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Early Education in Lower Gravenhurst

The church from the south March 2014
The church from the south March 2014

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 wrote: “There is no Lecture, Schole, Almeshouse, or Hospital endowed within this parish”. In 1717 and 1720 it was reported that there was no school.

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 formed 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. The correspondent covering both Upper and Lower Gravenhurst noted that there was no daily school but there was a Sunday school in Upper Gravenhurst containing 25 and an evening school with 17 children “the master of which is paid by the scholars”. In those days a Sunday school was just that, a school which met on a Sunday, usually in the church or nonconformist chapel or other similar building, teaching more than the religious topics with which they are associated today.

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 correspondent noted that there was no school in Lower Gravenhurst .

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 return for both Upper and Lower Gravenhurst listed a Sunday school for 35 boys and 38 girls, and a dame’s school for infants with 13 boys and 12 girls, supplied by Countess de Grey.

Upper Gravenhurst National School was built in 1869.