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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


Early teachers were usually employed by the church and taught little else but reading, writing and a little arithmetic. After the Reformation they were required to be licensed, not according to their ability but mainly so that they conformed to the Protestant religion even if they taught in a secular school. However, although this definitely applied to grammar and endowed schools, unlicensed teachers at village dame schools and plenty of others also taught. Both the Established (Anglican) Church and many other denominations sponsored schools and employed teachers sympathetic to their doctrines. Teachers of a wide range of abilities were also employed by charity schools, Sunday schools, Ragged schools, private schools, factory and colliery schools, military and workhouse schools. Cressy, in his work on Elizabethan and Stuart school teachers, explains that at this time teaching was an occupation of people of a wide variety of backgrounds, education, and motivation. A few were indeed professional in their approach, but the typically pitiful salaries and conditions did not attract suitable persons so schoolmasters had a rather low status compared with other occupations. Only when salaries and conditions improved did school teaching attract enough intelligent, well-educated and dedicated people to enable it to develop into a profession in the modern sense.

Hey (The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History. Oxford University Press, 1996) has a good summary of British education, and Chapman’s 1992 overview (The Growth of British Education and Its Records. Lochin Publishing) is comprehensive on all types of education from the very beginnings until the 20th century. Background information on the life of teachers, from a family history perspective, include:

  • Howitt’s (The Country Schoolmaster in Portraits of the English Vol I: Parish Characters edited and published by COLLINS, Audrey. 1999-1. Original published by Robert Tyas, London, 1840) insightful essay on the Victorian country schoolmaster.
  • May (The Victorian Schoolroom. Shire Publications, 1996) writes and illustrates well the Victorian schoolroom, including sections on the training of teachers and the school day.
  • Development of elementary education by Black (Old Occupations: Elementary Teaching. Family Tree Magazine Vol 13 #10, page 3-4).
  • Giles (Old Occupations: The Dancing Master. Family Tree Magazine Vol 16 #3, page 4-5) comments on dancing masters from mediaeval times to the 19th century.
  • Alefounder (Using Manorial Records to Trace Thomas Alefounder, Schoolmaster and Mapmaker. Journal of One-Name Studies Vol 7 #3, page 6-7) traced a writing master.
  • A Victorian view of the governess is given by Maurin (Old Occupations: A Victorian View of the Governess. Family Tree Magazine Vol 10 #2, page 43); English governesses who went to Russia are the subject of a paper by Hall (The Russian Connection. Family Tree Magazine Vol 15 #4, page 18-19), and Morgan (Follow-Up [regarding Maria Rye and governesses] in COLE, Jean. Questions and Answers. Family Tree Magazine Vol 10 #8, page 25) comments on those who went to Australia.
  • The Public Record Office leaflet D63 concerns training and registration of teachers since 1846 when pupil-teacher assistants and Queen’s (later King’s) scholars were introduced.

Information about specific teachers can be found in various places, amongst which are:

  • The university alumni registers and various school registers.
  • Parish chest materials especially minutes and accounts of the churchwardens.
  • The Public Record Office leaflet D63 lists the national records where teachers are recorded during training and service.
  • Teachers Registration Council Registers 1902-1948 are deposited at the Society of Genealogists and discussed by Cleaver.
  • Licences issued by the Diocesan authorities, as shown below.

CHART: Diocese of Canterbury, Kent
Examples of Schoolmasters’ Licences in Register Film 1836361

3rd April 1746 before the Rev’d Thomas Lamprey clerk Surrogate

er present John Kelt N.P.

A Licence went out to Mr. Thomas Hull to teach an endowed school in the parish of Milton next Sittingbourne in the Archdeaconry of Canterbury he having first exhibited a certificate of his being duly elected and chosen Master thereof and having also taken the Oath and Subscribed such Articles as the Law in that Behalf required.

July the 8th 1760 Before the Rev’d John Gooch [?] Clerk Surrogate

er present Geo. Plume N.P.

A Licence went out to William Somes to teach a school in the parish of Wingham in the Diocese of Canterbury, He having first exhibited a certificate of his being duly Qualified for same and having also taken the Oath and Subscribed to such Articles as the Law in that Behalf required.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.