Early Education in Houghton Conquest
Almshouses and school [X254/88/145]
Houghton Conquest School has a very long history. The foundation of its original endowment was by a deed of 5th June 1632 in which Sir Francis Clerke conveyed a house, pightle (small close) and dovehouse with a rent-charge of £24 per annum for a school and almshouses for six poor people. £8 was to be distributed to the alms-people, and the remaining £16 to be applied to the school. Three rooms over the almshouses were to be used for the school.
A document appointing new trustees in 1659 mentioned the two most recent schoolmasters [P11/25/12]. John Hinde, clerk, was placed schoolmaster at Houghton by Sidney Sussex College from Lady Day (25th March) 1655 until 1658. He was followed by William Carr. The endowment stated that the master was to be an MA, a clerk scholar of Sidney College, Cambridge, appointed by the master and fellows of the college and removable by them on “reasonable cause shown by the rector, overseers and churchwardens”.
Edmund Wylde in 1691 left £140 to purchase property for the repairs of the school and almshouses, the residue to be distributed among the almspeople; the money was laid out in 1720 in purchase of 12½ acres of land in Aspley Guise [P11/25/4-5]
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 1706 the curate reported: “A Benefaction of £70 a year is left to the parish, of which the Almes-men (being six with an Almes-house) have £8 a year. A Schoolmaster £16 a year. The remainder for fellowships and scholarships in Sydney Sussex College in Cambridge, for such as are bred in this School”.
In 1709 it was reported: “The Scholemaster besides his Salary has a dwelling House, Dovehouse, and Close, valued at £4 a year. Sir Francis Clearke the Founder has ordered that he shall be M A of Sydney College, Cambridge, named by the Master and Fellows; that he shall teach the whole County of Bedford gratis. The Schole was founded AD 1632. The Curate is at present Master. Two private Scholes, to teach Children. They learn the Church Catechism”.
In 1717 the report read: “We have a publick Charity School, endowed, wherein are taught about ten scholars, and principled in the Christian Religion, as the Church of England requires, who duly attend the Service of our Church”. In 1720: “Here is a Publick School endowed and the scholars that are taught in it are instructed in the principles of the Christian Religion according to the Doctrine of the Church of England, and are brought duly to Church as the Canon requires”.
In 1793 new trustees were appointed [RH6/6], they were: Francis, Duke of Bedford; John, Earl of Upper Ossory; Thomas Potter of Ridgmont; Rev William Pearce, Rector of Houghton Conquest; John Seabrook of Maulden, yeoman; John Armstrong; William Seabrook; Titus Cherry; James Redman; William Gurney and William Baker, all of Houghton Conquest, yeomen. Trust lands included: two closes or pightles of pasture in How End in Houghton Conquest called the Poor Pightles and containing six acres and four closes in Aspley Guise “with a barn standing on one of them”. Monies included £30 “which is out at interest on a note of hand with John Seabrook of Houghton Conquest” also £10 “out at interest on a note of hand with William Ansell which arose from the timber which was sold out of the aforesaid Poor Pightles”.