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Toddington National School

Part of the elevation of the school in 1855 [AD3865/44]
Part of the elevation of the school in 1855 [AD3865/44]

The National School, in Station Road, was built at the same time as the competing Wesleyan School. It was, effectively, two schools under one roof – one for infants and the other for older children. The Bedfordshire Times reported on the opening of both schools in its edition of 10th February 1855. The Wesleyan School had opened in January and was celebrated on the Tuesday of the week of the article; concerning the National School: "On Thursday, a performance of sacred music, vocal and instrumental, took place at the parish church, in aid of the building fund of the National Schools, now in the course of completion. In order to render the performance as attractive as possible, the committee engaged the services of the Misses Byers, of London, and several members of the Harmonic Society, of Exeter Hall. The attendance in the afternoon was rather limited, but in the evening about 300 were present. Amongst the audience were Colonel Gilpin, Rev. J. W. C. Campion, Westoning, W. D. Cooper, Esq., W. C. Cooper, Esq., Rev. J. D. Cooper, rector, Rev. W. Soyers &c. The performances gave great satisfaction. The result of the concert has not yet been made public; but it is hoped there was a very handsome balance to be added to the building fund".

The site for the school was granted by Lord of the Manor William Dodge Cooper Cooper to the Rector and Churchwardens in 1855 [AD532 and P8/29/1]. The conveyance expressly stated that the school built on the site was to be conducted in accordance with the principles of the National Society.

A letter from the Rector of Toddington (John Clegg) written in 1864 to the inspectors of local plait schools illustrated the effects that missing school to work had on children's health and education. He was also concerned about their moral development.

  • "The parents of the poor children only send their little ones to school when there are few orders from the plait dealers".
  • "Children are crowded into these plaiting schools, which consist of a small badly ventilated room".
  • "Hardly one young man or woman can write even her own name; the marriage registers can prove this. Very few can read, judging by the congregation at church, very few of whom use a prayer book".
  • "Their morals are at a very low ebb".
  • "Nowhere have I met with such lamentable ignorance as I meet here".

The first Education Act was passed in 1870 (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 local historians, the Act required a questionnaire of local schools in 1870. Toddington National School had accommodation for 153 boys and 151 girls.

The school logbooks show some of the problems facing children during the Victorian period [SDToddington1/1]:

  • 5th December 1884: "The fees are lower than they should be owing to the great scarcity of work in the parish. Many parents have done no work for several weeks. The children in consequence are badly fed and this affects their work".
  • 9th October 1885: "Prevalence of colds among the children, arising I believe in great measure to the insufficient clothing they wear".

They also show how schools marked national events: 24th May 1889: "Today being the Queen's birthday the school flag was hoisted outside and the National Anthem was sung".

 The National Schools about 1900 [Z1306/126]
The National Schools about 1900 [Z1306/126]

A land mark 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 Authorities, usually the county council, as in Bedfordshire. The old Board Schools thus became Council Schools whilst the old National, British and other non-Board schools became known as Public Elementary Schools. The old National School thus became a Public Elementary (Church of England) School. In 1910 a mortgage was taken out with the Local Education Authority [CTM17/64] in order to extend the school premises to assist with overcrowding.

During the First World War schoolchildren all over the country produced things for the troops such as articles of warm clothing made by the girls in needlework classes. These would be bundled up and sent off to the front. A remarkable coincidence was reported on 9th April 1915 by The Bedfordshire Times: "The following curious and touching little incident is worth recording. A few weeks ago, several large parcels of scarves, socks and other useful articles made by the children of Bedfordshire were received for distribution to the non-commissioned officers and men of the Regiment. One, No. 7763 Private W. Summerfield, was handed a scarf by his platoon commander, and upon opening the note which was attached, he found it was knitted and sent by his own little daughter, Miss Dorah Summerfield, of the National School, Toddington".

Bedfordshire and Luton Archive and Record Service has a scrapbook containing cuttings of Inspector's reports for the school from about 1910 to 1938 [E/IN1/1].

The outbreak of the Second World War meant that many children were evacuated from London to Bedfordshire. The logbook reveals [SDToddington1/4]:

  • 11th September 1939: "Nineteen evacuated children were admitted and 15 visitors. Children usually conveyed from Harlington, Milton Bryan and Chalton did not arrive".
  • 24th September 1940: "152 children arrived in Toddington from London yesterday. Five teachers arrived with the children and there were three helpers.' School inspectors decided that 'a junior part of the school must be put on Half Time, while the seniors still work full time".

School routines were disrupted for drills and air-raid warnings. The Black Out restrictions also affected school life. The logbook notes: 20th November 1939 'Summer time ended yesterday, and from today, afternoon school ends at 3.30 to enable caretakers to have a little more time for cleaning which has been restricted owing to the "Black-out".

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 modern schools. 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 whilst the staff are employed directly by the governors. Toddington Public Elementary School this became Toddington Voluntary Controlled County Primary School. From January 1947 the school received all the children from the village aged under eleven as Toddington County Primary School was reorganised as Toddington County Secondary Modern School.

By the late 1960s the old National School accommodation was becoming untenable and so it was decided to build a new school on a new site adjacent to the old Council School in Leighton Road. In the event the move was staged, the old Council School buildings being occupied by the older children from March 1963, the younger children remaining at Station Road whilst the new school was built [SDToddington1/6]. When the move from both sets of older buildings into the new school was complete the old school buildings were retained for a short time to provide supplementary teacher accommodation. The Station Road buildings would eventually be demolished and modern housing built on the site


Site of the former National School March 2016
Site of the former National School March 2016