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Sir James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth (1804-1877)

This article was written by Charles William Sutton in 1891
James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth was the founder of the English system of popular education. He was born at Rochdale, Lancashire, on 20 July 1804, was son of Robert Kay, and was brother of Joseph Kay, Q.C. and of the Right Hon. Sir Edward Kay, lord justice of appeal in the supreme court. As a youth he was engaged in the bank of his relative, Mr. Fenton, at Rochdale, but in his twenty-first year, November 1824, entered the university of Edinburgh as a student of medicine. Before long he became prominent as one of the most earnest, able, and brilliant students in the university, and as an impressive speaker at the meetings of the Royal Medical Society, of which he was elected senior president at the commencement of his second session. While a student he acted as clinical assistant to Dr. Alison and Dr. Graham during an epidemic of typhus, and he resided for a year at the Royal Infirmary as clerk of the medical wards. He also spent an autumn studying anatomy in Dublin. Both there and in Edinburgh he had opportunities of observing the condition of the poor. He was admitted to the degree of M.D. at Edinburgh in August 1827, his thesis being De Motu Musculorum. Shortly afterwards he settled at Manchester as a physician. Although an unsuccessful candidate for the post of physician at the Manchester Infirmary, he obtained for some years an ample field of medical experience as medical officer of the Ancoats and Ardwick Dispensary, mainly instituted through his own influence and exertions, in a poor and populous district of Manchester. He was also secretary to the board of health at Manchester, and during the terrible first outbreak of cholera in 1832 was most devoted in his attendance on the sufferers at the cholera hospital. He thus became painfully alive to the insanitary surroundings of the poor, and in 1832 published a valuable pamphlet on The Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester, which drew attention to the evil conditions of life among the operative population, and was followed by the local adoption of measures tending to sanitary and educational reform. In a paper read before the Manchester Statistical Society in 1834 on The Defects in the Construction of Dispensaries, and by the steps which he took, in conjunction with William Langton, to establish the Manchester District Provident Society, he made further endeavours to benefit the poorer classes of society. In 1831 he had anonymously published A Letter to the People of Lancashire concerning the Future Representation of the Commercial Interest; and he threw himself heartily into the reform and anti-corn law movements. During the early period of his residence at Manchester he resumed experimental researches on asphyxia, which he had begun at Edinburgh, and in 1834 he published his treatise on The Physiology, Pathology, and Treatment of Asphyxia, which secured for him some years later the Fothergillian gold medal of the Royal Humane Society. The work remains the standard text-book on the subject. His philanthropic efforts on behalf of the poor, his experience among them, and his grasp of economic science, brought him to the notice of the government as one specially well fitted to locally introduce the new poor law of 1834. He became in 1835 an assistant poor-law commissioner, and spent some years in that capacity, first in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, and afterwards in the metropolitan district, including Middlesex and Surrey. His valuable reports on the training of pauper children were published by the government in 1841. From that time forward his life was devoted to the introduction and development of a national system of education. In 1839 a committee of the privy council was nominated to administer such a grant as the House of Commons might annually vote for public education in Great Britain, and he was appointed the first secretary of the committee or department, retaining for a time the superintendence of the metropolitan schools for pauper children under the poor-law board. Jointly with his friend Mr. E. Carleton Tufnell, and from their private resources, he established the first training college for teachers at Battersea in 1839-40. Pupil-teachers were transferred from the Norwood pauper school and became the first students in the college. He at first lived in the house and superintended the whole working of the institution. The experiment proved eminently successful, and the plan was afterwards adopted and its working extended by government aid. The existing system of public education [i.e. in 1891] rests wholly on Kay's methods and principles. Trained teachers, public inspection, the pupil-teacher system, the combination of religious with secular instruction and with liberty of conscience, and the union of local and public contributions were all provided for or foreseen by him. Matthew Arnold, speaking of his suggestions and their results, says that ‘when at last the system of that education comes to stand full and fairly formed, Kay-Shuttleworth will have a statue.’ Owing to a serious though, as it proved, temporary breakdown of health from extreme overwork, he resigned his office of secretary to the committee of council in 1849, and on 22 December that year was created a baronet. The history of his measures must be sought in the minutes and reports of the committee of council, and in the pamphlets published on the subject between 1839 and 1870. His own pamphlets on educational and other social questions are numerous. The chief of them he collected in the following volumes:
  1. ‘Public Education as affected by the Minutes of the Committee of Privy Council from 1846 to 1852,’ London, 1853, 8vo, 500 pp.
  2. ‘Four Periods of Public Education, as reviewed in 1832, 1839, 1846, and 1862,’ London, 1862, 8vo, 644 pp.
  3. ‘Thoughts and Suggestions on certain Social Problems, contained chiefly in Addresses to Meetings of Workmen in Lancashire,’ London, 1873, 346 pp.
  4. He also wrote two novels, entitled ‘Scarsdale, or Life on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Border Thirty Years Ago,’ 1860, 3 vols., and ‘Ribblesdale, or Lancashire Sixty Years Ago,’ 1874, 3 vols. To the ‘Fortnightly Review’ for May 1876 he contributed a paper on the ‘Results of the Education Act.’
During the terrible distress caused by the cotton famine in Lancashire (1861-5) Kay-Shuttleworth threw himself with fervour into the administrative work of relieving the sufferings of the operatives while guarding against the risk of pauperising them, and he acted as vice-chairman, under Lord Derby, of the great organisation at Manchester known as the central relief committee. In 1863 he was high sheriff of Lancashire, and in 1870 received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from the university of Oxford. He took an active part in the organisation of the liberal party in Lancashire for many years, and in 1874 contested North-east Lancashire unsuccessfully, with Lord Edward Cavendish as his colleague. He served on the royal commission on scientific instruction and the advancement of science, presided over by the Duke of Devonshire, from 1870 to 1873. He was also occupied in his later years with the reform of the administration of some local grammar schools, especially those of Giggleswick and Burnley. He died at his London residence, 68 Cromwell Road, on 26 May 1877. He married, on 24 February 1842, Janet, daughter and heiress of Robert Shuttleworth of Gawthorpe Hall, near Burnley, Lancashire, whose name and arms he assumed by royal license on his marriage. Lady Kay-Shuttleworth died on 14 September 1872, leaving four sons and one daughter. The eldest son, Sir Ughtred James Kay-Shuttleworth, M.P., was created Baron Shuttleworth in 1902.
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