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Colmworth School

A plan and elevation of Colmworth School about 1840 [AD3865/11]
A plan and elevation of Colmworth School about 1840 [AD3865/11]

The parish records for Colmworth contain a conveyance of 28 Jan 1841 [P47/29/1] from the Rector to trustees to build a school in accordance with the precepts of the National Society, an Anglican educational body. The parish records also contain an architectural drawing [P47/29/2] of the schoolhouse dated 25 May 1848. Clearly the school itself was built a little earlier as there is a report of 1844 made on Anglican schools in Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire which reported of Colmworth: "A new schoolroom. Master not trained in his work". Another report was made the next year, it did not make particularly good reading: "18 boys and 10 girls. Conducted by master in three classes. Two boys above 11 years. Order not at all good. Reading has been taught with some success; 12 read New Testament with ease. Writing on slates very fair, on paper good. Arithmetic well taught. The understanding of the children has, however, been sadly neglected by the master; they are all ignorant of scriptural history, especially the lower classes. Master has taken pains to make the children work; he seems to have no idea of teaching, of giving information, or drawing out the mind".

In 1846/7 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 return for Colmworth recorded that the NationalSchool had 18 of each sex on the books, whereas the Sunday School taught 40 boys and 38 girls.

The Quarter Session Rolls for 1865 saw 10 year old Josiah Berrill charged with stealing £1 2s 6d and a handbell from the School House. School mistress, Frederica Furniss left the school House secured whilst she visited London for a week. In her absence, young Berrill was seen in the school gardens and when challenged by a passerby, returning from Sunday service, he made use of a "very vulgar expression".  It would appear Josiah then broke into the School House, forced open two missionary boxes and stole their contents. He went home and told his mother he had found some half pennies in a ditch and handed them over to her.  She was suspicious and marched him off to the curate John Cox Edwards. Despite confessing his crime Josiah was sentenced to 14 days imprisonment, followed by 4 years at Reform School. [QSR1865/4/5/3]

Plan and elevation of Colmworth School House 1848 [PY47/29/2]
Plan and elevation of Colmworth School House 1848 [PY47/29/2]

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 Colmworth reported that the school had accommodation for 51 children and needed accommodation for a further 49.

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. Colmworth duly became a Public Elementary School.

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a scrapbook of Inspector's reports for most Bedfordshire schools [E/IN1/1] for a period from just before World War One through the inter-war years. In 1911 the Inspector found the school in satisfactory order and the children, generally, making satisfactory progress; the younger children's education has "suffered to some extent, owing to the illness of the teacher". In 1913 the Inspector reported that "This small village school is in a very creditable state of efficiency".

The next inspection was not until 1921 when the school was found to be improved "since the present Head Mistress took charge, and is now above the average of similar schools". The following year, however, things were going awry. Lack of a school clock meant that, when the teacher's clock stopped timing of lessons fell apart. It was further noted "The sums of the Lower Section of the Upper Group had been marked by a Standard V girl. Many were marked as being right, though both in method and in accuracy they were entirely wrong…Without going into detail it may be said that the work of the school reaches a low level which can only be raised by a very considerable increase in life and vigour in the general conduct of the School". In the next two years the Inspector remarked "The improvement which has taken place in this school is far more marked in cleanliness and general interest than in actual attainments. The value of the Head Teacher's efforts to widen the outlook of the children in the school as well as those who have passed through it) by means of Wireless, valuable children's encyclopaedias, Lantern lectures, indoor games and other influences deserve whole-hearted recognition…The school is, in fact, very much alive, and on the up grade…"

In 1927 the premises were valued under the 1925 Rating Valuation Act, the valuer noted that the school house was a semi-detached brick and tile structure and comprised a living room, kitchen and scullery downstairs with two bedrooms above, outside was a lean-to shed. He noted that the school itself had 52 on the books and, when he visited, 45 children present, 48 being the average for the past month [February].

The School Inspector in 1929 noted: "Fourteen children [a third of the number on the roll] are on the medical register for Mentally Defectives. One is certified: several have the entry "?Eyesight, ?Mentally Defective" and two are "Probably Mentally Defective". Two others have mothers said to be Mentally Defective or subnormal. Four families are under the constant supervision of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, whose Inspector visits the school every fortnight". Even the work of "the normal children below 11 is painfully slow". Of the Infants it was said "…the mental calibre of these children the present Teacher seems hardly able to deal with". He concluded: "This is a very difficult school to manage: on the whole much of the work of the upper group is normal, or nearly so, though there are gaps in knowledge and shortcomings in expression which are rather surprising in view of the Head Teacher's own tastes. The social side is well looked after as usual; the children are shy and reticent, but not frightened by a visitor. Little practical work seems to be done; and the foundation in the Infants' room certainly would not lead such a type of child to any enthusiasm about learning".

Four years later improvement was recorded, though writing remained poor and the sums "generally wrong" a change in methods with the infants had resulted in much better speech. By 1936 there were 48 children on the roll including a number who were "very backward". To compound the Head Teacher's problems there were cracks appearing in the fabric of the building leading to rain pouring in the Inspector concluded "It is not an easy school to manage and the Teachers are working well in difficult circumstances".

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 Colmworth became a VoluntaryControlledCountyPrimary School. In 1964 a contract was signed for entirely new school buildings [CA2/100] resulting in many of the buildings currently [2009] existing, which were in place by 1968.

Colmworth Lower School in 1968 [PY/PH139/1]
Colmworth Lower School in 1968 [PY/PH139/1]

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. Colmworth became a Voluntary Controlled Lower School for pupils aged 5 to 9 in 1975 and a new school was built. The school closed due to falling numbers in July 2003 and a private school called Puddleduck Nursery School Limited opened using the modern buildings of the former lower school.

Puddleduck Nursery March 2007
Puddleduck Nursery March 2007