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The first Scholar of Ayton School
(Reprinted from the Autumn Term Beckside 1919)


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John William Watson - the very first pupil at Ayton SchoolThe late John William Watson was born at Wolviston Mill, near Stockton-on-Tees, on June 7th, 1830. He was the eldest son of John Watson, whose wife, Mary Moon, was a near relative of the families, Dixon, Coates, Manners, etc.

J. W. Watson at the age of ten years entered Ayton School, of which he was the first scholar. In those days there was no railway to Ayton, and it was the custom of the family to break the journey at Middlesbrough, where they had relatives. At fourteen years of age, he became an assistant teacher at Ayton, and remained there until he reached manhood, working very harmoniously with George Dixon the Superintendent, who was his mother's first cousin. Long walks over the moors helped their leisure hours to pass pleasantly, both of them being enthusiastic botanists, conchologists, etc.

John Watson formed a warm attachment to Ayton which he retained through life, and he gained the hearty respect and affection of those amongst whom he laboured. For four years he was a student at the Flounders College, Ackworth, and from there he became a teacher at Ackworth School. Here he met Anne Wood, also a teacher there, whom he eventually married. She was descended from a family of Huguenot refugees, another of whose descendants was Mary Howitt, the poetess.

John and Anne Watson had two children, a daughter and son, the latter of whom died in childhood.

John Watson left Ackworth in 1869 and became an Art Master. He had the two schools of Art in Middlesbrough and Stockton, and was considered a successful teacher of both water-colour and oil painting. He also taught in many private schools and was for many years drawing-master at Ayton, where his cousin, Ralph Dixon, had become Headmaster. In 1871 J.W.W. and family removed from Middlesbrough to Redcar, where he had built himself a house. His large garden was a source of perpetual interest and pleasure.

Having given up painting as a profession, he removed in 1905 to Norton-on-Tees, where he opened a small school for boys. Later he lived at North Meadows Cottage a house situated on a small estate of which he was part owner. Here he died in his eighty-ninth year on the 9th of January, 1919, of old age, which was hastened by an attack of bronchitis. He was buried in the ancient Friends' Burial Ground at Norton.

John W. Watson was a man of some learning, having studied Greek, Latin, and Hebrew languages, as well as French, German, and Scandinavian. He also took an interest in many sciences, and his conversation was at all times instructive and entertaining.


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