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Toddington Wesleyan School

The Wesleyan School front elevation in 1855 [AD3865/45]
The Wesleyan School front elevation in 1855 [AD3865/45]

The Wesleyan School in Toddington was built, in Leighton Road, at the same time as the competing National School for the Church of England. The Bedfordshire Times of 10th February 1855 reported on the opening of both. Of the Wesleyan Schools it said: "These schools were opened on the 22nd of January, and already number upwards of 60 children. As soon as the weather becomes favourable many more children from distant portions of the parish are expected to attend these schools. Mr. Marshall, trained at the Wesleyan Normal Institution, Westminster, has been appointed master. On Thursday two sermons were preached in the Wesleyan Chapel by the Rev. T. Sugden, Sheffield, in aid of the building fund. Tea was provided between the services, of which about 100 persons partook. The collections realized the handsome amount of £20 and a gentleman promised £5 more, in addition to his former subscription".

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. The Wesleyan school had accommodation for 198 children, making it about two-thirds of the size of the National School.

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 Wesleyan School became, briefly, the Wesleyan Public Elementary School.

In 1904 a report on the condition of the school buildings found that significant repairs were necessary. In 1907 the managers were ordered to make improvements by Bedfordshire County Council as LEA. The following year minutes reveal that the county council investigated spending £300 on the purchase of land to build a new Council School. In the event, on 12th March 1909 it was agreed: "That subject to the approval of the Board of Education and subject to certain necessary repairs being executed the offer of the Managers to let the Wesleyan School Building at Toddington to the Education Committee at a rent of £10 per quarter, be accepted" presumably repairs were beyond the means of the Wesleyans and so they decided that, given the plans to build a council school, they would simply lease the existing buildings to the LEA to augment them. Thus from October 1909 the school ceased to have any affiliation to Wesleyan Methodism, becoming a secular Council School.