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Whipsnade School

School elevation [AD3865/48]
School elevation [AD3865/48]

It is known from Whipsnade vestry minutes [P87/8/1] that Whipsnade National School opened in 1872. The first school managers’ book [SDWhipsnade3/1] has notes on the origin of the school: “This School Institution originated by the Rev. John Charles Orlebar proposing to the Parishioners, Landowners of the Parish and others who happily might feel interested in the Parish to subscribe to the foundation of the work”.

“This soon after the Institution of above named to the Rectory of this Parish in the year 1858. Sufficient encouragement however from the few Inhabitants or others concerned for this Parish both willing and enabled to afford it, could not be obtained until the passing of the Act of Parliament to provide for Public elementary Education dated 9th August 1870, wherein all Parishioners are to be rated for sufficient School building, unless otherwise providing same by voluntary contributions, and thenceforth … all Parliamentary grants for School buildings entirely to cease”.

“Whereupon above named Rector renewed efforts with the Parishioners, landowners and others interested in the work for this Parish and then was encouraged to renew also within the given period application to the Lords of the Council for an appropriation from the Parliamentary education grant which was allowed on the government conditions being in due time complied with. Also application to the Metropolitan National Society at Westminster, which granted liberally out of their limited means of disposal as likewise the Bedford County Board of Education”.

“In mean time the Rector having in pursuance of Parliamentary faculties for the purpose granting one quarter of an acre sufficient for the school buildings including the Teacher’s dwelling and garden ground appertaining”.

“Proposals for all the works proposed having been called in and one whereof accepted, encouraged by the subscription together with the grants also named the works commenced in October 1871”.

“By a trust deed including the conveyance of the land which deed is dated the 17th day of April 1872 unto the Rector and Churchwardens upon the trust therein mentioned, and it is declared such school shall always be in union and conducted in furtherance of the designs of the National Society for furthering the education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, subject to the provision, the Principal Officiating Minister for the time being of said Parish shall superintend the religious and moral instruction and may wish the premises to be used as a Sunday School with his exclusive management”.

Plan of Whipsnade School [AD3865-48]
Plan of Whipsnade School [AD3865-48] to see a larger version pelase click on the image

A land mark Education Act was passed in 1902, coming into effect in 1903. It disbanded the School Boards and gave day to day running of education to newly formed Local Education Authorities, usually the county council, as in Bedfordshire. The old Board Schools thus became Council Schools whilst the old National, British and other non-Board schools became known as Public Elementary Schools. Whipsnade National School duly became Whipsnade Public Elementary School. A new cloakroom or lobby was built in 1894 [SD6/2].

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a scrapbook of cuttings of visits made to most Bedfordshire Schools by School Inspectors for a period from just before the First World War through the inter-war years [E/IN1/1]. The book contains just two reports for Whipsnade. The first of these dates to 1909 and refer to the older children in the Mixed Department: "The Mistress has worked very hard and has effected a most marked improvement in this little School. The tone, discipline and level of efficiency reached reflect very much credit upon her. Some little help is needed as the School must consist of three classes in very difference [sic] stages of proficiency. I am surprised to find that new desks have not yet been provided". The Board of Education in London echoed the need for provision of new desks and a marginal note reads "The desks in this School are certainly of a most primitive type. Ten duals would provide ample accommodation and the cost would be £8 10s."

The second report, of 1912, when average attendance was just 12 reads: "This tiny school is in a very fair state of efficiency. This is creditable to the Mistress, for it must be borne in mind that small as the number of children is, they are of all ages between four and thirteen years and so constitute several groups - at least four - to be dealt with single handed, for nearly all subjects of instruction. The Managers would do well to look after the ordinary repairs of the premises which are needed". Due to its small size the school was closed in a wave of rationalisation of school premises in 1921, the children going to Studham Public Elementary School.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 called for every piece of land and property to be assessed to determine its rateable valuation. The valuer visiting the former school [DV1/C98/21] noted that the house now had a carpenter's shop, a chauffeur's bedroom and a scullery downstairs and three unused bedrooms above. The old school was described as "condemned" (clearly an error) and the valuer further commented: "Small lawn at front and back. Rose garden being made".

That was not quite the end of education at Whipsnade, however. The school had a last hurrah during World War Two when it was reopened as an emergency measure on 18th September 1939 with 27 boys and 20 girls on the roll [SDWhipsnade1/2]. The logbook records that the school was closed between 21st June and 21st November 1940 "waiting for Air raid shelter to be built. This includes summer holiday for children". The Chairman of the School Managers visited the school in 1943, recording: "the lavatories are in a very bad state". On a happier note in April 1944: "Mr.Miles and Captain Scott visited the school in connection with "Salute the Soldier Week"" whilst on 20th December that year: "Parents and friends visited the school at 2.30 p.m. They inspected children's work and were later entertained by plays, carols & recitations".

On 17th May 1945, nine days after end of the war in Europe: "Mr. Allen presented "Certificate of Honour" to Whipsnade School for Savings of "Salute the Soldier" week. 2.30 p.m. Policeman visited 3 p.m. to talk to children re: explosives, ammunition dumps, and safety first". The school was used as a polling station for the General Election on 5th July 1945.

On 23rd July: "Mrs. Chute, a French Schoolmistress and a French Guide leader were welcomed at school 11.30 this morning. They saw the children's work and listened to their singing. They sang French Songs to the children". A bout of illness went through the school in the winter of 1945/6 - on 18th January 1946: "Owing to coughs and colds the attendance is 50%. Notified the School Medical Officer". On 21st of that month: "School closed for the week owing to illness of Head Mistress and colds amongst children". The winter had not finished with the school, however, on 20th February: "A gale and snow prevented children who live at Holywell and Kensworth from attending school this morning". On 4th March: "There have been very heavy snowfalls during the past week. Today more snow and fog. The attendance is good".

The school closed for the last time on 17th April 1946: "Mr.Dew, enquiry officer visited school at 10 o'clock and told the children of the future arrangement for their schooling. School closed this afternoon for the Easter Holiday. The children are to attend Dunstable Ashton C.E. School on April 30th". The former school is now a most attractive private house.

Whipsnade National School April 2007
Whipsnade National School April 2007