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Oakley School 1802 to 1902

The school about 1900 [Z50/85/8]
The school about 1900 [Z50/85/8]

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 reply for Oakley stated that there was "A school, free to all the parish, in which 30 children, on average, are educated; the funds arise from 20 acres of land producing £25 per annum, from which the master receives £15 together with a gratuity of 5 guineas from the duke of Bedford; and the remainder is expected in coals, repairs and charitable distributions, the whole being under the management of trustees ... The poor have sufficient means of educating their children".

This school was created in 1802. A selection of letters and accounts for the educational charity [P40/25/9/18] includes the following information written in 1837 on page 18: "In the year 1802 the Duke of Bedford and the other trustees, with the approval of some of the most respectable parishioners, taking into consideration the destitute state of the parish, inasmuch as there were scarcely any of the poor who could either read or write, agreed to convert the town house into a school, and apply the trust funds as a salary to the schoolmaster ... the parish agreeing to keep the same in repair, and receiving from His Grace 2 other cottages, those where Brown and Chambers lived (but which are now pulled down) situated by the side of the road leading from the mill to Oakley church and between the said road and the river Ouse. This information was communicated to me by James Payne, trustee and William Rayner, schoolmaster, in 1828. J. J. Goodall, vicar".

The Duke of Bedford had purchased the Manor of Oakley Reynes in 1737 and with it most of the village. Successive dukes continued to own most of the village until 1918 when the Oakley Estate was sold. The school was a church school as shown by the fact that the National Society granted £5 to it in 1818, £5 in 1819 and £10 in 1821 [P40/25/9] but it was never officially in union with the National Society [P40/25/4]. It is not known where the Town House was. The Town Lands were at the junction of today's Pavenham Road, Station Road, High Street and Highfields Road, the war memorial being at their south-eastern corner though no cottage stood anywhere near them. Given Thomas Bennett’s letters of 1841 and 1842 (see below), it does not seem as if the Town House was on the site of the later school.

The school did not always run smoothly. There is an undated letter, probably written in the 1820s or 1830s in which the conduct of the master is questioned [P40/25/9/7]. The letter, probably addressed to the Marquess of Tavistock, then living at Oakley House, is as follows: “We the undersigned Inhabitant of Oakley are of opinion that William Rayner has suffered the Parish Schools of Oakley to fall into disrepute by his irregular and improper conduct therein and that this irregularity of conduct in him is nothing new, but of long continuance. William Boston, Edward Chapman, William Peacock, Robert Hewlett, Thomas Ball, J. Hilton, John Campion. My Lord the following is a copy of a rough Draught to which the undersigned placed their names upon my calling on them yesterday in consequence of Rayner’s letter which Your Lordship was so considerate and obliging as to transmit for my perusal. I think it but fair to mention that I only called upon the most influential Renters and of them only one (Hulatt the Baker) did not affix his signature … not that he differed from the statement made but begged to be excused on account of old Friendship for Rayner and I was further assured that if I took it round the Parish the poor would have been almost as unanimous in signing it. I beg however Your Lordship … will rescind the order to quit at the same time allow me to suggest that something final should be decided on speedily whether he, Rayner, goes or not because if Poole of Pavenham comes at Michaelmas he must give warning to his present Employers. The original Draught I thought I had carelessly lost is returned to me in a very dilapidated state still I think it better to forward it to Your Lordship as it is tho’ I am heartily ashamed of its appearance”.

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 Oakley return read as follows: "One Daily School, containing 39 males, endowed with £30 per annum, of which £18 arises from Charity land, £7 from the parish, and £5 from the Duke of Bedford; also a School, in which about 15 females are taught plain needlework, supported by the Marchioness of Tavistock. One Sunday School, consisting of 51 males and 51 females, supported by the parish; salary of the mistress is £4 per annum. These Schools are of the Established Church". 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 same year, 1833, the Duke of Bedford’s agent Thomas Bennett wrote to the Duke’s steward: “The OakleySchool has got into a state of dilapidation, it belongs to the parish. Lord Tavistock says the Duke gave £100 towards the Repairs in 1802 and the parish were afterwards to keep it up, but it has been sadly neglected. The situation is also bad and something must be done. Woodroffe is to make his Lordship a plan and estimate for a new one and then he will consider how the Means are to be had. The Land belongs to the Parish, 17 Acres has been farmed by old Campion till it is exhausted and this, which was the principal Means of paying the Master’s Salary will now fall sadly short. Lord Tavistock spoke to me about these matters and I pointed these things out and have to send him a detailed Report for his Lordship to send to the Rector [sic] Mr. Goodall”.

In 1838 the suggestion was made to the Marquess of Tavistock that the day school should be abolished [P40/25/9/11]. : “I take the liberty of writing this and hope no offence. Mr. Goodall [the vicar – called “the most disagreeable man in the county” by the Duke of Bedford’s steward] has called upon me respecting the School for which he purposes to raise a small monthly subscription from the poor children attending the same. 1. Since that I have endeavoured to sound the opinion of my Neighbours, as one connected in Trust, which exactly agree with my own. 2. As the present Fund is not sufficient to support both Day and Sunday Schools (of which the Day School is considered so little beneficial towards the Poor) it could not be considered unjust to abolish the Day School and establish a Sunday School, which could be managed with small expense and the surplus money from the present Fund handed over to the present Cloathing [sic] Club and would be of general use to the poor. 3”.

“1. I learn from my Neighbours a child who subscribes to the Cloathing Club receives about 2 Shillings benefit. If the said Child is levied with 1/1 a year there only remains about 11d. benefit”.

“2. The Deeds in the Church promptly bequeath to Church, Bridge and Poor of which the Parishioners as Tax Payers consider they give wholly to the Poor”.

“3. I understand the Day School is attended only with about 10 Scholars. Therefore if only 10 Families receive such benefit it cannot be called a general benefit to the Poor. And those are Children very young, for so soon as they arrive at 9 years of age they apply to the Farmer for work and pay. It may be considered Children under that age should be under female Protection”.

The low numbers may have been because the building was so dilapidated. A decision was therefore taken to build a new one. In 1840 Thomas Bennett wrote to the Duke’s agent [R3/4218]: “I took Mr. Hacker to Oakley and he saw the present School. I suggested reducing the size of the one he proposed but that the House should require Two Bedrooms instead of one, therefore the additional room would cost as much as he had said in the School”.

Later directories state that the new school was built in 1841 (though see the letter of 1842 below) and in September of that year Thomas Bennett wrote of the new building [R3/4459]: “a very low situation was selected, the Ground outside has got to be raised up about it, which will take off from its appearance in height – this is the only deviation from the plan. That did not show what now is above Ground but will shortly be under Ground but a School Room and Master’s apartments require a good deal of space and I do not know that the kind of Building wanted could well be less”.

In June 1842 Bennett wrote [R3/4569]: “The School is not yet finished, when the Plastering dry I suppose it will and then I suppose the Duke means to pull down the old Town House, now used as school and the master’s house”. The old school was listed by the former Department of Environment in August 1987 as Grade II, of special interest. It is built of coursed limestone rubble with ashlar facings and has its original clay tiled roof. The schoolroom comprised one storey and there was a projecting one storey and attics gabled wing to left hand side which formed the school house where the teacher lived.

The old school, now the Community Hall, in March 2011
The old school, now the Community Hall, in March 2011

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 Oakley return listed a Sunday School for 44 boys and 39 girls and a Dame's School for 40 boys and 10 girls. This latter was probably the church school.

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. The Oakley Return described Oakley Church of England School with accommodation for 82 children.

Conditions in the school were often poor as these entries in the logbook show [SDOakley1/1]:

  • 7th December 1868: Closed school a little earlier because we could not see to write.
  • 10th December 1873: Cold morning children found a difficulty in using their pens and pencils.

As well as learning about the conditions the school logbooks also give us some idea of what was being taught.  For example in March 1869 entries include: "Examined Standard II in Arithmetic"; "Gave 1st class a lesson on Russia" and "Gave 3rd class a reading lesson" [SDOakley1/1].Thirty years later, in 1899, the logbook records more thorough details of planned Infant’s lessons, object lessons, poetry and other subjects such as geography which were to be taught that year [SDOakley1/1].

On 20th December 1878 a School Board was elected in Oakley. This meant that the school ceased to be a church school and became a Board School, run by the elected School Board.