The Wellington House Classical and Commercial Academy (more commonly referred to as Wellington House Academy) was a private school in Hampstead Road, north London where the Victorian writer Charles Dickens was educated between the ages of 12 and 15.
Charles Dickens and Wellington House Academy.
At the age of 12, Charles Dickens had been sent to work at Warrens Blacking Factory by Hungerford Stairs (now covered by Charing Cross Station) in London, to help earn money for his family. His father had briefly been imprisoned for debt but released after coming into an inheritance. Charles remained at the blacking factory for a few months even after his father had been cleared of his debt, a decision that was to leave an indelible mark on the author who felt he had been abandoned and denied education.
After a row with the owner of Warrens, Dickens was removed and sent to get an education at the Wellington House Classical and Commercial Academy near Granby Terrace, Hampstead Road in the Mornington Place area of north London. The School was just a short walk away for the young Charles from his family home on nearby Johnson Street (now Cranleigh Street).
Wellington House was privately run (there was no state education at the time) but his father’s inheritance money allowed Charles to attend there for at least two years. As a day scholar, Dickens was taught English, French and Latin, writing and Mathematics. It was reported that he and the other boys kept white mice in school desks and that Dickens entertained his classmates by writing stories and plays for them.
At the Academy, pupils participated in melodramas which no doubt help to nurture a passion for the theatre that Dickens had throughout his life. One show, the Miller and His Men, Dickens was particularly fond of and learnt every word by heart. At one production a teacher at the school called Master Beverley used crackers to destroy a toy model of a mill they were using in the show. The resulting explosion was so loud that Police knocked at the door to see what was going on.
Although the exact dates are unknown it is believed that Dickens attended as a day pupil at the Wellington House Academy from the early part of 1825 to around Easter time of 1827, when he gained work as a solicitor’s clerk at Gray’s Inn.
At the time Dickens attended Wellington House it was run by a Mr. William Jones. A sadistic Master, Jones was the inspiration for Mr. Creakle and his school Salem House in Dickens’s largely autobiographical novel David Copperfield. Jones died on 20 January 1836, at the age of 59 and was buried in St. Pancras churchyard.
We get an insight into Dickens’ attitudes towards Jones and the school he ran in a speech he gave on schooling in 1857 (at the fourth anniversary dinner of the Warehousemen and Clerks’ Schools). In this passage Dickens criticises Jones for his interest in financial gain rather than the education of the boys:
I don’t like the sort of school to which I once went myself—the respected proprietor of which was by far the most ignorant man I have ever had the pleasure to know; one of the worst-tempered men perhaps that ever lived, whose business it was to make as much out of us and put as little into us as possible, and who sold us at a figure which I remember we used to delight to estimate, as amounting to exactly £2 4s. 6d. per head.
Over the years after Jones died the building suffered from the widening of railway lines towards the rear, knocking down part of the School including the playground.
The artist Walter Richard Sickert (1860 – 1942) rented studio space in the building in the early part of the twentieth century. A painting of people inside the building, entitled Wellington House Academy is in the care of Kirkcaldy Galleries.
In September, 1924 a tablet was attached to the building commemorating the link with Dickens. At the time it was being used as a Liberal Club and the site was owned by the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company.
The building appears to have fallen into severe disrepair after World War II when it was owned by the nationalised British Railways. A news article from The Times in 1960 headlined Dickens’s old School in a sad plight reported that “the house now stands empty and shattered, every window broken, its sooty garden choked with weeds”. It was eventually demolished.
The building no longer exists but the site can be seen at the corner of Granby Terrace and Hampstead Road.
The site is currently a depot for construction work for the HS2 (London to Birmingham high-speed rail) line. This image was taken in January, 2018.