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Early Education in Tempsford

A pamphlet published in 1939 by H E Chapman on Tempsford chantry notes that the chantry house in Mill Lane was to be given to “a lawful priest, sufficiently learned to keep a grammar school free without taking any money for his teaching”. The funds for the school came from an endowment made to the church by Thomas Bole and Sir John Mytton in the previous century. However, during the Reformation the chantry was granted to the King and in 1548 commissioners were ordered to survey the chantry’s property in Tempsford. They found that the Grammar School had closed the previous year. There doesn’t seem to have been another school in Tempsford for some years.

Volume 81 of the Bedfordshire Historical Records Society series (2002) contains transcriptions of a series of episcopal visitations undertaken in the first twenty years of the eighteenth century. At each visitation a list of questions was sent out in advance, one of which enquired about the provision of schools in each parish. For Tempsford, the various replies were as follows:

  • 1706. “There is no Lecture, Schole, Almshouse or Hospital in this parish.”
  • 1717. “We have no charity school, only a poor woman that teaches little children.”
  • 1720. “We have no publick or charity school, only a woman that teaches small children to read.”

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 curate of Tempsford, William Palmer, filled in the questionnaire stating that there were no schools in the village or endowments for the education of children. Instead, he noted, “the poor have abundant means of educating their children in the adjoining village of Blunham, and of which they generally avail themselves.”

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 local schools. It also prompted another questionnaire to be sent to each parish in England asking for details of local educational provision. The return for Tempsford reported that there was “one Day and Sunday School (commenced 1829), in which 70 children of both sexes attend daily and 115 on Sundays; supported partly by subscription, partly by payments from the parents and a Library is attached.” In those days a Sunday School was just that, a school which met on Sunday, usually in the church or 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. At this time it was reported that there was “no school conducted on Church principles” in Tempsford. However a school must have existed in Tempsford at about this time as a Thomas Agutter is listed as a schoolmaster there on the 1851 census.