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Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Fitch, Joshua Girling

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FITCH, Sir JOSHUA GIRLING (1824–1903), inspector of schools and educational writer, born in Southwark on 13 Feb. 1824, was second son in a family of six sons and two daughters of Thomas Fitch, a clerk in Somerset House, by his wife Sarah Tucker Hodges. Both parents were natives of Colchester. The eldest son, Thomas Hodges (1822–1907), became a Roman catholic and eventually was attached to the Marist Church, Notre Dame de France, in Leicester Square, London. The third son, William John (1826–1902), was headmaster of the Boys' British School, Hitchin, from 1854 till 1899. From a private school Joshua passed to the Borough Road school, Southwark, where he became a pupil teacher in 1838 and a full assistant in 1842. About two years later he was appointed headmaster of the Kingsland Road school, Dalston. Studying hard in his spare hours, he in 1850 graduated B.A. in the University of London, and in 1852 proceeded M.A. (in classics).

In 1852, after trial work there in the previous year, he joined the staff of the Borough Road Training College, soon after became vice-principal, and in 1856 succeeded to the principalship on the retirement of Dr. James Cornwell [q. v. Suppl. II]. He proved himself a brilliant teacher, especially stimulating his pupils by his lectures on ‘Method’ and by his enthusiasm for literature. Through life he laid stress on the importance to the teacher of literary training. After contributing to some of Cornwell's educational treatises, he entered in 1861 into the political arena with ‘Public Education: Why is a New Code needed?’ In 1862 he helped in the organisation of the education section of the International Exhibition, and in 1863 Lord Granville, lord president of the council, who on a visit to Borough Road was impressed by Fitch's power as a teacher, made him an inspector of schools.

The district assigned to Fitch was the county of York, with the exception of certain portions of the north and the west. His three reports on the Yorkshire district admirably describe its educational condition then. From 1865 to 1867 as assistant commissioner for the schools inquiry commission, he inspected the endowed and proprietary schools in the West Riding of Yorkshire and in the city and ainsty of York, as well as other endowed schools in the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire and in Durham, and his reports were most thorough and suggestive. In 1869 he acted as special commissioner on elementary education in the great towns (Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Leeds), and from 1870 to 1877 was an assistant commissioner of endowed schools.

From 1877 to 1883 Fitch performed ordinary official duties as inspector of East Lambeth. In 1883 he became chief inspector of schools for the eastern division, including all the eastern counties from Lincoln to Essex. From 1885 to 1889 he was inspector of elementary training colleges for women in England and Wales. He was continued in this post till 1894, five years beyond the normal age of retirement from government service.

Occasionally detached for special duties in the later period of his public service, he prepared in 1888, after a visit to America, a report on American education under the title ‘Notes on American Schools and Training Colleges’; in 1891 a memorandum on the ‘Free School System in the United States, Canada, France, and Belgium’; and in 1893 ‘Instructions to H.M. Inspectors, with Appendices on Thrift and Training of Pupil Teachers.’

Fitch's educational activities passed far beyond his official work. His association with the University of London was always close. From 1860 to 1865 and from 1869 to 1874 he was examiner in English language and history. In 1875 he was appointed to the senate, and on his retirement in 1900 was made a life fellow.

Much of his energy was always devoted to the improvement of the education of women. He was an original member of the North of England Council for the Higher Education of Women (founded in 1866) and one of those who helped to found in 1867 the College for Women at Hitchin, which in 1874 became Girton College, near Cambridge. He took an active part in the establishment of the Girls' Public Day School Company in 1874, and was foremost among those who secured, in 1878, the new charter for the University of London which placed women students on equal terms with men. In 1890 he with Anthony John Mundella [q. v. Suppl. I] and Anna Swanwick [q. v. Suppl. I] selected the women's colleges and schools among which was distributed the sum of 60,000l. left by Mrs. Emily Pfeiffer [q. v.] for the promotion of women's education. He was consulted by Thomas Holloway [q. v.] about the constitution of Holloway College, Egham, and by the founders of the Maria Grey Training College and the Cambridge Training College for the training of women teachers for secondary schools.

In both 1877 and 1878 Fitch lectured with great success on practical teaching at the College of Preceptors, where he was examiner in the theory and practice of education (1879–81) and moderator in the same subjects (1881–1903). In 1879–80 he lectured at Cambridge for the newly appointed teachers' training syndicates and he published his course in 1881 as 'Lectures on Teaching' (new edit. 1882). The book established Fitch's position in England and America as an expert on school management, organisation, and method. In 1897 he published 'Thomas and Matthew Arnold and their Influence on English Education' in the 'Great Educators' series, and in 1900 he collected his chief lectures and addresses in 'Educational Aims and Methods.' Written with unusual charm of style, these volumes emphasised Fitch's position as that of a pioneer, especially on the practical side of education, as an earnest advocate for the better training of the elementary teacher, and for the more systematic training of secondary teachers.

The National Home Reading Union established by Dr. John Brown Paton [q. v. Suppl. II] and Dr. Hill, Master of Downing College, owed much to Fitch's account of 'The Chautauqua Reading Circles,' which he contributed to the 'Nineteenth Century' after his return from America in 1888.

After his retirement from the board of education in 1894 he was still active in public work. In 1895 he was a member of departmental committees of the board of education on industrial and naval and dockyard schools. In 1898–9 he was chairman of the council of the Charity Organisation Society. In 1902 he helped in the organisation of a nature study exhibition in London.

Fitch, who was made hon. LL.D. of St. Andrews in 1888, and a chevalier of the legion of honour in 1889 by the French government in recognition of the services he rendered in England to French travelling scholars, was knighted in 1896. He died at his residence, 13 Leinster Square, Bayswater, London, on 14 July 1903, and was buried at Kensal Green. In 1856 he married Emma, daughter of Joseph Barber Wilks, of the East India Company. She survived him without issue, and in 1904 received a civil hst pension of 100l.; she died on 1 April 1909.

A portrait of Sir Joshua by Miss Ethel King was presented to him in 1890 in recognition of his services to the cause of the higher education of women. It is now in the possession of Miss Pickton, niece of Lady Fitch and adopted daughter of Sir Joshua and Lady Fitch.

[The Rev. A. L. Lilley, Sir Joshua Fitch: an Account of his Life and Work (with a complete bibliography); Educational Record, Oct. 1903, pp. 422–3; private information.]

F. W.