Saint Johns School-Church Sheep Lane
Saint John's school-chapel at Potsgrove Turn in 1901
Around 1858 Rev E. Norman Coles built a school in Sheep Lane. He explained four years later [Z1487/1]: “That part of my parish called Sheeplane is well known to all who reside in the Southern part of the County of Bedford. It is removed from the Parish Church a considerable distance, and the bulk of the population belonging to Pottesgrove reside there. Nearly four years ago I commenced building a Schoolhouse and a Residence for the Mistress, in this hitherto neglected spot. I completed the work, and have used the Room not only for the Instruction of the Poor Children but also for the purposes of Divine Worship”. He then went on to ask for contributions to a chapel being added on to the school. This new building was opened on 2nd October 1862.
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. In the return for Potsgrove it was stated that no efficient school existed in Potsgrove, that a school for 68 children in Sheep Lane was required but that if Potsgrove Parish School [that is the school built by Rev. Coles in 1862] was made efficient by appointment of a certified teacher, no further accommodation would be required.
The only surviving log book for the schools at Potsgrove [SDPotsgrove1/1] begins on 26th June 1873: “Mr. and Mrs. C. Burge today left without giving due notice of their intention. The School was left in a most unsatisfactory state, the school property very much injured and the number of the scholars much decreased. At the request of the Curate in sole charge Mrs. Edmonds an inhabitant of the parish undertook the position of schoolmistress until a permanent one could be obtained”. The entry was signed by curate R. Hilaro Barlow because Rev. Coles was non-resident through illness. Mrs. Edmonds resigned on 2nd August as a new teacher, Miss O’Brien began work; in those five weeks she had doubled the number of pupils.
In 1885 the dimensions of the school room are given as 25 feet 6 inches by 16 feet with w height of 19 feet 6 inches in the centre and 9 feet and the side [SDPotsgrove1/1]. It is noticeable that in July and August each year numbers of children were absent because they were gathering huckleberries, more normally known in England as bilberries. In January and February 1891 there was a measles epidemic, in March the school inspector noted: “means should be taken to prevent the writing of indecent words in the office” office meaning toilet. In 1895 the new teacher complained in the log book: “I find the children very talkative and noisy: and the First and Second Standard children are backward in their work, particularly in spelling”. She did not stay long.
The school was still at Saint John’s in January 1897 as there is a note in the log book: “Pottesgrove children getting through the snow”. In November 1898 the school inspector commented: “When the excellent new premises are completed some new desks and books and suitable furniture for its infants will be required”. On 25th November the teacher wrote in the log book: “The School Board has decided to open the new School at Pottesgrove on Monday December 5th”. On 5th the entry reads: “Opened School at Pottesgrove on Monday morning. 35 children present. Rev. H. H. Jebb read prayers and in the forenoon the School Board visited the school. 9th December: Wednesday being very wet Sheep Lane children did not attend”. From that point the old Saint John’s church and school continued to be used just as a church and Sunday School. In 1948 it was proposed that the old school should be used for parish meetings [PCPotsgrove26/1]. By 1970 the old school-church had been knocked down. Today a scatter of bricks and the remains of a curtilage wall can be seen in winter by the side of the road.
The broken wall of the former Saint Johns school-chapel February 2007