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Early Education in Ravensden

This page was written by Trevor Stewart

Until the early 19th century little formal education existed for the rural poor and even where it did exist it was provided mainly through the support of the local church or the philanthropy of the Squire. Records from a series of episcopal visitations which took place in the early 18th century were published by the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society in 2002 (volume 81, 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 for Ravensden stated that “There is no Lecture, Schole, Almeshouse, or Hospital endowed within this parish. No Person of Quality or Gentleman of Estate lives in it.”

In Ravensden education was first provided on a one day per week basis by the church through the established Sunday School. This Sunday School was already giving religious education to the young by way of bible stories and the learning of the catechism and the commandments, but in the early 1800’s a Gloucester man named Robert Raikes had embarked upon a national campaign to encourage Sunday Schools to also teach the basics of reading, writing and sums, still based on the Bible and religious texts. By 1831 this had proved enormously successful and it is thought that as many as 25% of the population were then receiving a fundamental education by that means.

The Sunday School at Ravensden probably met in the Vestry or the Church proper before it is thought it may have moved into one of the buildings adjacent to the original Horse and Jockey Public House. This can be corroborated by the references in a memoir of an elderly Ravensden born resident (Mr. Bill Cambers) written in the early 1960’s, when he says ‘’that his grandfather was one of a large family born in Graze Hill Lane in 1846.’’ He goes on to say ‘’that what schooling he (his grandfather) had was in the Vestry at Ravensden Church’’. Later he says that his mother ‘’remembered the old school burning down but being rebuilt.’’ (No records of this fire have yet been found!).

The first evidence for any other school in Ravensden is from June 1848. A ‘’Summing Book’’ of that date, which belonged to an Emma Peacock aged 12 living with her family at Brick Farm, is still held by a local resident. Brick Farm is now known as Home Farm.

In 1851 a John Westley, listed as a farmer’s son, born Ravensden, was lodging with the Farrer family at the old Horse and Jockey Public House. This is interesting as there were a cluster of buildings in the yard of the old public house and it could have been in one of these that Westley established his first rudimentary school.  In the 1861 Census, John Westley is listed as the Schoolmaster, but then living at Struttle End almost next door to Brick Farm. On the 5th April 1858 John Westley, a Schoolmaster, married Emma Peacock at Ravensden Church.