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Early Education in Slip End

Caddington church looking towards the chancel in 1876
Caddington church looking towards the chancel in 1876

Until the year 2000 Slip End formed part of the parish of Caddington. Thus the early history of education in Slip End is the early history of education in Caddington.

The earliest reference to education in Caddington in any document held by Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service is the will of Henry May dated 1683 [X95/30] where he left a cottage on Caddington Green "where I keep school" to his sister. The site of this school cannot have been too far away from the later Caddington Church School or, perhaps, its successor Heathfield School.

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 following replies were sent from Caddington:

  • 1709: “No Schole”;
  • 1712: “Some children taught by Charity and brought to Church by their Schole Dame duly”;
  • 1717: ”We have no Publick or Charity-School nor any Children taught or maintained otherwise than at the expence of private persons”;
  • 1720: “No Publick charity School, some few Children taught at the expence of the Minister and others, instructed in the Principles of the Christian Religion and brought duly to Church as the Canon requires”.

Clearly education in Caddington was a pretty hit-or-miss affair. In this it was no different from many other parishes in the county.

The parish records reveal (P35/18/3) that in 1757 the Overseers of the Poor had drawn up a contract to teach poor children in the parish workhouse [P35/18/3]. Parish workhouses were simply one or more cottages where the poor and sick who could not find work went at the expense of the rest of the parish. They were only replaced by the large workhouses in towns, those much-feared Victorian institutions, by the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. There is a note on the salary of the mistress teaching in the children dating from 1761 [P35/12/1]: “Mrs. Taylor Begun her year as Governes of ye Worke House for £102 per year to go according to Kitt Pereys Artickles. N. B. Mrs. Taylor alwas has had in her hand a Weeks Pay a fore hand £2-3 according to Robert Taylors first agreement he had £2-3 per week & a weeks pay a fore hand for to help him on &c.” £102 per annum as an extremely large salary by the standards of the day leading one to think that there must have been a lot of children in the workhouse or that she did a lot more than just teach some children, such as tending the sick – compare the salary of the man in charge the workhouse - £5/11/1½ “29 day of every Month”.

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. The return for Caddington noted: "The poor of Caddington have not the means of education, and are desirous of possessing them’.

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 return for the Bedfordshire portion of Caddington reads as follows: “Three daily Schools; one contains 29 males, 20 of whom are educated from the proceeds of an endowment, 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 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”.

The Hertfordshire portion of the parish’s return was as follows: “Two daily Schools, in which 85 males and 71 females are under instruction at the expense of their parents. Two Sunday Schools, supported by voluntary contributions; one whereof appertaining to Baptists, consists of 55 males and 65 females; the other to Wesleyan Methodists, of 34 males and 32 females”.

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 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. In Caddington 72 children attended the Church of England Sunday school but it was recorded that: ‘The children are educated in the church. A schoolroom is wanted’.

In his article on Caddington church in The Northampton Mercury in 1847, John Martin, librarian of Woburn Abbey, confirmed that the school met in the chancel of the church: “The ledges of the woodwork formed a resting-place for tattered books and bags, indicating by these and the dirty appearance of the floor, that this quarter was appropriated to a Sunday-school”.

He went on to note: “The external roof of the chancel is of tiles, but the nave has a leaden covering. Though the churchyard is not locked up, we were informed a neighbouring farmer’s sheep are allowed to graze it. There is a very fine yew tree. No school”. This last point engendered a very liberal-minded rant about the poor state of education in the county which is very revealing and ran as follows: “It can hardly be expected that an ignorant peasantry will pay much attention or have much reverence for the condition of the church, while they remain in the neglected state this county exhibits. The recent report of the Council on Education states – “Every item connected with Bedfordshire seems to [be] influenced by the combination of remote ignorance with a profligate dependence of the men, in part, upon the earnings of the women and children; one half of the men at marriage being unable to write their names, and the proportion of crime 21 per cent above the average for all England on a population of like ages”. Such are the fatal results arising from an uninstructed people, filling our gaols, and loading the county and the rate-payers with expense. There is little doubt that great opposition is given to the instruction of the labourer by those whose purblind ignorance considers that education will render him less useful in his work. That such a feeling does exist in this county we have had practical proof. To such we beg the consideration of the following passage: - “Instruction not only makes labour intelligent and orderly, but creates new wants and desires, new activities, a love of employment, and an increased alacrity both of the body and the mind: and there is probably no example of a well-instructed population which is not also active and eager for work””.