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Early Education in Bromham

The north porch of Bromham church March 2012
The north porch of Bromham church March 2012

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 1709 the vicar wrote that there was “No public or charity Schole [sic]”. In 1717 he wrote: “The Right Honble. The Lord Trevor gives five pounds per annum for the teaching the poor children to read, and the instructing them in the Church catechism”. The Trevor family had acquired the Lordship of the Manor of Bromham in 1708 so it looks as if creating this charity was one of their first acts; as will be seen below he also built a school in which to teach the children. In 1720 the vicar wrote: “The Poor Children are taught at the charge of the right Honorable the Lord Trevor”. The room above the north porch of Bromham church was said to have been used as a school room in earlier times, a common use for such rooms.

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 reply for Bromham reads: “A school, built in 1811, by the Rt. Hon. John Trevor, containing from 16 to 20 children, the master of whom is paid by voluntary subscription; and a Sunday School, in which from 60 to 70 children are instructed. The poor have sufficient 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 school built by Lord Trevor is probably the one in the grounds of Bromham Hall, which is still extant and which was listed by English Heritage in March 1986.

The interior of the school in Bromham Park [Z50/21/22]
The interior of the school in Bromham Park [Z50/21/22]

The Trevor family continued to take a keen interest in the school as this letter, written on 6th January 1825 by George Rice Trevor to the vicar indicates [P67/29/1]: "You were good enough to write to me some time ago when you were anxious on the subject of the School &c at Bromham. I have great pleasure in writing now to you to say that I wish the £20 which was paid to the Schoolmaster by Lord Hampden [Thomas, 2nd Viscount Hampden, also 5th Baron Trevor] shd still be paid & I have told Mr.Holding to do so for me. I have also asked him to pay the per centage as before to the Benefit Society & shall be much obliged to you if you would superintend that Fund as before. I have also directed that the Premiums which need to be given for the West Gardens should be continued".

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 answer from Bromham was that there was: "One Day and Sunday School, attended by 28 males and 26 females, daily, and 6 males and 12 females additional on Sundays, towards the support of which the Hon. George Rice Trevor contributes £20 per annum, a further sum of £9 being allowed by the Parish, and £1 by the minister annually".

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. Bromham's, of course, was essentially a church school, though it was never affiliated to the National Society and was known as Bromham Free School; it reported that the daily school taught an average of 21 boys and 16 girls, whereas the Sunday school taught 31 and 32 respectively. These figures are somewhat down on those for 1833 and may, perhaps, show an increase in nonconformity in the parish.

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. In Bromham the only school existing was "Hon. Miss Rice Trevor's School" which accommodated 144 children and had been built in 1861 by Countess Longford and Miss Rice Trevor. Bromham never formed a School Board and so the school continued to operate as a Free School.