Quakers and education

Quakers in general, and Tottenham Quakers in particular, had a long interest in education. When George Fox visited Tottenham in 1689 he held Meetings in a school for women at High Cross, run by Bridge Austell.

When negotiations were in progress for the possible building of the first meeting house, the presence of two well-established Quaker schools was presented as additional reason for the Meeting to continue. These schools belonged to Richard Claridge and Alice Hays and were situated in Old Ship Yard at High Cross.

Josiah Forster (1693-1763)

Josiah Forster came to settle in Tottenham in 1751 with his second wife Jane and their eight children. Their last child, Priscilla, was born in Tottenham. Josiah had taught at the Friends’ school at Clerkenwell and run his own school in Coventry and later Birmingham

In 1751, Josiah bought a large mansion on the north side of Tottenham Green, Reynardson House. This served as the family home and as the school he opened in 1752, Forster’s School (a boarding school for boys). This began the long connection of the Forster family with Tottenham.

Reynardson House was a spacious, brick-built house standing in grounds of about thirty acres. It was originally built in 1590 and was home to Albert Reynardson, Mayor of London.

Forster’s School quickly became well established and Quakers from all over the country sent their children here. The school room was held in what had originally been the ballroom (about 20 by 30 feet).

Josiah died of consumption in 1763.

Jane Forster’s School for Boys

For some time before Josiah Forster’s death his wife Jane ran the school. Their son William (1747-1824) later took over the school until shortly after his marriage to Elizabeth Howard in 1781. The school was then run by Thomas Coar, a Yorkshireman who came to Tottenham in 1779.

Forster’s School continues

Thomas Coar lived in the Old House (Coar’s House; later known as Eaton House) on Tottenham Green (the site of the old Town Hall, now used as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. It is likely that Thomas moved the school to his own house.

Under Thomas Coar, the school flourished, continuing to uphold the fine reputation it had first gained under Josiah Forster.

Thomas married Priscilla Forster (Josiah Forster’s daughter) in 1784 and so became even more closely involved with the Forster family.

Upon his retirement (around 1826) Thomas gave up the school to his nephew, Josiah (grandson of the school’s founder). Josiah was already running his own school in Southgate and he moved this school to Tottenham, teaching there until his retirement in 1826. At this point the school was closed.

Eagle House

Another private Quaker school in Tottenham opened in the early nineteenth century. It was a preparatory school for boys aged five to ten. This was run by Deborah Forster (daughter of Josiah Forster who founded Forster’s school). Thomas Coar’s daughters, Frances and Priscilla, both taught at the school. It is unclear whether the school was held on the premises of Coar’s school or in Eagle House.

Eagle House stood on the Green between Old House and Grove House. There were twenty boarders and some day pupils. The day pupils were not the sons of Friends, but attended Tottenham Church.

Frances and Priscilla were described as “kind, calm and considerate; Frances had little sense of humour but was sensible and Priscilla made hasty judgments”. Both were strict disciplinarians, but punishments were mild, the severest being to sit still and silent for half-an-hour at playtime. The boys engaged in plenty of outdoor activities; they played ball games, flew kites, tended small gardens and walked across the fields to Bruce Castle and Mount Pleasant. As a treat the boys went “down Tottenham to buy skipping ropes and small coloured cakes from the shops”.

(Theodore Compton 1893 Recollections of Tottenham Friends and the Forster Family)

Grove House School

In 1828 Grove House School was founded by Thomas Binns, who served as the first headmaster. It replaced Forster’s School, which had closed two years earlier. Provision was made to teach French, German, Latin, Writing and Drawing. The boys were all from Quaker families or had Quaker relatives.

The school stood on the south side of Tottenham Green. It eventually closed in 1879. In 1897 the site was purchased by Tottenham Council and became the Tottenham Polytechnic (now College of North East London).

On the closure of Grove House School, activity was transferred to a new Quaker school in Reading, Leighton Park School, which is still running today.

Adult schools

The Quaker concern for education went beyond simply setting up schools for their own children. From the early days Quakers set up adult schools, often at their meeting houses, to provide a basic education for poor people. As far back as the 1780s Quakers were setting up adult classes to teach people to read, initially using the Bible as the text to work with. The initial development of individual adult schools round the country soon grew into a distinct movement.

Through close involvement with those they were teaching, Friends gained a deeper insight into the conditions many people were living in.

An adult school was running at Tottenham Meeting at least as far back as 1890.

Lancasterian School

In 1812 a Lancasterian school for boys was established in Tottenham. It was originally on the High Road, just south of White Hart Lane, but moved in 1813 to Church Road. Three years later a similar school for girls was opened on the corner of Reform Row and the High Road.

From the beginning, several Tottenham Friends, men and women, were actively involved in the management of these schools. They are also featured in the list of subscribers, including members of the Forster, Janson, Howard and Stacey families.

In a single large room over 100 boys were taught on the basis of Joseph Lancaster’s ‘improved plan’. Each boy paid 1p per week. Joseph Lancaster, a Quaker, published an account of his educational work in 1803: Improvements in education as it respects the industrial classes of the community.

Joseph Lancaster had found that at his ‘Lancasterian School’ in Southwark one ‘teacher’ could teach say five boys one item of knowledge in reading, writing or arithmetic. These five boys would teach another five. These would teach five more. In this way education could be provided very economically.