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Clapham School

Clapham School in 1879 [X907/1]
Clapham School in 1879 [X907/1]

The first Education Act was passed in 1870 (more correctly it was known as the Elementary Education Act). It was a milestone in the provision of education in Britain demonstrating central government's unequivocal support for education of all classes across the country. It also sought to secularise education by allowing the creation of School Boards. These were groups of representatives, elected by the local ratepayers and the Board had the powers to raise funds to form a local rate to support local education, build and run schools, pay the fees of the poorest children, make local school attendance compulsory between the ages of 5 and 13 and could even support local church schools, though in practice they replaced them, turning them into Board run schools (known as Board Schools). At that date Clapham still had a free school maintained by the vicar and Rev Dawson of Woodlands.

A new, parochial school was built in Clapham in 1872, with accommodation for 150 children. It was built slightly back from the High Street on the site of the houses either side of today’s Ursula Taylor Walk.

The first entry in the log book is for 11th October, completed by the headmistress Betsy Bower Stone: “This “Clapham Parochial” School was opened on the eighth day of October, one thousand eight hundred and seventy two when I commenced duty, with 101 in the mraning and 104 scholars in the afternoon. I admitted 1 other on the second day, making in all 105 the first week: 55 boys and 50 girls. I found them (with a few exceptions) very backward in Arithmetic and Writing. The 1st Class in some way, had gone through the first three Simple rules; but did not seem to know the principles of the first. The other Classes knew nothing about Arithmetic. In Reading the elder children, I found, did very well, according to their age; and a few of them in Spelling”.

The first instance of punishment is noted on 1st November: “Administered corporal punishment to several of the boys for climbing over the School fence and also for stopping up the drains with stones. The chief being; Alfred Kirby, Edward Harding, John Colgrave and Thomas Berrignton”. The last-named was evidently a rather naughty boy, on 23rd May 1873 the log book noted: “I punished Thomas Berrington for telling untruths and for impertinence: the following day finding him encouraged in his fault by home influence, I expelled him”.

The local cottage industry is mentioned on 29th November: “Lizzie Shepherd withdrawn (being 13 years old) to work as a Lacemaker”. On 30th May 1873 another girl, Emma Jones, left to be a lacemaker.

Western elevation of the school in 1900 [X983/7/2]
Western elevation of the school in 1900 [X983/7/2]

In 1900 the infants’ room was enlarged [X983/7/3]. A land mark Education Act was passed in 1902, coming into effect in 1903. It disbanded the School Boards and gave day to day running of education to newly formed Local Education Authorities, usually the county council, as in Bedfordshire. The old Board Schools thus became Council Schools whilst the old National, British and other non-Board schools became known as Public Elementary Schools. Clapham thus became a public elementary school.

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a scrapbook of cuttings of visits made to most Bedfordshire Schools by School Inspectors for a period from just before the First World War through the inter-war years [E/IN1/1]. The first inspection in the volume took place in 1912 when average attendance was 138; the inspection was confined to the mixed department and the school premises: “Order and tone are praiseworthy; in all Classes the instruction is very carefully and successfully given, and the condition of the School as a whole is decidedly creditable to the Head Mistress and her staff. Singing and Physical Exercises should receive more attention”.

“The lighting of the Main Room remains unsatisfactory. Some improvement in this respect is very desirable, indeed I think it necessary if due regard is to be paid to the eyesight of the children. The surface of the playground is very rough and must be destructive of the children’s boots besides being unfit for Physical Exercises”. The central government Board of Education commented on the report: “proposals remedying the serious defects in the lighting of the Main Room which are also pointed out in the Report of HM Inspector after his visit on the 2nd November 1908, should be submitted to the Board at an early date. I am also to ask what will be done to improve the playground surface”.

The next inspection was on 29th July 1914: “The school is well organised, order is good, the Registration is very carefully and accurately carried out, and in all sections of the school, both for older children and infants, the instruction is given with care and success. Good progress has been made during the past year and much of the work of the highest division of the school is of exceptional merit. The Infants’ class is taught with marked sympathy and kindness, and the little ones are being well prepared to take their place in the school for older scholars”.

“The Managers are to be congratulated on the great improvement they have effected in the lighting of the main room”.

Owing to lack of resources, no inspections were carried out during the Great War, the next one being in November 1919, when average attendance was 104: “Much better co-ordination is needed in the work of this School. In the fourth class there is such an absence of any kind of discipline that the result is chaos. In the third class, the methods of teaching which were attempted in the fourth class are abandoned and the children begin over again. However, a foundation is laid, creditable to a teacher of so short an experience, which enables the children, under more experienced teaching in the second class, to make very considerable progress. But they are handicapped from the start, and the attainments of the children in the first class are not so high as they ought to be”.

“The Head Mistress should take steps to make herself acquainted with methods for the teaching of Infants, and should then proceed to co-ordinate the work of the two lowest classes. In some of the work of the older children her aim should be rather higher. If the teacher in the fourth class were transferred to an Infants School for a time, it is quite possible she might ultimately do well”. In the margin is written: Letters from the Head Mistress and the correspondent will be submitted”. The staff consisted of: Miss Williams, head-teacher; Miss Haffenden, uncertificated teacher; Mrs Wilson, supply teacher and Miss Young, uncertificated teacher.

The following report was from March 1922: “The Teacher whose work was adversely criticised in the last report has left; and the School is now much improved. Careful steady work appears to have been done throughout; and additional interest has been aroused by the competition for a prize at the Bedfordshire Eisteddfod. More definite attention to Speech training would benefit the Reading and Recitation, and would improve the style and punctuation of the Composition. In Arithmetic uneven result was obtained, which seems to point to the desirability of more regular practice in back work. The standard of work expected from the children might, as was suggested in the report of 1919, be rather higher. The relations between the children and the Teachers are good; and now that the foundation is better laid further improvement should be evident as the children more recently admitted pass up the school. Some more Reading matter is necessary”.

By the time of the next visit on 25th October 1923 average attendance was 89: “I regret that I am unable to report that the expectation of improvement forecasted in the last report has been fulfilled; it is doubtful indeed if the improvement then recorded has been maintained. The most disappointing feature in the present condition of the school is the disinclination - or inability - of the Head Mistress to avail herself of help or to take advice”.

“Some years ago a special visit was paid to help in Physical Training and in Note Singing. A further visit by His Majesty’s Inspector of Physical Training was paid this year. Not only has no improvement taken place - but as far as can be ascertained the children have only (in one class) been taken out once between the Midsummer holidays and the date of the inspection, and in another class probably not at all. Note Singing has not profited in the least - but Songs are fairly good. Further, in the last two reports it was quite clearly indicated that to raise the level of attainment a higher standard of work must be demanded from the children. This has not been taken seriously; the consequence is that on the examinations given by the Head Teacher at Midsummer results were produced which seem to have misled her utterly, and at this visit the response to simple questions in Arithmetic and Composition in the top class can only be described - as regards method, accuracy, spelling, grammar and  style - as very poor, faulty, and inferior. The other subjects of the curriculum vary from fair to fairly good”.

“Organisation, too, is bad. A Teacher who, up to Midsummer had 14 Infant children in 2 groups has now (owing to the withdrawal of one Teacher because of the diminishing numbers in average attendance) 39 children in Standard I and Infants in 4 groups. The Head Mistress has only 25 children in 3 groups in the top division. Some of these ought to be able to be made to work for themselves. There is an obviously better arrangement which should be made without delay”.

The next visit was on 26th March 1926 when average attendance was 102: “The present Head Teacher has been in charge for two years. He found the school in a condition so poor as to border on inefficiency. He has made a very great improvement in many respects. The tone is far better: there is a greater industry in the top classes: the school life is more in touch with the village life than it was: new interests have been introduced to widen the children’s outlook: and various activities, concerts, gardening and sports (in which the children have competed against far stronger opponents and have been , invariably, good losers) have all helped to pull the school together”.

“The actual work of the upper classes has greatly improved, but has not yet reached a standard which could be called higher than fair. Some individuals stand out as very promising, and the impression gained is that the children are trying their best but are handicapped by very weak groundwork. This is really a serious matter, as the younger classes are not doing well enough. The Teacher in charge of the Infants was, it is understood, found to be a very weak disciplinarian. This would account for a poor start: so she was moved up to Standards I and II as an experiment, and this has not proved a success. In the meantime another Teacher had the Infants for 2 terms, and is grappling with 41 children - several 3 year olds, several 4 year olds and a sprinkling of 5, 6 and 7 year olds. The top class read fairly well now, but she has not had time to improve things all round, and is now leaving. The outlook, therefore, at this end of the school is not promising and the best use of the Teacher whose discipline is weak requires serious consideration”.

The next visit was less than three months later, on 17th June: “The garden is new this year, rather small, shaded by trees, but on good soil. A good start has been made with practical work, but at present there is nothing beyond this. It is proposed to give a little instruction in rural science during the winter. A few plot experiments and a little fruit propagation work would add very much to the value of the course another season, while the keeping of records of their work and observations by the boys is desirable”.

In 1933 average attendance was 104: “Towards the end of the tenure of office of the last Head Master there was a serious deterioration of the work. The present Head Master has made a remarkable improvement in both the attitude of the children to their work and the level reached in neatness and attainment. He has 49 children in his class: an Uncertificated Teacher has 42: and another Uncertificated Teacher has 25 Infants. Unless numbers fall considerably in the near future, the staff will be below the standard contemplated in the Board’s recent circulars. The work of the Teachers of “standard” children is already very strenuous”.

“The heating of the two larger rooms, warmed by one fire-place each, is inadequate in cold weather. The Infants’ room, in which a new grate has been installed is more satisfactory. The introduction of various forms of handwork and an extension of the games played have both made a useful contribution to the life of the school”.

The final report is dated 31st May 1938, average attendance 120: “In this three-roomed school are four classes. The main room is congested, and the Infants room is uncomfortably full; the other room is a longish room with a spread-out class. Migrant children present a problem here. For example between October 1935 and April 1936, 104 children were admitted, 64 of whom came and left in the period. Families coming from the North, Ireland and Wales have found rents high and so departed again”.

“The quality of work in the classes is mixed, therefore: but that of the permanent children is satisfactory and generally more than satisfactory. The Head Master is well informed, alert and enterprising; and the two women assistants are competent and reliable. The young assistant master controls his class noisily, a great disadvantage in a room where two classes perforce must be housed. The work of the top class was found to be varied, with very good results from the better children. The teaching is sound, effective and on modern lines; the work in Arithmetic, History and Geography which is rather advanced, Nature Study, Art (which includes needlework design) and Bookcraft being specially commendable”.

“The second class is not so promising: the work generally is moderate to poor. The third class is a group of interested and hardworking children whose response to questions was very pleasing. The Infants Teacher has equipped herself with good modern books on Infant Teaching, and is doing very useful work with a class of 32 in a congested room”.

The third of the great Education Acts was that of 1944 which established the principle of County Primary Schools for children up to the age of 11, at which time they took an examination to determine the nature of the secondary school they would attend until they were 15, the most academically able going to grammar schools, the rest to secondary or secondary modern schools. The act also created two types of successor to the public elementary schools - the Voluntary Aided and Voluntary Controlled schools. Voluntary Aided schools are those in which the Local Education Authority funds the school but the governing body is independent, they are usually Anglican or Roman Catholic schools. Voluntary Controlled schools own their own buildings whilst the staff are employed directly by the governors. Clapham became a voluntary controlled county primary school.

 Ursula Taylor Lower School April 2010
Ursula Taylor Lower School April 2010

In the 1960s the old buildings of 1872 were deemed inadequate. They were demolished and replaced by new ones further back from the roadand a little way to the north-west, closer to the church. The school was also renamed Ursula Taylor Voluntary Controlled County Primary School, after the woman who had, in her will of 1722, instituted a charity to put out the poorest children of the parish as apprentices.

In the 1970s Bedfordshire County Council introduced comprehensive education, doing away with the 11+ examination and grammar schools and introducing a tier of school between the old County Primary and CountySecondary Schools. Thus Lower Schools now taught children aged 4 to 9, Middle Schools from 9 to 13 and Upper Schools from 13 onwards. Clapham duly became a lower school.

In 2009 Bedfordshire County Council was abolished and replaced by two unitary councils - the local education authority for Clapham becoming Bedford Borough Council. From September 2017 the school become a primary school for children aged 4 to 11 as Ursula Taylor Church of England School.