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Clifton School

All Saints Parochial School about 1866 [Z50/30/42]
All Saints Parochial School about 1866 [Z50/30/42]

1859-1902

All Saints Parochial School was built in 1859. It could accommodate 201 children from Clifton and 64 infants from Clifton Fields. The master, William Edwin Hall taught the 60 to 90 children reading, writing and arithmetic, Latin and geometry as well as more practical subjects - the School Logbook for 1863 noting: "Took the first class out for a practical lesson in land Measuring". At this time fees were a penny a week for under fives and twopence for those over that age. Children had to provide their own equipment, the master noting of one child that he "will not be allowed to attend the school after the present week except he be provided with a slate and a long pencil. Hall had a ferocious reputation and was renowned for applying the birch with regularity. Children did not only have to worry about their master, diseases such as blister pox, scarlet fever and smallpox were a danger to life. In 1863 three children, W. Burnage, aged 6 years, 5 months, Joseph King, aged 4 years, 1 month and Samuel Gregory, aged 7 years, 5 months all died of diphtheria.

Hall was replaced in 1866 by Henry Gration, who remained until 1883 and was, by contrast, a kindly man and numbers quickly rose to well over a hundred. Interestingly, the site of the school was not conveyed until 1866 as deeds in the Saint Albans Diocesan Registry make clear. In that year Henry Hugh Miles, the rector, conveyed a piece of land measuring 139 feet on the north, 156 feet 6 inches on the south, 150 feet on the east and 159 feet on the west "with the school and master's house and outbuildings recently erected known as All Saints Parochial Schools" to Edward Smith of Baldock [Hertfordshire], solicitor's clerk as trustee to hold on the rector's behalf as he was manager of the school.

The conveyance lists the instruction the children were to receive. Secular instruction was to include reading, writing, spelling, English grammar, arithmetic, general history and geography "and subjects of useful knowledge authorised by the Rector". Religious instruction was to include The Bible and Bible History and "the Church Catechism, all to be consonant with the doctrine of the Church of England". Children were also expected to attend on Sundays and to attend one service in the church on the same day. However: "No child shall be compelled to receive instruction in Church catechism or in any particular doctrine of the Church of England or attend the schools or Parish Church on Sundays whose parents or next friends shall declare in writing that they entertain conscientious objections to such instruction and attendance and shall undertake that the child shall be provided with other religious instruction and shall attend some other place of worship at least once on each Sunday". With so many Baptists in Clifton this was clearly sensible.

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). Naturally, and luckily for local historians, the Act required a questionnaire of local schools in 1870. The return for Clifton indicated that accommodation for a further 54 children from Clifton Fields was needed. The return went on: "If SheffordNationalSchool is made efficient, and if it is so enlarged as to provide accommodation for 54 children from Clifton Fields in addition to the accommodation required for Shefford and Shefford Hardwick, no more accommodation will be required for the district of Clifton". CliftonFieldsInfantsSchool was built in 1870-71. The school closed in 1931 and since the boundary change of 1933 has been in Shefford.

 A School Class about 1890 [Z50/142/517]
A School Class about 1890 [Z50/142/517]

1902-1944

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. Clifton duly became a PublicElementary School.

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a book containing Inspectors' reports for most schools in the county for a period from just before the First World War through the inter-war years [E/IN1/1]. The infants at All Saints were noted, in 1911, as "carefully taught". The 1913 report is underlined in red: "It would be well if separate accommodation could be provided for the babies. They cannot possibly be treated as they should be in the main, and only, room without serious interference with the older infants. However, as things are at present the best possible is done for them". By 1922 it was noted that "The work done in this little school is hardly as good as might reasonably be expected…the work of this school needs pulling up generally". In 1924 it was noted: "This school has made considerable progress since the last Report".

The older children at All Saints School were inspected in 1911 and it was found that discipline good and work satisfactory, two years later the school was "in very good order, it is taught with care and thoroughness and the general level of attainment is satisfactory", P.E. was one of the best features of the school which was "not very well supplied with Reading books of a suitable character". In 1922 the Inspector found: The Head-Mistress has well maintained the level of attainment which she inherited from the late Head Master". The 1924 report concentrated on premises the Inspector observing "The premises of this school have many serious defects. I am not making any report upon the heating, which I should expect to find was bad, as the L.E.A. have the charts in Bedford". The Inspector found the school was full, the light was poor, the ventilation was poor, the cloakrooms were unsatisfactory, the playground surfaces were as bad and the lavatories a disgrace, with only three stalls for 58 girls and 45 infants and no urinal for the infant boys "the closets have not worked properly for years thanks to the Headmaster's own exertions they do work now, but there was no earth provided to-day. The Boys' offices, which are farther from the school are of a very bad type, providing practically no privacy, and dark". It was recommended that improvements be made "without delay". The village would have to wait nearly half a century for new school buildings.

In 1927 the school was valued under the 1925 Rating Valuation Act and the valuer noted that the school house consisted of a parlour, living room and kitchen downstairs with three bedrooms above, with a bathroom over the school; outside were a pantry, washhouse and barn, all attached to the house. Water was laid on and in the valuer's opinion the place was "nice". The valuer noted that the school could accommodate 183 and had an average attendance of 145 with 151 present on the day he visited. At Clifton Fields the valuer described the school house as comprising a parlour, living room, pantry and two bedrooms with a bay window downstairs and a barn outside. the school itself he noted had accommodation for 56 but an average attendance of only 14, though on the day he visited 15 were present.

In 1929 the Inspector reported that the Headmaster of three years had made a number of improvements with the discipline "now beyond reproach, the children being steady workers, orderly and well behaved". The Inspector for 1935 noted that the FieldsInfantsSchool had closed in July 1931 with about half of the children going to All Saints and that, since January 1932, senior children from Henlow and Meppershall had begun attending the school. As a result of this influx the building was remodelled and the church room adapted for school purposes. There had been a fair turnover in staff, due to illness and dealing with the children from Henlow Camp had increased the burden, about 80 having been admitted since 1932 "It was found…that out of 30 of the more retarded children 16 came from the Camp, and of these some were ignorant of letters or sounds of letters…There are not so many retarded children now in the school but a similar position may again arise. Another disturbing cause has been the irregularity in the times of the parents' leave of absence from the Camp"; on the latter point the LEA had arranged for men with children to take their leave in school holidays. The total number of children in the school was now 226, from 4 to 14 years old, in 7 classrooms.

 The entrance to All Saints Lower School August 2009
The entrance to All Saints Lower School August 2009

1944 to date

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. All Saints Public Elementary became Voluntary Aided County Primary School.

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 County Secondary Schools. Thus Lower Schools now taught children aged 4 to 9, Middle Schools from 9 to 13 and Upper Schools from 13 onwards. Clifton school became All Saints Voluntary Controlled Lower School in 1973. Meanwhile, Samuel Whitbread Upper School had opened in 1970 as a school for children aged between 13 and 19 lies just in the parish of Clifton, close to the boundary with Shefford. All Saints Lower School finally abandoned its old buildings in 1981, after over a hundred and twenty years, for purpose built accommodation in Church Street [P7/29/1/11].