The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

XIV. Education

§ 26. William Ellis

William Ellis, William Ballantyne Hodgson and Richard Dawes, dean of Hereford, hoped to remedy the evil plight of the poorer classes by careful moral training independent of religious teaching, and by “the introduction of lessons on economical science into schools of primary instruction”; George Combe, the phrenologist, and William Lovett, the “moral force Chartist,” were, at different times, associated with Ellis in this project. Ellis was the most active in the cause; between 1848 and 1862, he opened in London seven schools (usually called Birkbeck schools, from the fact that the first of them was held in the London Mechanics’ institution), instructed teachers in his aims and methods, wrote, lectured and aroused considerable interest in his ideas among teachers and school managers. The Prince Consort, in pursuance of the eclectic scheme of education which he laid down for his children, succeeded in making Ellis a sort of “visiting master” at Buckingham palace for upwards of a year. The special feature of the Birkbeck schools was the attention given to instruction relating to bodily health and to the science of human well-being,” that is, the practical application of the principles of political economy to individual conduct. Most of these schools failed to compete with the board schools created by the Education act of 1870; one or two of them still survive as secondary schools assisted by the county council. It was a sound instinct which led Ellis to train his teachers himself; his aims required for their attainment, as he often said, something of “apostolic” fervour, which could not be expected from all teachers as a matter of course.