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

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George Dixon
George Dixon
Ayton School's first Superintendent

I WAS born at Staindrop, in the County of Durham, in 1812 consequently I am now in my eightieth year. The life of my dear father is known all over the United Kingdom by the circulation of the tract entitled “Ralph Dixon, the Converted Soldier.” It was also extensively distributed in the Northern States of America during the civil war. James backhouse, senr, of York, compiled it from memoranda left by my father. I received my education at the day schools of Staindrop. When I was seventeen years of age, I was stricken down with typhus fever, and brought so low that my life was despaired of. My strength was so prostrated that I was not able to take exercise on, foot, so an ass was procured for me. I well remember when I first mounted the donkey and was moving off, an old woman exclaiming, “He will not require an ass very long,” but in this she was mistaken. My heavenly Father, who sees the end from the beginning, had a work for me to do, of which I had no conception at that time. My parents thinking it undesirable for me to follow any sedentary occupation concluded it was best for me to learn farming, and arrangements were made for my serving a three years’ apprenticeship to this business with an excellent Farmer in the neighbourhood. I was very ambitious, and determined to learn the profession in all its parts, ploughing, sowing, reaping, mowing, hedging, ditching, feeding the stock, milking the cows, tending the sheep and lands, and shearing them of their fleece. At the end of my apprenticeship when I returned home, I was considered a good farmer. Not having capital to commence on my own account, I worked as a day labourer going in the morning, and returning home in the evening. I occupied leisure in studying those branches I felt myself most deficient in. Feeling desirous to communicate my knowledge to others, I concluded to open a day school for young people. My relatives and friends ridiculed the idea. About this time my dear father, attending the Monthly Meeting at Darlington, was invited to dine with Joseph Pease, at Southend. A distant relative of my father’s, John Coates, was also there; he mentioned to them my desire to be a teacher; they both thought it best for me to learn the Lancasterian system which was pursued in the Skinnergate School in Darlington, of which John Coates was one of the Committee, who promised my father if I would go down he would introduce me to the Master, William Shotton, who had been trained at the British School, in the Borough Road, London. I went down to Darlington the following Monday morning, called at the law office of Mewburn and Coates, the latter accompanied me to the British School in Skinnergate, and introduced me to the Master, informing him of my wish to train for a Schoolmaster. He received me very kindly, and promised John Coates to do all in his power to help me forward. I laboured hard both as a teacher and student under Wm. Shotton, who was anxious that I should become proficient. I was soon able to conduct this large school of more than 200 scholars by the assistance of the monitors in the absence of the master. At the end of three months the school broke up for harvest, and I returned home, and devoted my time to studying and preparing lessons from the books published by the British and Foreign School Society. The Reform Bill had just passed, and Joseph Pease had come forward as a Candidate for the Southern Division of the County of Durham. John Coates, who had the charge of the Bishop Auckland district, finding that John Dean, the master of the School endowed by Edward Walton, had a good knowledge of the people, wished to have his assistance in canvassing, and knowing that I was at home out of employment engaged me to teach the School, and set John Dean at liberty. This offer I gladly accepted, and entered at once upon my duties. John Dean was a widower. His wife Catherine was the daughter of John Swinburn, a retired Sunderland Shipowner, whose wife Dorothy was the sister of Dr. Stackhouse, the Commentator. John Dean’s sister Maria kept his house and took charge of his two motherless little daughters, who were often visited by their aunt, Alice Swinburn, their mother’s sister. As I lodged with John Dean, we often met and became interested in each other, and eventually Alice Swinburn became my wife. When the election was over, John Dean took charge of his School again, and I returned to Darlington to assist in the Skinnergate School, and perfect myself in the Lancasterian system of teaching. Beside the Bishop Auckland School, Edward Walton endowed three others, Sunderland, Shotton and Old Shildon. The Master of the last was a good draftsman, and wanted to be liberated from his School, to assist Timothy Hackworth in his engine shops at New Shildon. I applied to the trustees and received the appointment of Master of the Old Shildon School. I had a large attendance of Scholars. During the harvest holidays of this year, I married Alice Swinburn, and began housekeeping. We generally spent seventh and first days with my wife’s aged parents, attending the Friends’ Meeting at Bishop Auckland. John Swinburn, my wife's father, died, and the trustees requiring a teacher for the Bishop Auckland School, gave me the appointment, in order that my wife might be near her aged mother, Dorothy Swinburn. We removed to Bishop Auckland with our little boy, John. I have pleasant recollections of my sojourn at Old Shildon. I laboured hard both in the Day and Night Schools, several of the boys under my care were bright and intelligent and have made their mark in the world. Daniel Adamson, John Parley, Geo. Edward Young, the Moons, the Gilderoys, and Roseberries, were among the number. Speaking of those early days to John Marley and saying how different education was now, “yes” he said “that may be, but you laid a good foundation.” The annual visits of the Committee and other friends were very encouraging. Among these I may mention, Jonathan and Hannah Backhouse, James Backhouse, John Coates, John Church Backhouse, Annie Whitwell, and Eliza Barclay. We rented a pleasant dwelling-house in the suburbs of Bishop Auckland, called Brougham Cottage, and my School was large and flourishing. Having no school on seventh days I walked to Witton-le-Wear, and took lessons in Latin and French of James Regan, the master of the boarding school, and in Mathematics of Wm. Mawson, one of his teachers. This enabled me to give my Scholars lessons in the rudiments of these branches.

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