Rowntree A-Z

Bootham School

Bootham School was first proposed in 1818 by the Quaker, William Tuke. Originally located in Lawrence Street, it moved to the present site on Bootham in 1846. The second headmaster (or ‘superintendent’) was John Ford, who in the course of 37 years did much to shape the character of the school, and instituted a tolerant, positive, and open educational system, far removed from the ‘muscular Christianity’ of other English public schools of the day.

Science in Quaker education

Science, and the observation of nature, played an important part in Quaker education. The boys made their own collections of butterflies, moths, ferns etc. and took specimens to the nearby Yorkshire Museum for identification. The school had the first Natural History Society and observatory in the country with a refracting telescope, and no expense was spared on up-to-date equipment for observation. Many pupils became eminent scientists in their field and fellows of the Royal Society, including one of Julia Rowntree’s brothers.

Politics in Quaker education

The boys were also encouraged to take an active interest in the political questions of the day: anti-slavery, social justice, equality, humane treatment of prisoners and the mentally ill; temperance, voice to women (women ministering was part of the Quaker tradition).

Leisure time

As well as scholarly achievement, the school valued leisure time pursuits and the development of the whole individual, an approach that was in advance of the education offered by other public schools of the time.  An aim was to teach pupils to think independently (Joseph Rowntree says ‘Quakers are told to follow our conscience’), to obey a moral imperative and duty and service; and always seek the truth.

Rowntree boys at the school

Many generations of the Rowntree family attended the school, as did members of other eminent Quaker families from across Britain and Ireland (Backhouse, Pease, Marriage, Clark, to name a few). As many as 45 Rowntree sons are listed as having attended the school. Joseph Rowntree (Senior) was instrumental in the school’s foundation and governance. John Ford took him and his son Joseph on a trip to Ireland where they saw at first hand the poverty being experienced in the period of the potato famine. Another member of family, Fred Rowntree, designed several of the buildings in the first years of the 20th century after a major fire.

A commemorative plaque

A plaque on the exterior of the school at 49 Bootham commemorates Joseph Rowntree’s contribution to York (formerly the Headmaster’s house, and now a boarding house today known as ‘Rowntree House’):

In this house lived a man whose life was to exercise a profound influence upon a city of which he became in 1911 an Honorary Freeman. A pioneer of research and reform in social policy and industrial relations, he became chairman of the company which bears his name, and established three trusts which seek to continue his work through the generous resources he gave to them.”

Joseph Rowntree rented 49 Bootham (formerly  numbered 19 Bootham) from Bootham School between 1875 and 1882, when his portion of ‘Top’ House on the opposite side of the road proved too small for his expanding family. Parts of the interior still exist, including a panelled room, fireplace, and staircase. The 1881 census lists Joseph Rowntree (aged 44) as living there, with Emma (Antoinette) (aged 34), John Wilhelm, Agnes, Benjamin Seebohm (9) Joseph Stephenson (5) Oscar Frederick (2) with an unmarried German governess, Matilda Bahnsen, from Hamburg, aged 19. They also had an unmarried domestic cook, Ellen Ridley, a household servant, Annie Thorpe, aged 23, and a domestic nurse, Margaret Thorpe, aged 17.


Bootham Magazine  is an important year-by-year source of  information about the school’s history, a parallel in many ways, in feel and content, to the Cocoa Works Magazine that was produced a the Cocoa Works, which started at about the same time (1902).

External Links

Bootham School York

A Brief History of the school here

Bootham School in World War 1, see Bootham School in World War in 1914

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