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Eaton Bray Wesleyan School

Elevations of the school and masters house about 1860 [AD3865/13/3]
Elevations of the school and the master's house about 1860 [AD3865/13/3]

The Wesleyan School in Eaton Bray probably had its genesis in the Sunday School run by Wesleyans in the village. In 1833 the government made £20,000 per annum available in grants to help build schools. It also prompted a questionnaire asking for details of local another educational provision. The Eaton Bray return noted: a Sunday School ”in which are from 40 to 100 of both sexes, supported by collections among the Wesleyan Methodists”. 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.

About 1860 plans were drawn up for a purpose built school, complete with a house for the schoolmaster [AD3865/13] and in that year the trustees of J. Pedley conveyed the site of the intended school to Wesleyan trustees [CCE98/11]. The school stood in Gammons Lane (which came to be called School Lane), close to the junction with the High Street on the south-east side.

A plan of the school about 1860 [AD3865-13-2]
A plan of the school about 1860 [AD3865/13/2]
- to see a larger version please click on the image

The cause of the Wesleyan school seems to have been aided, presumably unintentionally, by the vicar. On 3rd March 1875 a letter attacking the vicar was published in the local press. It was from the Lord of the Manor, Arthur Macnamara, a notoriously difficult character himself. He alleged that the vicar, who had been appointed in 1871, had: “peremptorily closed his school, which caused the Wesleyan school to be enlarged at an expense of £550” [P63/2/4/4]. In fact the National School seems to have limped on for another five or ten years before finally closing some time between 1880 and 1885.

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 Eaton Bray read: Existing: Wesleyan Day School. Accommodation for 112 boys and girls and 32 infants. Required: A school for 108 boys and girls and (A) a school for 68 infants, both at Eaton Bray. If the Eaton Bray National School be at once made efficient by supplying school furniture and appointing a certificated teacher, the accommodation required will be reduced to the item marked (A).

A School Board was formed in Eaton Bray on 13th July 1893. It took over the premises of the Wesleyan School the following year [CCE98/12] and the school was thereafter run as a Board School.