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Milton Bryan School

The Old School February 2012
The Old School February 2012

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 Milton Bryan return stated that there was no educational endowment though there was “A school, in which eighteen girls are taught and clothed, supported by private charity; and a Sunday school, containing sixteen boys and thirty girls”. The rector further commented: “The attendance of the children at the school is not numerous or regular”.

The school mentioned in 1818 was probably the same school as that referred to by Charles J. Kilby in 1951 [RDAH4/1]: "The old Free School, founded by Sir Robert Harry Inglis was opposite the new part of the churchyard. In it Sir Joseph Paxton of 1851 and Crystal Palace fame received his early education". Paxton was born in 1803.

In 1833 the government agreed to supplement the work of the two educational societies as well as local benefactors, by making £20,000 per annum available in grants to help build schools. It also prompted a questionnaire to be sent to each parish in England asking for details of local educational provision. The response was: “Two Daily Schools; one (commenced 1823) contains 35 boys, supported partly by a private family, partly by payments from the parents; the other, 25 girls, wholly supported by the same family, and has a Library attached to it. Two Sunday Schools; one of the established Church, consisting of 33 males and 27 females, supported by contributions; the other (commenced 1833) consists of 22 males and 16 females, and is supported by a Wesleyan congregation”. The supporting family of the boys’ and girls’ schools was, no doubt, the Inglis family of Milton Bryan Manor. This was the genesis of Milton Bryan School and this school, presumably, replaced that referred to in 1818. The schools were, presumably, on the site of the later Milton Bryan School as no conveyance of the site of the school has survived..

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. At this date the Sunday school contained 36 boys and 43 girls, whilst the daily school had 40 boys and 41 girls “These schools are entirely supported by Sir Robert Harry Inglis, Bart”.

A letter sent to Bedfordshire County Council in 1951 by the Ministry of Education, refers to a date at which the support for the boys’ and girls’ daily schools in Milton Bryan became legally enacted and refers to the construction of replacement premises: “I am directed by the Minister of Education to state that according to his records the premises of the above-mentioned School were originally settled for educational purposes by deed dated 11th July 1853, but this deed became void owing to the death of the grantor within 12 months from the execution of the deed. By a deed dated 26th November 1853, Sir Robert Harry Inglis, as heir of the grantor, conveyed the premises upon trust for schools; and it was provided that the schools should be conducted in such manner after the death of the grantor as he at any time during his lifetime by any direction as to management of the schools, should direct, and in default of such scheme as Dame Mary Inglis should by like scheme direct, and in default of such scheme as certain persons therein mentioned should direct, provided that the schools should always be conducted in conformity with the principles of the Church of England. By the same indenture the grantor conveyed a rentcharge of £80 a year for repair of the church and the purposes of the school. By the deed of 30th March 1867 Dame Mary Inglis, after reciting that Sir Robert Inglis had died without making any scheme, and that she had erected on the land comprised in the deed of 1853 new girls’ and boys’ schools in substitution for the original schools, “to the intent that both the said erections shall be employed for the objects in question in substitution for the original school buildings, and that both the said new buildings and the rest of the premises … may, subject and in subordination to the aforesaid school objects, be made available for the other purposes hereinafter in that behalf sanctioned”, gave directions as to the future use of the school premises as a school and teacher’s residence. It was provided inter alia (1) that if one of the teachers’ residences should not be required owing to the fact that the two teachers were man and wife, the Trustees might let the same or might allow the same to be used “for any charitable purpose and without payment of rent”; (2) that the school buildings might, “subject and in due subordination to the residentiary objects hereinbefore described, be employed for the holding of such village gatherings, or the delivery of such lectures, or for such other purposes as the “Trustees and the Rector and the owner of the mansion house at Milton Bryant should think fit””. Lady Inglis having had the buildings erected the school subsequently became known as Lady Inglis’ 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 simply states, under existing schools: “Lady Inglis’ School. Accommodation for 106 children”.

Kelly’s Directory for Bedfordshire for 1894 states “The Inglis Certified Home for Boys was removed here from Clapham, London, in 1885: it will hold 13, and is intended for training them for industrial purposes: William Mercey, Master”. There are no further references to this training school in subsequent directories.

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.

Bedfordshire & Luton 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 report in the scrapbook is dated 29th June 1911, when average attendance was 47: “MIXED DEPARTMENT & INFANTS CLASS – The work of the year has been interrupted by serious epidemic sickness amongst the children for which great allowance has been made in estimating the value of the work done during the past year. In the Infants’ Class in spite of the interruptions good progress has been made; the instruction is bright and intelligent and the level of efficiency reached is very creditable to the Teacher. In the Classes for older scholars fair progress has been made. Writing and Composition are creditable but Arithmetic, Geography, History and Recitation are weak. There is great need of systematic revision of back work in all subjects. The Registers should be more carefully marked. The numerous erasures point to want of due care in discharging this important part of the School duties. All the seats used by the Infants should have back rests”.

The next inspection was carried out on 5th November 1913, when average attendance was just 36: “MIXED DEPARTMENT & INFANTS’ CLASS. The history of the school during the past two years has been a very chequered one owing to frequent outbreaks of epidemic sickness amongst the scholars necessitating the closure of the school. These interruptions to the continuity of work have had a marked effect upon the efficiency of the school and its present condition as regards the children in the department for older scholars is as a whole barely fair and in the lower section it is very poor indeed. The children in this section are very old for the class they are working in and the work itself is only moderate. In the upper section Reading and Writing are satisfactory: the other subjects of instruction – Geography and Arithmetic especially leave much to be desired. The great need of inculcating habits of self-reliance and a high moral standard should not be lost sight of. The Infants’ Class is very well taught and in spite of the drawbacks is in a creditable state”.

“The following communication has been received from the Correspondent: - “The Managers of this School desire me to say that they have at last received a Report from Mr. Colson [presumably, by the context, from the County Council regarding the school premises], with which, on account of parents and children, they are much dissatisfied. I believe you also have a copy and we should like to have the comments of your Committee upon it. With H. M. Inspector’s permission the upper school being sufficiently full, we are arranging that the elder infants, now due for promotion, shall receive suitable instruction from Miss Morrant, and in their interests ask permission that, for the present, no child under the age of four years shall be admitted. This course, as you are aware, is recommended by the Medical Officer of Health, both of the County and of the District”. A letter from the Head Mistress will be submitted”.

The Great War put a stop to the inspection of schools and the next report is dated 2nd March 1923: “This School has a very pleasing tone, and is quite conscientiously taught. The children, too, show considerable interest and appear to try, yet there is not much of the work that can be described as really good, and in one or two respects it is weak. Arithmetic is the least satisfactory subject, and should certainly improve. Writing is of poor formation in Standard II and elsewhere is not always sufficiently careful. Composition, Spelling, Reading and Physical Exercises are satisfactory on the whole, and the children recite well. The rest of the work – Geography, History, Drawing and Singing, this last taught by ear – is fairly good. It is felt that, with a determined effort, the general level of the work could soon be quite considerably raised”.

In June 1925 the average attendance was just 20: “The teaching is very painstaking and the School has a pleasant tone. The Composition of Standard V is good on the whole, and the children read and speak well. They should be more careful in Arithmetic and the formation of Handwriting leaves something to be desired. The rest of the work is all fairly good. The interest of the children seems to be roused, but they should put more determination into their efforts”.

Average attendance had sunk still further by the time of the next report, 23rd March 1928, to just 15: “Ten of the eleven children on the registers of this Junior School were present on the day of this visit. Three of them have had illness which has kept them back, but they are going on well now. Three of them seem to be children of unusual ability, and the others have made very rapid progress in the short time they have been in the school. The Mistress has every reason to be proud of the work these little children are doing”.

The average attendance was just 13 by May 1930: “The Head Mistress has been away, ill, for some time. It is to her credit that the work of the little school was so unusually well advanced in Arithmetic, Spelling, written English and Recitation and so organised that the temporary Head Teachers have practically only to let the children work almost unguided, in full confidence that they will go ahead honestly and rapidly. It is a very well run, satisfactory school of 14 children ranging in age from ten to six”.

By the time of the final report in the scrapbook, 22nd March 1935, average attendance was just 12: “This small school has now 12 on roll, of whom 7 are under 8 years of age, and one is old enough to leave for a Senior School in September. They attend well – and are getting a really good foundation for such post-primary instruction as may come their way. The work of some of these children, and of others who have been seen during the interval between this and the previous report, is very promising: but not all who might have gone to Secondary Schools with advantage have been able to do so. The Speech work and Reading is possibly the most successful part of the training; though the Writing is very good among the best writers and is most carefully taught throughout, and the Arithmetic is up to a good standard. The Mistress practically acts as a private governess, apportioning her time and her special attention with most successful results. On the whole she has been fortunate in the calibre of the children, and in the appreciation of the parents; but, none the less, she is doing in an unostentatious way work which is always good, and, in some cases, remarkable”.

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. Milton Bryan became a Voluntary Aided County Primary School.

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 County Secondary Schools. Thus Lower Schools now taught children aged 4 to 9, Middle Schools from 9 to 13 and Upper Schools from 13 onwards. Milton Bryan became. Briefly, a Voluntary Aided Lower School.

In 1981 Bedfordshire County Council, as Local Education Authority, began to look at closing a number of small rural schools in order to save money. It was decided to close Milton Bryan Lower School, which had just eight pupils, and transfer them to Eversholt Lower [E/SC/Gen7]. The last few entries in the school log book brought a hundred and sixty years of continuous education in Milton Bryan to a close:

  • 18th July: Chalgrave School [also being closed] visited for our combined Sports Day.
  • 20th July: We held our final Family Reading Group meeting followed by a swimming party at Mr. Glase’s house and a picnic in the school garden.
  • 22nd July: The school closed at 3.30 pm. The School Governors gave a very successful party in the evening at which a 90 year old former pupil was present together with about a hundred and fifty pupils, friends and supporters”.

The old school subsequently became the village hall. The school house became a private dwelling.

The Old School and Schoolhouse February 2012
The Old School and Schoolhouse February 2012