Woodhouse Grove School

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Woodhouse Grove School




Woodhouse Grove School, a school for boys planning to go on to be Methodist ministers, was considered to be "a model of its kind" (Barker 122). While Eton and the other public schools were the schools of choice for those who could afford them, Woodhouse Grove provides a better standard by which to measure Bronte's Lowood School because it was the same kind of school--a charity school for the children of clergymen. The school was founded at the request of John Wesley because the Methodist denomination were "anxious about the lack of theological training available for potential ministers and of the basic education needed to lead up to such training" (Pritchard 4-6). The school did not charge any tuition, and all students were boarders (27). Students entered at the age of 8, and left when they were 14 or 15 unless they received a scholarship to continue their studies (27). They were "provided with clothing and pocket money," and "the school also paid traveling expenses when the boys entered and left," though they had to pay their own way when they left for the holidays (27).

It appears, then, that the financial arrangements were quite generous. However, Woodhouse Grove required the boys to live a strict, ascetic lifestyle. In the early days of the school, the boys were actually not allowed to play, since in John Wesley's words, "He that plays when he is a child will play when he is a man" (58). However, this soon became untenable, and eventually the school provided a playground and recess time (58). The boys followed a rigid schedule. They were up at 5:45 in the summer and 6:45 in the winter, and went to bed at 8; their diet consisted of dry bread, porridge, treacle, and watered-down milk, and they had lunch once a week (60-61). Pritchard indicates that poor cooking was a problem at Woodhouse Grove since the governor's wife had to do all of it by herself (61). However, unlike Lowood School, the boys were allowed to have as much food as they wanted at these meal times (61). Meals were eaten in silence, though the students were allowed to read (62).

Like Lowood, access to water was severely limited. There was only a single pump, and the boys had to wash in extremely cold water (62).

Punishment was generally corporal. However, sometimes boys were fined, made to sit in a corner or even confined to a makeshift "jail" in a haystore (69-70).

Woodhouse Grove was not a cheerful place. However, it appears that the boys' basic needs were taken care of. Thus the only diseases Pritchard reports were chilblains, ringworm, and other skin problems caused by inadequate access to water and extremely cold temperatures. And in 1828, one of the committee members Thomas Swale attempted to take care of these problems by issuing every boy with his own towel, brush, and comb (63). This does not seem like much to modern sensibilities, however, it shows that the committee were paying careful attention to the boys' living conditions and tried to intervene for their good when there was a problem. However, if Woodhouse Grove, with its monotonous diet (which surely would have caused a vitamin deficiency over time), freezing water, and beatings for small crimes was the gold standard for religious boarding schools, one hesitates to imagine what the worst of Victorian boarding schools must have been like.


Frances Thielman


Barker, Juliet. The Brontes.  New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.  Print.

Pritchard, F.C. The Story of Woodhouse Grove School.  Bradford: Woodhouse Grove School, 1978.  Print.


Frances Thielman, “Woodhouse Grove School,” Appalachian State University, accessed May 23, 2024, https://omeka-dev.library.appstate.edu/items/show/21.

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