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Ravensden School

This page was written by Trevor Stewart

It seems that early education provision in Ravensden mirrored the national trend with the first formal education being provided through the Sunday School and the Vicar in the mid 1800s.  The Vicar was later joined or assisted by John Westley, calling himself a schoolmaster, then in 1867 a‘’National School’’ for 80 children was built and opened by the National Society For The Promotion of Religious Education. This Society was founded in 1811 as a body for the establishment of regular day schools and the provision of Christian education in accordance with the principles of the Church of England. It built many new schools and gave financial assistance towards the building of others. There are still many National School buildings in existence particularly in rural areas, but often now used as private houses or small businesses.

The new National School was opened in the village in 1867 on a site to the east of what is now known as Charity House in Church End and where two new houses now stand. Originally this school was very small consisting simply of an assembly hall, one room, a small playground area and a school house for the master; a new School House, was built some years later. Surprisingly, although Ravensden National School was built to accommodate 80 children, according to the daily log books, the average attendance in the year was actually 90. There is no National Schoolmaster shown on the 1871 Census but John Westley  is still registered as ‘’a Schoolmaster.’’ However in 1881 he is listed as an Accountant and Registrar and is living at Northfields, Ravensden. No schoolmaster is shown on that Census.  

By 1869 the new National Education League had been formed by people who had become greatly concerned at what they saw as the over influence of the Church on education. It was argued that learning was a basic right of all children whether members of a church or not. The League became very active in seeking to reduce the control of the Society and therefore the church, and was heavily involved in the promotion of the 1870 Education Act which established Board Schools or schools controlled by board members elected from the local community. Anyone could establish a local school board and apply for a government grant to be able to provide statutory education for children between the ages of 5 and 13, and funding would come from the local rates and charges that could be made. While some National Schools continued for a number of years more, many at the urging of the local community, immediately applied and converted to become Board Schools. In 1902 however, the remaining 2568 National Schools were abolished and all responsibility for the provision of education (including those last National Schools and the Board Schools), was handed to County or Borough Councils as Local Education Authorities.

Sadly the first log books or diaries for the school at Ravensden have been lost but it is known that in 1872 the original National School was regulated under the 1870 Act and became a Board School. This was probably when the unqualified John Westley finally gave up his work as Schoolmaster and when the local Wythes and Sunderland families began their day to day involvement.

In 1876 a Miss E.G. Smith was appointed as the Head and she stayed until October 1884. Throughout her time in Ravensden however she complained that, despite there being 84 scholars on the roll, there was an absence of funding and a lack of books. Late attendance was a major problem and it was argued that this was due to the absence of a church clock in the village. The children were all found to be ‘’deficient in arithmetic and upon the whole very dull.’’  Miss Smith was replaced by a G. Garland of whom little is known but who found the school ‘’in a deplorable condition, with only three children up to the required standard.’’ One boy was suspended because his parents refused to pay the fees due. There was a move to establish a night school for the older children from the village but Mr. Wythes vetoed this saying that the building could not be so used without his consent as the Chairman of the Board. A new classroom was added in 1886. In January 1887 a William Johnston of Stopsley was appointed Master and he too expressed his fears regarding the unsatisfactory state of the school, and said that ‘’work has been much neglected.’’ In April 1889   he was replaced by Francis Shuckburgh (born in Exeter) but who arrived after periods of teaching in Durham, Herefordshire and Lincolnshire, his wife Jane was appointed Assistant Mistress and his eldest daughters, Rosina and Edith, Assistants.

As part of the process of managing the Board School, Inspectors were appointed to regularly visit and comment and the early remarks on Ravensden are far from complimentary and  regularly disputed in writing by the then Chairman of the Board (Col. Sunderland). Under Francis Shuckburgh things begin to improve but the school diary still records shortages of books and the lack of coal for heating. Francis appears to have been a very strict man and corporal punishment was an accepted part of his regime. Early reports by the Inspectors state ‘’that the children are well behaved but the work is not yet satisfactory, attention must be paid to recitation and mental arithmetic.’’

In June 1893 sadly the Shuckburgh’s twin baby boys Draycot and Oscar, under a month old, died within days of each other, and this shock inevitably caused major problems for the family and their employment in Ravensden. The 1893 Inspection report says that ‘’the children sang well but spelling and arithmetic were still poor.’’ It was also noted that a boy had been given two strokes of the cane on his hand and another sent home for disobedience. Shuckburgh had argued that being strict was the only way to end the current spate of pupil disruption.

There were considerable disagreements between the Headteacher and the Chairman of the Board, Col. Sunderland, culminating in Shuckburgh allegedly being absent without permission, leaving his wife in charge. He finally gave three months notice in October 1893. This unfortunate dispute escalated and the acting Mistress would not give up the Log Book and the School Records and the family refused to leave the school house. By the time that they did actually vacate to go to Dorset, in January 1894, the condition of the school had deteriorated still further and the average attendance had dropped to just 21. It is also interesting to note that the keys, equipment and records were eventually handed to the Clerk to the Board, Annie Westley, (daughter of John and Emma) rather than to the Chairman.

There then follows  several years of supply or short term appointments some of them lasting just a matter of months and including a period when the local Vicar was actually in charge. Very clearly all was not well in the management of Ravensden School!

The school closed regularly because there was no coal or no writing books (both should have been supplied by the Board), but it is fascinating to see the closeness of the school to the village community through the special days closure every year to celebrate the village feast in November and a half day for the completion of the harvest. It is also noteable that the date of the summer holidays, varied annually according to the time of the harvest so that even children could assist with this important facet of rural life. Occasionally the school did not re open on the planned date because ‘’the harvest had not yet been completed.’’

The playground was demarcated between boys and girls and each was forbidden to cross the line into the other area. In 1894 four boys were given four strokes of the cane each for riotous behaviour and for mud splashing and a girl was similarly punished for writing on a door. The harsh regime started by the Shuckburgh’s appears to have been continued by their successors.

Other entries in those early log books, refer to the school being regularly closed so that children could help with potato and blackberry picking and even collecting cowslips, (for medicines it is assumed). Epidemics of flu, measles, scarletina and even diphtheria were fairly regular and appear to have quickly affected the whole school. Even an absence for the purposes of ‘’crow scaring’’ seems to have been accepted! Col. Sunderland and Mrs. Wythes regularly provided a tea party for all of the children, with bags of sweets on special occasions.

December 1905 saw the appointment of the longest serving and greatly respected Teacher, Mr. William Bishop, who came from Stafford with his wife Annie as Assistant Teacher. He was to remain in post for 28 years, and this appears to have been the golden period for the school. In 1913, 24 children achieved a perfect attendance for the year with an average of 78 children each week.

Ravensden School

William and Annie Bishop and their son Eric outside the School House Ravensden, c.1912 (the school building can be seen to the right of the house).

In 1916 the pupils assisted with the First World War effort by making 16 scarves, 12 pairs of socks, 23 pairs of mittens all of which were sent out to men from the village serving in France.  In April 1916 a pocket watch was awarded to Edward Levi Campbell Carter for 5 years perfect school attendance. A year later his brother James was also given a watch and James and Edward both similarly received silver watch chains to go with their watches, for the completion of 8 and 9 years perfect attendance.

By 1921 the school was really on the up and high praise was being heaped upon Mr. and Mrs. Bishop for the major improvements that they had brought about in both the standard of education and the physical state of the buildings.  A new library had been established and funded and the teaching of gardening and horticulture had been introduced with the produce being sold to benefit the school. Miss Westley was still Clerk to the Trustees and Mr. Bishop had also been appointed as one of the Overseers of the Parish.

Unfortunately Mrs. Bishop died suddenly in March 1925 and their son Eric who had been born in the village, emigrated to Australia in March 1928. The second Mrs. Bishop died in hospital in Croydon in April 1929 after William had become a very important member of the Teachers Trade Union. In 1931 he himself began a period of poor health and temporary staff had to be brought in to cover his responsibilities.  In March 1933 he suffered a heart attack. He returned to work after a month, but died in June of that year. The stable years of the early school had now come to an end. His funeral was attended by many important people from the teaching profession both locally and nationally and was fully reported in the local newspaper. Both William and Annie are buried together in Ravensden Churchyard their grave being marked by a large stone cross and kerbings.

An A.F. Carwood was appointed permanent Headteacher to succeed Mr. Bishop and he remained in post until June 1938. Evacuees arrived from London in 1939 on the outbreak of the Second World War but some of these only stayed a matter of weeks before they returned to the city. Nevertheless air raid dispersal plans were made for the children and practice drills were held. The first piano to be acquired by the school was purchased in 1940 after a fund raising appeal. Numbers on the school role had dropped to only 42.

In November 1942 there was an unfortunate incident when the nearest neighbour to the school playground, fed up with having a football kicked into his garden, refused to give it back and this action appears to have divided the village. By 1945 pupil numbers were up to 73 again with an average attendance each week of 40.  In 1948 education in Bedford was reorganised and pupils aged 10, except those who had won scholarships to the Harpur Trust, or later Grammar Schools, now left Ravensden to attend Goldington Road School.

Bucket toilets were still in use at the school in 1964.

Moving into the modern era the school was re classified as a Lower School in 1978 and began the education of local children aged 5 to 9 who then moved onto the Middle School for the area located at Great Barford. In 1967 there were 31 children on the role. In February 1969 the school took possession of a new building in Vicarage Close and the old property was sold and, except for the school house, subsequently demolished.