Headmaster's end of term ball saw dancing until four in the morning
Honiton museum curator Margaret Lewis
- Credit: Honiton Museum
William Woodgates was the headmaster of the Commercial, Mathematical, French and Classical Academy, also known as the Laurels Academy in New Street (now the home of Everys Solicitors) from 1824 until his death at the age of 55 from jaundice and dropsy in September 1854.
At the end of most of the summer and winter school terms William and his wife Sarah hosted a ball for the young gentleman pupils and the town’s gentry. The guests usually numbered over one hundred.
The building was festooned with evergreens and lamps. Mr Flood provided the music and the dancing of quadrilles, gallopades and mazourkas started at 7pm and stopped when supper was announced at 11pm. When the banquet was consumed, the guests returned to the ballroom where the pupils who had distinguished themselves during the previous half year were rewarded with medals and books. Dancing resumed until people eventually returned to their homes at around four o’clock in the morning. At the 1835 December ball, the first prize, this silver medal, was presented to Master George Gilpin of Weston Zoyland.
Mr and Mrs Woodgates were held in high esteem by the pupils of the academy. On at least two occasions they were presented with expensive engraved silver salvers and on one of Mrs Woodgates’ birthdays they gave her a set of silver forks. When their daughter Lucy Anne passed away aged 12, all of the pupils attended her funeral, some acted as bearers and afterwards the pupils presented her parents with elaborately worked gold mourning rings.
The couple were very patriotic. When they received the news of the birth of the Prince of Wales in 1841, they hastily organised a ball with a lavish supper. William toasted ‘Long Live the Prince of Wales’, nine times and nine hearty cheers were returned.
In 1846 William published a book which sold for two shillings a copy. It covered a variety of miscellaneous subjects, compiled for the instruction of youths and the recreation of grown persons.
In January 1854 on a Sunday afternoon a destructive fire broke out in the Academy. It was discovered about four o'clock in one of the dormitories and the alarm was raised.
Some of the furniture was rescued but the 80 beds and the bedding in the dormitories were destroyed. The fire blazed for hours and the damage was extensive – only the walls were left. It was extremely fortunate that the pupils had not yet returned from their Christmas holiday.