Tuesday 29 June 2021

Rabies Outbreak in Watford


By Roger Kattenhorn

The Social Background of 1877 Watford

As many of those alive at the time were aware, the late 19th century was a period of transition. British society was attempting to assimilate the societal effects of the economic and technological changes that had already occurred in the earlier industrial revolution.

The existing social order was proving to be inadequate especially in a town like Watford which was transitioning from a small country market town to a large industrialised railway conurbation now firmly positioned on the outskirts of London. As the old order decayed, local Reverend Newton Price found that his traditional role as a member of the established clergy had become more difficult. The ancient regime based on deference to inherited status was being challenged and undermined by both an economically powerful rising middle class and a tentatively self-aware working class whose labour was the source of the new wealth. The landed aristocracy’s original means of revenue in agriculture had long been in decline and was now diminishing faster than their social prestige.

All these changes were perfectly demonstrated by the shifting demography of Watford. Entrepreneurial plutocrats were taking on the landholdings of debilitated aristocrats and country squires and aping their style and culture in the estates that surrounded the town. At the same time, into Watford’s proto-urban area of rapidly spreading streets, filled with by-law housing and factory enterprises, came an expanding proletarian population which was made up of the sons and daughters of the Hertfordshire countryside’s once exclusively agricultural workforce. 

The land, commerce, and labour: these were the contributory, complementary factors involved in the generation of new wealth in Watford, as in the nation. Yet the uneven distribution of this wealth and the weakening of the old social institutions also brought an increase in the underlying social and class antagonisms. These tensions could remain hidden or be smoothed over while the archaic social order meant that the constituent social classes had little or no genuine social interaction and lived largely ignorant of the circumstances or concerns of the other.  However the yawning social gulf, hitherto maintained by iron-clad etiquette and physical geography, was increasingly under strain. The Earls of Essex’s and Clarendon’s refusal to have the hoi polloi of railway passengers gawping at their estates had been an early local symbol of their futile resistance to social change.

The traditional role of the clergy was to act as a mediator in the occasional confrontations between the social classes, mollifying resentments and defusing rebellion on the one hand and mitigating harsh authoritarianism and callous disregard on the other. Christian charity was the proposed common currency in each instance.  In the 1870s as an Anglican clergyman serving in the expanding Watford suburb of Oxhey, Newton Price’s role could be a challenging one as the town’s underlying social antagonisms in this era of change were inclined to manifest themselves in novel and unexpected aspects of the town’s social and civic life.

The Newton Price letter

On October 30th 1877 a letter to the editor appeared in The Standard newspaper. It was from the Revd Newton Price, incumbent chaplain of the hamlet of Oxhey.  The heading above the letter read, “A Hero”. In this letter, which also featured in a number of other papers in the days ahead, Newton Price recounted the story of Charles Cheshire, a Bushey resident who had died that day under the grimmest of circumstances. Charles Cheshire, Price stated, had been an outstanding athlete, a sprinter “known to the Sporting World” who ran under the name of Fortescue. About a month ago, he went on to say, Cheshire had encountered a mad dog “on a solitary road”. Price described how with great courage and public spiritedness, Cheshire had “endeavoured to hold the brute and arrest him in his mischievous career”.

In late 19th century Britain, rabies was not the unknown disease it is today. A ‘mad dog’ was, as likely as not, to be a rabid dog and it was common knowledge that such a highly infectious and aggressive animal could spread the havoc of  incurably horrific disease in the town. Newton Price described a “fearful contest” between man and dog in which spilled “blood lay in the road”. Forestalling a future controversy, he also mentioned the occupants of a passing carriage who “thought themselves unable to help” and who “drove to the next farmhouse for assistance. When help came, the gallant fellow had been overcome and the dog escaped”.  The real purpose of Newton Price’s letter became apparent at the end. Charles Cheshire had now subsequently died as a result of the attack and he had left behind him a young widow and three small children, the youngest of these merely a babe in arms. This residual family was now left “helpless and penniless”.

The contemporary social provision for people in Mrs Cheshire’s position was scant indeed. The workhouse was the only statutory recourse. The harsh and minimal regime exercised there was justified on the theologically backed grounds that the poor were feckless and generally the authors of their own condition in some way. That is to say the ‘undeserving poor’ who were resefntfully kept at the community’s begrudged expense. This assumption of blameworthiness was patently not the case with the Cheshire family. To Victorian sensibilities, the circumstances of their plight placed them in the converse position of ‘the deserving poor’. Newton Price’s letter is straining to present Charles Cheshire’s tragedy as a noble and heroic sacrifice. The reason for this was that the family would now depend on the only other contemporary provision for hardship the era would tolerate – charity; - a limited resource for which there was much competition.

After the shock of Charles Cheshire’s death, Newton Price had immediately gone into action, displaying the decisive activity that would make his reputation in the town. No time at all was lost in establishing a fund for Charles’ dependants. 

Since his arrival in the area, Newton Price had been attempting to cultivate the notables of the town. At the time of writing his letter he had already co-opted one of the town’s most prominent businessmen, F J Sedgwick the brewery owner, as a treasurer for the putative fund. The letter ended with an appeal for donations to be sent to this treasurer. Newton Price’s campaigning skill was apparent in the large number of newspapers that carried his letter, an epistle which astutely combined sensation with compassionate appeal. (Some papers, it must be said, merely lifted the lurid details from the letter without printing the appeal.). 

The Cheshire Fund had been rapidly constituted as a committee “of the local gentry” with Revd W Falconer, the Rector of Bushey, as their Chairman. 

 Almost immediately, the story of Charles Cheshire’s demise and the circumstances of his infection were being reproduced in newspapers all over the country.  At that point in time rabies, or hydrophobia, as the disease in humans was then known, was a hot topic in the press of 1877 where a certain amount of public hysteria was being simultaneously stoked and condemned by journalists.

The Hydrophobia Mystique

Despite its cause being unknown and its occurrence incurable, rabies in the 19th century, even in the worst years, had a very limited economic impact. At most it only claimed animals in their hundreds. In terms of mortality it was not comparable to foot and mouth disease or the new and devastating rinderpest which killed many hundreds of thousands of animals, nevertheless the public response to rabies was unparalleled and by any measure an over-reaction. Even contemporary observers in the midst of it recognised it as a hysteria. Throughout the 19th century, rabies/hydrophobia exercised a peculiar preoccupation over the public imagination in Britain. Almost any outbreak or incident, however limited, was automatically considered newsworthy. Journalists’ reports dwelt pruriently on the gruesome sufferings of human victims and speculated on the moral complicity of stereotypically canine carriers as agents of doom. 

Parliament regularly debated measures to combat the disease and a continuous public discourse on the subject veered between repelled horror and morbid fascination. The hysteria at the time was attributed not only to the unpleasantness of the symptoms, but also to the unnervingly long incubation period (usually over a month) and the certainty of death once the disease was confirmed. Moreover the fact that the disease could be inflicted on humans by their otherwise loyal, devoted and much loved pets was also a great source of insidious anxiety for the public.

The human death toll in the worst year – 1877 (the year of Charles Cheshire’s death) – was 79 and this was exceptional (The 57 who died in the runner-up year of 1875 represented only two deaths per million). The average Victorian was in fact ten times more likely to be murdered than catch rabies. This rarity meant that few doctors could recognise it and few vets could identify it. Nobody knew its cause, therefore speculation was rife and quack ‘remedies’ and protections catered more for the hysteria than the disease. The authorities however felt that they should make demonstrative responses to the public concern, but these measures meant that many more dogs were destroyed on the suspicion of madness than could possibly have been infected.

With such a weak understanding and recognition of the disease on the part of the medical authorities and rudimentary public health administrations, the first alert to the public would come from the press in alarmist reports couched in breathless and disturbing prose. There was no knowledge of viruses at this time so, although the infectiousness of rabies was well known, there was also the belief that the ‘origin’ of an outbreak could begin as a ‘self-generated’ illness within a susceptible individual animal.                                                                                              

In a society with a strong religious mind-set that attributed ’purpose’ to the workings of nature, the idea that these affected individual animals were in some way flawed or self-evidently morally reprehensible seemed likely.  A habitually aggressive or badly behaved dog was thought to be potentially predisposed to rabies.  Dogs being so malleable in their nature were popularly considered to have had their temperament or moral reprehensibility transferred to them from their owners. Thus the social prejudices and class distinctions of the age were transferred to the canine world. 

Although the actual cases of rabies were indiscriminate and affected a wide variety of wild and domesticated animals, in the popular imagination the exemplar of hydrophobia was the rabid dog, a mongrel cur whose nature had been brutalised and embittered by a cruel and fecklessly poor owner who had obtained it on a whim and cast it out as a stray when care and responsibility for it had proved too tiresome or costly. In this scenario rabies was thought to be self-generated within the conditioned animal as a sort of manifestation of its corrupted soul.  The malevolent pariah now wandered abroad in search of victims with the single purpose of transferring its deadly disease to them. 

This kind of moral pathology was characteristic of the times and a parallel can be seen in the contemporary attitude to venereal disease. This was thought of as typically spread by one type of person, the corrupted and corrupting prostitute. Her (the stereotype was female) customers were rarely seen as agents of the disease but often considered as ‘victims’. In 1864 when VD had infected a third of the army personnel and a similarly alarming proportion of the navy, the government introduced an Act for the compulsory medical examinations of prostitutes in port and garrison towns. By contrast, examinations of sailors and soldiers were ruled out as humiliating for the men and distasteful to the medical officers. To the pious Victorian sensibility, blame for disease was of more significance than prevention. 

In this moral setting, Charles Cheshire was represented as “A Hero” who attempted to save the town by fighting and subduing the vicious animal in order to prevent it from “spreading its mischief”. The Times report took pains to describe Cheshire as a “respectable young man” and by implication, a victim, in contrast to the assumed disreputable former owner of his attacker.  The Times went on to say “Were common people prevented from keeping dogs, many accidents of this kind would be prevented”. In keeping with this righteous dichotomy, the larger scale outbreaks of rabies among the hunting animals of the respectable rich were reported (if reported at all) in a more sympathetic and matter-of-fact way as ‘misfortunes’ and ‘heavy losses’. In these accounts the ‘fine qualities’, breeding and expensiveness of the animals was emphasised such as in the case of the outbreak of rabies that resulted in the total destruction of the foxhounds of the Essex Hunt, said to be “one of the finest and best hunting packs in the whole Kingdom.”

There does however appear to have been a certain amount of uneasiness among the rural hunting elite about the susceptibility of their animals to rabies. “It was after all, the aggressiveness and independence characteristic of the best foxhounds that supposedly inclined them to go mad, and their inbred predilection for chasing other animals over vast tracts of countryside that made them particularly liable to spread the disease.”  As if seeking to avoid any suggestion of the reprehensibility otherwise associated with rabies, the news reports of outbreaks among the animals of the gentry express incredulity that such a tragedy could befall such expensive, well cared for, pedigree animals. 

In these reports the usual villains, a stray mongrel or a feral cat, were often assumed or said to have been seen nearby. Reports of these outbreaks among the animals of the upper class universally lacked the panic-inducing elements that featured in those of the cities and towns.  

Sunday 27 June 2021

Reverend Newton Price

Newton Price Feminist or Patriarch?

(Apologies for loss of photos. We are aiming to re-upload them)

C:\Users\HP\Pictures\newton price 2.jpeg

An expanded version of a talk and discussion organised by the West Watford Community Association which took place on Wednesday 23rd June 2021

Biog. Newton price was born in Hemel Hempstead in 1834. His father was a corn dealer, a key member of the local community who was successful enough to arrange for private tutoring for his son. Newton was the middle brother of six children; three of each gender. Newton was a good scholar and by sixteen had become a teacher. In 1851 he was working at Robert Winters School for Boys, Grand Parade, Brighton. Robert Winter “Gentleman Headmaster” ran the boarding school of 75 pupils as a business collecting fees from parents in the newly expanding middle class. 

In 1852 Newton took matriculation exams with the University of London. [1] His good results won him a place at Trinity College Dublin. He spent five years there before graduating in the Humanities. Trinity’s Classicists led the field in terms of international repute and this was the discipline in which Newton Price excelled,[2] graduating after five years of study [3] (Watord later benefitted from his knowledge of Latin when he and collaborator Dr Brett devised a coat of arms and motto for the new Free Library. Newton Price plucked ‘Audentior’ from Virgil’s Aeneid meaning ‘to go more boldly’. It was later taken up by the Borough Council). After University he remained in Ireland and became a Master at Raphoe Royal School. After a only year he was promoted to Deputy Head. Then a year after that, he became Headmaster of Dundalk Grammar School. With this respectable position secured. He travelled to his home county of Hertfordshire to marry his bride Eliza Dixon who was 4 years younger than Newton. With no parents her older brother Charles had walked her down the aisle. She and Charles had lived  at the White Hart Inn, Redbourn for some years. (They were recorded as innkeepers at the young ages of only sixteen and thirteen but even then employing an equally young servant girl and errand boy). Newton took his new bride back to Ireland. Tragically less than a year after their wedding she died aged only 21.[4]

Dundalk had been originally established as a Church of Ireland, Royal Charter School. Under Headmaster Price’s regime it was surprisingly progressive and showed the influence of the Proprietary Schools in offering practical subjects to pupils of middle class parents. Unusually for the era there was no corporal punishment. However to show that it was not a ‘soft touch’ advertisements for the school announced that “A Drill Sergeant attends daily.” [5] Most of the Charter Schools, originally set up to convert Catholic children,  had failed by the mid nineteenth century, mired in scandal. Dundalk was one of the few to emerge with its good reputation intact. This was mainly due to its early abandonment of Catholic conversion as a priority. Nevertheless under Newton Price Church of Ireland principles were vigorously promoted (as they still are to this day.

Newton secured patronage for the school from local aristocrat 3rd Earl of Roden (who also had a seat in Herts) one time MP for Dundalk. A particularly pious Protestant and Grand Master of the Orange Order he was also the ‘hero/villain of Dolly Brae’. A scandal that had taken place twenty years before when he had led a Orange Order march into a Catholic area provoking a riot which resulted in the deaths of seven local Catholics and the burning of their homes.  Despite being censured by his peers in the House of Lords and disqualified as a magistrate he was a hero to the Orangemen and is lionized in their songs to this day.

Dundalk’s Main Square

 Newton Price’s time in Dundalk seems to have inspired his ambitions for civic improvement ambitions which he later brought to Watford. Lord Limerick the local aristocrat had laid out the town of Dundalk in a continental fashion. Unlike Watford which had grown up as a stopping place along a roadside Dundalk had been planned so that all it’s expanding streets radiated from civic town centre. This centre contained the Exchange building, the Town Hall, a Free Library and reading room, an Assembley Hall and all the other offices necessary for civic life. Dundalk also demonstrated the benefits of rational Town planning with early adoption of piped water and mains sewers. Partly because of its efficiency and also because of advanced development of industry, Dundalk functioned comparatively well during the agricultural disaster of the Great Famine, with many from the surrounding region flocking to the Town for relief and migration through Dundalk’s improved harbour. Price joined in with the activities to improve life in the Town for all inhabitants when opened, as its Secretary, a ‘Penny Bank’ for the poorest citizens in 1860.[6]

The following year Price married again, to another English bride. [7]Hannah Wilson, daughter of the Vicar of Herstmonceaux, had been brought up by her grandparents in Brighton so may well have known Newton Price during his time there as a young teacher. The pair soon created a family of 6 children. [8]Part way through this process Price took up the idea of a clerical vocation, first as deacon in 1864, before being fully ordained in 1867. [9]The timing was not fortuitous as legislation was already in train to disestablish the Church of Ireland. The Irish Church Act 1869 meant that state financial support was removed and the hated Church tithes could no longer be collected from the Catholic population. It was also the end of Price’s newly awarded stipend.

The disestablishment legislation may have precipitated the family’s relocation to England in search of a clerical position for Newton. Luckily for him the House of Lords had forced Gladstone to pay compensatory annuities to redundant C of E clergymen. Back in Hertfordshire the family settled in Watford at 44 St Albans Road and Price earned his living as a tutor, notably to the Grosvenor children of Lord Ebury at Moor Park, before becoming Minister at the tiny Oxhey Chapel in1872. 

newton price oxhey chapel Oxhey Chapel

 From this small bridgehead Newton Price launched his campaign to carve out a Parish for himself in Oxhey. He succeeded despite opposition from the incumbent Vicar of St Mary’s.  A new parish church, St Mathews, Eastbury Road was built for Newton Price and his new congregation with funds the provided by local wealthy benefactors that he had cultivated. 

Using this base Newton Price allied himself with two other reformers in Watford. They became known locally as the ‘three musketeers’ riding to the rescue of the Town’s water supply, sanitation, fire brigade, militia, hospital, library, education, self help organisations and any other social need that they encountered.


Though he was no longer a headmaster Newton Price was still passionate about education as a means of social improvement. At Watford Heath he inherited a small Church of England primary school as part of his new Parish, and it was here that he embarked his great cookery crusade.

In the school he championed the teaching of cookery. This subject he felt imparted the knowledge of nutrition, hygiene, frugality, economy and self organisation. Such knowledge it was hoped would make good housekeepers out of future wives and give financial independence to single working class women through employment in domestic service. (In 1901 40.5 % of female adult workers were employed in this sector. In this, the largest sector of women’s employment, trained cooks were sought after and the best could to a large extent choose their position.

The mental confines and fixed gender definitions of the age meant that career opportunities for girls and women were grotesquely limited by modern standards. Newton Price did not question these traditional gender roles but he was considered radical for crediting a traditionally female craft to be worthy of the application of science and a higher level of academic study. 

W T Eley W T Eley of Oxhey Grange

True to his Virgilian motto Price was made bolder by the opposition he faced. At Watford Heath he and his ally Mr W T Eley [10] built an educational kitchen facility at the rear of the Church of England School without the permission of the school’s Guardians. Afterwards he was embroiled in a long and protracted battle with them over the cost of the development. These Guardians did not share his enthusiasm for what seemed to them a bizarre and unnecessary venture. Nevertheless, as was so often the case with Newton Price, his will prevailed and his was the first school in England to have cookery taught to elementary pupils.

Watford Heath school

The School on Watford Heath. The the Teaching Kitchen built behind   behind the school at left.

Newton Price was so convinced of the efficacy of the subject when treated seriously that promoting Domestic Economy as an educational discipline more widely became a zealous mission for him. One of his skills was as an accomplished publicist who could manage to secure widespread coverage for his causes despite this particular one being otherwise quite prosaic to most male editors. In the summer of 1876 he persuaded a journalist to visit his ‘village’ school specifically to report on the cookery classes being held there. The resulting lengthy account contrasted the high standards at Watford Heath with the ‘ubiquitous grimness’ found in other schools. [11]

In the same year another newspaper [12] reviewed a pamphlet written by Newton Price on the subject of cookery classes as a vehicle for social reform. The same week both The Leeds Mercury and The Grantham Journal praised his scheme as an abstemious project for making the home more inviting than the public house; [13] a year later Jackson’s Oxford Journal was treating the subject more seriously. Price’s initiative had grown and it was now described as an “Important New Educational Movement”. This report was concerned with a Convention of Domestic Economy advocates that had Newton Price appearing as the principle speaker. [14]By the end of that year (1877) The Pall Mall Gazette was also backing the campaign and quoting a Newton Price speech [15] at another conference on the subject held in Birmingham.

In 1878 The Leeds Mercury returned to the issue reporting on ‘The Domestic Economy Congress in Manchester. The campaign was by now accepted as “a Movement.” It had spread so rapidly and diversely that when Newton Price’s Discussion Paper, which was an overview of the campaign, was announced its title had to make use of the plural; - ‘Organisations For Spreading Knowledge Of Domestic Economy.’

Alongside this campaigning activism Newton Price was supporting another buccaneering attempt to install a teaching kitchen in a school in Berkhamstead. At this time he is reported as saying that as well as knowledge of nutrition, Domestic Economy fostered the application of method and hygiene. In the Bucks Herald he also addressed a recurrence of the abstinence argument with humour.[16] A year later (1880) the Berkhamstead School had a functioning Cookery Department. The Watford Heath school was by now producing Pupil-teachers in the subject and a Miss Phillips had been installed at the Berkhamstead School on Newton Price’s recommendation and was “doing good and successful work.”[17] 


It is possible that Newton Price’s interest in raising the status of Domestic Economy was inspired by his daughter or perhaps that it was she who was encouraged by him, either way, coinciding with the growing crescendo of the campaign for educational status, a ‘Miss Newton Price’ was touring the North of England giving cookery lectures and demonstrations to packed halls. Of Newton Price’s daughters this must surely be the eldest, Annie. At the age of 17 or 18 she must have been fairly intrepid to embark on such a lecture tour far from home. The precocious example of her father should be remembered; employed as a 16 year school teacher far from home while his first wife to be was running an inn as a teenager. Also the cookery classes at Watford Heath were aimed at elementary school children so if Annie Price had attended these she would have been well versed in the art when she left there. Further study could have left her highly qualified. Giving professional lectures and public demonstrations, probably provided one of the most lucrative earning opportunities to women skilled in cookery.

On her 1880 tour at Boston Miss Newton Price was described as a “First Class Diplomee’ of the Northern School of Cookery”. Opening proceedings she declined to make a speech preferring to get straight to her recipes. Her audiences, twice a day for a week, must have been large indeed for the article remarks that the “attendance on Wednesday was moderate about 60 people present.” [18]  following week of a busy schedule she was in Stamford where she was described as being “of the Yorkshire County school of cookery.”


Newton Price’s campaign was ultimately a success, Domestic Economy did become a distinct and recognised subject in its own right. He was a key member of a deputation that represented the Executive Committee of The Domestic Economy Congress when it lobbied the Privy Council, asking for the subject to be included as compulsory in the Education Department Code. In response in the years 1878 and 1882 government grants were made for the teaching of cookery in schools. In 1887 he gave evidence on the matter before the Royal Commission on Education. 

After the success of the campaign when Watford’s new Board schools were constructed they now included purpose built Domestic Economy blocks specifically designed for the teaching of the subject. Examples still exist at the old Alexandra School in Ridge Street and at the Central Primary School. This latter is still known as the Newton Price Centre. As it opened shortly after his death it was named to honour. Inside the building which is no longer devoted to Domestic Economy, [19] a cast iron kitchen range once used for training has been preserved. 

The Newton Domestic Economy Centre Central Primary School

The Newton Price Domestic Economy Centre

Scan Alexandra Schools Domestic Economy Centre Alexrandra School’s Domestic Economy Centre


The subsequent history of social change has caused opinion of the campaign for the promotion of Domestic Economy in schools to be considered as problematic to say the least (Newton Price’s part in it has been overlooked to the point of oblivion.) Feminist theorists and educational historians have been undecided in their attitudes to the value and teaching of Domestic Economy or Domestic Science as it became known.

To a large extent the lack of recognition for Newton Price’s campaign in the UK was, and still is, due to the disdain that ‘domestic’ subjects have received from the academic community. If Domestic Economy was acknowledged at all it might find an awkward place at the bottom of the ‘craft’ pile. Sadly because such subjects were traditionally deemed ‘women’s work’ it only compounded this attitude. When 20th century feminists sought to re evaluate this work they too were divided and ambivalent regarding its social standing. Even for those ‘revisionist’ feminists who recognised domestic skills as higher than those of a drudge, the fact that Newton Price was a man, (and a Victorian clergyman at that) and therefore unlikely to personally engage in such skills has probably diminished interest in him as an advocate.

Anne Marie Turnbull’s account of the peculiar position of the early domestic economy teachers (1870 to 1914) expresses well the divided attitude they faced. 

“By employing all the skills of domesticity in her work the domestic subjects teacher presents a curiously contradictory figure. On the one hand she is seen as the intrepid explorer threading new paths, building a new curriculum subject, organising with her peers developing a new profession. On the other hand she is a blinkered and isolated missionary preaching outmoded ideas and preventing the development of new social roles for the sexes and discouraging women’s search for new horizons.” [20] 

Unfortunately the subsequent history of Domestic Science has tended to retain this problematic dichotomy.

Ellen_Swallow_Richards_(2)Ellen Swallow Richards; Newton Price’s counterpart in the USA

In the USA the opposite is true. Ellen Swallow Richards was the US counterpart to Newton Price (albeit organising significantly later than him.) In her own country she is considered to be the founder “with whom the Home Economics movement is said to have started.” And as such she has been embraced as a feminist pioneer.

In 1993 Ellen Swallow Richards was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in recognition of her efforts to champion ‘women’s work’ and elevate it’s status through her promotion of it as an educational discipline. Her esteem is such that her home has been designated as a National Historic Landmark (one of only 2,500 in the USA). Her organising of ‘The Lake Placid Conference’ in 1899 is held to be a landmark in women’s education, yet she was only just beginning her campaign for Domestic Economy more than a decade after Newton Price was forcing his educational kitchen onto the resistant school governors at the small Church of England School on Watford Heath.

Modern notions of equality would probably have been incomprehensible to Newton Price for whom gender differentiation was God-given. However it is likely that he considered the contemporary female gender role and sphere of female activity to be undervalued. He undoubtedly worked very hard to raise the status of ‘women’s work’ and if his initiative had been taken to its logical conclusion the ‘wages for housework’ campaigns’ of the 20th Century might have gained more credibility. Ellen Richards Swift herself was just as much a prisoner of her time in that she did not think women were ready for the vote. 

The disparity in contemporary attitudes to the history of Domestic Economy in England and the USA is probably predominantly cultural but that is nevertheless a good point of departure for a discussion of the subject…….

Roger Kattenhorn

June 2021

  1. The Morning Post July 20th 1852

  2. The Belfast Newsletter May 20th 1857. Price won a financial prize for his series of classical lectures. He was also Treasurer of the University’s Philosophical Society.

  3. The Morning Post November 4th 1857

  4. Belfast Morning News May 13th P3 1859

  5. The Belfast Newsletter September1st 1860

  6. The Belfast Morning News October 6th 1860 P3.

  7. Freemans Journal and Daily Commercial Advertizer September 30th 1861

  8. The Price’s produced a characteristically Victorian succession of children; Annie Summers 1863, Newton James 1864, Charlotte Elizabeth 1866, Wright 1868, Hanna 1873 and George 1875

  9. He was already styling himself as Reverend in 1864:  The Northampton Mercury 19th March 1864 P3.

  10.  William Thomas Eley was an ammunition manufacturer who had developed the shotgun cartridge which still bears his name today. It made him a fortune and he purchased Oxhey Grange, adjacent to Watford Heath, with some of the proceeds. Until the late 1970’s a drinking fountain dedicated to his memory stood on the Heath until removed as redundant by the WBC. 

  11.  The Cambridge Independent Press July 29th 1876.

  12.  The Belfast Newsletter September 2nd 1876. 

  13. The Leeds Mercury and The Grantham Journal September 6th 1876 and September 9th 1876.

  14.  Jackson’s Oxford Journal July 14th 1877.

  15. The Pall Mall Gazette December 17th 1877.

  16. Bucks Herald March 15th 1879

  17. Bucks Herald May 22nd 1880

  18. The Star February 3rd 1880

  19.  Official recognition of Domestic Economy (or Home Economics as it was by then known) as a school subject was withdrawn in 2015.

  20. A Turnbull. ‘An Isolated Missionary: The Domestic Subjects Teacher in England 1870 -1914’. In Women’s History Review Vol 3(1) 1994 P81

Two pictures of the old Watford Heath School buildings as they are today  watford heath school front

watford heath cookery school

The Kitchen Block at the rear. Like the scool it is now converted to housing.


Ellen Swallow Richards’ Boston home now preserved in tribute to her.


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