Friday, 27 July 2018

A military academy in the High Street and that other Eltham Lodge

Cliefden House, 1909
Mr Thomas Hopkirk ran his military academy from Cliefden House in the High Street during the middle decades of the 19th century.

This grand 18th century property is still there on the High Street opposite Passey Place.

It was built sometime around 1720 with an eastern addition dating from the mid 19th century.

Now I can’t be exactly sure when Mr Hopkirk opened his doors but it will have been around 1849 for that was the year he and his wife Charlotte baptized their daughter in the parish Church and it may well have been Mr Hopkirk who added the extension.

Together this made for a large 17 roomed house which could accommodate “The Preparatory Military Academy” with its 32 students.

They were aged between 11 and 18 and were from all over England as well as Ireland with a significant group from the empire.  Along with Mr Hopkirk there was another teacher, a cook, a nurse and three house maids.

Originally the house was fronted with a tall wall behind which was a small garden, all of which was swept away when the High Street was widened.

Behind those walls Mr Hopkirk set about the serious business of running “a school for young gentlemen.”*

His reputation may well have been made in the school he ran in Woolwich on Frances Street and with an eye to a good location this first “Preparatory Military Academy” was sited close to the barracks.

There were 500 of these academies in Kent in 1851 with 15,411 students and in the half century before the numbers had waxed and waned, a situation which pretty much carried on during the decade before Mr Hopkirk had established himself in Eltham.**

Now this period is still a little murky but the establishment was listed in Baggot’s History, Gazetteer and Directory for Woolwich in 1847 and it will just be a matter of trawling the directories for the years before that date to determine when it was opened.

What I do know is that six years earlier Thomas had been employed as “the mathematical master” along with a classics teacher and a writing master in a school in Totteridge which was once a village in Hertfordshire and is now part of the borough of Barnet.

Like his own academy this was designed for young gentlemen of whom there were 69 aged between 9 and 17 and all born somewhere else.  Nor were they alone for during the mid 19th century there were two other private schools in the area.

Both Thomas and his colleagues were aged just 20, and there is no indication of who the owner was, nor have I come across any details on his background which makes it difficult to work out how he raised the capital to start his academies.

The west end of the High Street,in 1844,  nu 305 is Cliefden House
As ever the answers will turn up as will the date when he closed the school and moved on.

It was still there in 1861 but had gone by 1871 and it may just be that we can narrow it to sometime between 1865 when he was registered to vote in Eltham and three years later when his address is given on the register as London.

But like all research this has to be qualified with the observation that he is still listed in the Post Office Directory in 1868 on the High Street.

What makes it more difficult is that he and Charlotte are missing from the 1871 census and don’t reappear until a decade later, by which time they are in Dulwich at the appropriately named Eltham Lodge.

Such must have been impact Eltham had on the couple.  It is of course just possible that the house had already acquired the name but I doubt it.

And it was here that Thomas died in March 1881 leaving a personal estate effects valued at under £30,000 and Charlotte in 1912.

All that is left is to record that he in 1865 he voted Tory and that he was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Pictures; Cliefden House Eltham from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers, http://www.gregory.elthamhistory.org.uk/bookpages/i001.htm detail of Eltham High Street, 1844 from the Tithe map for Eltham courtesy of Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone, http://www.kent.gov.uk/leisure_and_culture/kent_history/kent_history__library_centre.aspx

*R.R.C. Gregory, The Story of Royal Eltham, 1909

**  Census of Great Britain, 1851 Education.  Along with a similar census in religious worship this was undertaken in the April of 1851 with the general census



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