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Tempsford School


A new parochial school opened in Tempsford on the 30th September 1869. The first schoolmaster was William Brockett (or Brecket). In 1874 he was succeeded by William Higgens who remained in post until his retirement in 1918.

The first Education Act was passed a year after the school opened (more correctly it was known as the Elementary Education Act). It was a milestone in the provision of education in Britain demonstrating central government’s unequivocal support for education of all classes across the country. It also sought to secularise education by allowing the creation of School Boards. These were groups of representatives, elected by the local ratepayers, and the Board had the powers to raise funds to form a local rate to support local education, build and run schools, pay the fees of the poorest children, make local school attendance compulsory between the ages of 5 and 13 and could even support local church schools, though in practice they replaced them, turning them into Board run schools (known as Board Schools). Naturally, and luckily for historians, the Act required a questionnaire of local schools in 1870. There was only one school in Tempsford, the questionnaire found, and it was run by the Church of England. It could accommodate 88 children (Bedfordshire Historical Records Society, volume 67).

The log books, used by the schoolmaster to record notes about the day to day running of the school, survive at Bedfordshire Archives for the years 1869 to 1983. Some sample entries from the first log book [Ref: SDTempsford1/1] are transcribed below:

  • 4 October 1869. This day we had a large increase of numbers; 65 present and 15 that did not know the alphabet.
  • 13 October 1869. Not quite so many present – probably fatigued.
  • 29 June 1871. Mrs Bonfield came to the school to say her boy was not to be kept past time as his father would show him if he wanted to learn anything.
  • 5 April 1872. School closed till the 6th May owing to the death of the Master’s child of fever.
  • 22 January 1873. Mrs Stonebridge came respecting Louisa Stonebridge’s taking the thimble away from the school. She took Louisa back home saying she would not have her child called a thief.
  • 12 May 1873. Mrs J. Cullipp came to the school saying she wishes me to punish her little boy if he needed it. (He is only four years old).
  • 23 March 1874. The attendance very uncertain in the upper classes, so many of the elder children being required for labour in the fields, others planting their own gardens.
  • 31 December 1878. School children received as New Year’s gifts, at the hands of Colonel and Mrs Stuart, boots and scarves.
  • 28 November 1881. School closed on account of prevalence of Diphtheria by order of Medical Officer of Health.
  • 1 February 1884. On Monday afternoon [Clara Roberts] had bitten a girl on the arm and was punished for the act by having to stand for some minutes, perhaps 20, near the wall with a blackboard in front of her, having written on it, “Beware! This animal bites!”
  • 29 October 1889. Physiological lecture on the effects of alcoholic drinks by Dr. Searson[?].
  • 8 January 1880. An offensive smell which had prevailed in the classroom for a few days on investigation was found to proceed from a dead rat discovered, after a long search, in the warm air flue under the entrance to the classroom.
  • 13 February 1891. Wyatts not able to get across the river to school yet owing to the damage done to the sluice gates by ice.
  • 24 June 1896. Attendance low. Several of the younger children poorly. Carrying meals to fathers and brothers in the hayfield causes some irregularity.
  • 25 October 1897. On Tuesday and Thursday several of the boys were absent beating for the Tempsford Hall shooting party.
  • 3 February 1898. Class I was examined in Geography of Australia and New Zealand and some of the answers were very good.
  • 7 November 1900. The Scarlet Fever cases are reported as making favourable progress, all existing cases having been moved to Biggleswade Hospital. The rest of the Ladds and Fields families, however, have not yet been permitted to return to school. The Bowerings have been kept from school in dread of possible contagion. On Thursday morning Herbert Gurney was sent home poorly but not suspected to show any symptoms of Scarletina or Diphtheria.
  • 23 January 1901. Some of the ordinary lessons were suspended for a talk about the Queen’s death and the accession of the new King.

A landmark Education Act was passed in 1902, coming into effect in 1903. It disbanded the School Boards and gave day to day running of education to newly formed Local Education Authority, usually the county council. The old Board Schools thus became Council Schools whilst the old National, British and other non-Board Schools became known as Public Elementary Schools. Tempsford Parochial School thus became Tempsford Public Elementary School, though later changing to a council school.

Bedfordshire Archives has a scrapbook of cuttings of visits made to most Bedfordshire schools by School Inspectors for a period from just before the First World War through the interwar years [Ref: E/IN1/1]. The first report is dated 25th November 1910 when average attendance was 68: “Order and tone are good and the level of efficiency reached is creditable. The Infants’ Class, as usual, is taught with much brightness, intelligence and success. The warming of the Infants’ Room is inadequate and more suitable furniture for the younger children might with advantage be provided. Greater floor space, which is much needed, could thus be secured”.

The second cutting is from an inspection in February 1913: “Some of the work, especially the Reading, the Composition and the Physical Exercises, of of a creditable character, but the Arithmetic is in every respect very unsatisfactory indeed, and the Writing, except that of the oldest scholars of all, leaves much to be desired. Most of the written work is characterised by a lack of care. A considerable portion of the children in the Lowest Division of the First Class are of advanced age for this part of the school. An earnest endeavour should be made to remedy these defects. The Infants’ Class is very satisfactorily taught and the children are bright, alert and intelligent”.

The First World War led to a shortage of resources in most walks of life and there was no further inspection until it was over - the next one being in February 1922, when average attendance was 80: “In this School, the Teachers work conscientiously and the order is good. Of the subjects of instruction Reading and Writing are generally good: Composition is of average merit, though Spelling needs some attention: the Arithmetic is fairly satisfactory. These comments refer to the work which is actually done by the children - but there are 22 children of 11½ years of age or older, and no one is graded higher than Standard V. The ages, generally, are not satisfactory. When this has been taken into consideration it may be said that Drawing is good, some progress has been made with Singing and Physical Exercises - but that History and Geography are by no means strong”.

In 1923 the school itself was inspected: “The walls of this school seem to be in need of re-colouring. It is desirable that some pictures should be provided for both rooms. There are none in the Infants’ room, and only photographs of the King and Queen and os a country scene in the main room. Some additional Historical Readers are required for the upper group of scholars”.

In June 1925 average attendance was 70: “The work of this school presents no outstanding features, but is as a rule quite satisfactory. Arithmetic has improved since the last Report was made, and is now almost good. There is improvement also in Spelling, SInging, and, to a certain extent in Geography; but the children could speak out better. The rest of the work shows not much change. The Writing of the Top Class has fallen off a little, but the rest of the Writing, the Reading and Drawing are as a rule good, and adequate attention is given to Physical Training. The children of the lowest class (Standard I and the Infants) write very well, and their Reading is fairly good; but they should be better grounded in Number and should not be allowed to prompt one another”.

1929 saw a long report: “Although this school has not yet come under the larger scheme of reorganisation in the County, as it will in the near future, it is all the more gratifying to find that for some time past there has been a voluntary arrangement, whereby for the last eight or nine years boys of the age of 11+, at the wishes of their parents and with the full approval of the Head Mistress and the Managers, have been transferred to one of the Sandy schools, and it is admitted that the scheme has worked well. Beside the obvious advantages of a bigger school, they get an opportunity for practical work denied them in their small rural school. There is in consequence a rather unfamiliar organisation here - a Mixed and Infants’ school with girls only in Standards V, VI and VII”.


“The school is pleasantly and well conducted. The Head Mistress teaches the Highest class, knows the rest of her charge well and examines thoroughly. During the inspection it became evident that the upper girls profit by their Reading and that they can assimilate the substance of a passage studied silently although the matter was previously unfamiliar: that sums on the ordinary rules produce better results than problems, as the girls do not easily see their way through the latter, nor recognise numbers which in themselves suggest short methods: that they can express themselves intelligently in simple, straightforward language”.

“The teacher of the lower class has not been here long. Satisfactory work in written exercises is done but speech is poor. This teacher tool a lesson in Physical Exercises with the older children in good style but certain trunk exercises need careful watching if good is to come out of them. The Infants’ section is doing well under a painstaking teacher, the most pleasing feature being the attention to speech. The schemes of work in Geography and History need revision and for their effective teaching the upper school should be divided into three groups instead of two as at present. This was discussed at the visit. Some of the desks used in Class 2 are very old and entirely unsuitable”.

The last report is from September 1928 when average attendance had fallen to 39 due to older children now attending school elsewhere. “There are 33 children on the roll of this Junior Mixed and Infant School. It is staffed by the Head Mistress and a Supplementary teacher. Much of the work of the children in the upper division deserves commendation. The written English is well expressed and singularly free from grammatical and spelling errors. The Handwriting is very neat and legible. Good use is made of pictorial material in the teaching of History and Geography. The children have large scrap books which they have made themselves and these contain a steadily growing collection of interesting pictures bearing on the topics of their lessons. The Study of Nature plays an important part in arousing the children’s interest in the countryside. Exploratory rambles are conducted and the children keep records - brief notes and sketches of their finds and observations. The Infants are making satisfactory general progress. The Reading and Handwriting are the best features of their work”.

The third of the great Education Acts was that of 1944 which established the principle of County Primary Schools for children up to the age of 11, at which time they took an examination to determine the nature of the secondary school they would attend until they were 15, the most academically able going to Grammar Schools, the rest to secondary or secondary moderns. The act also created two types of successor to the public elementary schools – the Voluntary Aided and Voluntary Controlled schools. Voluntary Aided Schools are those in which the Local Education Authority funds the school but the governing body is independent, they are usually Anglican or Roman Catholic schools. Voluntary Controlled schools own their own buildings while the staff are employed directly by the governors. Tempsford, as a council school, became a county primary school.

In the 1970s Bedfordshire County Council introduced comprehensive education, doing away with the 11+ examination and grammar schools and introducing a tier of school between the old County Primary and County Secretary Schools. Thus Lower Schools now taught children aged 4 to 9, Middle Schools from 9 to 13 and Upper Schools from 13 onwards. The school at Tempsford thus became Tempsford Lower School.

By 1983 the county council were looking at closing a number of small rural schools where falling numbers made it uneconomic to continue keeping the school open. One of these was Tempsford, which closed at the end of the summer term, the children transferring to Roxton VA Lower School. The last entry in the last school log book [SDTempsford1/3] on 22nd July 1983 is lengthy and angry: “As we come to the (last) end of the last day of Tempsford School and to the final entry in this log book I look back to the first entry in 1972 in which Mr Davies Jones wondered how many changes would be seen by the year 2026”. The head noted that the previous log book [SDTempsford1/2] covered a period of 54 years and mused on what the next 54 years would bring.

“I am sure that neither he nor anyone else at that time foresaw that changes to the organisational structure of education in Bedfordshire would mean the loss to the school body of children after the age of nine years [comprehensive education referred to above]. This first blow to the school was instrumental in reducing numbers and the reorganisation led to the question of the value of keeping open small village schools throughout the country. At the same time, social changes, or the lack of them in some ways, meant that fewer families with young children were able to live in Tempsford. The final blow to this school was the decision by central government, faithfully carried out by the County Council, that this country could not afford to retain its small village schools. After a long, determined fight by loyal, dedicated parents we received the final decision by the Secretary of State for Education [Keith Joseph] on June the 21st, that we were to close today. So we come to the end of an era in the life of this village. For the first time in one hundred and fourteen years it no longer has a school”.

“The Final Assembly was attended by a large audience of parents, friends and former pupils of the School over a period of many years and was followed by refreshments. It was apparent to all as to the high quality of the school, the affection felt by all associated with the school and the feeling of sadness with regard to the social consequences for the village. In the view of the Governors the case for closure remains unproved”.

“With regard to the case for educational disadvantage for children attending small schools the Heads of Middle Schools receiving our children stated that Tempsford children compared very favourably with all other children received by their schools”.

“Despite the threat of closure and the unsatisfactory consultation and debate leading to closure by all Education Departments, morale remained high throughout the School. Not one child left the School while there was a chance of closure being averted. Indeed during this period the School Roll increased considerably. All parents expressed their entire satisfaction and confidence in the outstanding Head Teacher and her staff”.

“Financial reasons for closing Tempsford School were always suspect as the accuracy and interpretation of the data offered was at all times unsatisfactory, particularly when additional costs of transport and supervision were included”.

“We can only feel that the long-term social effects for the village as we know it must be grave and feel that bussing small children to schools outside their Community must be unwise educationally, socially and financially”.

“The School sadly is closed, after a period of one hundred and fourteen years, against the express wishes of the parents and the wishes of the Village as a whole voiced at a packed Parish Council meeting”.

The former Tempsford School February 2016
The former Tempsford School February 2016