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Eversholt School

Eversholt School elevation 1842 [AD3865/15]
Eversholt School elevation 1842 [AD3865/15]

In 1839 Rector James Reed left a bequest of £200 to build a school [X21/551]. In 1841 the Bedford Estates steward wrote that Eversholt was to be a National School and was advertised in the Northampton Mercury as being under the Duke of Bedford’s patronage. The duke would not be happy about it as he believed in the less sectarian British Schools movement. The writer notes that the Duke had told the Vicar of Westoning that: “he could not approve of the National or exclusive system, and would give more to a school on more liberal plan than to National”. The writer asserted that all this was “the doing” of the duke’s librarian, John Martin who had probably misled his employer as to his intentions [R3/4385]. Nevertheless the Duke did contribute £364 to the building of the school [R3/4549].

The deed for the site of the school is dated 19th April 1842 [CRT130Eversholt9] . Lucy Monoux of Linden, Eversholt conveyed it to trustees: Lord Charles James Fox Russell; Robert Henley, Baron Ongley; James Reed Clerk, Rector; Richard Thomas Gilpin of Hockliffe Grange; William Cooper Cooper of Toddington; John Green of Woburn and Samuel Sandys of Kentish Town [Middlesex], surgeon. The site is described as a piece of garden ground in Church End abutting: east on a road to the glebe land adjoining the churchyard; north by pleasure grounds of Linden; west by other land of Lucy Monoux and south by the yard and buildings of a dwellinghouse owned by Lucy Monoux. It measured 75 feet north to south at the east end and 70 feet at the west end and 118 feet east to west on the north side and 106 feet on the south side.

School House February 2016
School House February 2016

The school house, residence of the master and his family, was an early 18th century building, which was listed by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works in 1961 as Grade II, of special interest. The house is built from red brick and has some timber-framing. It has a clay tiled roof.

In 1846/7 the Church of England made a nationwide 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 return from Eversholt listed a Sunday school with 55 boys and 70 girls, a daily school with 28 boys and 8 girls and an infant school, both daily and Sunday, for 22 boys and 12 girls.

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. At that date Eversholt National and Infant School had accommodation for 140 boys and girls and 63 infants.

 Wild brothers' plaque on the School House September 2016
Wild brothers' plaque on the School House September 2016

In 1885, when Eversholt became a Board School, a new master moved into the Eversholt schoolhouse. He was a Yorkshireman named Benjamin Wild. He had two young sons – John Robert Francis (1873-1939), always known as Frank and Henry Ernest (1879-1918), always known as Ernest. These two grew up to be polar explorers. Frank was the more famous of the two and served on Antarctic explorations with both Scott and Shackleton; indeed, he was Shackleton’s second-in-command in his Trans-Arctic Expedition of 1914 to 1916 and on the Shackleton-Rowlett Expedition to Antarctica in 1921-1922.

A land mark Education Act was passed in 1902, coming into effect in 1903. It disbanded the School Boards and gave day to day running of education to newly formed Local Education Authorities, usually the county council, as in Bedfordshire. The old Board Schools thus became Council Schools whilst the old National, British and other non-Board schools became known as Public Elementary Schools. Eversholt duly became a Council School. Kelly's Directory tells us: "At the school is a parish library of over 300 volumes". This was probably courtesy of the Dukes of Bedford who, as enlightened landowners, took adult education seriously, there was a similar parish library, for example, in Woburn.

Bedfordshire Archives & Records Service has a scrapbook of cuttings of visits made to most Bedfordshire Schools by School Inspectors for a period from just before the First World War through the inter-war years [E/IN1/1]. The first inspection in the scrapbook took place on 8th June 1910: “The school continues to improve and this in spite of a staff hardly sufficient and premises difficult to teach in. This difficulty could easily be remedied by dividing the room , which is nearly sixty feet long, by a glazed partition, folding, if thought necessary for other purposes, but if not, fixed and so inexpensive. The Infants’ Class has been remarkably well taught”. The LEA commented: “It would be a very great advantage if a partition could be placed in the Main Room of this School, but it is doubtful if the Trustees could consent to any other than a folding partition”.

On 10th April 1913 average attendance was 98: “This school continues to make marked progress under the present master. When he first took charge, it was in a most inefficient state in every respect, but this has been completely changed and a very good level of efficiency has now been attained. All the teachers work conscientiously and successfully, and order and tone are excellent. School Gardening is a valuable addition to the boys’ curriculum and the lessons in simple Cookery and Housewifery are likely to prove very useful in fitting the girls for their future work in the world”.

On 9th December 1920 average attendance was 75: “This is a well taught school with an excellent tone. The work is almost all good, and some of it, as the Arithmetic of the oldest scholars, the Physical Exercises and the Singing is very good. History scarcely reaches the level of the other subjects. The Infants’ Division has markedly improved during the past fifteen months. The children are now alert and happy, they apply themselves well to their lessons and they make very satisfactory progress”.

The next inspection, on 20th September 1923, saw average attendance at 62: “This school is, as usual, in excellent order, and is most carefully taught. The work of the upper group is, notwithstanding the Head Teacher’s recent absence through illness, very satisfactory – some of it is decidedly above the average – and it is safe to say that if any little ground has been lost it will soon be recovered. The lower group (Standard I and Infants) is also going on thoroughly well”.

The next report, on 12th June 1925 was short and sweet: “This School is, as usual, in excellent order, and is taught with exceptional care. The work is all thoroughly satisfactory”. In July 1926 the inspection was confined to gardening: “The instruction is given by a woman teacher who took a course of Gardening in the Training College. A suitable selection of vegetables is being grown; the land is clean, the operations well done, and the crops are very fair. Some roses are grown but few other flowers and no fruit. Tools are well cared for. Suitable records are kept by scholars. Some simple science work related to gardening is done in Nature Study and this might be extended with advantage”.

Average attendance was 54 on 9th January 1928: “This School, though it shows many good features, might easily be improved. The testing of Reading and the Reading lessons generally in the senior room are of an excellent type. There is much good Handwork; some promising Drawing: some of the written English, when labelled “Composition” is quite good, and the illustrations, charts and corrections by the Head Teacher are good. The points which require attention are the organisation and management of the junior room; the untidy work in too many of the exercise books; the standard of effort expected might well be more severe; and the written English in examinations on History and other oral subjects should approach in care and style to that written in the formal Composition test. The examinations are full and on the whole creditable”.

In January and October 1931 average attendance was just 39, for reasons quickly made obvious: “Since the last report this school has been decapitated, and now serves as a Junior School for some 40 children. Both the teachers have made a good start in this more concentrated work, and there is a pleasant atmosphere of interest and activity. The indoor Physical Exercises are very well taken, and the training in Speech, Reading and History evidently appeals to the children, who respond well in these subjects, and sing well also. It is as yet early days to comment on all the work of the school; the writing and figures were discussed at the last visit, and the examination books were seen. There seems to be every prospect of a successful school here in future”.

The last report is from 27th May 1935, average attendance 32: “At this visit 29 children of the 33 on roll were present. Of these, the medical cards of four were marked – Dull and Backward – this boy cannot write except from copy – two 1½ years retarded, and one 1 year retarded: and two or three others were, apparently, slow mentally. Of those absent, book work was very satisfactory in two cases”.

“The Infants’ Class is very satisfactory in every way; well advanced in the elementary subjects, and well corrected in speech. The Junior Section, containing three of the four backward children, is also in much better condition than was the case at the time of the last report. General response to oral questions in Arithmetic was good, with two children, one in the top class and the other in Standard I, outstanding. Written work is careful and calculation is generally accurate. Writing and written English is generally of a good standard. Reading is well tackled and there are few difficulties the children do not meet with confidence. Recitation – well varied and of good choice – is known. But in this section vowel sounds are rarely pure, and often very faulty: and Recitation is not, apparently, enjoyed. The atmosphere is happy and interested; there is no evidence of shyness among the majority of children. The Speech is the point that wants attention”.

The third of the great Education Acts was that of 1944 which established the principle of County Primary Schools for children up to the age of 11, at which time they took an examination to determine the nature of the secondary school they would attend until they were 15, the most academically able going to grammar schools, the rest to secondary or secondary modern schools. Eversholt duly became a Voluntary County Primary School.

 Eversholt Lower School February 2016
Eversholt Lower School February 2016

In the 1970s Bedfordshire County Council introduced comprehensive education, doing away with the 11+ examination and grammar schools and introducing a tier of school between the old CountyPrimary and CountySecondary Schools. Thus Lower Schools now taught children aged 4 to 9, Middle Schools from 9 to 13 and UpperSchools from 13 onwards. Eversholt became a lower school which it remains at the time of writing [2016]. In 2009 Bedfordshire County Council was abolished and Eversholt’s current local education authority is the unitary Central Bedfordshire Council.