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Early References to Education in Toddington

The rear of the Town Hall March 2016
The rear of the Town Hall March 2016

The earliest reference to a school in Toddington is in a survey of the Manor of Toddington, owned by Thomas Earl of Cleveland and made February and March 1652 [FAC34 page 37]. This refers to a schoolhouse on the west side of the churchyard, in what is today the Town Hall.

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 are as follows [note the original spellings]:

  • 1709: "A Charity Schole just ready to be setled for 25 poor children, with a Salary of £20 a year for ever. They are to Learn the Church Catechism".
  • 1712: "A charity Schole setled for 7 boys, like to encrease".
  • 1717: "We have no school endowed but about 12 children taught by a private charity to read and write and Church Catechism".
  • 1720: "We have no School endow'd but 8 Children taught by a private Charity to read, write and the Church Catechism".

The parish registers tell us that on 5th February 1748 schoolmaster William Wakelen was buried [P8/1/4]. One of his successors was Thomas Gregory, who was also parish clerk and sexton of the church, a caricature of 1814 states that he had been doing all three jobs for 51 years. He died in 1816, still doing all three jobs [P8/1/15]. A later schoolmaster, in 1845, was William Horley junior [WE588].

Caricature of Thomas Gregory in 1814 [X254/88/324]
Caricature of Thomas Gregory in 1814 [X254/88/324]

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 Poorwas 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. The response from Toddington was: "A Sunday school, open to all the parish, supported by voluntary subscription, established in 1815, in which 99 boys and 93 girls are instructed; there are three masters, one at 10s. a month, the other two at 8s.; a day school, containing 38 boys and 10 girls; and one belonging to the Baptists, consisting of 38 children. The poor are desirous of the means of education".

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.

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 Toddington return (population 1,926) stated: Five Daily Schools, two containing 20 males and 15 females (of the Established Church); one containing 24 females; another 30 males and 5 females (Baptist Dissenters); and the last contains 6 males and 25 females (Wesleyan Methodists); all these Schools are supported by payments from the parents; the Rector allows £6 10s. for teaching several poor boys to write; 40 of the above scholars also attend Sunday Schools, of which there are four; one of the Established Church, in which are 54 males and 86 females, conducted by two teachers who respectively receive £6 10s. and £5 4s. yearly, arising from subscription; one, supported by Baptist Dissenters, contains 20 males and 31 females; and the other two schools (Wesleyan Methodists) contain 128 males and 136 females; the three last-mentioned Schools are supported by subscription".

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 church Sunday school in Toddington taught 91 boys and 189 girls "The schoolrooms belong to private individuals, and are lent by them".

It will appear from the above that the Church of England was some way behind the nonconformists as a provider of education. This led to the church deciding to do something about it, and provide a school in union with the National Society; at the same time that the Wesleyans also decided to provide better resources. The Bedfordshire Times for 25th November 1854 stated: "The new schools are rapidly progressing towards completion. The National School is already covered in, and in a short time is expected to be ready for the admission of scholars. are getting on, but not so fast as the other. But both will be opened in the spring and it is hoped instead of seeing youths of the town walking the streets on a Sabbath evening with short pipes they will be taught to respect the Sabbath and attend the different places of worship". Clearly the two new places of education were every bit as much Sunday schools as daily schools.