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Ackworth School – A historical view

In the United Kingdom, Independent Schools offer many wide reaching advantages including lower class sizes and improved exam success. However the benefits of tradition, ethos and culture should be other factors when considering a path for young people in our ever evolving society. Top UK independent schools formation.

Ackworth School was founded in 1779 by Dr John Fothergill and others, on behalf of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and tradition, values and the Quaker ethos have always been central to the culture within the school.

With Founder’s Day approaching on the 15 of October it is an opportunity to look back on how the school came into existence and how the founders intended that the school should provide an education.

Dr John Fothergill, founder of the school, was born in Wensleydale, Yorkshire in 1712. His mother and father were Quakers and he remained a member of the Society of Friends all his life. Dr Fothergill became a noted physician, botanist and anti-slavery campaigner. Having studied at Edinburgh University he went on to open a medical practice in the City of London.

In August 1762 Dr Fothergill purchased an estate of thirty acres at Upton, where he built hothouses and greenhouses – they extended nearly 260ft and contained over 3000 species of plants, many of which were collected by seafarers on his instruction. Later in life, Dr Fothergill was in much demand as a doctor due to his exceptional reputation. Indeed such was his fame, that patients had been known to cross the Atlantic for his advice.

After 1770 Dr Fothergill became greatly concerned about the 'impending war between England and the American Colonies’ (now called the War of Independence). Around this time his father and brother had visited Quaker friends in America, and American ministers visited his home. As a result the Fothergill family helped establish Quaker Schools in New York and Philadelphia.

Having formed a friendship with Benjamin Franklin while in Europe, Dr Fothergill wrote a paper setting out means by which England and America might agree. Franklin accepted his suggestions. Ultimately these suggestions were not accepted by the British Government. Dr Fothergill went on to blame following decline in industry and commerce on the ensuing war. Benjamin Franklin sailed for America on Monday 21st April 1775, but hostilities had already started on April 19th at Lexington, to be followed by the Battle of Bunker's Hill. Dr Fothergill and other Quakers presented a petition to the King for a peaceful settlement, but to no avail. The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 12th and reconciliation was no longer possible. The declaration received no Quaker signatures.

In 1777 Ackworth School in Yorkshire was founded. Established by the Society of Friends with a zealous interest being taken by Dr Fothergill.

It was intended as a boarding school for the education of children whose parents were not rich. It was Dr Fothergill who located the building, previously a Foundling Hospital, surrounded by 84 acres of land, and he afterwards took great interest in the school, serving on the committee and subscribing to expenses. Ackworth School was opened in 1779 and by 1780, 80 girls and 150 boys were being taught there. The original buildings still exist to this day and the 84 acres grew to 280. The School Hall seating 400 is named Fothergill Hall and was built in 1899.

Dr Fothergill did not marry; his sister Anne kept house for him until his death. He died in 1780 and the sale of the contents of the garden took three days, some of the plants going to the home of his friend Dr Lettson at Camberwell.


Interesting facts:

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