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Early Education in Riseley

The church from the south-east April 2015
The church from the south-east April 2015

The earliest parish register for Riseley [P50/1/3] has a note entered after burials for 1654: "The 15th of November 1653. For the safe keeping of the Register Booke the inhabitants of the parish if Riseley in this Countie have elected and chosen Thomas Fireclough of the said parish scolemaster and able honest man to bee their parish Register wch choyce of theirs wee doe well approve of allowe & confirme & by virtue of an Act of Parlyment latly made touching marriages Birthes and Burialls hee the said Thomas Faireclough hath come before us and taken his corporall oath to execute the sad office with all faithfulness & diligence hee is to record & give an accompt according to the forme of ye Act &c." It is signed by Richard Wagstaffe and Gaius Squier.

Volume 81 published by Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (2002) is a series of episcopal visitationsundertaken 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. The references to schools are as follows:

  • 1706: "There is no Lecture, Schole. Almeshouse, or Hospital endowed within this parish".
  • 1709: "No endowed Schole of any kind".
  • 1717: "No Charity-school".
  • 1720: "No Charity School endowed, William Rider Esquire who hath an Estate at Knotting gives five Pounds a year (during Pleasure) towards the teaching of poor children to read and write".

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 Poorwas 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 return for Riseley noted that there was no endowed school though there was "A Sunday school on Dr Bell's system, supported by annual subscription, for about 40 boys and 55 girls; and three or four day schools" Most of these latter are likely to have been schools at which children were taught lace making or straw plaiting. 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. The curate noted, rather complacently: "The poor have sufficient means of education".

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 response from Riseley noted that there was a daily school "containing 27 males and 3 females; supported by subscriptions any by payments from parents". The Sunday school now had 56 boys and 60 girls, endowed with £4 per annum and further supported by yearly subscriptions. The master and mistress had a salary of £7/10/-. There was also a Methodist Sunday school for 35 boys and 45 girls supported by annual subscriptions.

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. This noted that the Sunday school comprised 41 boys and 22 girls, this, we know from an article on Riseley church in the Northampton Mercury of 9th October 1852 was held in the chancel.

Riseley National School was built in Church Lane in 1840, so it is surprising that it is not mentioned in the 1846/7 survey [WG2053]. Land for a schoolmaster's house was conveyed in 1847 [WG2054]. Kelly's Directory states that the school was enlarged in 1848 and again in 1872