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Frank Spooner at Beaudesert Boys School

Frank Spooner wanted poster
Frank Spooner wanted poster

Frank Spooner, according to the censuses, was born in Whitechapel, Middlesex. On the 1871 Census four year old Frank was living at 29 Little North Street, Whitechapel with his father John (aged 38, born Ramsden Bellhouse, Essex), his mother Jane (aged 30, born Downham, Essex), his brother Charles (aged 10, born St Pancras, Middlesex), and his sister Edith (aged 1, born in Whitechapel). By the 1881 Census the family is given as residing at 10 Bucks Row, Whitechapel.

Beaudesert Boys School premises 1813 to 1893 seen in 1913
Beaudesert Boys' School premises 1813 to 1893 seen in 1913 [Z50/72/21]

The first extant Leighton British Boys' School log book [SDLeightonBuzzardBeaudesert1/1] records: "18th April 1887 Frank Spooner took charge of School today". The new headteacher gave permission on 21st April to supply every scholar with slate. On 29th April Spooner records "boys responsive to teachers". On 5th May, the school was shut at 3.00 "to prevent loss of attendance owing to Missionary meeting for Juveniles in the town".

On 31st October 1887, Spooner was described as "seriously ill" and on 14th November Mr Bingham, assistant teacher was place in charge of the School. Two boys, who were very insubordinate during Head Master’s illness, were caned on 18th November. Spooner called on the school for the first time since his illness on 12th December and was back in action on 13th January 1888.  At the end of January there were poor attendances due to snow. In September 1888 Spooner was complaining of lack of support from the Attendance Officer, who seldom visited the School.

On 3rd December the Inspector reported that attendance had got worse and worse, down to 73%. Exam results were "fair" in the lower standards and ‘fairly good’ in the upper. "Discipline as not as good as it should be either in or out of school".  Unless improvements were made the grant was in danger.

At this time the Staff was: Frank Spooner, Head Master; A. Bingham (assistant); T. Poll and A. J. Goodson, 3rd Year Pupil Teachers. Pool passed well but Goodson failed in History, Mensuration and Teaching! Goodson asked for leave for the County Council elections but on being refused it took French leave. On 28th Spooner was informed that Goodson was not coming any more

Attendances had improved by February 1889 partly thanks to a fortnightly reward scheme that Spooner had introduced. On 1st March all schools in the town were closed because of a measles outbreak. In April the attendance was 78.6 % but Spooner again appealed to the Attendance Officer (Mr Broom) to attend the school more frequently, especially as boys were working in the fields in the spring and summer months. In summer vacation Spooner passed in the First Division, the Inter B. A. of London University.

On 16th September attendance was recorded as bad owing to "harvest, potato picking and general field work". The Report of 1889 commented that there had been an improvement in discipline and work.

On 17th January 1890 Spooner gave an entertainment with his lantern to all boys with 100% attendance in the last fortnight. On 7th February 58 boys, and some girls, attended "Round Great Britain in a Yacht". On 20th March Spooner gave short sketch on life of David Livingstone, whose portrait hung in the school for the week.   T. Pool came from his training college in Borough Road, Southwark and gave three talks on Africa. On 3rd April Martin Luther was the subject as part of an ongoing series.

On 9th June Spooner established a school library and by 2nd July the Library had 70 books. On 18th September the Band of Hope gave a lecture on Alcohol to both boys and girls. On 30th September Bingham, the assistant master, was accidentally shot and was in a serious condition. His replacement was sacked by 10th October. In that month the managers decided to replace English on the Curriculum with Elementary Science.  The entry for 27th January 1891 shows how Spooner illustrated the points he was making with specially prepared lantern slides. The Inspector's Report for 1890 said that "very fair work had been done but had not maintained improvements of previous year; partly because increase in pupils and no increase in staff". Discipline the Inspector thought should be "firmer and more exact".

40 Lake Street November 2008
40 Lake Street November 2008

On 2nd June 1891 Spooner got two Frenchmen with tame bears to bring them into the playground to the delight of the children. In 1891 Frank Spooner was the lodger of Charles E. Frank, a baker aged 43 from Hampstead in Middlesex, at 40 Lake Street, Leighton Buzzard, on the corner of Lake Street and Grove Road opposite the Sun public house. Also in the house were Charles Frank's wife Lydia, aged 38, from Stratford in Essex and their children, Sidney, 14 and Lucy, 12, both of whom had been born in Hampstead, Herbert, 10, Ralph, 7, Constance, 4 and Grace 2, all born in Leighton Buzzard.

On 18th December 1891 it is recorded in the Log Book [SDLeightonBuzzardBeaudesert1/2] that Frank Spooner as Head Master had obtained an appointment under Bedfordshire County Council.  Unfortunately the Leighton Buzzard School Board Minutes only start in 1893 and so that source is unavailable to confirm what that position was. The Chairman of the County Council Technical Education Committee was Theodore Harris, an Leighton Buzzard Quaker, who would have known Spooner well (the Quakers had established the British School in Beaudesert in 1813). Spooner's replacement, William Sinclair Currie would be headmaster until 1929.

William Sinclair Currie
William Sinclair Currie [Z50/72/30]

Frank Spooner eventually rose to be Director of Education of the newly formed Local Education Authority in September 1903. It appeared that the County Council was running an efficient new service with a capable and energetic Director. In April 1912, Frank Spooner disappeared with £2,476 of the County Council run Ridgmont Institute money unaccounted for. Before absconding he had sold his red car, which he had been seen driving unacceptably fast round Wootton. He was unmarried but had moved his parents, sister and himself to a comfortable house at 12 Kimbolton Avenue by 1910. [BORBP4660, dated 1906 designed by E. H. C. Inskip for H. Waller]. Letters suggest that he was taking the money to help support his brother’s business in Coleman Street in London. Spooner said he would give himself up, principally in a letter to Samuel Henry Whitbread from the Hotel Russell in London on 27th April 1912. On 2nd May the Daily News published the story.

On 23rd August Bedfordshire County Council placed the Wanted notice seen at the head of this page in the Bedfordshire Standard. The notice reads: "The Spooner Case. £100 REWARD. Bedford Borough Police (Detective Department) Telephone 13 August 17th, 1912. AMENDED INFORMATION. Photograph taken 2 years ago, but still a good likeness. Copy of Usual Signature Frank Spooner. WANTED Here on a Warrant for Larceny as Agent £75. (Total sum involved £2,767) on the 8th of February last, FRANK SPOONER. Age about 45, height 5 feet 7 or 8 inches, thin build, pale complexion, oval shaped face, haor black turning grey, moustache black, otherwise clean shaven but may let his whiskers grow, invariably wears gold rimmed spectacles. Usually dresses in black or blue serge jacket suit, black Bowler hat and Bertie collar. The above named has been engaged for many years as Director of Education to the Beds County Council. He is a great Free Church and Temperance worker. He absconded at mid-day on the 26th April last. The above reward will be paid to the person who gives information which leads to the arrest of the above named. F.Timbrell, Chief Constable".

Despite the reward offered, Frank Spooner was never seen again, although there was an alleged sighting in Madeira. As a result of his actions the Ridgmont Farm School had shut. In Beaudesert School’s centenary exhibition in 1913, the year after Spooner’s disappearance, photographs of all the former headmasters were displayed, except one of Spooner.