The Reverend George Whittaker was headmaster of the Free Grammar School (later King Edward VI School) in French Street between 1795 and 1813. Born in 1761, the son of James Whittaker of Warrington, Lancs, George was educated at Brasenose College, Oxford, becoming BA in 1784 and MA in 1787. Two years later (22 December 1789) he was elected master of the Free Grammar School at New Alresford, a well-endowed school founded in 1698. He supplemented his income by uniting a boarding school for young gentlemen with the grammar school. He married Sarah Budd of Ropley on 2 January 1792. George Whittaker succeeded the Reverend Richard Mant as headmaster of Southampton Free Grammar School on 8 May 1795. The appointment was in the gift of Southampton Corporation. His headmastership is eulogized by Thomas Skelton in his Southampton guide, 20th edition: "The Rev Mr Whittaker by his abilities, and his attention to the youth entrusted to his care, has rendered it one of the most genteel and flourishing seminaries of learning in the country. The opportunities of instruction which this ancient and royal seminary present, are as various as they are valuable, youth being here qualified through the instruction of the ablest masters, to occupy either the classical or commercial departments of life, to attain eminence in the mercantile, or celebrity in the literary world". Pupils of note included John Butler Harrison, later fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, Henry Hurdis, later a well-known engraver (subject of an entry in Oxford dictionary of national biography) and Thomas Lawes Shapcott, headmaster of the Free Grammar School from 1819 to 1854. In August 1806 he was appointed one of the domestic chaplains of the Marquis of Lansdowne. Whitaker was succeeded as headmaster by the Reverend Charles Tapp Griffith on 23 April 1813. He continued to live in Southampton until 1819 at least. By spring 1820 he had moved to Northfleet in Kent, acting as curate to the non-resident vicar. He was sometimes erroneously described as vicar. Whittaker died at Northfleet on 8 September 1833, aged 72 years. His wife predeceased him by six years (died 17 April 1827, aged 57 years).

George Whittaker was a prolific author of educational works designed for use in grammar and public schools. Most were on classical or historical subjects. Titles include Fabulae in usum scholarum selectae, A concise introduction to the Latin language … for the use of the middle forms in grammar schools (used in Winchester College), Florilegium poeticum (a selection of extracts from Latin poets of which a new edition was printed in 1877), and British chronology. His Southampton printer and publisher was Thomas Skelton, a fellow member of St Lawrence's congregation who had arranged for the mortgage of estates belonging to the Skelton family in Havant to Whittaker in May 1808 (Hampshire Archives and Local Studies 102M86/103). This may explain Skelton's exaggerated commendation of his client and financial backer. Whittaker himself had close connections with the bookselling and publishing trades. In 1807 his son George Byrom Whittaker (1793-1847) was apprenticed to Charles Law, wholesale bookseller and publisher of 13 Ave Maria Lane, London. He acquired the business in 1814, trading successively as Law and Whittaker, G and W Whittaker (with his brother William Budd Whittaker) and Whittaker, Treacher and Co. Mary Russell Mitford was 'discovered' by George Byrom, who began to publish her novel Our village in 1824. That same year he was - aged 30 years - one of the sheriffs of London and Middlesex. The firm came to rival Longman and Co as publishers. His wealth at death was £60,000. (see entry for George Byrom Whittaker in Oxford dictionary of national biography). George's only daughter Anne (privately baptized in Southampton 29 December 1801) married the printer Richard Gilbert on 11 September 1823. Gilbert rose to become head of the printing firm Gilbert and Rivington of St John's Square, Clerkenwell, a company closely associated with the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Gilbert was also compiler and editor of three editions - 1818, 1822, 1823 - of The clerical guide, or ecclesiastical directory (Gentleman's Magazine, May 1852).

Further reading:

A history of King Edward VI School, Southampton, by C. F. Russell. (HS/ls)


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