Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wilderspin, Samuel

WILDERSPIN, SAMUEL (1792?–1866), joint-founder of the infant school system in England, was the son of Alexander Wilderspin, and was born at Hornsey, Middlesex, in or about 1792. He began life as a clerk in a merchant's office, but left this occupation to devote himself to the development of infant schools. He was not the originator of the system, the credit of which is generally given to Oberlin, pastor of Waldbach in Alsace, and, in Great Britain, to Robert Owen [q. v.] of New Lanark. But when Lord Brougham and others resolved to open an infant school at Brewer's Green, Westminster, Wilderspin threw himself into the movement, and opened on his own account in 1820 a similar institution at Spitalfields. The difficulties he and his devoted wife had to cope with in their first attempts are amusingly told in his ‘Early Discipline.’ From this time his life was spent in extending the system of infant schools over the United Kingdom. At the invitation of David Stow [q. v.] he gave some lectures at Edinburgh and Glasgow. For two years (1839–41) he was headmaster of the central model school in Dublin. He finally received a pension from government, and retired to Wakefield, Yorkshire, about 1848. He died there on 10 March 1866, and was buried at the neighbouring church of Thornes.

Wilderspin was twice married. By his first wife he had three daughters. His second wife, a widow named Dowding, survived him, and died in 1873. He was a man of small stature, but very alert, and in public speaking used a good deal of action. He was also a fearless rider, and the one recreation he allowed himself was occasionally to follow the hounds. Wilderspin wrote:

  1. ‘On the Importance of educating the Infant Poor,’ 2nd ed. London, 1824, 8vo; a third edition appeared in 1825 as ‘Infant Education; or, Remarks on the Importance,’ &c.
  2. ‘Early Discipline illustrated,’ London, 1832, 12mo; 3rd ed. 1840.
  3. ‘A System of Education for the Young,’ London, 1840, 8vo.
  4. ‘A Manual for the Instruction of Young Children’ (conjointly with T. J. Terrington), London and Hull, 1845, 8vo.
  5. ‘The Infant System for Developing,’ &c. (in this he calls himself ‘inventor of the system of infant training’), 8th ed. London, 1852, 12mo.

Disciples of Swedenborg maintain that it was from the ‘new church’ writings he formed his system.

[Leitch's Practical Educationists and their Systems, 1876, pp. 166–85; Wilderspin's own writings: Blackwood's Mag. xxv. 393; Robert Owen's Autob.; information from the Rev. W. C. Boulter, Mr. Christopher Todd of Loughborough, Mr. James Speirs, and Mr. S. J. Hodson.]

J. H. L.