Shedding Light on the Celebrated Victorian Educationalist, Sir James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth

Jane Speller writes:

A new cataloguing project funded by the John Rylands Research Institute aims to illuminate the life of the celebrated Victorian educationalist Sir James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth (1804-77). The resulting on-line catalogue will open up this important collection to researchers around the world.

Kay-Shuttleworth’s career spanned many years and encompassed both the medical and political worlds, giving us a fascinating insight into life in Manchester and Salford during some of the key events of the Victorian era, including the cholera epidemic of 1832 and the Cotton Famine of 1861-65. His efforts to establish the first ever system of national education are also well documented.

The beautiful Gawthorpe Hall, Padiham, Lancashire, home of Sir James Phillips  Kay-Shuttleworth from 1842. Photo credit: Lee Pilkington.
The beautiful Gawthorpe Hall, Padiham, Lancashire, home of Sir James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth from 1842, and now owned by the National Trust. Photo credit: Lee Pilkington.

James Phillips Kay was born in Rochdale to a textile manufacturing family. He was baptized at Bamford chapel, where he later taught at the boys’ Sunday school. In the tradition of dissenting families he was educated at Leaf Square Grammar School in Pendleton, Salford. As a young man he worked in his uncle’s bank in Rochdale, before studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

He graduated in 1827 and returned to Lancashire to practise as a doctor in Manchester, lodging initially on King Street. In 1828 he was one of the founders of the Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary at 181 Great Ancoats Street, a charitable organisation which treated the poor. It was here that Kay witnessed first-hand the grim living conditions of the urban poor, many of whom were cotton operatives.

Engraving of a Manchester tenement, c.1800. © University of Manchester Library.
Engraving of a Manchester cellar, c.1800, from George Catt, Pictorial History of Manchester (1844). © University of Manchester Library.

This experience prompted Kay to embark on a lifelong crusade for public health and education reform. In 1832 he published a pamphlet entitled The Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes Employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester. This seminal document predates the famous Frederich Engels book, The Condition of the Working Class in England, written during his stay in Manchester in 1842.

The Training of Pauper Children by James Phillips Kay, M.D., 1839 © University of Manchester Library.
The Training of Pauper Children, by James Phillips Kay, M.D., 1839.
© University of Manchester Library.

In 1835 Kay was appointed as Assistant Poor Law Commissioner, administering the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk, a role which involved him in implementing the new Poor Law and in managing schemes such as government-controlled labour migration. Under this scheme the rural unemployed were encouraged to relocate to work in the industrialized centres of the North. Kay’s interest in education and his fervent belief that education held the key to society’s regeneration continued to develop. In 1839 he published a report entitled The Training of Pauper Children.



Initials carved over the Gawthorpe kitchen hearth. Photo credit: Jane Speller.
Initials carved over the Gawthorpe kitchen hearth.
Photo credit: Jane Speller.

In 1842 Kay married Janet Shuttleworth, the heiress of Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire. They had become acquainted when Janet wrote to Kay asking for advice about the local infant school at Habergham. On marriage he assumed her family name and became Kay-Shuttleworth. During the renovations of Gawthorpe Hall by fashionable architect of the day Charles Barry, the initials K and S were worked into many decorative features including ceilings.

Through his appointment as Assistant Secretary to the Whig government’s Committee of the Privy Council on Education in 1839, a post he held for nine years, Kay was able to lay the foundations of the British public school elementary system. In 1840 he established Battersea College in London, the first teacher training college in the country.

You will be able to follow the progress of the project through future blog posts. These will include information on the later life of Kay-Shuttleworth, his literary endeavours and his relationship with Charlotte Brontë.

1 comment on “Shedding Light on the Celebrated Victorian Educationalist, Sir James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth

  1. Prof Bernard de Neumann

    James Kay-Shuttleworth, evidently a man now respected and remembered for his teaching reforms, gained influence with the Committee of Management of the GRH Schools. Early in 1841 the Lower School was diminished in size, so that more boys could be entered into the Upper School, and the Upper School was also divided into the Upper School, and even higher, the Nautical School. Thus three headmasters were required. Edward Riddle, who had been head of the Upper School, was made head of the Nautical School and the headships of the Lower and Upper Schools were vacant. Kay-Shuttleworth used his influence to get two educational reformers appointed; Thomas Irvine to the Lower School, and William Graham to the Upper School. There then commenced a “battle royal” with these two “zealots” versus the establishment figures of Edward Riddle and Lieutenant Rouse, the Superintendent. Prior to this time the naval staff were responsible for the care and discipline of the boys “out-of-school”, and the teaching staff only when the boys actually were in, or supposed to be in, class. The two “zealots” argued that the teaching staff should have more power, but in the end this led to a great reduction of discipline, and attainment. To save the situation Lt Rouse eventually regained control of “out-of-school” discipline. These two “zealots” also set about attacking the position of the still highly respected Edward Riddle, and obviously did not understand his accomplishments. They made unfounded and false accusations against him, and convinced the school management committee to have Riddle’s pupils subjected to testing by the Astronomer Royal and two university mathematicians (one was the acclaimed Augustus de Morgan). Of course Riddle’s pupils were found to be entirely competent and even the most modest of them capable of navigating ships. To make such an attack on Riddle demonstrates a great lack of understanding on the “zealots” part, but one would have supposed that the Admiralty, being fully aware of Riddle and his pupil’s achievements, would have resisted. Yet the management board went along with it, thus also demonstrating that the Royal Navy officers on the committee also had little comprehension of navigation and nautical astronomy. Of course in those times navigation and sailing were in the hands of highly competent Warranted Master Mariners and Master’s Mates, and not foppish Commissioned Naval Officers who did not wish to be associated with what they discourteously called “Tarpaulins”. Having been discredited the two “zealots” then proceeded to attempt to falsify records of time-keeping, and punishments, and Riddle, taking the opportunity immediately struck back. In February 1844 Graham died in post and in December 1844 Irvine resigned through ill health, and died not long after. Accompanying all of this was much hostility from other established members of staff, and, of course, the boys recognised that something was in the air, did all in their power to worsen the situation, sometimes smashing large numbers of windows, and rioting in their “Mess” (refectory). Unfortunately McLean, the author of “Education and Empire”, seems to think that the problems that arose were not the fault of Kay-Shuttleworth’s “zealots”, but rather due to them being subjected to too great a pressure by the management committee (including K-S), and old-fashioned educational beliefs. This seems to suggest that McLean believes that the end justifies the means, and that in this case, the two perpetrators were unlucky not to demonstrate the advantages of the reforms they sought to implement in the schools. In fact they were liars and cheats, and had a deleterious effect upon the schools and their pupils, and did a great disservice to education. Riddle’s book remained in print for a further 24 years after these events, and is most certainly not moribund – as it is described by McLean. To this day the memories of both Edward Riddle and Lieutenant Rouse are highly regarded by those, such as me, who were pupils at the Royal Hospital School. In fact Rouse had a leg shot off whilst leading a raid on the island of Kinaliada, Sea of Marmara, during the Royal Navy’s ill-fated expedition through the Dardanelles in 1807. Both Rouse and Riddle did everything in their power for their “boys”. To be placed in such a position caused Edward Riddle a great deal of heartache, which was understood by his fellow teachers, and his former pupils, and so, to bring reassurance, his pupils presented him with a sculpted bust by William Theed (now in the mausoleum in the grounds of Devonport House, Greenwich), and, when he finally retired in 1852, he was granted a pension equal to his full pay.

    To me it’s more likely that Kay-Shuttleworth “cut his teeth” on the Greenwich Royal Hospital School, and modified his methods to take account of his mistaken assumptions.

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