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Wilshamstead School in the 19th Century

Front elevation of the school - 1846 [AD3865/49/2]
Front elevation of the school - 1846 [AD3865/49/2]

In 1846 plans were drawn up for a new school in Wilshamstead, to replace the Church House [AD3865/49/1-2]. The school was built in Church Lane on an adjacent plot to the north-east of Church House. The Rev. Richard Charles Whitworth wrote in the Wilshamstead parish magazine, just before the First World War [CRT130Wils4]: “The present commodious building was completed in 1847 and owes its existence principally to the liberality of the late Lord John Carteret, sometime owner of Haynes Park, and his wife Lady Mary Ann Carteret, who, between them, gave to be held in trust, the school, the master’s house, and the site on which they stand … The National Society made donations to the school of £75 in 1846 and £15 in 1871 and other subscriptions from church institutions have been £50 from the Bedfordshire Board of Education in 1848 and £10 from the same Board in 1878, while the Bedfordshire Association of Voluntary Schools subscribed £10 towards the renovation of two years ago”.

In 1847 the school came into union with the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, usually called, for obvious reasons, the National Society. The union document [P22/29/1/3] gives the conditions of union as follows:

“The Children are to be instructed in the Holy Scriptures and in the Liturgy and Catechism of the Established Church”. “With respect to such instruction the Schools are to be subject to the superintendence of the Parochial Clergyman”. “The Children are to be regularly assembled for the purpose of attending Divine Service in the Parish Church or other place of worship under the Establishment unless such reason be assigned for their own attendance as is satisfactory to the Managers of the School”. “The Masters and the Mistresses are to be members of the Church of England”. “A Report on the state and progress of the Schools is to be made at Christmas in every year to the Diocesan Board, the District Society, or the National Society; and the Schools are with the consent of the managers to be periodically inspected by persons appointed either by the Bishop of the Diocese, the National Society, or the Diocesan Board of Education”. “In case any difference should arise between the Parochial Clergy and the Managers of the Schools with reference to the preceding rules respecting the religious instruction of Scholars, or any regulation connected therewith an appeal is to be made to the Bishop of the Diocese whose decision is to be final”.

In March 1847 the site of the school was conveyed by Lord Carteret to the Vicar of Wilshamstead and the Rector of Houghton Conquest [P22/29/1/1]. Houghton Conquet had, like Wilshamstead, an ancient school but by this date, the buildings were inadequate and so the Wilshamstead school was designed to take children from both parishes until a new school could be built in Houghton Conquest - they were still waiting for one in 1870. The land comprised twenty five poles and the school was to be under the control of Lord Carteret and the clergymen. After Carteret’s death, and the extinction of his title as he died without issue, control passed to the clergymen and the person in receipt of the rents and profits of the Haynes Estate (which was sold in 1914) who, initially, was Carteret's nephew Rev. Lord John Thynne who built the infants school in Wilshamstead in 1873. The covenants were as follows:

The system of education was to be that of the National Society. The School Master and School Mistress was to be nominated or appointed and dismissed or removed by Lord Carteret and the clergymen and after their deaths by those in possession of Haynes Park. If at any time the Bishop of the Diocese should deem it advantageous to form a management of the school to direct and control, govern and manage the school, then the clergymen should have superintendence of the moral and religious instruction of the school. If any differences arose between the clergymen and the management committee, a statement of the differences was to be sent to the Bishop of the Diocese for a decision. The clergymen and their successors should give at least twenty shillings per annum to the school If any vacancy occurred, then it should be filled by the election of a person having a like qualification, such election to be vested in the subscribers to the said school to the amount of ten shillings per annum. The school master and mistress werev to be members of the Church of England. One of the clergymen was to be chairman of all meetings of the Committee of Management, and when not present, a member was to be elected by the Committee. The Chairman should annually select from its members a secretary to keep the Minutes of the meetings. Lord Carteret also declared that the school was to be inspected from time to time by an inspector from the Council on Education as well as persons appointed by the Bishop of the Diocese.

In 1870 the school was enlarged [P22/8/1]. The first Education Act was also 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. The return for Wilshamstead stated that the National School could accommodate 111 children. It also stated that a school for 69 infants “in direction of the hamlet of Littleworth” was needed. This school was created in 1873.

No School Board was ever set up in Wilshamstead, the school remaining a National School into the 20th century. Inspections were carried out and Wilshamstead is exceptionally rich in deposited reports by inspectors. These include inspections of the junior school from 1873 to 1928 [P22/29/7/1], inspections from 1908 to 1932 [E/IN1/1] and from 1950 to 1966 [E/IN1/2]. The reports from 1908 to 1932 are transcribed in the history of the school in the 20th century as an example of what such reports contained.

In 1895 the Charity Commission drew up a scheme to regulate the various charities in Wilshamstead. One if these was the School Charity, dating back to 1572, which had grown with bequests in 1686 and 1726. With the creation of the National School the aims of the charity were different and not solely aimed at providing a school building, master and education of poor children. The new aims were as set out below.

“The yearly income of the School Branch shall be applied by the Trustees in the advancement of the education of poor children who are bona fide resident in the Parish of Wilshamstead – who are and have, for not less than the periods herein-after respectively prescribed, been scholars in some Public Elementary School or Schools, - and who have received from the Managers of the School or Schools such a certificate or certificates in writing of their good conduct, regularly in attendance, and progress in learning, as shall be satisfactory to the Trustees, in one or both of the following ways, as they think fit, viz.”:

“(a) In granting Prizes or Rewards, not exceeding in value 10 shillings in any one case, to children qualified as aforesaid who have attended School for not less than two years”.

“(b) In the award of payments, at the rate of not more than £3 a year each, for the benefit of children qualified as aforesaid, who, in every case, have attended School for not less than five years, and have reached the standard for total exemption from School attendance fixed by the byelaws in force for the time being in the School District in which such children are respectively resident. Every payment so awarded shall be made only so long as the child continues to attend a Public Elementary School, and to satisfy the Trustees as to his or her continued good conduct, regularity in attendance and progress in learning”.

“The Trustees shall, at their discretion, apply every sum awarded under the foregoing provisions in or towards paying the tuition fees (if any) of the child, or otherwise for his or her maintenance or benefit, or they shall deposit the same in a savings bank, or otherwise accumulate the same for his or her benefit”.

The junior school about 1910 [Z50/134/14]
The junior school about 1910 [Z50/134/14]