David Manson – Belfast’s Enlightened Schoolmaster

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Home » People » Forgotten Folk » David Manson – Belfast’s Enlightened Schoolmaster
Image of blackboard
Blackboard image

David Manson

In 1755 David Manson set up a school in Clugstons Entry in central Belfast, promising to teach

“by way of Amusement, English Grammar, Reading and Spelling at a moderate Expense”

Belfast News Letter

Manson was to prove a figure of note in terms on education in Northern Ireland but what was his background?

Early days

As a child Manson suffered from rheumatic fever and had received little formal education himself. Taught at home by his mother, Manson went on to teach English in Larne before starting out on his own.

Love is a Boy,
by Poets styl’d,
Then Spare the Rod,
and spill the Child.

Samuel Butler, in Hudibras, first published in 1662:

His progressive teaching ideas were based on encouraging success rather than punishing failure. Unusually for the times, when discipline and punishment often characterised schooling, he provided teaching for both girls and boys and encouraged his pupils to enjoy learning through games and rewards – fostering a zeal for knowledge. Manson also started a free night school for teachers so that he could share and spread his views and innovative practices. He authored a well-regarded dictionary “Manson’s Spelling Book”

Business Success

His venture was so successful that he had to move to larger premises, first to High Street, then to Rosemary lane and finally to Donegall Street. Many of his students came from prominent Belfast families. One of his most noted pupils was Mary Ann McCracken, who apparently excelled at mathematics. Another alumni of the school, the author Katherine Hamilton, wrote of him:

David Manson’s extraordinary talents were exerted in too limited a sphere to attract attention. He consequently escaped the attacks of bigotry and envy; but the obscurity which ensured his peace prevented his plans from obtaining the notice to which they were entitled…

Katherine Hamilton, Author


However, Manson’s innovatory educational style was publically recognised in 1779 when he was granted the Freedom of the Borough of Belfast. David Manson died on 2nd March 1792 and his torch-lit funeral was attended by hundreds. This was a testament in itself to the respect and admiration this Belfast schoolmaster earned through his outstanding work and his enlightened values.

David Manson Plaque – Donegall Street, Belfast

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