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Houghton Conquest School Since 1800

 Houghton Conquest almshouses and school [X254/88/145]
Houghton Conquest almshouses and school [X254/88/145]

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.

Charles Ingle, the curate of Houghton Conquest, made a detailed reply: “One school, founded in 1630 [sic], designed for the gratuitous instruction of the children of Houghton, ‘and other parishes in the county of Bedford’. The school was formerly of considerable reputation, and in a flourishing condition when it had a clergyman for its master, and sent scholars to the university; but it has been long on the decline, and the master’s salary being a fixed sum, it has of course greatly diminished in value since the time of the foundation. About a year past, the school had hardly a single regular scholar, some pains however have lately been bestowed upon it, and in has considerably encreased; the number at present is about 24 children, entirely of the poorer classes: the salary of the master is the yearly sum of £18 paid by Sidney College, Cambridge; in the head and fellows of which the appointment to the mastership is vested. There is a house provided by the charity for the residence of the master, having a garden and a small piece of land attached to it. By a small permanent addition to the funds of the school, it might be rendered very affectual, and highly beneficial; but the parish being extensive, and very needy, little hope can be entertained of any such addition coming from 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 response from Houghton Conquest was: “One Daily School, containing upwards of 30 boys; endowed by Sir Francis Clark, Bart with a salary of £16 per annum, and a residence for the schoolmaster. Two Sunday Schools, of 60 boys and 57 girls; supported by contribution. Bibles &c. are provided by the Rev T Barber”. 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.

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 return from Houghton Conquest listed a Sunday school for 63 boys and 90 girls and a daily school for 45 boys: “The schoolroom is inadequate and the house dilapidated. It is hoped to build a new school shortly in connection with the National Society, and to add to it the endowment of the old school. Application for assistance has been made to the Committee of Council on Education”. Given that the school was still above the almshouses in 1904, the application must have failed.

We have a detailed report on the endowed school by a Mr Wright, made in the 1860s [CRT130Hou12]: “The endowment (£16 a year besides a small house and garden) was originally intended to provide a free education in grammar, to the children not only in the village but of the whole county, but it has diminished in relative value till it has become insufficient even for a national school. Subscriptions from the neighbouring gentry, amounting to about £26 yearly, leave a constant deficit to be made good by the vicar. There is no prospect of increased income”.

“About 56 children, some of whom are infants, are taught to read, write and sum by an uncertificated master and his wife, all for a penny a week. Singing is also taught be a master who attends occasionally. The instruction appeared to be good of its kind and as well suited to the needs of the inhabitants (chiefly farm labourers) as the amount of the endowment will allow. Such as it is, it is not exhausted by the children, who commonly leave about the age of 11 to work in the fields or in “lace schools”. The school is not under inspection”.

“The house has lately been almost rebuilt, partly at the cost of the vicar. It is handsome and the schoolrooms are good, but some inconvenience arises from the ground floor being used for almshouses”.

“Extension of the utility of the school is thought by the vicar (who is sole manager) to be impracticable on account of the smallness of the income and the poverty of the population. Yet it is found possible to collect from 180 to 190 children for the Sunday School”.

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 noted that there was no efficient school. What was required was: “Accommodation for 85 boys and girls and 57 infants. If the Houghton Conquest endowed school be at once made efficient by raising the windows, improving the ventilation and offices, erecting a suitable partition between the mixed and infants schools, and by supplying school furniture, and appointing a certificated teacher to both the mixed and infant schools, no further accommodation will be required”.

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, Houghton Conquest being one of the latter, though known as Houghton Conquest Church of England School.

Houghton Conquest Post Office and school about 1900 [Z213/13]
Houghton Conquest Post Office and school about 1900 [Z213/13]

A report made in 1904 highlighted the highly unsatisfactory conditions of the school - with schoolrooms forming the upper floor and alms houses the lower floor of the old 17th century building. It was determined that things would need to change quickly. In 1906 the school managers received a notice from the Local Education Authority propising to build a new school. The managers' opinion that the building would need to accommodate one hundred scholars as there were 119 children currently on the books, of which eighteen were from Kempston and five from Wootton. The new school would only cater for Houghton children so these would be moved elsewhere and twelve infants under the age of five would no longer be allowed to attend until they reached their fifth birthday. Clearly the managers dreaded the upheaval, hoping "that under existing circumstances the building of a new school will be postponed as long as possible" [P11/25/33].

Bedfordshire Archives & Records Service has a scrapbook of cuttings of visits made to most Bedfordshire Schools by School Inspectors for a period from just before the First World War through the inter-war years [E/IN1/1]. The first inspection in the scrapbook took place on 24th October 1907: it was short and to the point: “In spite of premises, in nearly all ways as bad as premises can be, very good work is done in all classes of this School”.

The old Church of England School finally closed on 2nd July1909 with children moving to the new school, which, having been built a public expense by the local education authority, would be a council school, on 5th July [P11/25/33].

On 23rd February 1911 average attendance was 109 and the inspector reported [E/IN1/1]: “This is in many ways a remarkably good village School. Order and tone are praiseworthy, the teaching is vigorous and successful and very good work is done in all Classes. Handwriting, Composition, Physical Exercises and “Hand and Eye” training all deserve special commendation, and the excellent School Garden is one of which both pupils and Master have reason to be proud”.

On 3rd February 1913 average attendance was 111: “The older scholars are in excellent order and their work, especially that of the First Class, is good. The children are remarkably keen and intelligent, they express themselves well and show great  interest in the instruction. The Infants’ Classis, at present, in a thoroughly backward condition, but there is every prospect that, under the new teacher, it will rapidly improve. Lessons in Cottage Cookery might be given with much advantage and I think much difficulty in this school”.

The last inspection before the Great War took place on 27th January 1914: “The older scholars continue to be taught with marked ability and success and the condition of this section of the school is very praiseworthy. The Infants’ division had made most marked progress during the past year. It is now brightly and skilfully taught and the improvement affected reflects much credit upon the mistress”.

Due to the shortage of resources during the Great War the next inspection was not until September and October 1922 when average attendance was 101: “The Head Teacher of this School is an energetic worker and the condition of his own class (Standards VII to VIII), particularly the upper part of it, is decidedly creditable to him, as also is the gardening. The Arithmetic of the third and fourth Standards and the Writing of III, IV and V are not relatively as good; this is, partly at any rate, attributable to a serious epidemic when they were infants and to a shortage of staff later”.

“The condition of the second class, in which the majority of the children are too old for this low position, is much less satisfactory. Handwriting, Composition, written Arithmetic and Reading are really poor in far too many cases – and the speech is not good. The Infants, except that the speech is indistinct and barely audible, are on the whole doing well. The first class can read well, and the Writing and Number are satisfactory, and the Handwork and Drawing are enjoyed”.

The next visits were made in February and November 1925 when average attendance was 78: “The new Head Master found the age classification was not good on his arrival, and has tried to put this right. His first scheme proved to be a little too ambitious, but both he and the children appear to have found the right level now. The work, rather untidy in appearance, is improving in quality, and there seems to be every prospect of a good school here. The Infants are doing better this year: they read very well and the beginning of the other work is creditable. They are very short of Reading matter in both stories and primers”

Gardening was inspected  in July 1926: “A suitable selection of vegetables and a good many flowers are grown. The flowers are managed by girls. There are fruit trees and bushes in the teachers’ garden but propagation of fruit is not taught at present. Plots are in fair condition and tools are clean but there is need of a tool shed. At present tools are stored on a rack over the coal in a manner which is somewhat dangerous”.

On 4th July 1928 average attendance was 80: “There are many very good points in the organisation and conduct of this country school. The work reaches a good standard; the children are responsive and well behaved. The Head Master’s own work is careful and well thought out: the Second Class have lost a good Teacher who has been succeeded by a Teacher whose experience is confined to this school but who manages the class in a very promising way: the Infants’ Teacher has much improved. The school obtained a Challenge Shield in the County Singing Competition”.

The final inspection in the scrapbook was in 1933: “This is a good country school where the Head Master takes Standards IV – VII, an Uncertificated Teacher Standards I, II, III and a supplementary Teacher the Infants. The work starts well in the Infants’ room and now may be said to promise to go on well in the middle group. There are some backward individuals in the Head Master’s division; but the work reaches a creditable or very creditable standard in most cases, the work in school is well planned after careful thought, and the Gardening is successful. The Head Master deserves much commendation for his guidance of the School”.

During the Second World War children were evacuated from large cities, notably London, and from coastal areas which were unsafe due to enemy bombing and the threat of invasion. They were moved to safer, inland, rural areas such as Bedfordshire. It was common for whole schools, including teachers, to be evacuated and in these cases the school would be "hosted" by one or more receiving schools. In 1939 Houghton Conquest School played host to Saint Joseph's School, Highgate [E/PM3/1/4G].

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.

In 1960 a new scheme, drawn up by the Charity Commission was put in place to administer the Houghton Conquest educational charities [P11/25/69]. 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 CountySecondary Schools. Thus Lower Schools now taught children aged 4 to 9, Middle Schools from 9 to 13 and Upper Schools from 13 onwards. Houghton Conquest duly became a lower school. In 2009 the local education authority, Bedfordshire County Council, was abolished and the new unitary authority, Central Bedfordshire Council, became the local education authority for Houghton Conquest.

The school August 2016
The school August 2016