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Early Education in Campton

Volume 81 published by Bedfordshire Historical Record Society is a series of episcopal visitationsundertaken 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 replies were as follows:

  • 1706: There is no Lecture, School, Almes-house, or Hospital endow'd within this parish".
  • 1709: "A public schole taught, but not wndowed".
  • 1717: "There is a school at Shefford, unendowed, where 30 or 40 children are taught English and writing. They are instructed in the Church Catechism, and are brought pretty duly to Church".
  • 1720: "There is no publick or charity-school endowed. There is a private school at Shefford, wherein some children are taught to read English and write. They are instructed in the Church-catechism, and are brought pretty duly to Church".

In 1754 Ann, daughter of Edmund Abbis of Shefford, schoolmaster was baptised in Campton church [P18/1/3]. A private school, Campton Academy was established in around 1782 at the Manor House. This educated a small number of boys until about 1840.

In 1818 a Select Committee was establishedto 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. Campton replied that there was a Lancasterian school containing 53 boys supported by the rector and two Sunday schools maintained by the rector and Sir George Osborn, one of 49 boys the other of 76 girls. There were also some lace schools in which about one hundred children were instructed. The rector commented: "The schools are too expensive to keep up, and the poor would be glad of assistance towards educating their children". The Lancasterian school was in Shefford, part of the parish of Campton until becoming a separate civil parish in 1866. Lace school notionally taught reading and writing in addition to getting children to make lace but in reality the latter activity dominated. 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 return divided Campton from Shefford. In Campton was "One Daily School, in which about 25 of both sexes are chiefly engaged in the making of straw-plait, supported by payments from the parents. One Boarding School, wherein 18 males are educated at the expense of their parents; and One Sunday School, in which are about 20 females, supported by small payments of 1d. from each scholar" The boarding school was clearly Campton Academy.

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. Again, Campton was differentiated from Shefford and in the former village was a Sunday school for twenty boys and sixty girls as well as a daily school for 15 boys and 51 girls. No records survive of this latter school but it may well have been the National School referred to in a directory of 1854.

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. The return for Campton stated that there was no efficient school and a school for 113 children was required: "If Campton National School be at once made efficient by supplying suitable desks, books and apparatus, building properly separated offices [toilets] for boys and girls and appointing a certificated teacher, and if it be enlarged so as to accommodate 113 children in all, no further accommodation will be required".