Family History Notebook

Newcome's School

Its healthy reputation made Hackney a noted centre of private education for some 200 years, in particular as 'the ladies' university of the female arts'. John Salladine, a French schoolmaster, was resident in 1627 and was chosen in 1630 as a vestryman, in which capacity he helped to appoint the parish schoolmaster. Mrs. Winch boarded young ladies in 1637, when a rich City orphan was abducted while walking on Newington common.  Samuel Pepys (b. 1633) boarded at Hackney as a little child.

During most of the 18th and early 19th centuries the parish, for all its many schools, was noted chiefly for Newcome's and for nonconformist academies.

Newcome's or Hackney school came to be the largest and most fashionable of all 18th-century private schools. It originally belonged to Benjamin Morland, whose daughter Lydia married Henry, son of the vicar Peter Newcome, in 1714. Henry Newcome (d. 1756), although dismissed as a young preacher of little sense, was long remembered as 'the famous Dr. Newcome of Hackney'. He probably took charge in 1721, when Morland became high master of St. Paul's school.  Perhaps an acquaintance begun at Hackney led Samuel Hoadly's son Benjamin (d. 1761), bishop of Winchester, to choose Newcome's school for his own sons Benjamin (1706-57), the royal physician, and John (1711- 76), the poet, both of whom wrote plays. John distinguished himself in one of the theatrical performances for which the school became famous. Leading Whig patrons included the Cavendishes, the Fitzroys, and the Yorkes:  sons of the third and fourth dukes of Devonshire attended,  as did the second earl of Hardwicke (d. 1790) and his three brothers.

The plays at Newcome's school were produced from 1730 or earlier, perhaps annually in the 1760s  but every three years by 1795.  Contributors of prologues or epilogues, for both classical and English works, included David Garrick in 1763  and later George Keate (d. 1797).  Actors included the earl of Euston, later first lord of the treasury as duke of Grafton (1735-1811), who was watched by his grandfather in 1751,  perhaps the future fifth duke of Devonshire (d. 1811) in the early 1760s,  the future earl of Harrington and Lord Robert Cavendish in 1764, when over 100 coaches arrived,  and the diarist Thomas Creevey (1768-1838) in 1783.  Royalty attended in 1761. Old boys' dinners often took place at the Thatched House tavern, St. James's: stewards included the earl of Hardwicke and Lord Grey in 1768, Lord Ravensworth in 1781, and the duke of Devonshire, Lord Dover, and Lord Henry Fitzroy in 1791.  Reunions were still held in 1829. 

Henry Newcome died rich, leaving Clapton copyholds to his son Peter, F.R.S., so long as he should carry on the school, and then on the same conditions to Peter's half-brother Henry. Peter (d. 1779) gave up control to Henry,  who married a niece of the antiquary William Cole and whose second son Richard had succeeded by 1792. The diplomatist Stratford Canning (1786- 1880), a pupil from 1792 to 1794, remembered a priggish potentate who left the boys to a Spartan existence in which the smaller ones were slaves. At the end of 1802 Richard handed over to the Revd. C. T. Heathcote, whose family had long known the Newcomes  and under whom speeches replaced the plays. The school closed between 1815, when changes were announced by Heathcote, who also held an Essex living, and 1819, when the property was auctioned. In the 1790s a resident usher kept order in a tall double-gabled brick building large enough for 70-80 boys, while the Newcomes lived next to it in a new house.  The two houses, walled grounds, and 8 a. offered a good building site,  which was taken for the London Orphan Asylum. 

Hackney: Education', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney (1995), pp. 148-165. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22718 Date accessed: 23 April 2009