The Biggs Boys boarding School - 1822 to about 1865


The Biggs family first arrived in Devizes in 1796 when the Reverend James Biggs came from Trowbridge to become the Presbyterian Minister at their Sheep Street Church. His son, the  Reverend Richard Biggs, became the Senior Deacon at this Church. Both he and his son  Richard W Biggs L.L.D. ran a boys boarding school in Devizes from 1822 to about 1865.


In 1791 a new Presbyterean Chapel in Sheep Street opened on a site next to the present Sheep Street baptist Church. In 1796 James Biggs, a Calvinistic Baptist, became Pastor. Shortly after Bigg's arrival  seceders from the Old Baptist Church on Maryport Street joined the Presbyterians for worship. In 1820 they had joined together under the title, the 'United Society' meeting in the Presbyterian chapel. The Reverend James Biggs died in 1830. In 1852 the Sheep Street Baptist Church  (left) was opened on land donated by the Reverend Richard Biggs.


Reverend Richard Biggs, Richard W Biggs and their Boys Boarding School.


The Reverend Richard Biggs served the Presbyterian Church as a senior deacon and he was the Principal and school master of a private boarding school. His school was established at first on the High Street. By 1830 the School had moved to larger premises in Lansdowne House (the White House below right) on Long Street, opposite St. John's Church. In 1839, the Reverend Biggs filled the office of Mayor of the Borough of Devizes. In 1839 too his newly married son Richard W Biggs had joined him in teaching at the school. The Gentleman Magazine tells us that on "July 17,1839 at Rathmines, Dublin, R. W. Biggs, A.B. only son of Richard Biggs, Esq. of Devizes, was married to Sarah Purser,  youngest daughter of John Purser, Esq. of Rathmines Castle. At St. George's, Hanover Square." It is clear from this that the Biggs family were quite high in society.


The 1841 census shows that the school had moved again to 26 and 26A Long Street. RW Biggs was living in 26 and the Reverend Biggs in 26A. They had 33 boys aged between 7 and 15 years of age. Sixteen of the boys were from out of County and 17 from Wiltshire. It is certain that at least 3 boy were protestants from Ireland. The 1851 census gives us better data.


In 26 Long Street RW Biggs was living with his new 20 year old Irish wife Sarah nee Purser. They had 3 boys living with them and 1 servants. The Reverend Biggs and his wife Margaret were living in 26A Long Street with the bulk of the boys - 30 of them. Also lodging with them was an Assistant teacher and 3 servants.


The 1841 census gives us a clearer picture of the School they ran together.  


26 Long Street

AgeRoleWhere from
Rev. Richard Biggs55SchoolmasterNICounty
Margaret Biggs50WifeNICounty
John Drover20AssistantNICounty
Ruth Earl30ServantWiltshire
Sarah Dally20ServantWiltshire
Mary Dew20ServantWiltshire
John Allen11ScholarIreland
Arthur Knight7ScholarNICounty
B Witherman9ScholarNICounty
Charles Randell10ScholarNICounty
William Cracker12ScholarNICounty
William Therring12ScholarNICounty
James Debac12ScholarNICounty
William Cox13ScholarNICounty
Alfred Hooper13ScholarNICounty
Robert Atkins14ScholarNICounty
Henry Randell14ScholarNICounty
John Score14ScholarNICounty
Richard Therring14ScholarNICounty
Samuel Dongal15ScholarNICounty
Francis Stevens8ScholarWiltshire
Samuel Marling11ScholarWiltshire
Edward Randell11ScholarWiltshire
Henry Tuckey11ScholarWiltshire
Charles Tuckey12ScholarWiltshire
Richard Tuckey12ScholarWiltshire
Edward Cornwall13ScholarWiltshire
James Giddings13ScholarWiltshire
Percy Marling13ScholarWiltshire
Joseph Pinchin13ScholarWiltshire
George Sparkman13ScholarWiltshire
Joseph Torne13ScholarWiltshire
William Beaven14ScholarWiltshire
George Butler14ScholarWiltshire
Joseph Read14ScholarWiltshire
Ebewyn Walker14ScholarWiltshire
1841 26 A Long Street   
 Richard W Biggs25SchoolmasterDevizes, Wiltshire
Sarah Biggs20WifeIreland
Richard Hooper20ScholarNICounty
John Gring15ScholarIreland
Richard Butler15ScholarNICounty
Sarah Sturges30ServantNICounty


By 1851  the Reverend Richard Biggs, now 65, had retired from teaching and he was living next door to his son but at 33 Bridewell Street - the two houses are and were joined. He died in 1861 at 75 years of age and his obituary says"....on earth too he was also known, both by the friends and the enemies of truth, as one that would never be bought or sold, for a more outspoken man rarely lived". 


The school was carried on by his son R.W. Biggs who received in 1847 the LLD degree from Dublin, in addition to his BA.  In the later 1840s the school aimed to prepare boys for the universities and had an unusually wide curriculum and somewhat unorthodox disciplinary system. It is reported that "Dr. R. W. Biggs, was one of the most successful teachers in Devizes. he  inculcated diligence and discipline by a system of book-keeping in which five-shilling units 25 p) of work were balanced against 'fines' for offences, and a £5 credit earned a school holiday".


The 1851 census below shows that the school was now somewhat smaller with just 12 Boarders. RW and Sarah Biggs had a son Richard aged 4. In the home was an Assistant Teacher and three servants.

1851 census

26 Long Street

AgeRoleWhere from
Richard W Biggs35Schoolmaster LLDWilts
Sarah S Biggs32WifeIreland
Richard Biggs4ChildWilts
Anna B Purser13VisitorIreland
T I Leeming32TeacherHereford
I Langfield16ScholarIreland
H Wesherman12ScholarBristol
I Purser15ScholarIreland
H Fluck14ScholarIreland
I Geoghegan13ScholarIreland
G West12ScholarIreland
W Longfield12ScholarIreland
H Geoghegan11ScholarIreland
L Purser11ScholarIreland
E Purchase13ScholarRomsey Hants
T King14ScholarSomerton, Soms.
I Anstie14ScholarWilts
Eleanor Catley31servantMleksham
Hannah Bailey23servantUrchfont
Thirza Shore20servantLavington

In September 1857 Sarah Biggs died just 37 years old - possibly in childbirth - in Devizes. 


The Gentleman Magazine announced the second marriage of Dr. Richard W Biggs LLD of Devizes "June 30,1859 at Regent Square, District Church, London to Mary Anne, eldest daughter of the late James O. Anstie, Esq." In 1851 one of the Anstie boys was educated at the school. The Anstie family was a wealthy one in Devizes as they were a major manufacturer. The Anstie factory on New Park Street was built in 1785 and was at that time the largest in the South-west of England.


In the 1861 the Reverend Richard Biggs is living at 26 Long Street next door to his son at number 27 Long Street. The school is even smaller now with just 9 Boarding pupils, four of whom were from Ireland including  one from his dead wife's (Sarah Purser) family.It is not yet clear when he stopped teaching, possibly it was about 1865.


1861 census

26 Long St

AgeRoleWhere from
Richard W Biggs45SchoolmasterDevizes
Mary A Biggs31WifeAll Cannings
Richard Biggs14sonDevizes
Samuel Geoghegan16PupilIreland
John P Griffith12PupilAnglesey
Reginald Aldridge15PupilDorchester
George A Aldridge14PupilDorchester
George Medley13PupilEast Indies
Jacob Geoghegan14PupilIreland
Richard Upjohn13PupilIreland
John G Purser11PupilIreland
John G Harvey14PupilIsle of Wight
Sarah Pepler26CookMelksham
Ruth Burbidge27housemaidPoulshot


The 1871 shows that Dr. RW Biggs now 55 years old, and a wealthy man, had retired from School teaching. He was living at 26 Long Street with his second wife Mary Anne and their 9 year old daughter Sarah Purser Biggs. They had lovingly named her after RW's first wife.


By 1881 Richard W and Mary Biggs had moved to Sandridge Cottage in Melksham where Sarah now aged 19 was registered as a student.