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Early Education in Eversholt

Volume 81 published by Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (2002) is a series of episcopal visitations undertaken in the first twenty years of the 18th century, edited by former County Archivist Patricia Bell. At each visitation a list of questions was sent out in advance, one of which enquired about the provision of schools in each parish. The return of 1706 stated that there was no school in the parish. The return of 1717 said the same but “an Ordinary Master and a few Children are taught to read and write a little, but no Care taken to bring them to Church for their parents will Neither lead nor drive”. The parson, William Hyde, was obviously unhappy with his flock, reporting in 1720: “We have no charity School nor School for Charity in this Heathenish and Sacrilegious Parish where the most laborious Ministry and best Example is but Washing the Blackamoor white, till it can be rectified”.

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 formed 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. At that date Eversholt had no school, the rector commenting: “The poor have generally competent means of educating their children and are desirous of employing them”

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 Eversholt return stated: “One Daily School, containing 24 males and 6 females; endowed with 310 per annum from a charity estate, for which 12 parish children are instructed, the rest are paid for by the parents. One Day and Boarding School, in which 11 females are educated at the expense of their parents. One Sunday School, consisting of 16 males and 14 females, towards the support of which £2 12s is paid out of the Poor’s Rate, and books are provided by the Clergyman”. 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.