Focus on Knaresborough: Mr Potts’s Academy

By Gwyneth Endersby, Record Assistant

The private records we hold for Knaresborough are broad ranging in both subject matter and date. I’ve chosen to focus here on one of our smaller private collections, which offers a different perspective of the town and provides us with a short but unique snapshot in time.

Exercise books from Mr Potts’s Academy (Z.1438)

Mr Potts’s Academy was once located on Gracious Street, Knaresborough (formerly Grace Church Street). It was where John William Morrell obtained some or all of his formal education, and three of his exercise books for the years 1866-1868 form collection Z.1438.

The books have highly decorative outer covers, and the inner pages are filled with elegant handwriting, illustrated headings, and are signed and dated at intervals by John William himself.

The first book (1866) focuses on world botany, and includes wonderfully hand-coloured maps of Britain and Europe and of Australia.

The two later books (1867-1868) seem concerned with the serious business of transitioning to manhood and becoming a responsible member of society. They contain short discourses on philosophical, moral and ethical subjects such as modesty, youth, temper, time, friendship, sacred writings, cheerfulness, the power of God, and one’s choice of company – interspersed with occasional light-hearted diversions: the sunrise, the seasons.

Page from exercise book, titled The Progress of Time. 
Whatever we see, on every side, reminds us of the lapse of time. Day and night succeed each other, and the year is diversified by the rotation of the seasons...
Z.1438 ‘On the Progress of Time’, 1867

No information about the school itself was deposited with the exercise books, but a search of the census returns for 1851-1881 and early 19th century trade directories for the West Riding has revealed some basic background details. Between 1822 and 1837, Pigot’s, White’s and Baines’ trade directories list Thomas Cartwright’s “classical and commercial” boarding and day school on Gracious Street.

The 1851 census places Cartwright’s “classical, mathematical and commercial” school at 82 Gracious Street. By 1861, however, the Cartwright sisters are living alone in Gracious Street, their parents having died. The 1871 census shows Charles Potts, schoolmaster, at 82 Gracious Street with his family – and he obviously taught John William Morrell here in the late 1860s. Mr Potts’s Academy is no longer operating in 1881, and the burial register for Knaresborough contains an entry for Charles in 1889.

The census returns also enlighten us about pupil John William Morrell. He was born in 1854, and was the only child of William and Sarah Morrell. The family farmed 78 acres, at Hill Top House along the Ripley Road towards Nidd – just a few miles out of Knaresborough. On the 1861 census John William is recorded as a scholar, but by 1871 he is aged 16 and described as a farmer’s son. This places him at around 12-14 years old in 1866-68, when he was at Mr Potts’s Academy. On one of the pages of the first book, there is handsomely drawn face – a whimsical self-portrait perhaps?

A double page spread from an exercise book with a small drawing of a face side on, at the top of the right page. The word 'continued' is written in the hat that the man is wearing.
Z.1438 face heading in 1866 book

For a full list of the Z collections we hold relating to Knaresborough, please visit our online catalogue.

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