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Early Education in Potsgrove

The church from the south January 2008
The church from the south January 2008

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 returns for 1706, 1709, 1717 and 1720 all state that there was no school in the parish.

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 return for Battlesden and Potsgrove stated that there was “A Sunday school in each parish, supported by the rector” the entry went on “The minister thinks, that the poorest classes being employed in lace-making, they would not avail themselves of weekly schools”.

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 entry for Potsgrove reads: “One Daily and Sunday School, in which 6 boys and 6 girls attend daily, and 8 boys and 7 girls on Sundays; chiefly supported by the Rector, who pays £10 to the master and mistress”.

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 for Battlesden and Potsgrove noted that the daily school now had fifteen children of each gender “The school is supported by the Rector”. One can gues that this school was either in or somewhere near the church.

In 1862 the Rector, E. Norman Coles, built a new chapel almost opposite Potsgrove turn on Sheep Lane. This chapel was dedicated to saint John and also served as the parish’s school.