in Durham County it would to some extent discharge the debt which the Society owed to these dispersed members of its community, and that the combination of labour with instruction might be especially useful to some of those children coming from farmhouses in lonely dales.

But enough has now been said by way of introduction. The first master of Ayton School is happily still among us, and he will now tell its in autobiographical form both his own early history and that of the school.

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