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Old Church House Wilshamstead as School

Old Church House in 1962 [Z53/134/5]
Old Church House in 1962 [Z53/134/5]

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has a series of copied articles which seem to have appeared in the Wilshamstead parish magazine just before the First World War, presumably written by the Vicar (Richard Charles Whitworth) [CRT130Wils4]. This piece concerns Old Church House and its use from the 17th century as a schoolhouse.

“In addition to being in turn a place of parochial assemblies and a parish workhouse, our Church House became in later years a Schoolroom for the Religious and Elementary Education of poor children of the village. Such use was in strict accordance with the provision of the will of the original founder of the building, for, as we have already seen, part of the testator’s terms in this bequest, was that the trustees should have the power at their discretion to use the building “to teach and bring up young children in virtuous discipline, education and manners within the said house called the Church House””.

“It is not unreasonable to assume that this decision to convert the Church House into a School, arose from a desire to foster the spirit already abroad in the parish to advance the cause of education. In the year 1686, the Rev. William Wells, the then Vicar, had bequeathed £40 in trust to be so laid out in the purchase of land as to produce forty shillings per annum for the purpose of educating the poor. This capital was fruitful far beyond the expectations of the donor. Duly invested in land it produced not only an annual income of £2, but of £8.11.6 which was paid to a schoolmaster to teach reading and the Catechism to “as many poor children of Wilshamstead as apply to be admitted to the School and are above the age of four years”, the average number amounting to eighteen or twenty. The master’s salary was supplemented by a small charge of twopence a week to those of the scholars who desired to be instructed in the extra subject of writing”.

“Another school charity had been founded in or about the year 1724 by William Edwards, who left by his will a rent-charge of £2 on Town Close to be paid by his trustees “for the schooling of all or such only of the poor children of the parish as his representative with the Minister and Churchwardens for the time being should from time to time direct””.

“Here then were certain necessaries for a school, but not all. How was a building to be supplied? Again the old church house filled the gap and helped the social life of the parish for the trustees thereof at this juncture loaned or hired their property as a schoolroom. In a publication entitled “Reports of the Commissioners to enquire concerning Charities and Education of the Poor in England and Wales, 1815 to 1835, county of Bedford, parish of Wilshamstead” it is stated (in reference to the carrying out of the terms of the above mentioned charities) “the school used formerly to be kept in an ancient messuage above referred to, viz: the Church House, but the children are now taught in a room erected for the purpose about eight years ago at the expense of the parishioners””.

“This is the documentary evidence that the Church House was once used as a school, but the same report gives additional interesting information as to the origin of the detached cottage now occupied by Mr. Benjamin King [next door to Church House to the north-east, now replaced by modern housing], namely – that it is a building primarily and specially erected to serve the purposes of a parish school”.

“Interesting would it be to know the names of these early teachers who there did their life work. For the most part they are lost in the vanished past. However, in our registers under the year 1758 [P22/1/3]] there is the record – “Buried. Francis Wingrave, Schoolmaster, February 18th”.