The Prior Family Academies in Liverpool
These notes were assembled from family letters and the execrable hand-written notes of my grandfather, Fred Pearson Dodgson (1869-1958), a descendant of Pearson Dodgson (1774-1849) whose family for three generations ran a number of drapers shops in Liverpool. The last shop, at 2 Lord Street, disappeared in the blitz of May 1941. The Priors became of interest, in terms of Dodgson history, when Marian Prior (1808-1867) married Pearson Dodgson Junior (1807-1847).
Richard Prior was born in Liverpool in 1767. His first job as a teacher seems to have been in a school run by a Mr Clegg in Church Lane but in about 1808 he opened his first school, The Gentlemen’s Academy, in the Old Post Office, Church Street, Liverpool. It was attended by all Pearson Dodgson’s sons who lived just round the corner in Castle Street. Sir James Allanson Picton (1805-1889), antiquary, architect and politician is said to have attended the school and made reference to it in his “Memorials of Liverpool” (Longman Green, 1875). Richard Prior was a great believer in the Madras System of education. This was devised by a Scottish minister who was at one time the chaplain to the East India Company regiments in Madras. It was his duty to educate the regimental children but, having few teachers available, he taught the older boys and then employed them as monitors to teach the younger children. The system became widely used in English schools and had the signal advantage of reducing the wage bill for teachers.
Richard was to marry three times:
- Hannah Barton (1770-1797) who he married in 1792. They had two children: Jane Prior born in 1794 married James Blackburn, a teacher, and George Barton Prior, born in 1796, who married his cousin Elizabeth Prior. Hannah was delivered of a stillborn child in 1797 and died shortly thereafter.
- Ann Brownbill (1771-1827). They were married in 1798 and had 7 children: John Prior born 1798, Elizabeth Prior (1800-1894) who married her cousin George Barton Prior, William Brownbill Prior (1803-1820), Richard Prior (1806-1830), Marian Prior (1808-1867) who married Pearson Dodgson Junior, Eliza (1810-1842) who became Mrs Richard Toulmin , and John Dwerryhouse Prior (1812-1841), an unmarried clerk in Holy Orders.
- Martha Peet (1790-1858). They were married in 1830 but had no children.
- In about 1822, Richard moved to Moss House, Pembroke Place, Liverpool (this may be No 48 but it is unclear from the family papers). From this period on, the various Liverpool Directories, etc give the following addresses for the Prior family residences and schools:
37 Pembroke Place Prior and Blackburn Academy 1824 (Baine)
11 Gill Street Richard Prior’s Academy 1827 (Gore)
38 Pembroke Place Richard Prior’s Academy 1828 (Pigot)
44 Pembroke Place George Barton Prior’s Gents Boarding Academy 1828 (Pigot)
15 Gill Street Richard and George Barton Prior Academy 1829 (Gore)
48 Pembroke Place Richard and George Prior residence 1829 (Gore)
15 Gill Street Thomas Gregson teacher 1832 (Poll Book)
48 Pembroke Place Richard and George Prior residence 1832 (Poll Book)
4 Pembroke Place Pearson Dodgson Junior residence 1841 (?)
2 Pembroke Place Pearson Dodgson Junior residence 1843 (Gore)
3 Pembroke Place Elizabeth Prior’s Academy 1843 (Gore)
4 Pembroke Place Elizabeth Prior’s Academy 1843 (Gore)
4 Pembroke Place Elizabeth Prior Academy 1846 (Gore)
The 1824 Academy at 37 Pembroke Place was run as a partnership between Richard Prior and James Blackburn, the husband of his daughter Jane but it appears to have been a short-lived arrangement. By 1827, Richard had acquired larger premises round the corner at 11 Gill Street By 1828, Richard’s son George, together with his wife Elizabeth, was running a Boarding Academy at 44 Pembroke Place and were living at Moss House with his parents. This school moved the following year to 15 Gill Street. This somewhat confusing picture is to some extent clarified by Richard Prior’s Will, written on 28 Sep 1832, in which he left Moss House to his wife Martha and directed “that my son George Barton Prior shall until the decease of my wife Martha be entitled to occupy (Moss House) with the Upper School Room in Gill Street as tenant at a yearly rent of £70 and my daughters Marian Prior and Eliza Prior shall until the decease of my said wife be entitled to occupy my dwelling house adjacent to (Moss House) with the Lower School Room in Gill Street as tenant at a yearly rent of £60”. This Will seems to date from Richard’s retirement at which time he made over the school at 15 Gill Street to his friend Thomas Gregson.
What seemed to be a tidy arrangement was disrupted in 1835 by the death of Richard Prior and, only a month later, of George Barton Prior who caught a chill at his father’s funeral. Richard’s widow Martha, who his children all roundly disliked, reverted to her maiden name, left Moss House to no one’s regret and went to live with her sisters at 2 Moira Street, Liverpool, where she let rooms. The family recorded that she “maintained a watchful presence behind the net curtains there” until her death in 1858.
This hiatus led to a Prior and Dodgson family conference no doubt chaired by the redoubtable Elizabeth. She resolved to continue to run the school and by 1838, she and her children were living in Moss House and had acquired No 3 Pembroke Place for the school. This she ran with her daughters Alice, Ann and Mary (who taught music). Pearson Dodgson Junior and his wife, Marian (formerly Prior and Elizabeth’s favourite sister) moved in to No 4 Pembroke Place and were, in Elizabeth’s words “a great help and encouragement.” The final adjustment seems to have come in 1843 with the acquisition of No 2 Pembroke Place into which Pearson and his wife moved, freeing up Nos 3 and 4 for Elizabeth’s Day and Boarding School. It survived at least until Elizabeth reached her 70th birthday in 1870 when she decided to retire to Sankey where her uncle, Matthew Prior, had lived. She missed her family, however, and she returned to Liverpool to live with her widowed daughter Mary at 103 Botanic Road, Liverpool. She eventually died in 1894, an indomitable and much-loved figure who had been involved with the Prior academies for nearly 50 years.
Sadly missing from the available material is any indication of the size of the various schools, the subjects that were taught (although the girls were known to be taught music by Mary Prior) or how the enterprise paid for itself.
©Hugh Dodgson 2002/2009