Sunday 27 June 2021

Reverend Newton Price

Newton Price Feminist or Patriarch?

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

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.

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 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.

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 Price 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; 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

The Morning Post July 20th 1852

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.

The Morning Post November 4th 1857

Belfast Morning News May 13th P3 1859

The Belfast Newsletter September1st 1860

The Belfast Morning News October 6th 1860 P3.

Freemans Journal and Daily Commercial Advertizer September 30th 1861

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

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

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.

The Cambridge Independent Press July 29th 1876.

The Belfast Newsletter September 2nd 1876.

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

Jackson’s Oxford Journal July 14th 1877.

The Pall Mall Gazette December 17th 1877.

Bucks Herald March 15th 1879

Bucks Herald May 22nd 1880

The Star February 3rd 1880

Official recognition of Domestic Economy (or Home Economics as it was by then known) as a school subject was withdrawn in 2015.

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

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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