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  • Writer's pictureCharlie Lane

Where to Send a Regency Boy to School

This week's adventure centers on the question featured in the title of this post--where should a teenage boy in my current novella go to school? Which schools would he have access to? Under what restrictions could he apply and attend?

So many questions!

I already knew a bit about this topic since my dissertation looked at childhood and adolescence in nineteenth-century fiction. But, admittedly, almost all that knowledge has seeped from my brain in the seven years since I completed that project.

I found three things MOST interesting!

Schools like Harrow had colorful histories.

I knew this first one from reading Tom Brown's School Days. Oh, the antics those boys get up to!

But seriously, put a bunch of pubescent boys together in the nineteenth century, and the same stuff we see happening today happened then. No lie. In the early nineteenth century, the students at Harrow "spent... free time exploding gunpowder, firing cannon, and rambling in the surrounding countryside." Sounds like the kind of education my sixteen year old brother would prefer.

So, if I sent my character to Harrow, this means he'd be at an epicenter of wild times, not knowledge. That leads to some interesting conflict, for sure, especially since I envision the character as a soft-spoken, bookish sort.

I could have researched Rugby, perhaps the most famous British public school of the nineteenth century, and the setting of the aforementioned Tom Brown's School Days, but Harrow had my attention and my imagination.

Harrow had a "diverse" student population.

At first, Harrow was a parish school, open for free to boys who lived within the Harrow parish (I had to look parishes up, too. Learn more about them here).

But as centuries turned and management exchanged hands, the student body grew in diversity.

Now, I use the word "diversity" loosely. Very loosely. By "diversity," I mean the school registered boys from the parish, called foundationers, for free (but fewer and fewer in number) as well as boys from outside the parish, called foreigners, for a fee. Needless to say, the two groups did NOT get along, and many a boy was scared with the wounds of social inferiority.

So, no girls allowed. No people of color allowed. And while at first, the school focused on young boys with no money, as the years went by more and more aristocratic, wealthy students filled Harrow's halls, pushing the foundationers to the sidelines. According to one website, "in 1803, the school could boast of three prospective dukes, one marquess, seven earls and viscounts and four lords, a total of 41 peers, representing 12 per cent of the school population."

So, no diversity. Not really. That was a total misuse of that word on my part. Sorry :/

Harrow is in London!

Yeah, I'm from the US, and my knowledge of US geography is sparse, so you can imagine how bad my knowledge of UK geography is. I've travelled there, twice, but I still know little more than Wales to the west, Scotland to the North, and London and Dover somewhere in the South. That's why maps are my friend.

I wanted to know if my heroine's teenage son could attend Harrow while she lived in London. Short answer: yes.

Here's the long answer, though.

If they lived in the Harrow parish, he could attend for free, which is good because they are not well off.

If they did not live in the Harrow parish, he could attend, but he would have to pay, which would not be achievable for my heroine.

Since I need my heroine in London so she can meet the hero, I was glad to see that Harrow is a borough of London.

But it seems like it would be something like 15 miles from the London city center (according to Google Maps), which would be quite the distance back then. So, the next question is, would a "foundationer" like my heroine's son be able to board at Harrow with the "foreigners," and what conflicts would he have to hide or write home about to his mom?

Or, should I move the meet cute between heroine and hero to the Harrow parish itself? This means I'll have to look up nineteenth-century London bookstores. Oh no. What a drag. :)

The Inconvenience of History

One final thing I learned during my research on this subject is about Wellington College--a school founded in 1856 in honor of the Duke of Wellington, it "had a duty to educate the children of officers who had died in the line of duty."

I was psyched about this research nugget at first. My heroine's husband, a British officer, died in the line of duty, leaving sons who needed to be educated! This seemed to be the perfect solution to my issues.


Don't you hate "howevers"?

However, since the school was not founded until 1856, it would not have been an option for my Regency family. Sigh.

To Harrow it is, then, with my teenage Regency son!

Do you guys have useful information about Harrow or London geography?

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