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Early Education in Kensworth

The earliest mention of education in Kensworth is in the archives of the Brugis Charity: the original trust deed of 1754 [P34/25/0b] states that rents from two pieces of land in Caddington were to be used to put five children of either sex of the poorest inhabitants of Kensworth "to such proper school as shall be from time to time within the parish or for want of a suitable school in the parish then to such other school as shall be nearest to the parish" the children were to "learn to read English and be bred up an instructed in the Christian religion according to the Doctrines and principles of the Church of England". Each child was to be "elected and chosen" by the trustees and be dismissed from the school when they could read "the Books of Holy Scripture commonly called the Bible". The master or mistress of any school was to be a member of the Church of England. Further land was added to the charity in 1777 [P34/24/3-4]

All this indicates that there was no school in Kensworth at the time the trust was instigated. The succeeding charity deeds for the next eighty years give no clue as to whether the five children were educated in Kensworth or in an adjoining parish but Rev. Ivan Young wrote in 1968 [CRT120/40] “so far as I am able to ascertain the pupils were taught in a house which appears to have been built for the purpose and only recently pulled down”.

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 firmed 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. Kensworth was then in Hertfordshire; its return indicates, oddly, that no endowment to educate children existed (despite the Brugis Charity which we know was still in operation at the time), that no school existed and that "The poor are without the means of education, but desirous of possessing them". This obvious error calls into question the reliability of the survey, perhaps the curate, who filled the questionnaire in, was ignorant of the Charity's existence, or perhaps to thought the parish would receive help if he did not reveal its existence.

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. Kensworth's return this time made mention of the Brugis Charity and shows that a school was now provided in the parish, interestingly the figure quoted for teaching has risen from five to sixteen: "One Daily School, containing 5 males and 11 females, is supported from part of the rent of three closes of land left by Mr. and Mrs. Burgess, who bequeathed one-third for the instruction of 16 children in reading, the remainder to the poor of the parish (especially to widows) to be distributed on Saint Thomas' Day. One Sunday School is supported by subscription, and attended by from 45-50 children of both sexes". 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 Bedfordshire Times of 25th March 1848 reported: “The old Wesleyan Chapel in this village having been purchased by Thomas Jones, Esq., of London, and fitted up for the purposes of a School Room, a public meeting of the inhabitants was held therein, on Friday afternoon, March the 17th, for the purpose of explaining the nature and importance of the British School system about to be adopted and maintained at the charge of Mr. Jones. The attendance was large and gratifying, numbering between 300 and 400. The Chair was occupied by Mr. Jones, who explained his intentions respecting the establishment of the New School for the benefit of the youth of Kensworth. The meeting was also addressed by Mr. Hopcroft, the Rev. W. Shovelton, Wesleyan Minister, Mr. J. Osborn, Mr. Mohler and Mr. W. Jardine of Dunstable. A class of Mr. Hopcroft’s boys, from the Dunstable British School, illustrated the working of the system by going through a variety of exercises, with which the meeting was highly delighted. The new master (Mr. Giles Hester), who has been trained purposely for the office by Mr. Hopcroft, will enter upon his important duties on Thursday, April 6th, and we are sure that the kindness of Mr. Jones cannot but be greatly appreciated by the villagers, seeing that this praiseworthy undertaking is the foundation stone of their future enjoyment and happiness”.

As Kensworth was at the time in Hertfordshire it is difficult to say from sources at Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service whether this school ever commenced and, if it did, how long it lasted.