Answers to Questions


BLAXLAND, Hitchin, 1788-1801

An 18th century Quaker School

November, 2010




Michael Fowler (michael.fowler @t of Corby, Northants, writes: I have been researching part of my family. My great great great grandfather was George Blaxland and I have just found out that his father, also named George Blaxland, was a school master in Hitchin. He and his wife were Quakers. I think his wife was an Alexander {Sarah} and her father ran a school in Rochester where I think she and George must have met. Do you know of any web sites that I might find out about Quakers from the late 1700s?  I do hope you can point me in the right direction where I can find out about the Blaxlands.

You may also be interested to know that my great great great grandfather, George Blaxland junior, was an engineer and the Superintendant at Sheerness Dockyard in 1851 and his claim to fame was that he was the inventor of the screw propeller. Other claimants for that distinction were John Ericson the famous Swedish engineer and Sir Francis Pettit Smith. The government of the day recognised the efforts with money rewards. A lawsuit ensued between Smith and Blaxland which was won by the latter. The Little Jane, a lifeboat converted by Blaxland into a screw steamer, was probably the first screw steamer to cross the English Channel, the first trip being made to Boulogne and back.

The starting point for Quaker Family History is the web site of the Quaker Family History Society but the Library at the Friends House may be able to help for some queries. In general Quaker records are well kept and more detail than the Church of England parish records, with informative minute books, etc. However most are not yet available online and you will probably need to visit HALS and possibly BLARS to read the original manuscript documents. There are a number of books on Hertfordshire Quakers, but one is particularly relevant. This is the book by Reginald Hine entitled  A Mirror for the Society of Friends: Being the Story of the Hitchin Quakers which actually mentions George Blaxland's school - see below. Hine wrote a large number of books about Hitchin, frequently mentioning the Quakers, and the indexing is not very thorough. For instance some of the Quakers mentioned in the book Hitchin Worthies  might have gone to the school.

In general it is hard to find out much about small private schools and George Blaxland's school is not mention in the booklet Early Education in Hitchin and there is only a brief mention in the chapter on the 18th Century in Hitchin in the book Educating Our Own. This represented a challenge and I decided to see what I could find out about it in a few hours, The follow table shows what I found. (In many cases the reference is only to an index reference where the original document is not searchable online).


from 1780 The Development of Education in Hitchin, 1780-1880. by E. R. Aitkin, (MA Thesis for the University of Nottingham, 1960) may contain relevant material material. It is in the Jill Grey Collection of documents on early education which might contain other relevant documents. I have not seen them. I suspect from the quotation from Educating Our Own below that it may not contain anything significant. Hitchin Museum.


George Blaxland came from Canterbury (Kent) Quaker Meeting

HALS Quaker Records   NQ2/5F/28


"Hitchin Quakers at this time expressed their educational concern by supporting the establishment of a Quaker school in Yorkshire. Ackworth was founded in 1779, and Hitchin Meeting made a generous donation of 182, followed up by an annual subscription of eight guineas. This entitled them to place one local pupil, free of charge to the parents, presumably Friends who had fallen on hard times. A private Quaker school did exist in the town between 1789 and 1801, run by George Blaxland, and appears to have been of good repute, as it was patronised by prominent local families, but no details remain."

Educating Our Own

circa 1791

Samuel Tuke (1784-1857) "as a boy had been educated at the school of George Blaxland at Hitchin"

[He was a Quaker reformer born in York in 1784]

[At Ackworth School 1792-1794, from York]

{Listed in Dictionary of National Biography}

A Mirror for the Society of Friends p108


[Ackworth School list]

1791 August

Letter from Richard. How (Aspley) to William. Fitzwilliam How, grandson, "Billy" (at Geo. Blaxland's School, Hitchin) Short letter of moral & affectionate advice - Billy's date of birth 13 Dec. 1785. On 4 November 1793 William wrote to his Grandfather "In good health: no new cases of fever among schoolfellows In need of a strong pair of breeches for every day."

[The How Family of Hogstyle End, Bucks - near Aspley Guise]

BLARS HW/87/443  (several documents relating to W F How.)

[Quakerism at Hogstyle End, Buckinghamshire]

1792 September

George Blaxland (son of James and Ann Blaxland) married Sarah Alexander (daughter of William & Elizabeth Alexander) 5 September 1982 in Kent (location not stated - is this from a Quaker record?)

Familysearch (Beta)

1793 February

Joseph Jackson Lister, Hitchin, 18 February 1793 - sent letter to John and Mary Lister, 42 Lothbury, London. With a covering letter by George and S. Blaxland. (This must be Joseph, born 1786, writing to his parents from his boarding school.)

[Joseph Jackson Lister born in London? - father of Joseph Lister]

{Listed in Dictionary of National Biography}

Lister Family Papers, Wellcome Library, Western Manuscripts List No. 25



George Blaxland, schoolmaster, Hitchin

Hitchin Directory

circa 1795

A William Blaxland born in Hitchin

Ancestry Census data

1796 Jan

George Blaxland witnesses a legal document involving John Ransom of Hitchin, gentleman and William Lucas the younger of Hitchin, gentleman. (Both John and William came from Quaker families.)

BLARS  Ref WL1000/1/AMP1/8

circa 1798

An Alexander Blaxland born in Hitchin

Ancestry Census data

circa 1799

"At seven years of age [Jeremiah Holmes Wiffen] was sent to a school at Hitchin, in Hertfordshire, conducted by Mr. G. Blaxland, a member of the Society of Friends; and, at the expiration of two years, was removed to Ackworth school, in Yorkshire, the public academical institution of this strictly moral, if somewhat singular, sect."

[The English Wikipedia article is reported as "missing" - several articles in other European languages]

[Ackworth School 1802-1806 from Woburn - two siblings? also went]

{Listed in Dictionary of National Biography}

Memoir of Jeremiah Holmes Wiffen, Esq."

[The Literary Wiffen Brothers]

[Ackworth School list]

circa 1801

A George Blaxland born in Hitchin.

Ancestry Census data

1801 February

George Blaxland buried 1 Feb 1801 aged 46, Schoolmaster

Herts & Beds Quaker Burials (at HALS?) - Herts Burial Index

1801 April

Will of George Blaxland, Schoolmaster of Hitchin , Hertfordshire

National Archives PROB 11/1356

1808 October

John Tanner Richardson married Sarah, widow of George Blaxland

Records of a Quaker Family: The Richardsons of Cleveland



Herts/Beds pupils who went to Ackworth School

    Entry Left Pupil From
    1790 1792 Benjamin Haggar Baldock
    1790 1792 Martha F Ashford Hoddesdon
    1792 1793 William Ashford Hoddesdon
    1792 1797 Hannah Littleboy Berkhampstead
    1793 1796 James Jackson Hertford
    1793 1798 Ann Nutting Ware, Herts
    1793 1798 Mary A Harrison Youngsbury, Herts
    1793 1795 Mary Risely Ashwell, Herts
    1793 1785 Elizabeth Mason Clophill, Beds
    1793 1798 Ann Gripper Ware, Herts
    1794 1798 Barron Harrison Youngsbury, Herts
    1795 1797 Abraham Risely Ashwell
    1796 1800 Rachael Littleboy Berkhampstead
    1796 1798 Ann Risley Ashwell, Herts
    1797 1798 John Thorn Ashwell, Herts
    1797 1799 Mary Bassett Leighton Buzzard
    1797 1799 Ann Bassett Leighton Buzzard
    1798 1801 Sarah Thorn Ashwell
    1798 1803 Abraham Thorn Ashwell
    1799 1800 Daniel Risely Ashwell, Herts
    1799 1801 Joseph Hine Hexton, Herts
    1799 1802 Stephen Jackson Hertford
    1800 1805 Mary Coleby Hempstead ?
    1800 1805 Sarah Littleboy Berkhampstead
    1800 1803 Sarah Risely Ashwell
    1801 1803 James Risely Ashwell
    1802 1806 Joseph Jackson Hertford
    1802 1807 Charles Ridgeway Leighton Buzzard
    1802 1806 Jeremiah H Wiffen Woburn, Beds
    1802 1804 Sarah Ashby Pulloxhill, Beds
    1802 1804 Susannah Ashby Pullox-hill, Beds
    1802 1804 Thomas Morris Ampthill
    1802 1803 William Brown Hitchin
    1803 1808 Richard M Chapman Wormley
    1803 1808 Benjamin B Wiffen Woburn
    1803 1807 Joseph Cranstone Hempstead

See Ackworth School Pupils for longer list

I am very surprised by what I have found. I would not have guessed that a small school in a small Hertfordshire town which was open for little more than ten years at the end of the 18th century would teach at least three people who end up listed in the Dictionary of National Biography! The school would appear to have taken boarders (and presumably day boys as well).


There is plenty of scope for additional research under the following headings:

Blaxland family history: The Quaker records currently held at HALS (and possibly also BLARS) should contain information on George's membership of the local meeting, the birth of his children, his burial, etc. His will could provide further information, and may include trustee arrangements for the children.


Location of the School: HALS has the Land Tax returns for Hitchin from 1752 to 1830. Examination of at least some of the years when George was known to be in Hitchin could well help to identify the approximate location of the school - and the tax would give a clue to the size of the property.  Examination of the years after George's death could indicate whether Sarah continued in occupation, and if so for how long. It might also give a clue as to who took over the property when the Blaxlands left. [Perhaps it continued as a school? There were other Quaker Schools in Hitchin later in the 19th century.] Other parish records at HALS might also mention the school. If located and still standing it may well be a listed building.


The Hitchin Meeting and Education: It is clear that  the meeting was very supportive of education - with the payments to the Ackworth school in Yorkshire.  It would seem that two of the four pupils identifies were not local to the Beds/Herts area and the school may have acted as a prep school for children who later went to Ackworth and possibly elsewhere. It might even be that the local meeting encouraged the founding of the school at Hitchin, or paid the fees for some of the children who attended. The Quaker records at HALS should be consulted to find out.

The following are areas where further work would be relevant if you want to know more about George's pupils - but which could involve a lot of research and may not find much.

Follow up on the information on known pupils: I am sure you would want a copy of the letter the boarder Joseph Jackson Lister wrote to his father, and the covering letter written by George or Sarah Blaxland. The How letter may also contain some information specifically relevant to the school. There could well be published biographies, collections of papers in archives, etc., for the former pupils who clearly "made it." While I suspect that 99% of the surviving documentation about the famous pupils will say nothing about the school there is just a chance something (perhaps even a childhood diary) might turn up.


Identify Local Pupils: Quakers (and some other families) living in Hitchin may have sent their children to the school on a day basis, while others in the area, such as those worshiping at Hogstyle End, Beds, may have sent children  Some of the pupils sent from the Hitchin area to Ackworth School between about 1790 and 1803 [see list] may have previously spent one or two years at George Blaxland's school. The Quaker records at HALS might give some clues.


Identify non-local Pupils: If you are a real glutton for punishment a search for Quakers born between about 1784 and 1796 who went to school in Hitchin might even turn up more Dictionary of National Biography cases, and perhaps further information on the school. This is an area where asking question on the internet can sometimes produce gems from people who can provide answers from their own research.


There are a number of outstanding questions raised by this posting and tracking down other pupils who went to the school is difficult. If you happen to know of such pupils (perhaps one of your ancestors) please

Tell me about it

(remembering to clearly identify the subject you are commenting on)


January 2011

Michael Fowler provided an update about George Blaxland saying: I have been in contact with Catharina Clement and she has been a mindful of information. William Alexander served his apprenticeship as a shipwright in the dockyard till 1775/6. As a Quaker he was a pacifist and so left the dockyard and set up a Quaker school in Rochester run first by himself then William Rickman, I would presume George Blaxland served his apprenticeship as a schoolmaster at the school where he met William's daughter Sarah and married her 5th September 1792 then set up his own school at Bancroft, Hitchin. After his early death in 1801 Sarah may have carried on running the school until she remarried in 1808 to John Richardson who came from a big Quaker family and went to live in the Northumberland area. At first I was told that her death was in Croydon but this is incorrect as she was buried in the North. I'm not sure where she lived or how John Richardson came to be living in Croydon.


I have now found that George and Sarah Blaxland had four children William Blaxland (birth 23rd Nov. 1793), Anna Blaxland (birth 09 Nov 1795 at Hitchin), Alexander Blaxland (birth 31st Dec 1797 at Hitchin) and George Blaxland (birth 16th July 1800 at Hitchin).


When George died in 1801 his wife Sarah nee Alexander remarried in 1808 to John Richardson at Stockton Durham so the whole family of Blaxlands ie children William, Anna, Alexander and George would have gone to live in the North. Sarah Blaxland was John Richardson's third wife and one of his sons from a previous marriage was an engineer so it looks like George the younger followed in his footsteps. He married Jane Thompson in Jarrow Nov 1822 and lived in the Gateshead area, I have since found out that he had four children born in the north Ann 1822/3, Mary Isabella Dec 1823, Sarah Alexander 1826 and Edward 07/08/29. I have a feeling that Ann and Edward did not live long as I cannot trace them when they all moved south from Gateshead  The youngest child. Their youngest child George Blaxland was born at St Albans 20th December 1833 and baptised 23rd Feb. 1834.

In 1841 George Blaxland, (40, engineer) was living in Wish Cottage, Woolwich Road, Greenwich with his wife Jane and children An [sic] (17), Mary (16), Sarah (14) and George (7), together with Mary Thompson (35, of independent means) and John Hudson (25, engineer). [Found with FindMyPast - not found with Ancestry.]


I wonder if the "missing" Ann Blaxland was the Mary Ann Blaxland who married in the Medway registration district in 1847 or the Anna Maria Blaxland who married in the Sheppey  registration district (which includes Sheerness) in 1848. (FreeBMD).

Later the family were living in the Sheerness area as his first wife Jane died there in 1847 so I am not sure when he started working in the Dockyards of Sheerness.


 February 2012

Sarah (Pendomer @t writes from Somerset to say: On reading your site on the Blaxland Quaker School in Hitchin, I have just found one of my family attended this school - or at least a Quaker school in Hitchin - must be the same one.  Here are his details: John Middleton b 1784 d 1793.  Son of Benjamin Middleton and his wife Tabitha Hoyland, Quakers of Sheffield.  John was born in Wellingborough, Northants and died of scarlet fever while at the school. (Source: Memoirs of Maria Fox).

The book Memoirs of Maria Fox is available on online and the relevant text (with scanner fault corrections) is

Your dear aunt, Hannah Middleton, was born at Wellingborough, the 9th of Ninth Month, 1786. As she was several  years older than myself, I cannot give any account, from my own observation, of her early childhood ; but have heard it remarked by others, that she was lively, affectionate, and of a timid disposition. Her elder brother, John, was exceedingly fond of her, and delighted in her company. He was a very active, intelligent boy, but died of scarlet fever, whilst at school at Hitchin, in the year 1793, when he was little more than nine years old. His death was a heavy affliction to his parents; and though they were enabled to how with Christian submission to the stroke, it was long before the spirits of my dear mother fully recovered from  the shock they had sustained. On her return from Hitchin, after attending her dear John, her anxiety was again called forth, by my sister sickening of the same complaint, and, for some time, her life was considered in imminent danger. It pleased our Heavenly Father, however, to bless their efforts for the recovery of this interesting child, and her sweet society must have been a great solace to her affectionate parents.


Answers to Questions


BLAXLAND, engineer, St Albans, circa 1833

January, 2011




The history given above suggests a clear "Hertfordshire" question here.  What was George Blaxland (1800-1874) doing in the St Albans area in 1833, and how long was he there?


Let us start with the baptism. Familysearch gives what is, in fact, the National Archives reference RG 4/749, which is the "register" deposited in 1837 by the Presbyterian/Unitarian Chapel in Dagnal Lane, St Albans. It is important to realise that, unlike Church of England registers of the time, there were no rules about the keeping of non-conformist registers. Many were, in effect, more like a general purpose chapel log book kept by the minister. It is impossible to say what a particular book will contain without looking at it. Some contain minutes of chapel meetings, including lists of who attended, and notes of who joined the chapel with dates and their previous chapel, or date of resignation and the name of the chapel in the place they moved to. While details of the baptisms of the books that survive have been extracted and indexed, the other people references are not. It could well be that the microfilm of RG 4/749 (copy at HALS and through LDS Family History Centres) contains useful additional information about George Blaxland (1800-1874). On the other hand there may be nothing apart from the baptism.


The other approach - which unfortunately is less likely to produce documentary evidence relates to possible work for an engineer in St Albans in the 1830s. In the 1830's the occupation of engineer would often be associated with the manufacture, installation, managing, maintenance and running of stationary steam engines and other significant machines (which would often be steam-powered.) There is no evidence in Industrial Archaeology of Hertfordshire to suggest that there was a steam engine manufactory in Hertfordshire and I think we can rule out George as coming to St Albans to manufacture steam engines, and I think we can also rule out him merely being in charge of running a machine, for which the term "engine driver" would be more appropriate. So it is appropriate to ask who in the 1830's might have needed an engineer to install, manage or maintain machinery.


There is one obvious potential "employer" - Joseph Fowler, of Bernards Heath, St Albans. St Albans is on a chalk hill with no surface water, and typically wells would be over 200 feet deep. Bernards Heath is at the highest end of the town and there was a brickworks, run by Benjamin Fowler and his family which would have needed a water supply. In 1833 Joseph Fowler established a waterworks on, or close to, the site of the brickworks and was given permission to lay pipes in the public roads. It is unlikely that the existing brickworks water supply would have been adequate and it is likely that a new well needed to be dug, a pretty high powered steam pump installed, and water pipes laid under the town roads. It would almost certainly have required the construction of some kind of reservoir - and a few years later there were large storage tanks as part of the water works, date of erection unknown. Joseph would have needed a skilled engineer to manage the establishment of the waterworks infrastructure. Could this have been George Blaxland? Unfortunately my own detailed research on the Bernards Heath brickworks and the associated waterworks produced no evidence for surviving records.


There are other potential employers in St Albans - the gas works was established in the 1820's and there were breweries which presumably had their own wells which needed steam-driven pumps. The silk mills in the valley below the town could have used steam power - but had water power available. A few miles away, on the River Gade, there were major paper mills which would clearly have needed skilled engineers.


What sources might provide evidence, one way or another, as to whether George was involved in providing St Albans with a piped water supply? Some suggestions:

  • The book The Corporation Records of St Albans only mentions that Joseph Fowler had permission to dig the roads for the water pipes. The actual corporation minute books may well have more to say about the original permission and any problems that arose during installation - and there is a chance that the engineer in charge is mentioned by name. These are currently at HALS, with microfilm copies in St Albans Central Library.

  • When George Blaxland died in 1874 there may have been an obituary in the local paper which actually mentioned some of the projects he had been involved with. However my experience of Hertfordshire local papers suggests that obituaries were fewer and less detailed than those found later in the century.

  • Is there any evidence that George was involved in other public works type projects elsewhere? In cases such as this, with a comparatively rare surname, a search of The Times archives can sometimes turn up something useful. The type of work his step-brother might give a clue to what George might have been doing.

  • Records of work done for the government are more likely to survive (possibly in the National Archives) that work done for other organisations. I have no experience of such records but if he was an employee at H.M. Dockyard at Sheerness there may be records of his employment which might refer to earlier work. If he was a contractor there might be tender documents which detail relevant prior experience.

November 2010   Page created
January 2011   Further information including St Albans connection