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As a small rural market town, Hungerford illustrates well the variety of different types of schools across the past 400 years. This article traces the changes in education through the course of time and shows how these changes affected Hungerford specifically.
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Quick Summary of the changes in Schools and Education in Hungerford over 400 years:
Firstly, the Grammar Schools which started in the reign of Edward VI in the 16th century. Hungerford had a Grammar School where Croft Hall stands today. Croft Hall was erected in 1900 and replaced the Grammar School building which had stood there for nearly 250 years. It started in 1635 when the Rector of Welford, the Rev. Thomas Sheaffe, gave half an acre of land to the town for the purpose of building a free grammar school.
William Francis' map of Hungerford of 1794 shows the Croft to the west side of the High Street, with The Grammar School and its strip of land going down to the marsh. This map was drawn just a few years before the canal was built through Hungerford, its route cutting through the Grammar School's land, passing westwards and north of the church.
The Rev. Edward Meyrick was the schoolmaster at the Grammar School from 1776. He was the Curate of Chilton Foliat but was licensed to teach at the Free Grammar School in Hungerford which he did for ten years until he was appointed the Vicar of Ramsbury. He started the first of his boy's preparatory schools at the Vicarage in Ramsbury.
The grammar schools taught the classic curriculum which was highly acclaimed from the time of the Renaissance, but by the beginning of the 19th century was thought to be too limited. This led to the decline in the grammar schools. Attendance dropped, sometimes to nil and in a few instances, left the master alone, but still collecting his endowment stipend!
In 1840 a Grammar School Act was passed which allowed other subjects to be taught and the master to charge fees. This led to the grammar schools regaining their popularity, most going on to flourish into the next century.
This was not the case in Hungerford. In 1866 the Grammar School was inspected and was given a bad report! There were 46 boys at the school, nine being foundation scholars (learning Latin) and the other 35 being fee-paying pupils, some boarding and some as day pupils. Of the boys that were tested, none was of the expected standard; neither the Master, John Hives, nor his assistant had any teaching qualifications and "there was not even a blackboard in the premises!" As there were other better schools offering elementary education in the town, the Free Grammar School in The Croft went into decline and closed in 1884. In 1898 the school building was sold to Sir William Pearce of Chilton Lodge, the school building was demolished, and Church House (now Croft Hall) was built and has been used for the community since it was opened in 1900. The Free Grammar School enjoyed the longest innings of all the Hungerford schools - nearly 250 years.
Follow this link for more on the Free Grammar School.
The next group of schools to discuss is the Proprietary Schools. They were founded by joint stock companies to operate like a business and make a profit. They gave education to the children of the middle and upper classes whose parents could afford the school fees. Most were established during the mid 19th century. As examples, Cheltenham College was founded in 1841, and our nearest public school, Marlborough College in 1843.
Academies and Dame Schools:
Although Hungerford did not have one of the large proprietary schools, it did have many of the small Private Schools or Academies and the Dame Schools. In the early 19th century there was a new demand for education and to meet this demand many small private schools sprang up all over the country over the next hundred years.
These small private schools shared certain characteristics. They were often run by clergymen (see advert for Westfield House run by the Rev. Coleman, who was the Curate of Hungerford. Westfield House was later run by another Curate of Hungerford, the Rev. Denning. Many clergymen ran schools to supplement their income as did widows of clergymen or academics. Dame Schools, which were similar to the academies but less expensive, were called "Dame" schools because they were run by elderly ladies. Both academies and Dame schools were small, often having only 6 to 12 children. They were intensely competitive and often just lasted the life time of the proprietor. There were at least ten in Hungerford. Follow this link for more on Academies and Dame schools in Hungerford.
Sunday Schools and Voluntary Schools:
So far, we have described education for the privileged children - Grammar Schools, large and small private schools, and Dame schools. What education was available for the vast majority of children from the working classes?
Mass illiteracy did not end until Robert Raikes introduced Sunday Schools in 1780. The first was in Gloucester, but they soon spread across the country.
In 1818 Brougham's Royal Commission reported that only 25% of English children received education and half of all adults could not sign their name. Within 30 years, however, three-quarters of children were attending Sunday school.
Follow this for more on Sunday Schools.
Follow this link for more on Voluntary Schools including those in Hungerford.
Hungerford's National School, 42 High Street was built in 1814, only three years after the founding of The National Society. So Hungerford had an early start for this provision of education. It ran as a National Church of England School for nearly one hundred years but closed in 1910. Follow this link for more on the National School.
Hungerford had a British and Foreign Society School somewhere in the High Street. It is listed in directories as being in the High Street in the 1840s and 1850s with names of the masters and mistresses who taught there. The exact position is unclear at present, as are its opening and closing dates. Follow this link for more on the British School.
However, Hungerford did have a Wesleyan School in Church Street. This building had been built in 1807 as the Wesleyan Chapel but when the new Wesleyan Chapel was built in 1869 in Charnham Street, the former chapel became available for the Wesleyan Day and Sunday School. This it did for 41 years until it closed in 1910. Follow this link for more on the Wesleyan School.
Hungerford also had an Infant National School at 6 Oxford Street, Eddington, next to Buckland House. As the boarding school moved from Buckland House in 1867, the Infant National School opened in 1869. The directories say it was for one hundred children, but average attendance ranged from 26 to 47. When children became six years old, they moved up to the National School in the High Street. Follow this link for more on the Infant National School.
Lord Althorp's Factory Act, 1833:
In 1833, the first step by the government towards managing education was taken when Lord Althorp's Factory Act was passed. This made it illegal for under-9 year olds to work in the textile mills, and also enforced any older children at work to have two hours teaching per day.
There were increasing Pressures on the government to provide better education. In 1868 the working man gained the right to vote - and needed to be literate; Britain's industrial supremacy was being lost to Germany and USA - and could only be corrected by better education of children – the future work force. Britain's population was expanding rapidly, and the Voluntary Schools were not able to provide enough places. In 1861 only 1 in 8 poor children received weekday education.
William Forster's Education Act, 1870:
In 1870 William Edward Forster's Education Act introduced compulsory education for all children aged 5-13 years. It was not free - children still had to pay their weekly pence, according to their parent's income. He devised the "Dual System" - Voluntary schools were to continue, with an increase to their grants, but if there was no Voluntary School, the government set up "Board Schools". Hungerford did not need a Board School - it was well provided with its flourishing Voluntary Schools. Six "standards" were established, in reading, writing and arithmetic.
The 1870 Education Act was responsible for the building of around 4,000 new schools in Britain over the next ten years.
More Education Acts:
A crop of further education acts were passed, including:
- 1874 Agricutural Children's Act:
> Came into operation on 1 Jan 1875.
> Children <8 yrs were prohibeted from being employed in any agricultural work.
> No child aged 8-12 yrs was allowed to work an any farm unless he had made 250 school attendances (if aged 8-10 yrs) or 150 school attendances (if aged 11-12 yrs) in the previous 12 months.
> Children aged 12 yrs or more were not covered by the Act.
> An attendance counts in morning and afternoon, so children aged 8-10 could achieve sufficient attendances in six months; children aged 10-11 yrs in four months.
- 1876 Sandon's (Con) Elementary Education Act:
>Duty of parents to ensure their children received elementary instruction
>Created school attendance committees, which could compel attendance
- 1880 Mundella's (Con) Elementary Education Act:
>Compulsory attendance for children aged 5-10 years
- 1891 (Con) Elementary Education Act:
>Grants to all schools meant free basic elementary education.
- 1899 (Con) Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act (1893) Amendment Act:
>Raised school leaving age to 12 years
The New Elementary Education Act, 1876 was reported in the Parish Magazine of Nov 1876:
The New Elementary Education Act declares that it is the duty of all parents to cause their children to attend Schools provided for them. In order to prevent the neglect of such parents' duty, it declares that during the year 1877:
1) No child may go to work under 9 years of age. (After 1877 this age was altered to 10 years).
2) Children between 9 and 11 years of age may go to work only if they have first obtained a Certificate, stating that either they have passed the Second Standard at school, or that they have attended school 250 times during the previous two years.
Every employer of a child not having one of these certificates is liable to a penalty of £2. Parents employing their children for the purpose of gain. are considered "employers", and are liable to the same penalty.
The penalty 'will not be enforced if the employer can show:
1) That there is no efficient school within two miles of the child's residence.
2) That the child is only employed during holidays and out of school hours.
3) That the child is employed with the permission of the Local Authority during such times as the hay and harvest and hop picking seasons.
If any child above the age of 5 years, who has no excuse on account of sickness or there being no school within two miles, is found habitually wandering in idleness, or in the company of bad characters, the parent of such child may be fined 5s. If the parent still neglects his duty, the fine can be repeated at intervals of two weeks, and finally the child may be sent to an Industrial School, for which the parent may have to contribute to its support.
In 1902 Balfour's Education Act raised the school-leaving age to 14 years. School Boards, which were run on a parochial basis were replaced by a more county based Local Education Authorities. This allowed for better communication between the L.E.A.s and with London. The Board Schools were renamed Council Schools and the Voluntary Schools were renamed Non-Provided Schools, although they continued to receive aid from the rates and were supervised by the LEAs.
In Hungerford, the old voluntary schools were closed in 1910 and replaced by a single new All-Age Council School. The old National School was used during the 1st World War as a convalescent hospital for the war wounded. Thereafter it was used for educational purposes until it was sold by the church in 1973. Follow this link for more on the All-Age Council School.
In 1944 it was at long last recognised by the government that separate provision for secondary education was necessary. Butler's Education Act of 1944 called these schools Secondary Modern schools. Despite numbers growing in Hungerford's All Age Council School, it was not for a further 19 years before Lambourn and Hungerford, the last in Berkshire, received their new Secondary Modern School. After the 2nd World War, priority for building the secondary modern schools was given to the large towns first. Hungerford's council school must have bulged at the seams when it peaked at 626 on its roll in the late 1950s. So it must have been with great relief that the then headmaster of the council school, Mr. John Davies, transferred 290 senior children to the new secondary school, the John O' Gaunt School in Priory Road when it opened in January 1963. Follow this link for more on the John O'Gaunt School.
This left the Council School for the junior and infants only, and it was renamed the Hungerford County Primary School. It was much extended in 1992.
Finally we must mention the Church Croft Nursery School. This was originally a pre-fab building built in 1942 as a war-time nursery for the children whose mothers worked at Vickers munitions factory in the town. The nursery was open daily from 7am until 7pm, with the children attending daily and the staff living-in! It closed for a short time after the war, but has been open ever since as a nursery school. Hungerford is very fortunate to have a nursery school. Nursery education is still non-statutory, and Berkshire has a total of only 18 nursery schools. Hungerford's school provides three terms of nursery education for the children before they go to the primary school. The town was even more fortunate when funds were made available to provide a completely new Nursery School which opened in January 2005. Follow this link for more on the Nursery School.
- Early Schools and Schooling in Hungerford, Norman Hidden, 2005.
- Archives: Education, Schools and Charities