Public School Prestonians

Researching the history of the Frenchwood Tannery and the Dixon family who operated it for half a century brought home the way in which a Victorian prosperous enterprise could fund a path to privilege that would include a Winckley Square address (Ribblesdale House) and a public school education. (Full account of the tannery and the Dixons here and here). It seemed that identifying those Prestonians who had enjoyed a public school education might shed light on one of the ways in which the town’s elite used their wealth to provide their offspring (boys, of course) with a springboard to a successful career.

I remember Nigel Morgan telling me many years ago that the extent of Winckley Square privilege was brought home to him when he was called upon to carry out a survey of the former Park School for girls at the corner of Winckley Street and Winckley Square. In one large room there was a set of wall bars which he took to be a survival of the school’s gymnasium. Not so, he was informed, they were put in by former owners of the property when it was a private residence. It was they who had turned the room into a gym for the boys of the family.

It seemed evident that if a family could afford to send one or more of their sons to a public school then they could be said to have ‘arrived’. Perhaps a closer study of those individual families might reveal the way in which inherited wealth could ease the path of descendants to a successful career, and thereby preserve the family wealth for future generations.

Fortunately, keen amateurs, frequently old boys of the schools, have transcribed the entrance lists for many of those schools, and often fleshed them out with biographical information. Most of these were published in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and many are now available on-line. The difficulty was how to choose the most suitable school records for analysis. The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference represents some 250 schools and to comb all their available records was simply too over-facing.

The decision was taken to restrict the research to the seven Clarendon Schools – Charterhouse, Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Shrewsbury, Westminster and Winchester – some of the registers of all of which have been published on line. Manchester Grammar School, while not a public school, was included because of its close connection with Preston and for the detailed biographical information contained in the published registers. The records of the various schools will most likely relate to Protestant families, probably almost invariably Anglican. It would have been good to have information on the education of the town’s Catholic elite, but the registers of Catholic boarding schools do not seem to have been published: it would be good to have the Stonyhurst records.

For a sobering account of the warping effect boarding schools had on generations of Englishmen see Alex Renton’s Stiff upper lip: secrets, crimes and the schooling of a ruling class (the Lancashire Library has several copies: 306.432/REN). It contains the interesting observation on page 26:

Why were the newly rich businessmen of the Lancashire mills sending their children south to expensive schools, wondered the Taunton Commission, set up in 1864 to examine the public schools. It was so that ‘they may lose their northern tongue … and be quite away from home influences’.

The registers of the individual schools and a more detailed consideration of their Preston pupils can be found at the links below:

Charterhouse, Westminster and Winchester
Manchester Grammar

Having chosen the schools the next step was to extract relevant pupils from the many thousands of names in the collected lists. Each list was searched for occurrences of the word ‘Preston’ and the entries for those pupils whose parents lived in the wider Preston area or whose careers brought them to the town were collected. This exercise yielded 190 names, covering the years from 1625 to 1908.

It is clearly an artificial selection since if the word ‘Preston’ does not occur in an individual entry it will be missed. Thus some members of the Stanley family are found, others are not, notably the Lord Strange who attended Winchester at the same time as General Burgoyne, the latter is among the names collected. Burgoyne went on to elope with Stanley’s sister and later represented the family interest as the town’s MP for nearly a quarter of a century. Similarly, there are several members of the Rawstorne family in the lists, but no mention of the Preston diarist Lawrence Rawstorne, nor of his son Peter. Besides the landed gentry, there are frequent occurrences of the names of the sons of the Preston cotton lords: Birley, Calvert, Catterall, Hollins, Horrocks, Jacson, Miller and the Stannings of Leyland.

The maps below of the residences of the families in the records make clear their social status and the geographical segregation of the town’s elite. Other indicators of status include occupation and a university education. The occupations of 110 of the 190 pupils are listed in the records. These were: clergyman (26), lawyer (26), cotton merchant (12), MP (9), army officer (7), doctor (4), engineer (4), schoolmaster (4), farmer (3), ‘in business’ (3), civil servant (2), merchant (2), wine merchant (2), archaeologist (1), chief constable (1), journalist (1), land agent (1), lecturer (1), writer (1). The occupations of 58 fathers are listed, and with them, unlike with the sons, the various branches of the cotton trade are detailed. Their occupations were: clergyman (13), lawyer (9), army officer (6), cotton manufacturer (3), physician/surgeon (3), banker (2), corn merchant (2), grocer (2), land agent (2), wine merchant (2), antiquary (1), apothecary (1), bleacher (1), calico manufacturer (1), checkman (1), coach driver (1), haberdasher (1), hatter (1), headmaster (1), linen draper (1), publican (1), town clerk (1), upholsterer (1), woollen draper (1). Of those whose occupations are not listed 71 were designated gentlemen and two were baronets.

A total of 73 of the pupils are shown as having gone on to university and one to Sandhurst: Oxford (42), Cambridge (28), Owen’s College, Manchester (2), Cirencester Agricultural College (1) and Durham (1).

When Lloyd George introduced old age pensions in 1908 it was available to those over 70 whose annual income did not exceed £31.10s. They received five shillings a week. In 1899 sending a son to Charterhouse School could cost parents as much as £59.14s.1d. a term in tuition fees, boarding costs and incidental charges. The figures are revealed in a history of the school by one of its schoolmasters, who examined nearly 400 bills sent out to parents for the final term of 1899. The maximum and minimum charges are shown below: [1]

Fig 1. Representative Charterhouse school fees for the May to August term 1899. [2]
Fig 2. Home addresses given as Preston or near Preston from the trawl of the registers of the Clarendon schools and Manchester Grammar School and superimposed on a modern map (Map data copyrighted OpenStreetMap contributors and available from The 12 residences in Preston itself are located but not named, see separate map below.

Fig 3. Preston home addresses from the trawl of the registers of the Clarendon schools and Manchester Grammar School and superimposed on a modern map (Map data copyrighted OpenStreetMap contributors and available from

Avenham House, Frenchwood House, Green Bank and Patten House (Stanley Hall in the Eton school register) represent an older Preston, harking back to the 17th century. Lune Street was the address of the vicar of Trinity Church in 1818 [3] and the stray modest terraced property in Frenchwood Avenue was the home of a doctor practising in the town in 1909, according to the published Shrewsbury school records. [4] All the other addresses are collected in the 19th-century middle-class enclaves of the Winckley Square and West Cliff districts, with the exception of the home of the minister of St James’s Church, whose vicarage (now a listed building) was situated close to Lark Hill.

[1] H. Tod, Charterhouse (London: G. Bell, 1900), 213–22,
[2] Tod, 214–15.
[3] Lancashire General Directory for 1818. Part First, Comprising Blackburn with Accrington, Church, Clitheroe, Darwen and Whalley; Bolton with Astley Bridge, Breightmet, Burnden, Chowbent, Dean Church and Leigh; and Preston with Chorley and Walton, and the Suburbs of Each Town (Manchester: T. Rogerson, 1818).
[4] J. A. Auden, ed., Shrewsbury School Register 1734-1908 (Oswestry: Woodall, Minshall, Thomas & Co., 1909), 226–27,

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