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Ravensden School 1867-1904


25inch OS map Ravensden 1884 Ravensden School on the 25" 1st edition Ordnance Survey, 1884 

The new school building opened in 1867 in Church End.The passing of the Education Act in 1870 involved the careful assessment of school provision in each parish. At Ravensden it was felt that accommodation for 64 children was required but ‘If the Ravensden School is at once made efficient by the appointment of a certified teacher, no further accommodation will be required.’ (The Bedfordshire Schoolchild: Elementary Education before 1902, published by the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, 1988 volume 67 p213).

John Westley was not a certified teacher, although he was thought ‘to be qualified in respect of age and length of service to obtain a certificate without examination under Article 59’ (SDRavensden7/2 iii). Without a certified teacher not only did Ravensden school risk being considered inadequate, but it risked being ineligible for government grants and the imposition of a school board in place of the school managers. In spite of this John Westley did not apply for a certificate. The Education Department kept trying to apply pressure to the managers to get a certified teacher appointed but the managers seem to have struggled to attract anyone who would do the job for the salary that was available.  In response to the Department’s investigations of 1876 John Westley replied that he had not taught in the school since 1st May 1873, his niece was now the teacher but she did not fulfil the conditions of being a certified teacher either. (SDRavensden7/2(iv)).

Finally, the Education Department’s demands were met and Mrs Emily Corstin Smith was appointed; receiving her first payment on the 11th October 1876. Mrs Smith was a certified teacher who in 1871 had lived in Keysoe. On the 1881 census Emily is shown living with her husband George (a farm bailiff and agent) and their sons John and Hugh in Church End, Ravensden. 

The First Certified Teacher

Now the school was able to receive a government grant it was obliged to keep a log book and the first log book was duly started by Mrs Smith in 1876. [Bedfordshire Archives does not hold the original log books, which are still held by the school, but we do have copies of them on microfiche micf38/8.]

Mrs Smith’s letters to the school managers reveal some of the frustrations of her work. Absences amongst the children was one particular problem. On the 23rd April 1880 Emily wrote: ‘Sir As the children have attended school very irregularly since our Exam[ination] & Mr Adams [presumably the truancy officer] does not seem to look them up I think it best as a check to the parents to let you know of their imprudence in keeping them away; perhaps you will be able to see about it. Certainly the required number of attendances, will not be by many of them if they continue this, & now Cowslip gathering has commenced our numbers are lower still. I have only 31 in attendance today in place of 55 or 60. We have only had 40 & 45 for some time.’ (SDRavensden7/5iii)

By 1880 the reports on the school were ‘not very satisfactory’ and Rev B Trapp of Thurleigh, one of the school managers, advised Mr Wythes, the chair of the managers ‘to appoint a monitress with a small weekly salary at once. The average attendance being 53 is too large for one teacher to instruct without some assistance & you lose more in your Grant than the monitress would cost you…’ (SDRavensden7/5 i) A monitress was appointed and Mrs Smith asked for a raise in salary to £55 a year. ’Before last Midsr I stated to Mr Wythes & to Mr Peacock, my wish to have my salary raised to £55 a year in case a paid monitor was appointed. The said Monitor was appointed at Midsr & as I have to give her extra lessons (as is usual with monitors) I think I am not asking for anything illegal…I am glad to say that the alterations in our School are quite a comfortable improvement, the board floor is really a superior substitute for the cold bricks, & I hope that you & Mrs F Wythes will kindly pay us a visit at yr leisure’ (SDRavensden7/5iv)

In 1881 we learn something about what is being taught by Mrs Smith both in the school and at her home during the evenings. We also learn that Mrs Smith is expecting to have to move but there is nothing in the records that explains whether this was at the instigation of the managers or whether she did in fact move at this time.

On 28th March Mrs Smith wrote:
‘We are wanting some stationery &c for School use…I shall have to purchase needlework materials, knitting pins &c for School use & all that is essential…we have hitherto managed very economically but Mr Trapp tells me the Managers must provide Knitting materials &c. Of course these things are for the school use only & so that the Grant may not again be deducted on the part of Knitting.
I hope the managers will be able to find me a comfortable home in place of the one I am to leave. This has been so pleasant to me, that it has in some part made up for the dull monotony of the place, I don’t so much desire a spacious dwelling as a pleasant and healthy one.
Yrs Very Obediently
E C Smith
P.S. I meant to add that the children are very irregular again, there are some small girls away today twitching for W Churchman they tell me, & several boys are away at work who are not 10 yrs old.
’ (SDRavensden7/6ii)

In October 1881 Mrs Smith wrote ‘I cannot but add that I hope you will consider my wants as much as you are able & try to make some additional room to my cottage. I have needlework &c for 30 girls to fix & get ready 3 times a week at my own house in the evenings & I really have not space to admit of doing it comfortably at all.’ (SDRavensden7/6viii)

Until the law changed in 1891, parents had to pay to send their children to school. When Mrs Smith first took over as teacher in 1876 she had to send two boys home because their parents objected to paying the school fees and in November one boy was suspended ‘in consequence of his parents determined refusal to pay the school fee because he made only four attendances the previous week.’ The arrears for this boy were eventually paid in April 1877 and the boy was readmitted. The cost of sending children to school was not generally the reason given for non-attendance. The usual excuses were ‘wanted at home for house work & lace work & boys to work upon the land’ (school log book).  In December 1881 Mrs Smith explained that ‘though their pence has been taken, many have only made 5 attendances a week just for convenience’ (SDRavensden7/6xv).  In October 1881 Mrs Smith had a request from Mrs Franks of Wilden to allow Mrs Franks’ two boys aged 11 and 9 to attend the school on the grounds that it was closer than Bolnhurst, which they had previously attended, and ‘no use sending them to the Wilden School for they learn nothing’. Mrs Smith asked the school managers what price she should charge them ‘I thought if we charged 3d per wk each for the labouring class & 4d each for  Farmers children [it] would suit yr wishes.’ (SDRavensden7/6ix) but on the 28th December Mrs Smith records in the log book that ‘The school fee to be only one penny for 3 days arranged by the managers’.

Problems continued and the parishioners started to make moves towards getting a school board to take responsibility away from the managers and the church. Things came to a head in June 1884 when Mrs Smith was requested to resign. ‘Mrs Smith being called in promised to send her formal resignation to the managers immediately to vacate the office at Michaelmas next’ (SDRavensden7/7 xxviii) In the event Mrs Smith remained a little longer having agreed to keep the school until a new master was appointed. In 1885 An inventory of items belonging to the school managers when Mrs Smith left the accommodation provided reveals that much of it was worn out (SDRavensden5/5). 

Change and Improvements

 At the beginning of 1885 Mr George Garland was appointed principal teacher at a salary of £65 per annum and his wife Mrs Garland was appointed assistant teacher at £10 per annum.

In 1886 The Inspector’s report for the school stated that ‘In spite of the warning given last year, the average attendance has been allowed to exceed the capacity of the premises…if the average attendance should again exceed the limit of the accommodation, it may become impossible for the Department to allow any Grant’. The school was extended with the addition of a new classroom and the next inspector’s report stated ‘The new Class-room will be of great benefit to the School when properly furnished with a Gallery and a Sewing Table. A few pictures will also be required to brighten the walls.’ (SDRavensden4/8). To pay for the extension a rate of 10d in the pound was levied on the parish ratepayers. (SDRavensden5/1k)


25inch OS map Ravensden 1901 The school shown on the 25" 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map, 1901

In January 1887 Mr and Mrs Johnston took over from Mr and Mrs Gartland, owing it seems to the manager’s dissatisfaction with Mr Garland. William Johnston came from Stopsley and expressed his fears regarding the unsatisfactory state of the school, and said that ‘’work has been much neglected.’’  The 1888 Inspector’s report commented ‘Mr Johnston has done good work during the past year’ (SDRavensden4/8).

Mr Francis Shuckburg replaced Mr Johnston in 1889; his wife, Jane, and their two eldest daughters acted as assistants. By 1893 there was further trouble in store for the school managers and by October 1893 Mr Shuckburg was working three months’ notice. In November he had to admit ‘The above entry by HMI is in every way correct. The order is very unsatisfactory; for the simple reason that the children are beyond my control. To punish them for any breach of discipline brings insult and even assault upon my self. To avoid which I assign corporal punishment in any form. I have on more than one occasion reported the untidy state of the rooms hence I exonerate myself as far as that goes.’ The Shuckburgs left at 12 noon on the 9th of January 1894. Reginald Satchwill took over as master. The school inspector’s report of February 9th says ‘the School was evidently backward when the present Master took charge of it a month ago, and there are signs of sound and careful teaching which should in time produce good fruit’. In response to the inspector’s reports new cloakrooms were added and the girls’ and boys’ playgrounds were separated. Since 1892 Laura Goodwin had been a monitress at the school and Mr Satchwill reports in 1896 that since his arrival at the school her work had been ‘limited (almost entirely) to the teaching of infants, with whom she has been successful’ (SDRavensden7/11i). Miss Goodwin was to continue at the school until 1899.

In 1900 Frederick J Hudson took over as master and there was a ‘serious falling off both in discipline and efficiency…the teaching is deficient in thoroughness and intelligence’ but by the following year the inspector reported ‘the School is very promising and most creditable to the Master and Mistress’.

Under the Board of Education Act 1899 (Sec 2) and subsequent orders the jurisdiction of the Charity Commissioners in matters relating to education was transferred to the Board of Education. An order for determining the educational endowments was made on the 4th September 1903 stating ‘that the part of the endowment of the above-mentioned [Ravensden Town and Poor Estate] Charity which is held for, or ought to be applied to, educational purposes consists of one third part of the net yearly income of the charity.

The 1902 Education Act radically reorganised the local administration of schools by forming Local Education Authorities (LEAs), bringing certain schools directly under LEA control. Charity Endowed church schools such as Ravensden did not automatically fall under the authority of the LEA but could volunteer to be a school maintained, but not provided by, the LEA. In 1903 Mr Hudson left and the managers of the school wanted the County Council to take over maintaining the school. The Clerk of the County Council (which was the LEA for most of Bedfordshire) told them that this could not be done until a period of consultation had taken place and therefore the earliest date it could happen would be 1 Jan 1904, and that in the meantime the managers must appoint a new master and mistress (SDRavensden7/13ii). Alfred Edward Benney and his fiancé Miss Elizabeth Mooney were appointed.