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Early Education In Humbershoe

The site of Coppin's School January 2010
The site of Coppin's School January 2010

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. 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 Curate and Minister of Caddington answered for Markyate, as the settlement was then partially in both Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire parishes of Caddington (as well as Studham (Humbershoe), a detached part of Houghton Regis and the Hertfordshire parish of Flamstead!).

The Caddington entry read as follows: "From the abstract of an Act of Parliament passed in the 14th Geo. 2nd [1741/2], it appears that in 1666 a schoolhouse and close in Market Street were vested in trustees by conveyance from John Coppin, esq. and let for £11 per annum before 3-sixteenth parts of a farm at Loughton, Bucks, producing annually £28 and the curate, as master, is required to teach the youth of Market Street Latin and English. This school is now connected with the perpetual curacy of the chapelry ; and the present incumbent pays a person 320 a year for the instruction of as many boys in reading, writing and arithmetic". The act of parliament refers to the establishment of Saint John the Baptist, Markyate as a perpetual curacy. Markyate History Society's magazine Markyate's Past Volume 5 has an article by Richard Hogg and Roy Cutler on schools in Markyate. They also note that Coppin's School was established in 1666. Thomas Coppin of Markyate Cell had put a clause in his will that £400 should be used to buy a house in Markyate Street to use as a school. This was done when an old inn called the Mermaid was purchased. This was on the west side of the High Street in the Bedfordshire parish of Studham (which would become the civil parish of Humbershoe in 1866). The school continued until the latter part of the 19th century and its most famous pupil was the Olney poet William Cowper. The building was demolished in the 1960s.

The Caddington return went on: "There are sereval little day schools in Market Street, for reading, and platting straw, containing together 92 children. And three Sunday schools; one established by the minister, consisting of 38 boys and 22 girls; another belonging to the Baptists, of 117 children; and one to the Wesleyans of 119 boys and girls". The Wesleyan Sunday School which survives as a private house in Albert Street was not built until 1880. The entry goes on: "The poor of Caddington have not the means of education, and are desirous of possessing them, but those of Markyate Street, generally speaking, have sufficient; and the minister observes, that in consequence of the smallness of the chapel, 'many are induced to attend the meeting house merely for want of room'".

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. Again the Markyate entry is made under that for Caddington, which states: "Three Daily Schools; one contains 29 males, 20 of whom are educated from the proceeds of an endowment [this presumably refers to Coppin's School], the rest by payments from the parents, the other two contain 30 children, wholly supported by payments from the parents. Two Sunday Schools, at which are 59 children of both sexes, including the above boys supported by subscriptions. The above includes all the Schools in that part of Market Street (part of which is in Studham parish, part in Flamstead parish) situate in this parish, also in the hamlet of Humbershoe, in the parish of Studham. The parishes of Caddington and Studham are chiefly in Hertfordshire, and the Schools therein (except as above) are entered accordingly" in other words in entries for the Hertfordshire parishes.

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. No return for Markyate is mentioned, the Caddington return seemingly referring just to the Bedfordshire portion of that village. There is no return for Studham.

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 Caddington notes a Church school in Caddington itself, and national schools in Hertfordshire at Flamstead and Beechwood. The return noted that a school for 190 boys and girls and another school for 145 infants were needed in Markyate Street.

The article by Richard Hogg and Roy Cutler mentioned above notes that a Board School was opened in George Street (in Hertfordshire then as now), in 1880.