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Early Education in Studham

 Studham church interior looking east November 2009
Studham church interior looking east November 2009

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 various replies for Studham were as follows:

  • 1709: "A Schole [sic], as above". This cryptic reference seems to relate to the entry above concerning families in the parish in which it was stated that there were 45 and another 24 in "Merket street" [Markyate Street]. The entry goes on to state that there were two monthly meetings of "Anabaptists" [probably Baptists], one at Markyate Street and one "within half a mile of the church". Perhaps one, or both, of these meetings ran a school.
  • 1717: "One Charity [School]. No fixt [sic] and certain number of Children but as the poor people can spare them from their necessary service at home. The teacher John Howard".
  • 1720: "There is no such School".

Interestingly, a bond for peacable possesion, in connection with a sale of land, survives from 1724 in which the person who had bought the land was John Howard of Markyate Street, schoolmaster [BS310]. It seems likely that this is the John Howard mentioned in the 1717 return and indicating that, despite the 1720 entry, some kind of school was still running in 1724.

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 from Studham noted that there was no educational endowment but there was "A Sunday school, supported by voluntary subscription, containing about 50 children". 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 vicar concluded the return: "From the attendance upon the Sunday school, it is supposed that the poorer classes are desirous of education". We know from a number of sources that the Sunday School was held in the chancel of Studham church, a part of the building not otherwise used at that date.

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 from Studham was included in that from Caddington and thus the picture is somewhat confused, the entire record reads: "Three Daily Schools; one contains 29 males, 20 of whom are educated from the proceeds of an endowment [this was presumably at Caddington], 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 [see Administrative History on the Parish of Studham in General page]. The parishes of Caddington and Studham are chiefly in Hertfordshire, and the Schools therein (except as above) are entered accordingly".

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. Studham made no return to this inquiry.

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. Studham noted that there was "no efficient school" in the parish and that "A school for 60 boys and girls and 40 infants on the common between the hamlet of Studham (Beds) and the palings on the boundary of the two counties of Beds and Herts" [see the map for the main village in 1880] was required. A Church school was duly provided, opening in 1874, being built with funds provided by Earl Brownlow.