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Eaton Bray National School

Plan of the site of the National School [P63-29-1]
Plan of the site of the National School [P63/29/1] - to see a larger version please click on the image

In 1846/7 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 Methodists, and Roman Catholics in providing schools.

The return for Eaton Bray recorded an Anglican Sunday School, which was attended by 46 boys and 40 girls and the church’s daily school by 30 boys and 26 girls. The vicar (George Edward Whyley) wrote: “The vicarage is in the patronage of Trinity College, Cambridge, which subscribes £5 yearly, and the lessee £10, which subscription it is feared will cease next year, the lease expiring then. The former mistress had £20 per annum, but the sum was too much to be continued. The population is very poor”. The daily school is elsewhere called a National School.

A note in a minute book of the church restoration committee from later in the century [P63/2/4/4] reads: “The National School opened April 1842, erected without any subscription from the Squire or any of the parishioners”. The trust deed is dated 1841 [P63/29/1] and records that the vicar gave eight poles of glebe land as the site for the school. The first trustees were the vicar himself, his two churchwardens, James Gadsden and William Wood and the two overseers of the poor Wood Pearson and Sam Brown. The deed is endorsed with a statement to the effect that £20 was provided by the Department of Education in 1872 provided the school was not transferred to a School Board.

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 Eaton Bray read: “Existing: Wesleyan Day School. Accommodation for 112 boys and girls and 32 infants. Required: A school for 108 boys and girls and (A) a school for 68 infants, both at Eaton Bray. If the Eaton Bray National School be at once made efficient by supplying school furniture and appointing a certificated teacher, the accommodation required will be reduced to the item marked (A)”. This reference seems to imply that the National School was still in existence but was clearly not very well run.

It is impossible to say for certain when the National School closed. In 1875 Lord of the Manor Arthur Macnamara wrote a letter to the newspapers criticising the Vicar of Eaton Bray. One of the vicar’s shortcomings was that: “He peremptorily closed his school, which caused the Wesleyan school to be enlarged at an expense of £550” [P63/2/4/4]. The vicar in question was Rev. John Hall Doe who was appointed in 1871. This suggests a date between 1871 and 1875 for the closure of the school. Against this is the fact that the Post Office Directory for Bedfordshire for 1877 records Miss Priscilla Brown as mistress of the National School. This is the last directory in which the school appears (though the next Bedforshire directory is not until 1885). However, the building is noted - as “School (Boys and Girls)” - on the 1st edition 25 inches to the mile Ordnance Survey map of 1880. By the time of the next map, 1901, the building is marked as a Sunday School.

On 29th September 1887 a parish vestry meeting discussed education [P63/8/2]: “The matter of the future education of the Parish having been discussed it was intimated that it was impossible any longer to provide the same by means of a purely voluntary school unless such school were supported by a Voluntary rate. The suggestion therefore arose as to whether a Voluntary rate could be collected for this purpose or whether it was desirable to close the existing school and allow the law to take its course, which would mean a School Board. The majority of those present being in favour of an attempt being made to collect a Voluntary Rate it was proposed by Mr. George Shaw, seconded by Mr. H. Lane that the Parish be canvassed with a view to ascertain what number of rate payers were willing to pay to a Voluntary Rate in support of the Existing School and thus avoid a School Board”. This existing school was probably the Wesleyan school since at the next meeting, 3rd November, it was noted: “That the names of Mr. George Shaw, Mr. Harold Buckmaster and Mr. William Groom be added to the Existing Committee of the management of the Wesleyan School”.

All this evidence points to the National School finally closing at some date between 1880 and 1885. The building was still in existence in the 1940s, between 1945 and 1952 £43/13/- was expended on repairs to the large hall, small room, kitchen, entrance hall, main entrance and gents’ lavatory [P63/29/2-3]. The buildings, however, are no longer extant. Today [2012] 7 and 9 High Street stands on the approximate location of the old school.

The former Eaton Bray National School about 1900 [Z467/21]
The former Eaton Bray National School about 1900 [Z467/21]