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Early Education in Upper Gravenhurst

Gravenhurst Academy February 2016
Gravenhurst Academy February 2016

In 1677 John Hayes was licensed by the Diocese of Lincoln as schoolmaster in Upper Gravenhurst. 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 1706he curate wrote: “There is no Lecture, Schole, Almeshouse, or Hospital endowed within this parish”. In 1717 and 1720 it was reported that there was no school.

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 correspondent covering both Upper and Lower Gravenhurst noted that there was no daily school but there was a Sunday school in Upper Gravenhurst containing 25 and an evening school with 17 children “the master of which is paid by the scholars”. 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 correspondent to the enquiry commented: “The poor are willing to avail themselves of the means of education afforded them”. In 1820 it was reported [L30/11/157/3] that 23 children were at school in Gravenhurst with 39 girls at a separate day school.

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 correspondent noted that there was no school in Lower Gravenhurst but there was now a daily school in Upper Gravenhurst which had commenced in 1829: “containing 4 males and 8 females, educated at the expense of their parents. One Sunday school (commenced 1822) consisting of 42 males and 36 females, which is supported partly from the Poor’s Rate and partly by contributions”.

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 for both Upper and Lower Gravenhurst listed a Sunday school for 35 boys and 38 girls, and a dame’s school for infants with 13 boys and 12 girls, supplied by Countess de Grey.

Upper Gravenhurst National School was built in 1869. 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 return for Upper Gravenhurst noted the existence of the national School, with accommodation for 96 children. The return for Lower Gravenhurst noted the same school giving accommodation as 16, presumably the allocation for Lower Gravenhurst children.