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Early Education in Thurleigh

Thurleigh School has some of the earliest origins in the county. On Christmas Eve 1558 William Franklin of Thurleigh wrote his will directing that his son should give Richard Lawrence twenty nobles of which he was to give a clerk forty shillings (£2) to teach children. A noble was a gold coin worth eighty pence, so twenty of them would have made £6 8 shillings. The will was proved on 9th January 1559 [ABP/R15 f.142d].

That a school was established by 1604 can be seen in a deed to land in Thurleigh of that year mentioning Schole or School End [L/15/16]. Then in 1618 George Franklin endowed a charity. He gave a rent charge of 40 shillings per annum arising out of a field called Scott’s Close in Goldington to fund a schoolmaster in Thurleigh [CCE739/10]. The accounts of Edmund Franklin for 1627 mention £13 given to Thurleigh School [FN1254 page 233-234].

A publication called the Alumni Cantabridgiensis, a list of former students at Cambridge University, mentions a John Saunders, son of Sir John Saunders of Marston Moretaine, who was educated at Thurleigh by Mr. Lloyd. Thomas Lloyd alias Fludd was Vicar of Thurleigh from 1616 to 1629 so this, presumably, was a private arrangement rather than the vicar also acting as schoolmaster.

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. In 1706 the vicar wrote: “There is in this parish a School, with a large Schoolhouse, and endowed with £4 a year to a Master to teach 6 poor children of the parish”. Evidently the schoolmaster’s salary had doubled since the early 17th century.

In 1717 the vicar wrote: “There is a Publick School, with a House and four pounds a year belonging to it. Six poor children are taught to read and write and instructed in their Church Catechism, as also others that resort to It”. In 1747 William Bushby was admitted as schoolmaster [ABC16 f. 84]. In 1759 schoolmaster Isaac Barber died intestate and his goods were sworn as not worth more than £20 [ABP/A1759/24].

In 1763 a document called Charities of Bedfordshire lists: “other property attached to the school consists of an earlier dwelling in Thurleigh, now divided into 2 tenements, and about 2½ acres in the same parish, also mentioned in the same terrrier are supposed to have been given by a person named Day, but no deeds relating to the gift survive”. When Thurleigh was inclosed in 1808 the award allotted to the vicar and churchwardens for the school estate: “one plot of land or ground being part of an ancient inclosure in exchange called old Layton Close from John Crawley and his co-proprietors containing one acre, three roods, fourteen perches with the ancient fences thereto belonging bounded on the east by an allotment to the Vicar of thus, on part of the south by the town street, on part of the west and the remaining part of the south by an allotment to the minister and overseers of the poor of Thurleigh as Trustees of Harvey’s Charity, on the remaining part of the west by an allotment to John Gale and on the north by an allotment to the minister and churchwardens of Thurleigh as Trustees of the Church Estate” [A Book M]. The accompanying map [MA47] makes it clear that the school estate was on the site of the current school.

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 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 curate of Thurleigh responded: “One school in which 10 scholars are educated. The master is allowed to take other boys, amounting to seldom more than six or eight. His salary is £8 10s. which arises from cottages and land in the parish, to the amount of £6 10s and 3 arising from a piece of ground in the adjoining parish of Goldington. The prevailing belief is that the 12 acres of land in the parish of Goldington ought to belong to this charity, instead of which the parish only receives £2 per annum, which is supposed to be the annual value of the land at the time it was left for the above purpose. A Sunday school containing upwards of 60 children, supported by subscription. The poor are generally 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.

The Charities of Bedfordshire of 1820-1822 notes: The master is appointed by the vicar and besides the rent charge of 40 shillings, he is allowed occupation of the land and one of the tenements, which he lets at present at rents amounting to together £6-10s. The other tenement is used as a school room. There are 8 poor children instructed in the school as free scholars, who are all taught reading and writing, and such of them as are considered capable are likewise taught arithmetic. The children are chosen and appointed by the vicar for the time being, who was always acted as trustee of the charity”. The church terrier of 1822 states that the dwelling house for the schoolmaster and attached schoolroom was in the churchyard possibly on or near the site of today’s 4 High Street [Fac35/11].

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 response from Thurleigh was: “One Daily School, containing about 30 scholars, chiefly males , endowed with £10 per annum, arising from lands, for which 10 poor boys are educated, the rest at the expense of their parents. Two Sunday Schools; one, connected with the above, contains 28 males and 37 females; the other contains 8 males and 17 females, in both of which the children receive gratuitous instruction; the two first are if the Established Church, the last which appertains to Dissenters commenced in 1829”. The Dissenters were Baptists.

In 1839 the vicar, Benjamin Trapp wrote to the Archdeacon about the school and Anglican Sunday school: “I was not aware that either of the schools was in conjunction with the National Society, the Sunday school being entirely supported by myself and the day school endowed” [X25/28]. The Bedfordshire Directory of 1841 states that a new school was erected in that year.

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 Thurleigh return noted that the Sunday school had 60 boys and 40 girls and the day school 52 boys and 12 girls: “An Infant school for about 80 children is much needed. The national school would then be efficiently managed and self-supporting. But from the poverty of the parish there is no hope of doing this”.

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. Thurleigh submitted that the existing school called, as per Benjamin Trapp’s letter of 1839, a Church of England school, not a National school, comprised 76 children: “Required: Accommodation for 30 children, near the present school. If the Thurleigh Church of England School be enlarged so as to accommodate in all 106 children, no further accommodation will be required”. Thurleigh elected its first School Board on 12th May 1875.