Skip Navigation

Welcome to Bedford Borough Council

Home > Community Histories > Westoning > Westoning School 1841 to 1902

Westoning School 1841 to 1902

Westoning National School elevation about 1840 [AD3865/47/2]
Westoning National School elevation about 1840 [AD3865/47/2]

An application for a grant to build a National School in Westoning for 116 children from Westoning, Harlington, Tingrith and Flitwick was made in 1840. The school was built and opened by 1841. Money was raised by subscription, the Duke if Bedford subscribing £10. One of the Duke's agents wrote in August 1840 [R3/4285]: "I have today called upon Mr. Pearse the Vicar of Westoning to make some further enquiries of himself as to the proposed School. Mr. Pearse states that the Children who now come from Prisley Farm to his Sunday School are Children of Dissenters - that the Dissenters having no resident Minister, their Sunday School is badly managed, and that many Dissenters have begged as a great favor [sic] that he would receive their Children to his School: and that several of the Laborers [sic] both in his own and adjoining Parishes have asked him to endeavour to get a day School for them".

"There has in former times been a School at Westoning but the Masters have been of a bad sort and done no good either to themselves of their Scholars - the fact I dare say is that the population is too poor to pay a Master sufficiently well to insure a man of decent conduct".

"Mr. Pearse proposed that the Scholars shall pay a part and the rest made up by a Subscription: he further says that when his day school is established he has no wish that the Children of Dissenting parents should attend Church Sunday School against the inclination of the Parents".

"His first application was only to build a School room, which was estimated at £180 but he finds to make the Master comfortable he must also have a Dwelling to adjoin the School and he now wants the sum of £300".

"The Site for the building will be given and conveyed to the Clergyman for the time being in trust for the use of a School. Mr. P. expects at least 20 Boys from Flitwick when the Day School commences".

"The Duke is not a proprietor of Cottages in Flitwick beyond the Cottage at Prisley but he is the owner of about one third of that Parish".

"When I mentioned £10 as a Subscription I was not aware that Mr. Pearse intended to go beyond the School Room, but for the School House also I think His Grace might add £5 or £10 more" [He did, in the end, give an extra £10 as shown in X254/70].

"Westoning was one of the most pauperised parishes we had, and the population most notorious Poachers &c., the farmers are a Class only a little above the Labourers & no better educated. None of the Proprietors have taken any interest in the Parish so that it is not to be much wondered at, the state of ignorance the people are in. In self defence the adjoining Proprietors should be glad to assist, in order that the present race of Children may have an opportunity of learning something to counteract the example of their elders".

The second paragraph is interesting. No school is recorded in the early 18th century. In 1818 a return to a select committee on education noted: "There is no school at which a child can learn much more than his letters" and in 1833 it was recorded that a school had commenced in 1826 and that there were also schools for lace making in the village.

Westoning National School floor plans about 1840 [AD3865-47-2]
Westoning National School floor plans about 1840 [AD3865/47/2]: to see a larger version, please click on the image

The plans and elevation, by William Battison of Ampthill, are interesting, particularly the elevation which, whilst similar to today has key differences such as the size of the windows, the bell turret on the school and the size of the master's house [AD3865/47/2]. Alterations were made in 1854 and the 1860s which presumably accounts for the differences.

The school was kept up by the vicar at considerable cost to himself.  He could not afford to pay a trained teacher but selected a local young man to whom he gave weekly lessons on all the subjects he needed to teach.  The school was attended by 40 boys and 13 girls. The school rules were published in printed form in July 1841 [X254/70]:

An 1844 inspection found that the master was: "active and intelligent.  Perhaps he might do more for the religious instruction and intelligence of the children; but on the whole the schools were such as could not be visited without pleasure". A later inspection noted that: "The instruction is remarkably good’ but that there was ‘great difficulty in raising funds to maintain the school".

In 1846/7 the Church of England made an enquiry as to all its church schools nationally. 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 Westoning return noted that there was a Sunday School for 102 boys and 86 girls, a daily school for 42 boys and 10 girls and an evening school for 15 boys (who would be earning money as agricultural labourers and in other ways during the day). The return amplified concerning the day school: "Children from Westoning, Harlington, Tingrith and Flitwick attend this school. The funds are inadequate to the expenses of the school".

The 1851 census records several scholars living with the Rev. Thomas Pearse. The household was as follows:

  • Rev. Thomas Pearse, Head, Married, 53, MA Vicar of Westoning, born Bedford ;
  • Ann L. Pearse, Wife, Married, 48, Clergyman’s Wife, born Elstow;
  • Susan Pearse, Daughter, 15, Clergyman’s Daughter, born Westoning;
  • John C Pearse, Son, 8, Clergyman’s Son (Scholar at home), born Westoning;
  • Susan Pearse, Niece, 27, Solicitor’s Daughter, born Westoning;
  • John W Pearse, Nephew, Solicitor’s son, scholar, born Dunstable;
  • William T Green, Pupil, 13, Solicitor’s son, scholar, born Woburn;
  • Henry H Jones, Pupil, 15, Merchant’s Son, scholar, born Clapham;
  • William C Sayer, Pupil, 13, Clergyman’s Son, scholar, born Chigwell, [Essex];
  • William S Church, Pupil, 13, Clergyman’s Son, scholar, born Hatfield, [Hertfordshire];
  • Frank A Mather, Pupil, 12, Merchant’s Son, scholar, born Walton on the Hill [;
  • William A G Goodall, Pupil, 12, Clergyman’s Son, scholar, born Bromham;
  • John Bradshaw, Pupil, 11, Gentleman’s Son, Scholar, born Eccles, [Lancashire];
  • Mary A Scaldwell, Servant, Widow, 40, Domestic Servant, born Woodham Ferrers [Essex];
  • Sarah Wayman, Servant, Unmarried, 26, Domestic Servant, born Sutton [Cambridgeshire];
  • Sarah Wheeler, Servant, Unmarried, 21, Domestic Servant, born Harlington


In 1859 the school was inspected by Her Majesty's Inspector [P16/29/6] who found: "The first need of this School is more help for the Master. The children, however, are fairly taught, under the circumstances, whilst more pains should be given to dictation, especially as regards the girls, and greater care bestowed upon the supervision and correction of the writing". In 1862 the Inspector reported: "The order and attainments are better than last year, but the reading wants life and tone. More convenient desk accommodation would be of great advantage to the school". In 1865: "I think the Master takes pains with the children. The accommodation afforded by the principal schoolroom barely satisfies the conditions of Article 57(a)".

In 1866 the inspector was worried that: "The average attendance is such that there is a danger of the junior classes getting behind-hand with their work". Two years later the inspector said: "The school is going on well but I think the lower classes would be the better for a little more attention". It was a broadly similar story in 1870: "I think the school is making good progress. The accuracy of the elder children's work is not quite up to the mark, but the state of the lower classes is promising, especially if the illness which has visited many of the children is borne in mind".

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 answer for Westoning highlighted the theme of a number of the inspectors' visits, accommodation: "Existing: WestoningNationalSchool. Accommodation for 48 boys and girls and 38 infants. Required: Accommodation for 52 children, situated in the village".

On 20th December 1898 a School Board was established in Westoning under the 1870 Education Act. The school premises was transferred to the Board in 1900 [SB48/1] but in 1903 under the Education Act 1902 all School Boards were abolished! They were replaced by the newly created Local Education Authorities, that for Westoning being Bedfordshire County Council