Gregg Shorthand in the UK and Ireland

Gregg Shorthand in the UK and Ireland

Items in bold have a supporting image here:!AlXgnbF44Gf5pXNNEyW90o8TuRLV?e=Ji1V3D e.g. Gregg School badge.

In the early part of the 20th century, Gregg planned to improve the position of his shorthand in the UK. As shorthand classes were only available in private commercial schools, since state (public) schools did not offer commercial subjects, he knew he would have to adopt a different marketing strategy from that he used in the USA.

The First World War put Gregg’s plans for further expansion in the UK on hold until the early twenties. He and his wife came to England in early summer 1922, where he concluded negotiations with Mr De Bear to take a controlling interest in the chain of De Bear Schools of Commerce scattered around the UK, around 30 in number. The De Bear Schools, established in 1913 by Bernard de Bear (1863-1924), taught commercial subjects including Pitman shorthand. Mr De Bear himself was an accomplished Pitman writer, being the first holder of the official High Speed Shorthand Certificate at 200 wpm.

The agreement included Mr Gregg assuming the role of Chairman of Directors and the De Bear Schools switching from teaching Pitman over to Gregg shorthand.  In July 1922 a three-day conference was held in Liverpool to introduce the changes which were to be effective from the beginning of the Autumn term of that year. The conference was attended by the principals and teachers from the chain of schools. Included was a showing of Gregg’s film Twenty Centuries of Shorthand. Around that time they introduced a De Bear Schools enamel badge for students with a motto in Gregg shorthand – see link below. An explanation by Mr De Bear of the benefits of the changeover to Gregg’s system are recorded in an article in October 1922. Mr De Bear stated that they had adopted the Gregg system after very long experience of using Pitman, in which he had “had the honour of establishing for the first time a record of 200 words per minute”. Since then he had realised that “they needed something that was simpler to learn, that was at least as speedy, and something – this was the most important of all – that when written could be very safely read.” He expressed his satisfaction that Gregg fulfilled those three conditions. He went on to say Pitman’s system was a great system and he would be the last to decry it – but it was “a tremendously complex thing, and required a long time to learn.”

During 1925, after the death of Mr De Bear late the previous year, the De Bear Schools gradually changed over to the new name, Gregg Schools. A new Gregg School badge (see image 1) was introduced with the same motto.

My research, mostly using newspaper advertisements and articles, has identified 30 specific examples of Gregg schools in the UK, including one in Dublin*. Most were old De Bear Schools renamed and operated under the Gregg School name from 1925 through the Second World War and into the fifties and sixties. A few more were perhaps added over the years. The Gregg School in Liverpool opened in 1914 and closed in 1974. There is still a school bearing the Gregg name in Southampton, but this expanded and became an independent high school many decades ago. (*NB the southern part of Ireland, now the Irish Republic, left the UK in December 1922).

In addition to the Gregg Schools, Gregg shorthand was offered over much of the last century in private commercial schools, technical colleges and evening institutes, with the Frances King Secretarial School offering Gregg shorthand instruction until at least 1989. This school advertised Notehand classes in 1972, and some institutions advertised Gregg Shorthand Simplified in the fifties. My impression is that this version quickly took over from Anniversary during that decade due to the shorter learning curve with “Qualify as a secretary in just one term” appearing in newspaper ads from that time. Advertisements for Gregg shorthand classes continued well into the 90s in Ireland and I believe that they would by then be using O’ Kennedy’s Simplified Third Edition (see last link below), as this was designed very much with that market in view.

I also unearthed advertisements for a Gregg School in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1902 and – in an Irish newspaper – for Gregg shorthand teachers in Ethiopia in 1967.

I have yet to find reliable statistics on market share, but Gregg was there throughout these decades. Although Pitman continued to be dominant, it faced a significant challenge from Gregg and often newspaper advertisements from both camps can be seen side by side. Both claimed to be easier to learn and easier to read.


John Robert Gregg by Leslie Cowan, Oxford 1984. Pp105-6 (middle section)



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7 comments Add yours
  1. Thank you for your interesting article. I enjoyed reading it.  

    When I was researching the history of shorthand in Australia for my book I learned that Gregg was more commonly taught than I had realised. As part of my chapter on various methods taught and used, part of what I included in the section on Gregg is information on a demonstration that was given in Brisbane (capital city of what became the state of Queensland after Federation) as early as 1889. In 1910 the Queensland Department of Education adopted Gregg as its shorthand method in its technical schools. A number of Catholic schools followed, as did some business colleges.

    As you mentioned in your article,  New Zealand also popped  up in my research which was interesting too.


  2. Fascinating history.  Thanks for putting the information and sharing it here.  

    I haven't heard of the "Twenty Centuries of Shorthand" film before.  I wonder if it still exists anywhere.  


    1. Yes, I wondered whether the film still exists somewhere. According to the sample newspaper articles I collected, it seems that in 1922 and 1923 it was shown in a number of UK towns and cities, along with demonstrations by students and speed record holders including Harold Smith of New York City and Earnest Crockett, Junior Champion Shorthand Writer of the British Isles, who went on to be co-author/editor of several of the British editions of Gregg shorthand manuals.

  3. That's an interesting read. Since I began, I have bought several second-hand volumes relating to Gregg, and many are the "British version", with cricket instead of baseball, lots of tea being drunk, etc. Gregg appears to have been much bigger in the States, and those materials are more commonly situated on the other side of the pond, with correspondingly higher postage!

    1. I also have quite a few of the British editions, and I concur! Also, the currency and the addresses are different, in addition to the spelling of some words, of course.

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