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Wilshamstead Infants School

The infants school about 1910 [Z50/134/22]
The infants school about 1910 [Z50/134/22]

The first Education Act was also 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 Wilshamstead stated that the National School could accommodate 111 children. It also stated that a school for 69 infants “in direction of the hamlet of Littleworth” was needed.

This latter school was created in 1873. The Post Office Directory for Bedfordshire for 1877 states, in its section for Wilshamstead: “also an infants’ school, built in 1873, at the sole cost of the Rev. Lord John Thynne”. Lord John was the third son of the Marquess of Bath. He inherited the substantial Haynes Park Estate in Haynes, Houghton Conquest and Wilshamstead from his uncle John, 3rd Baron Carteret who died childless and, thus, the barony became extinct. No School Board was ever set up for Wilshamstead and the school remained a church 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. Wilshamstead Infants School thus became a Public Elementary School.

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a scrapbook of cuttings of visits made to most Bedfordshire Schools by School Inspectors for a period from just before the First World War through the inter-war years [E/IN1/1]. In 1909 the inspector reported: “The Schoolroom is extremely cold and so is quite unfit for its purpose. The Temperature during the first three months of the year appears rarely to have reached 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning, and was often below 40 degrees Fahrenheit”. The national Board of Education wrote: “The Board should be informed without delay what step will be taken to ensure the adequate warming of the Infants’ Room”. There is a marginal comment: “The Managers state that they are considering what steps to take and are obtaining advice from the County Surveyor”.

The report of 1911 was highly succinct: “The condition of the Infants School is very satisfactory indeed”. In 1913 the school was still owned by Lord John Thynne’s devisee, Emma Edwards and in that year it was decided to convey the building to the Ely Diocesan Board of Education [P22/29/11/1]. The following year Bedfordshire was transferred from the Diocese of Ely to the Diocese of Saint Albans.

There were no further inspections, because of the First World War, until 1923, when average attendance was just 30: “The Monitress [Ida Hebbes], who formerly assisted the Head Teacher has carried on the school single handed since then with some success. The Reading, Word-building and writing of the first class; Reading of the second class; tone and general activity of the school are all very satisfactory. The management of the number lessons has presented some difficulty, and the correction of writing in the Second class might be more thorough. Speech also requires closer attention. But the 27 children are happy, seem to be intelligent, and are benefiting by their school life”.

In 1927 the inspector wrote: “Two large pieces of plaster have fallen from the ceiling and, through the holes thus formed, rainwater comes in considerable quantity. In one case it streams down the wall through a cupboard in which school books have to be kept. These are getting mildewed. In the other it forms a pool on the floor. The window behind the gallery seems to have come away from the bricks supporting it; just below the framework water comes through, also in appreciable quantity. These defects should be repaired – otherwise the damage will extend”.

By 1928 average attendance was only 19: “In this school the rather unusual procedure which is on the whole correct, in the circumstances, obtains of terminal promotions. Probably there is some loss in Number training, but gain in other respects. The training is on sound lines; the Reading is very slow but almost equally sure in attack; Writing is carefully corrected. Speech training aims at distinct articulation primarily: this is all to the good, though over care prevents some spontaneity in expression. A good many little poems are known. The Singing will improve when a piano is obtained and in this connexion the efforts of the Mistress to raise funds are worthy of recognition) but at present though obviously enjoyed, and connected with rhythmic movements, it is singularly tuneless. The children are very friendly, and with the exception of a child who is certified Mentally Defective, are well conducted. The Mistress is doing useful work”.

The last report dates from 1934: “The Mistress has, now, 24 on roll. There are in this, the first term of the school year, seven children in the First Class, already far enough advanced to be confident in attacking the fourth Supplementary Reader, and to make very promising sentences in a few original little compositions. Those promoted from this class after the Summer Term could read, write, and do their Number, and set out the story of a problem sum, well. Two, of “First Class age”, retarded, are being brought on well. Five have been here one term, and the rest are new-comers. It is interesting to see these very young children buckling to, and working away at their various exercises, quite absorbed and unperturbed by the presence of a stranger. The Games, Singing, and Recitation are enjoyed: a vigorous performance of the round games, especially, which is now possible through improvements to the facilities afforded by the removal of the gallery deserves recognition. The Managers have also improved the lighting. Heating is still rather a problem. This is a good example of what can be done with normal children in some 4 or 5 grades, by a single handed Mistress who can organise and is sympathetic. She may be congratulated on her conduct of the school and its very pleasing result”.

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. Wilshamstead, after some debate [P22/29/6/18] became a voluntary controlled school.

Wilshamstead did not, however, become a voluntary controlled school until 1951. In that year the school managers decided that they no longer had the resources to carry on either the infants or the junior school, both in old buildings which were below standard. Notices to Discontinue were approved by the Diocesan Board of Education [P22/29/6/24]. Both schools were, therefore, taken over by Bedfordshire County Council as Local Education Authority and run as county primary schools, in their existing buildings, until they were merged together as a single county primary school on a new site in the angle of Cotton End Road and Luton Road, which opened on 4th April 1958. The old school was sold in 1959 for £750 [P22/29/6/24] and is now a private house.

The former infants school March 2013
The former infants school March 2013