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Early Education in Clifton

25 Church Street - Holly Cottage - August 2009
25 Church Street - Holly Cottage - August 2009

There seems to have been a school in Clifton from quite early times. The earliest known reference to education in Clifton is in the Alumni Cantabridgiensis, a list of former graduates of Cambridge University; one of these, a John Saunders, was recorded has having been educated at Thurleigh and at Clifton in the 1620s, in the latter place by Isaac Bedford, the Rector. There is a reference in one of the parish registers [D7/1/2] to John Stories being both curate and schoolmaster in 1664.

The Bishop of Lincoln carried out visitations to Bedfordshire in 1717 and 1720 and for both of these a list of questions was sent out in advance, one of which enquired about the provision of schools in each parish. At each visitation it was reported that there was a Charity School in Clifton where 20 children were taught and clothed.  The school was maintained by subscription and the Rev Philip Oddy taught the children in the principles of religion. It is not stated where this school was held but it might well have been in the church or the Rectory, which was built in 1712.

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a report on the school at Clifton made in 1809 [W1/853] which reads as follows: "The Clifton School was established in Nov 1807 by Mr. Olivier at his own expence. The Person who instructs the Children is Wm Morgan lately a Servant in a Clergyman's family which was particularly acquainted with Mr.Webster, his residence was in Warwickshire near Coventry. The method of instructing the Children is not pattern'd from any particular School, but is quite upon a Religious Principle. There is nearly 70 Scholars including those which go in the Evening, about 60 of which belong to the Village of Clifton the other to Stanford & Meppershall. Most of the Children do plat & these read once in the Morning & once in the Afternoon & in the Evening Write & Sum. No Child'n under the Age of 5 Years are sent without their parents paying the Schooling. The School Hours are from 8 to 12, from 2 to 5, from 6 to 8. The Books they read in are the Bible & Testament". This school was held in the cottage today called Holly Cottage, 25 Church Street, a former Quaker meeting house.

In 1818 a Select Committee was established to enquire into educational provision for the poor. This was no doubt prompted, in part, by the recent foundation of two societies promoting education and specifically the building of schools. The Society for Promoting the Lancasterian System for the Education of the Poor was established in 1808 promoting schools run along the lines pioneered by Joseph Lancaster, who had himself copied those of Dr. Andrew Bell, in which older children taught their younger fellows. The Society was renamed the British and Foreign School Society in 1814,. It was supported by a number of prominent nonconformists, Lancaster himself was a Quaker, and sought to teach a non-sectarian curriculum. In answer to this perceived nonconformist takeover of local education the National Society was firmed in 1811 to encourage the teaching of poor children along Anglican lines, including the catechism. The Select Committee sent a questionnaire to all parishes in the country asking for: particulars relating to endowments for the education of children; other educational institutions; observations of parish needs etc.

The return for Clifton noted that the school was supported by the rector, stating that it was run on the Madras system (used by Dr. Bell, originally in Madras, hence the name). There were 30 boys and 30 girls attending.  The salary of the master and mistress was £30 per year.  The rector, Daniel Stephen Olivier, believed that "The poor are desirous of sending their children to school". In his will of 1825, proved in 1827 [extracts at P7/29/1/1] Rev Olivier endowed a day school and a Sunday school.  In those days a Sunday School was just that, a school which met on a Sunday, usually in the church or nonconformist chapel or other similar building, teaching more than the religious topics with which they are associated today.

In 1821 Olivier conveyed Holly Cottage, to Daniel Josias Olivier (who succeeded him as Rector on his death in 1827), the Honourable Samuel Henley Ongley of Sandy, John Arch of Clifton, farmer and George Honeybone Field of Clifton, farmer as trustees to maintain the school. This conveyance is still in the possession of the Diocese and the property is described as "many years ago used as a public meeting house of Protestant Dissenters called Quakers, residing in or near Clifton and now used as a schoolhouse for teaching the poor Boys and Girls of Clifton".

In the country generally the number of schools built continued to grow over the next fifteen years so that by 1833 the government agreed to supplement the work of the two societies, and local benefactors, by making £20,000 per annum available in grants to help build schools. It also prompted another questionnaire to be sent to each parish in England asking for details of local educational provision. The return for Clifton noted the Rev.Olivier's endowed school at which 40 boys and 36 girls were receiving tuition, the salary of the teachers was to be £25 5s 2d per year and they were allowed a further £10 for fire and candles; in addition there was an infant school with 12 pupils and a day school with 6 pupils in the parish; the parents of these children paid for their schooling. In 1844 Rev. John Allen submitted a report on all church schools in Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire standards were generally very low, though Clifton was an exception as he noted that the "Clergyman works in the school a good deal and the results of his pains [are] very perceptible".

The next national enquiry was in 1846/7 when the Church of England made an enquiry as to all its church schools. This was against the background of a new Whig government which championed secular education and the increasing importance of nonconformists, particularly Wesleyan Methodist, and Roman Catholics in providing schools. The Clifton return found that there was a Sunday school and a daily school which took 28 boys and 41 girls.

The purpose built Clifton All Saints Parochial School was erected in 1859. Although Holly Cottage continued to be owned by the trustees of the school until sold into private hands in 1969 it, presumably, at this point ceased its educational use.