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Early Education in Husborne Crawley

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 return stated: "There is no Lecture, School, Almeshouse, or Hospital in this parish" and in 1709: "No Public or charity Schole [sic]". In 1717 the curate wrote: "There is no publick [sic] or Charity School, endowed or maintained, but there is an Old man who teaches Children that are sent to him to read English". In 1720 the curate wrote: "There is no Publick or Charity School endow'd or otherwise maintain'd in my Parish, but Parents take care to instruct their Children in the principles of the Christian Religion by sending 'em to Adjacent Schools".

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 firmed 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. In the return for Husborne Crawley the vicar, Thomas Farmer, wrote that "the poorer classes are desirous of having the means of education, and are wretchedly ignorant; but the farmers will not subscribe".

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 for Crawley recorded that a Sunday school was started in 1829 and was attended by 30 boys and 22 girls.  It was supported by subscriptions. It should be noted that at this time a Sunday school was just that, a school which met on a Sunday and subjects such as writing would be taught in addition to the religious subjects reserved for such schools today.

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. The Crawley return recorded that the Sunday school was attended by 20 boys and 18 girls "It is purposed shortly to make application for building a school to be in connection with the National Society" A letter [R3/5097] in the Duke of Bedford's estate correspondence of 1846 noted that a school now existed in Husborne Crawley but lacked a schoolhouse. This is the only reference we have to this school. A rural deanery proforma parish survey two years later states: "Day School for boys & girls at Aspley Guise" but notes that the Sunday school contained 25 of each gender. It thus looks as if the school mentioned in 1846 was the Sunday school.