Two letters written from Bowes Academy, the Yorkshire school that inspired Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby


These letters are bound with the handwritten draft of Nicholas Nickleby, penned by Charles Dickens around July 1838.

The letters are highly relevant to the novel. They were written from the Bowes Academy, a school in Yorkshire, between 1825–26. Both are to the parents of George Brooks, one from the boy himself and the other from the headmaster, William Shaw. Brooks writes he 'feels very happy and comfortable' and that he has not needed to see a doctor; tragically, the letter from Shaw just three months later breaks the news of Brooks's failing health and imminent death. The facts surrounding Brooks's illness and death are unknown. 

In 1823, Shaw had been prosecuted for beatings and neglect that led to the blinding of two of his pupils. Dickens visited the school in 1838. He found matters little improved and used William Shaw as his model for the hateful Wackford Squeers.


[in pencil] Letter of Shaw and letter of Brooks
[in pencil] (the boy George Brooks died 10.55 pm the same night).

                                                                        Bowes, Feb[ruar]y 2nd 1824

Dear Sir
           It is with feelings indescribable, I
again inform you respecting your dear boy, who I
am sorry to say continues gradually hastening away
from us, and I am afraid my next Letter will have
to state his final departure, as this morning he
has begun with convulsion fits, and has not
left us any hope; the feelings of a Parent I can
bear with, having experienced a loss myself, but I hope
and trust on receipt of this or yesterdays Letter you will
immediately come to our house, and arrange as you
think proper, which will be much more satisfactory

[in pencil] A 20 [or A-C-O ?]

           and very much relieve us, tho’ I would not have
considered any thing an impediment, provided
it would have been useful to him, - I must say
he always attracted my particular attention being
so very peaceable and clean in his person. In hopes
of seeing you on Sunday, and that Mrs Brookes and
yourself may long be spared to each other
                    I am, Dear Sir
                               Your h[um]ble Serv[ant]
                                          W[illiam] Shaw

[postmark]                             L E E D S
                                         FE[BRUARY] 2

      Mr Brooks,
                         Isle of Ely


                                  Bowes, November 14th, 1825

Dear Parents
          I write you these few lines to inform
you on Saturday 5th of November we had a jovial and
merry day and night in burning old Guy upon the
hills, and I am happy to say without one of my school
fellows happening any misfortune whatever, and I am
glad to say I have enjoyed the best of health
since I last wrote to you, which I hope is the same
with you and all my dear Brothers and Sisters,
Uncles, Aunts and Cousins and all my other dear


           parcel may be brought us. I have 10s " 6d left of my mo-
           ney, but my Master thinks I had better wear my shoes
           sliding than skates, for fear of a misfortune by them.
                     I now beg to remain in love and duty to yourselves
           not forgetting Mr and Mrs Shaws compliments who
           are very kind to me,
                                Your affectionate Son
                                         George Broo[ks]

Full title:
Two letters bound with the manuscript draft of the first part of chapter 15 of 'Nicholas Nickleby'
2 February 1826; 14 November 1825, now Dotheboys Hall, Bowes, formerly North Yorkshire, now County Durham
Manuscript / Letter / Ephemera
William Shaw, George Brooks
© Mark Charles Dickens, Head of the Dickens Family
Usage terms

We have been unable to locate the copyright holder in this material. Please contact with any information you have regarding this item.

Held by
British Library
Add MS 57493

Full catalogue details

Related articles

The origins of A Christmas Carol

Article by:
John Sutherland
Poverty and the working classes, The novel 1832–1880, London

Professor John Sutherland considers how Dickens’s A Christmas Carol engages with Victorian attitudes towards poverty, labour and the Christmas spirit.

Nicholas Nickleby and the Yorkshire schools

Article by:
John Sutherland
The novel 1832–1880

Since the 18th century, parents had been sending their children to notoriously brutal Yorkshire boarding schools. Here Professor John Sutherland examines the depiction of these schools in Dickens’s ‘social problem novel’, Nicholas Nickleby.

Related collection items

Related works

Nicholas Nickleby

Created by: Charles Dickens

A novel by Charles Dickens (1812-1870), published 1838–9.  Impoverished after his father’s death, ...