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Early Education in Sandy

Sandy church about 1815 by Thomas Fisher
Sandy church about 1815 by Thomas Fisher

Volume 81 published by Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (2002) is a series of episcopal visitations undertaken 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. In 1706 the Rector reported that there was no school in the parish but in 1709 he wrote: "A Charity Schole [sic] set up by Contributions. Ten pounds a year subscribed, of which the Master £9, Books £1. About 24 are taught upon charity, besides such as pay. In all about 40. Edward Cosyn the Master. He teaches the Church Catechism".

In 1712 he wrote: "Upwards of 40 Children taught in the Charity Schole [sic], about 20 upon the foundation. They are instructed in the principles of the Christian religion, and brought duly to Church". In 1717 he wrote: "We have one and but one publick [sic] school in our parish which is chieflt supported by precarious charities. In it are taught about thirty scholars, of these upwards of twenty on the charity foundation, and supplied with books. Care is taken to instruct those Children in the principles of the holy Christian religion by frequent Cathechising both in the School and in the Church".

By 1720 the Rector wrote: "There is a charity-school in my Parish, but not endowed; it is chieflt supported by precarious Charities. There are taught in it about thirty Children, of these on the Charity foundation sixteen; due care is teken to instruct them in the principles of the Holy Christian religion, according to the doctrine of the Church of England etc."

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 return was completed saying that there was no educational endowment in the parish but there was a school "in part supported by voluntary contribution, the numbers of which vary from 40 to 60 children. The poor are without 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 return for Sandy read as follows: "Six Daily Schools, three whereof, containing 100 children of both sexes, are supported by subscription, excepting 9 scholars, who are educated at the expense of their parents, all belonging to the Established Church; the other three (commenced 1820, 1830 and 1832) respectively contain 12, 15 and 10 children, supported by payments from the parents, and connected with Wesleyan Methodists [presumably at Beeston] and Dissenters".

There were also "Three Sunday Schools: one consists of 60, another (commenced 1825) of 70 children, both of the Established Church; the other (commenced 1832) belongs to the Wesleyan Methodists, and contains 81 children, all supported by voluntary contributions" [this was presumably at the Wesleyan chapel in Beeston]. 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 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 return reported "Rev. Mr. Cooke's Sunday School" of 70 boys, a daily school of 50 boys and an evening school of 15 boys. 48 girls attended "Lady Jane Pym's Sunday School" and 36 attended a daily school. Two Dame's Schools totalled 19 boys and 26 girls.