You are in [Publications] [Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford] [Early schools and schooling in Hungerford]

This article is from "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford" by Norman Hidden, 2009.

We have few records of formal education, of schools or schoolteachers in Hungerford prior to the 17th century. This does not mean necessarily that there was no  organised system of education in the area. The town itself was a market town whose prosperity was steady if unspectacular, and the wider parish contained a number of substantial yeoman farmers or minor gentry. Early documents of the period indicate that various of its inhabitants could write or at least sign their names rather than make an individual mark. They must have acquired their reading and writing skills, however limited, from some local source. Such a source can hardly have been other than clerical. Education within the parish was one of the many social welfare functions which the pre-Reformation church carried out almost everywhere and accepted uncomplainingly (sometimes enthusiastically) as part of its responsibilities. There is no reason to think that the situation was otherwise in the parish of Hungerford. Hungerford was well supplied with clerics since in addition to the parish priest, and his curates and the parish clerk, there were at least three chaplains connected
with the church, two being chantry chaplains and one the priory or hospital chaplain.

Any talk of a ‘chantry school’, however, is guesswork, since there are no documents relating to either of the two chantries or to the priory which give any indication that one of their functions was to provide schooling. In the case of the chantry of the Holy Trinity, endowed by Robert de Hungerford, a severe inquisition in 1337 into the terms of its foundation specifically sets out the chaplain’s duties and there is no mention among them of schooling [1]. When chantries were dissolved in 1547/8 the dissolution certificates in many parishes contained statements in favour of certain chantries that they were providing a source of local education. Not so with the Hungerford chaplaincies. Thus, although it is tempting to assume that the local clergy would have been, could have been or should have been also the local schoolteachers, we cannot find firm evidence for this in Hungerford.

We must also beware of looking at medieval and Tudor education in terms of our present day system with its much criticised academic bias. Instead, much education in past times was of a vocational kind - religious, social or trade. Thus, boys intended for the clerical profession would be taught at a monastery or other ecclesiastical
institution; young gentlemen would learn the ‘arts’ of being a gentleman and the skills needed in running an estate by living with, and being servant to, a family of gentry other than their own, preferably one richer or of higher social status. A formal apprenticeship to one skilled in his trade or craft awaited the potential craftsman.
These types of vocational or apprenticeship training may be illustrated from the history of a single Hungerford family. In 1558 Thomas Hydden was accepted as a scholar of Winchester College at the age of 11. His selection was the result of recommendation by an influential benefactor, and it was an opportunity quite untypical of the great mass of youngsters in the area at that time. Other members of the Hidden family followed the traditional path for lower gentry - thus Anthony, destined to inherit the manor of Hiddencum- Eddington, was sent to live with Henry Clifford of Boscombe, a well-to-do gentleman who was an M.P. and allied by birth to the Cumberland Earls of Clifford. Anthony’s brother Edward, for whom his father intended his Crown Inn business at Oxford, was appropriately apprenticed as servant to Robert Brabant,  gentleman, the holder of the Bear Inn in Hungerford. Anthony’s cousin John was placed in the domestic household of the Earl of Hertford at Wolf Hall, where a domestic chaplain acted as tutor to the family and most probably to its extended members of domestic staff. William Hidden, brother of John, on the other hand, was sent to London to be apprenticed to a prominent London citizen and member of the Ironmongers’ Company [2].

Below the class of lower gentry, the local merchant and artisan class were developing their material resources, as can be seen by a study of their wills between, say, 1550 and 1650. It was this class which, benefitting from the boost to the economy given by the dissolution of the religious houses and later the chantries, felt the need for the provision of an educational system which would open up greater opportunities for their children and grandchildren. Evidence that a school existed in Hungerford before the end of the 16th century derives from an unusual source. In his Latin poem Hungerforda written c.1574, Daniel Rogers paints a picture of the town, as it was before a great fire, ‘graced with church, school, houses, and numerous townsmen’. Rogers’ information about Hungerford is trustworthy and is almost certainly based on first hand knowledge [3].

Even after the Reformation the church authorities retained their traditional interest in education and all teachers had to be licensed by the diocesan bishop, in this case the bishop of Salisbury. Among other matters, the diocesan Visitations concerned themselves with the state of church and school. At the Visitation made in 1616 the
Hungerford churchwardens reported that ‘concerning the church and the scholemaster we present omnia bene’. The stock phrase ‘all well’ confirms that a licensed schoolmaster existed in the parish and implies that this was a normal circumstance.

Gentry who could afford to do so might retain a private tutor. Even he had to be licensed. Licensing was a means whereby the church and state authorities tried to ensure the domination of their particular religious and social ideologies. The Roman Catholic family of Curr based in Sandon were the leading recusant family in the parish. In 1631 a Catholic tutor resident in their home was presented by the churchwardens both as a recusant ‘and for teaching school in the same house, being unlicensed4’.
There seems to have been a persistent myth current among local historians that a grammar school was founded in Hungerford by Dr. Sheaff in 1653. A few minutes research will uncover the fact that far from founding anything in 1653, Dr. Sheaff was dead by 1640. Nor is this the only myth, for Walter Money describes land in Church
Croft, given as a playgound or recreation ground for the children of the town ( and called on one map Play Close), as being for the use of the ‘schoolboys [5]’. W.H.Summers in some unpublished notes corrects this suggestion and adds that the confusion ‘may have arisen from the very prevalent idea that Dr. Sheaff was the benefactor [of this land]. The land which Dr. Sheaff gave was Church Field adjoining, formerly the property of the priory of St. John. He did not give a house, but only the land for the erection of a house ’. In this Summmers is correct; unfortunately this correction was not included in the text of his posthumously published book.

The real facts concerning the foundation of the ‘grammar school’ are these. In 1628 John Lucas in his will left the sum of £10 ‘towards the setting up of a school in Hungerford or Sandon, provided it be built or set up within these ten years [6]’. It seems clear from this that plans for the setting up of a new school had been discussed and that a final push was needed to bring the plans into realisation. A certain note of impatience, perhaps because of delays already incurred, may be detected in the proviso to the bequest. It was in 1635, i.e. within the stipulated ten year period, that Dr. Sheaff donated the land in Church Field to the Constable and other trustees of the town for them to erect a house thereon. That this was done may be attested by the will of William Hobbes, of North Hidden, who in March 1635/6 left 20 shillings in his will to be administered by the churchwardens for ‘the free school in the place where the house is now set up [7]’.

It may have taken a long time, but at last the new school had been built and staffed. Although it was known at first as ‘the free school’, it later became known as ‘the free grammar school’ or more simply as ‘the grammar school’. In 1633/4 the parish register records the birth of a son to ‘John Smith schoolmaster’. It is probable that this
man was the first master of the new free school and that he was related to Vincent Smith who in his will in 1627 left a bequest of his wearing apparel to ‘my kinsman John Smith’. That opportunities for young males were very much in the minds of the more enlightened townsmen may be suggested both by the several bequests already mentioned, as well as by an earlier grant in 1626 by Vincent Smith, the tanner, of Charnham Street. A few local misconceptions about him (just as with Dr. Sheaff) need to be removed. Although he is entitled ‘Sir’ Vincent Smith in a Charity Commissioners’ report of 1637, Smith - though doubtless as deserving as many - was never knighted, except mistakenly by the Commissioners! In fact, Smith remained until his death plain Vincent Smith the tanner or, sometimes, Vincent Smith yeoman. Nor
was his bequest specifically to the school, though it later became amalgamated with other charitable bequests for the benefit of young people. What Vincent Smith sought to provide was an annual sum to be used in purchasing apprenticeships for poor boys in the parish of Hungerford, and to this end he provided by grant the rent charges on two of his properties, one in Charnham Street, the other in the High Street, Hungerford [8]. That this fulfilled a real need may be illustrated by another will, that of Henry Wyniate, yeoman, (Feb.1637/8) who instructs his wife and executrix that she ‘shall keep my sons Henry and John at school to learn to read and write to
be made fit for apprenticeship when they shall reach the age of 15 years, after which they are to be bound to some trades whereby they may get their living [9]’.

A consideration of the names of those involved in these gifts or bequests, as executors or witnesses of wills or conveyances or as trustees, reveals a group of leading parishioners working in unison to the one end of providing educational opportunities for the town’s young, and especially its potential breadwinners of the next generation. The trustees of Vincent Smith’s grant included Sir Edward Hungerford, Edmund Hungerford, Francis Goddard of Standen Hussey, Thomas Smith of Soley, and John Lucas the elder. Of these Francis Goddard, Edmund Hungerford, and Thomas Smith were also trustees of Dr. Sheaff‘s grant of land in 1635. In addition, the names of vicar John Wirral and his prebendal canon Dr. Sheaff wind in and out of most transactions affecting the town at this time, showing the important role still played by the church. The
churchwardens were given much practical responsibility in this as in other matters.

In 1645 Thomas Smith the elder, of Milton in Wiltshire, eldest son of Vincent Smith and executor of his father’s will, granted an annuity of 40 shillings ‘for the advancement of the then new erected school in Hungerford for the teaching and instruction of two poor children or youth males [sic] of Hungerford yearly [10]’. The trustees were Francis Goddard of Standen Hussey, John Clarke the new vicar, John Gunter gent, Richard Goddard of Hidden gent, Jehosophat Lucas (a son of John Lucas the benefactor who died in 1626) and Nicholas Burch, both these latter of Hungerford. One of the problems arising from charitable bequests was that of ensuring a continuing body of trustees. In the course of time the original trustees died and and sometimes were not replaced. When Thomas Smith made his bequest in 1645/6 the country was in the
short interval between the two Civil wars which dominated the years 1642-9. They were particularly disruptive years for Hungerford as the tide of war ebbed and flowed across the region. Some local inhabitants sided with one cause and others sided oppositely. The effect on community projects could only have been stultifying. The
execution of the monarch in 1649 and the establishment of the Commonwealth continued the general unsettlement until the Restoration of 1660, which in turn brought its own changes. In 1654 Mr. Mills of Hungerford was named as the local Commonwealth Commissioner in ‘An Ordinance for ejecting Scandalous, Ignorant, and Inefficient Ministers’. with the power to call before him vicars and schoolmasters to examine them [11].

These unsettled years had their effect on the earlier hopes arising from the achievement of a free school, for when the first trustees died the endowments provided by Vincent Smith and continued by his son Thomas remained uncollected during much of this troubled period. Apparently Smith’s endowment was paid by the tenant of his
property for the first four to five years only; and thereafter the charge, which had fallen on a new tenant, was refused. In a much mutilated inventory attached to the will of Robert Curtis who died in February 1661/2 there is reference to ‘the chamber over the scholhouse’ where some of his books were stored whose value was apprised at £1. Despite the description of Robert Curtis in his will by his status as yeoman rather than by his occupation as schoolmaster, the inventory of his goods taken on his death seems to point towards the likelihood that Curtis was the ‘live -in’ schoolmaster. In the portion of the property below this ‘chamber over the ‘schoolhouse’ was an old tableboard and some ‘lumber’ apprised at five shillings. Even allowing for the hugely increased purchasing power of money in those days compared with our own,
and for the fact that inventories often tended to undervalue the deceased’s goods, whenever friendly appraisers (often neighbours) could do so, nevertheless this inventory seems to suggest that the school must have been a very small venture The ‘schoolhouse’ itself was merely one downstairs room, sparsely furnished, and the master’s personal library was limited. Although it is not stated in the will that this is the free school, we know that William Curtis, Robert’s son, was the parish clerk and judging from some entries in the parish register rather (mistakenly) fancied his own calligraphy - evidence perhaps of his father’s teaching. We know also that in a court case Curtis v Curtis (1663) concerning the disposal of the property, one Richard Fox was mentioned in the interrogatories who ‘teaches children to read English only’ (i.e. no Latin) [12].

English teaching rather than Latin may have resulted from a demand for ‘practical’ subjects (the sort of education envisaged in Henry Wyniate’s will); it may also suggest a lack of local candidates as potential entrants to the academic professions. Indeed, the small population of both town and parish must have resulted in a limited
number of pupils even in the best of times.

After the collapse of the Commonwealth and the Restoration of the monarchy, evidence from a new source points more definitely to features which justify the title of grammar school. A previously existing requirement for teachers to be licensed by the bishop of the diocese in which they were employed was reinforced in 1662 by the
Act of Uniformity which required all ministers and teachers to subscribe to the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England. Thus, in 1662 Thomas Ring schoolmaster in Hungerford signed [13]. In the same year the churchwardens report that ‘by the information of Mr. Kinge there is one Thomas Godfrey hath taught school formerly [14]’.

Beyond this simple statement nothing more is said; the churchwardens, having reported the information required, seem to have left the matter to the discretion of the diocesan authorities. One interpretation offers itself, that Godfrey, like many in Hungerford at that time, was or had been a moderate dissenter. Whether this was so or not, Godfrey resolved the situation by subscribing to the Thirty Nine Articles on which the Act of Uniformity was based , and in November 1663 was licensed by the
Bishop of Salisbury to teach at an ‘English’ school in Hungerford.

His subscription to the Thirty Nine Articles was not written in Latin, which was more customary in the case of a grammar school master, but in English.

The possibility of Godfrey having been a teacher in a ‘dissenters’ school is perhaps given some weight by the fact that whereas in 1670 Thomas Ring was designated in the burials register as ‘schoolmaster’, when Thomas Godfrey died, neither the parish register nor the administration bond in respect of his estate refers to his position as a teacher. It is possible that there were two teachers at the grammar school, one of whom did not teach Latin.

Alternatively there may have been two schools, one using the traditional Latin as the basis of its curriculum, the other being an ‘English’ school which apart from the requirement of episcopal licensing of its teachers, was not under the control of the church and the local churchwardens.

In 1671 Thomas Foster was licensed to teach boys in Latin within the parish of Hungerford and his subscription to the Articles was written, appropriately, in Latin. That education was not confined to the free grammar school, however, is shown by the licence granted in September 1663 to John Hobbes to teach a school in Newtown (or
Hidden) in the parish of Hungerford. The subscription is written in English in very good handwriting and signed by John Hobbes. This is probably the John Hobbs buried in 1675/6, who was of Newtown and by his will left everything to his wife Untonia during her lifetime; but after her death his estate was to go to the poor of the parish. Untonia did not die until 1693 and the will led to disputes which destroyed much of Hobbes’ charitable intents. Once again, as in the case of Vincent Smith, the cause of education was set back, since charitable bequests were its main source of income.

We have already seen how Vincent Smith’s charitable trust to provide scholarships had been thwarted during the unsettled years when the endowment was left uncollected. Following complaints by the churchwardens in 1671 concerning the unpaid sums due from absentee landlords, and with the school building declared to be in a state of decay, a second inquisition was set up by the Crown in 1674, which found that £49 (that is, rent charges for over 24 years) was owing, for which the owner or occupier of the premises was liable. The court made an order to this effect, setting up a new set of trustees to collect and receive the sum of £49, ‘which shall be used
towards the expense and support of the school and for payment out of the moneys disbursed for repair thereof by workmen and others in that charitable work [15]’.

When Thomas Foster was licensed in 1671 as master of the grammar school, there may have been some query concerning him, for a special certificate signed by churchwarden Richard Sare and vicar George Farewell appears among the churchwardens’ presentations in May 1671, attesting to his orthodoxy.[16] We know little more of him; his wife Sarah was buried in the parish churchyard in 1676, but we have no burial record for himself. He was certainly alive in 1678 in which year (described as ‘clerk’) he was commissioned to make an inventory of the goods of vicar Robert Abbot. Presumably he carried on teaching until his replacement by Joseph Perkins B.A. who was licensed to teach ‘at the grammar school in the parish of Hungerford’ on 5 October 1686. Perkins’s subscription to the Articles is in Latin; and is immediately followed by another licence issued on 23 November 1686 to Edward Marshall to teach an ‘English’ school ‘and the art of writing’ within the parish of Hungerford.

Perkins probably did not stay long, for although he had a daughter baptised on 2 July 1687, after that we hear no more of him. Possibly in order to be his replacement, the local vicar Joseph Wells was licensed in 1688 to teach boys ‘in schola grammaticale’. In 1687 the churchwardens presented Thomas Butler for teaching without a licence. Presumably this deficiency was put right (although I have found no record of such a licence), since in 1695 the Hocktide Court refers to him as ‘Thomas Butler, master of the free school’. The parish register described him as ‘schoolmaster’ at his burial in 1705.

That there was a successor to Thomas Butler we know from the following entries in the Constable ’s Accounts for the year 1705-6:‘Paid: expenses for choosing a schoolmaster 3s.6d.’, also paid ‘expenses about ye schoolmaster 3s.6d’. The Accounts also contain an entry ‘money disburst for  ye schoolhouse’, but no sum is entered and the entry seems more like a sub-heading, being immediately followed by a series of payments to tradesmen ‘as per bill’. Payments to a tradesman are often made ‘as per bill’, and since the bill presumably was kept which contained details of the article or work provided, there would be no need to enter them in the Accounts
book. If these entries do indeed relate to the school house, it would seem that some fairly substantial re-building or repair may have been undertaken. As we shall see, the then Constable, John Hamblen, was closely identified with the school’s development.

The next licensed grammar school master was Thomas Young, but the licence for him to teach is dated April 1710. He may have been teaching in anticipation of his being licensed, for in January 1709/10 he is already referred to as schoolmaster in the parish register’s entry for the baptism of his son Edward. Even earlier, however, in 1708-9 the Constable’s Accounts contain an entry: ‘paid by consent of the inhabitants when Mr. Young was chose scolemaster, to Jno. Hidden [licensed victualler] for beare [beer] and fiering [firing i.e. provision of a fire?] ‘. It is interesting to note that the Constable may have been one of the town feoffees who appointed the [head] master of the Hungerford Free Grammar School, and with ‘the consent of the inhabitants’ held a celebratory party afterwards at John Hidden’s tavern [17]. Young remained for many years in office, a popular and respected local schoolmaster, much in demand for the writing and witnessing of wills. In 1726 William Hamblen of Eddington appointed ‘my trusty and good friend Thomas Young schoolmaster’ to act as overseer of his will, in which he made provision for the apprenticing of a poor boy from Hungerford.

William was related to John Hamblen who a few years later also gave a sum for local charity. John Hamblen’s bequest in 1729 was of £100 for charitable uses ‘to be laid out by the Vicar, Churchwardens, Constable and Portreeve of Hungerford for purchase of a fee simple estate of land, the vicar [etc.] and successors to receive the profits of the estate’ for various charitable purposes in aid of the poor. Nothing is said in his will about education, since Hamblen in fact had already (in 1726) made a grant
to this effect during his lifetime. This was a grant of 8 acres of meadow ground called Chantry Mead, the rent of which was to be used for charitable purposes, ‘out of which issues the trust must annually pay £4 per annum for ever, free from taxes, to the Master of the Free School of Hungerford as a salary for his teaching in the
same school 4 poor boys of the parish not only to read and write and cast accounts, but also for his instructing and educating them in the knowledge and practice of the Christian religion as professed and taught in the Church of England, which said poor boys were to be elected and the Vicar and Churchwardens, Constable
and Portreeve; and to apply the surplus or remainder of the rents and profits in providing each and every of the said poor boys elected....a new grey cloth coat trimmed with black, the sleeves faced with black and a hat and two neckcloths on Easter Monday yearly for ever [18]’.

It was not uncommon in the 17th and 18th centuries for a schoolmaster to be also the parish clerk or a curate. Both posts were subject to the church in general and to the local churchwardens in particular. In parishes where this arrangement existed it was usual that the churchwardens paid a fixed sum in respect of the duties of the parish clerk; but the appointee’s teaching work was recompensed by fees obtained from the pupils or from scholarship endowments where this source was available. Thus in Hungerford Thomas Young is known to have enjoyed the dual role of schoolmaster and vestry clerk, and as we shall see later at other times a local curate undertook the duties of schoolmaster. In 1717-18 efforts were made once again to secure the ‘salary’ or fixed income to be obtained from Vincent Smith’s endowment: For example, the Constable ‘paid Mr James for a rieting [writing] charging the Three Swans with a sallery for the maintenance of the free school. 2s.6d’. Various other entries in later Constable ’s Accounts show efforts being made to maintain the school and its buildings. 1726-27: ‘Paid for ye scholl house as by Bill of Thomas Robinson for fetching 5 lods[loads] of earth and sand. 5s’. 1729-30: the unforgettable entry ‘paid Mr John Butler as by Bill as [in respect of ?] the skull house. £1.12s.0d’.

In 1730-1 the Accounts record payment of six shillings for horse hire and expenses to Lambourn at two several times to desire the Commissioners for Charitable Uses to appoint new trustees.

Some time before the date of Young’s death other teachers had been licensed, but whether as additions or replacements we do not know.

First was Michael Baynes B.A. who in October 1725 was licensed to instruct boys or scholars in Latin in the town of Hungerford, Wilts and Berks. [i.e. including Charnham Street]. Baynes is known to have been acting as curate to vicar James Barclay ( or Berkley) in 1732 [19]. In October 1732 another licence was issued to Robert Paty as a teacher in the free grammar school. Robert died at the end of December 1750, and is described as ‘schoolmaster’ in his will.

Once again the unhappy circumstances of the Vincent Smith rent endowment now resurfaced to add to the churchwardens’ problems. Non-payment of such sums not only prevented some free places being available to scholars, but also was bound to affect the income available to teachers and thus in time the quality of the staff
available for employment. In 1756 the churchwardens asked for yet another enquiry into the trust following yet another interruption to the payment of the rents due. One of the houses from which a rent was due was in Charnham Street and the rental charge on this had been paid more or less continuously until 1751 to the churchwardens as officers of the parish. In 1751 the house was purchased by a new owner who refused to pay the charge. ‘It does not appear’ states a lawyer for the town authorities ‘that the original trustees ever conveyed the trust to any other persons, as they are authorised to do when there should be only two or three of them living’. The result was the virtual loss of this charity [20].

Nevertheless, in 1761 William Miller was licensed to ‘instruct youth in writing, reading, and Arithmetic’ within the parish of Hungerford [21]. William may be identified as the son of Robert Miller, victualler, and was born in 1741. Robert Miller’s will (in 1772) bequeaths to his son William ‘all that south part of the dwelling house wherein he now lives and keeps a school in the Church Croft of Hungerford, and also the middle tenement thereto adjoining, together with the garden belonging to the same premises [22]’.

During the lifetime of William Miller another teacher is known to have been licensed ‘to teach school in the Free Grammar School at Hungerford, to which he was nominated by the feoffees of the school’. This was Joseph Coxhead, licensed 16 July 1770, and it raises once again the question of whether there were two teachers at
the same school or two separate schools. There were several Coxheads in Hungerford, but the date of Joseph Coxhead’s burial in November 1775 fits well with the licensing of a new schoolmaster in July 1776. This was Rev. Edward Meyrick. He is said to have moved from his native Carmarthen to Hungerford in 177523. ‘Wilts Returns to Visitations, 1783’ states that Edward Meyrick, ordained priest 1774, and appointed curate of Chilton Foliat ‘does not reside in the parsonage house [at Chilton] nor within the parish, but at Hungerford..... The reason for non-residence is that he is master of the grammar school at Hungerford’. But when Meyrick became vicar
of Ramsbury in 1786 he is said to have taken some of his pupils from Hungerford to Ramsbury and established a private school there [24].

A new schoolroom was erected in 1782, the result of a legacy by Mr. Capps.(VCH Berks ,vo1 ii, p.277) This is confirmed by an insurance policy taken out in 1786 which includes a sum on ‘the new School House ‘. As a separate sum is insured on the School itself, it is clear that the ‘new’ school house must be an addition. All the buildings are of brick and tile and situated in the Church Croft [25]. The Universal Directory of 1796 locates the school thus: ‘On the walk leading to the church is the free grammar school’. This walk the Directory described as leading to the church ‘shaded with high trees, and is near a quarter of an acre; it is kept gravelled, and is a
pleasant avenue to the churchyard, which is likewise planted with lime trees’. The description is not only a pleasing one, as we imagine the schoolboy making his morning way to school, but it also further defines the site of the school as in Church Croft and approached from the High Street by the same pathway into the Croft which
exists today.

That there was a growing demand for education is shown by entries in the Universal Directory of 1796: Joseph Andrews, Master of the Free Grammar School; other names who taught school are Hannah Barnes, Jane Duke, and William Miller. William Miller has already been mentioned; the two ladies probably ran ‘dame’ schools which may have been similar in style and function to that advertised by Harriet Webb in 1808: ‘To Parents and Guardians. Hungerford Preparatory School - - Mrs. Harriett Webb and daughter, of the High Street, Hungerford, beg leave to inform their friends and the public that they propose on Monday 9th. January next to open a school for
the Education of Infant children, ages 3 - 8 in the first Rudiments of the English Language and Plain work on moderate terms. The air of Hungerford is reputed excellent and Mrs. Webb’s house and garden are spacious and airy; and being herself a mother of a family she feels fully adequate to the trust and to provide for the comfort and
health of her scholars, which she hopes to convince those who may entrust them to her care. Board and Education: p.a. £16.0.0; Day Scholars: p.a. £1.10.0 As no entrance money is required, a quarter’s notice must be given on removal of a scholar. N.B. Vacations: Midsummer and Christmas only - 3 weeks each [26]’.

Mrs.Harriet Webb was the widow of Noah Webb. Her house and garden, ‘spacious and airy’, no longer exists: it was on a site on the western side of the High Street which was demolished when the Railway bridge was built. Teaching in a Boarding School was a suitably genteel occupation for a widow like Mrs. Webb (and her unnamed, unprovided for daughter). It was also an occupation which might employ a local attorney’s illegitimate daughter. Thus the will of Seymour Munday makes provision for an annuity for ‘my natural daughter’ Charlotte Odam, the first payment to be made within six months of Mundy’s decease ‘provided that she shall then for the space of three months have left her situation at the Boarding School at Hungerford [27]’. I expect she did, for the next we hear of her is that in 1797 she married her late father’s chief clerk.

It is clear that there were now a number of schools in the town catering for the needs of those who could afford the fees. The whole scene begins to seem much more ‘modern’ or familiar to us and documentation becomes fuller and easier of access. The laborious search for odd bits and pieces of information in previous centuries has been particularly necessary since the most authoritative sources, on which one would normally rely, have either given no account at all of early education in Hungerford or have limited themselves to a single misleading reference.

The Victoria County History of Berkshire (vol.iv p.199), for example, has no reference other than a statement made under the heading Educational Charities that ‘the school was founded in 1653 by Thomas Sheaf D.D’. The passage continues, ‘and [was] endowed by the wills of John Hamblin, 1729, and of Elizabeth Cummins who
died in 1745’. ‘The’ school - the phrase leaves one puzzled. To which school does the word ‘the’ apply? As to the will of Elizabeth Cummins, she left £200 the interest on which was to be expended on bread for the poor. John Hamblin’s will likewise provided for the interest on his £100 to be distributed in bread to the poor.

Other charities, all of a general eleemosynary kind, are also listed and it is stated that these charities were administered together.

Hence the prevailing vagueness concerning particular grants for the maintenance of whatever school or schools existed. Income seems to have gone into a general fund from which the civic authorities made payments to such good causes as they thought fit. The scope for mismanagement was considerable, the endowments being small and various, and the management falling too exclusively into the hands of a small number of privileged ‘commoners’.

A more accurate formulation than that given by the V.C.H. concerning endowments would be that bequests of money were made by Hamblen and Mrs. Cummins for the benefit of the poor and that the income from the investment of these sums was used by the trustees to assist the school and schooling in the parish at various times and in various ways as necessity arose. In no case, it must be repeated, was a direct endowment bequeathed to the grammar school by these two benefactors. Had it been, perhaps the free grammar school might still be in existence today.

The Report of the Charity Commissioners, 1906, p.20 gives the history between 1819 and 1903 of the charities of Dr. Sheaff, John Hamblen, Mrs. Elizabeth Cummins and Mr. Capps, which were united in 1903 to form the Grammar School Exhibition Fund. The original area of land granted by Hamblen in Chantry Mead was 8 acres according to his deed of gift dated 1 Oct. 1726, but by 1820, following the Enclosure Award of that year, this had somehow shrunk to just over 5 acres.

By 1866, when an inspection of the school took place, the standards of education were unsatisfactory and a scathing report ensued. It could come as no surprise that in the face of the competition of the new National School, the old Grammar School closed down in 1884.


1 Bodleian: Ashmole Ms 1125
2 Norman F. Hidden and N.J. Hidden: ‘The Hiddens of Hungerford’ Vol I, Frinton-on-Sea, 1988
3 Norman F. Hidden: ‘The Poet as Historian’, Wilts. A.N.H. magazine, vol 86 1993 pp. 130-135
4 Wilts. R.O.: D5/28 bundle 31 folio 13
5 Walter Money: ‘A Historical Sketch of Hungerford’
6 P.R.O.: PROB 11/155
7 P.R.O.: PCC will of William Hobbs 1638
8 Berks. R. O: H/ZQ 1
9 P.R.O.: PROB 11/181
10 P.R.O.: C93/35/8
11 Acts & Ordinances of the Interregnum, vol.2, ed. C H.Firth & R.S.Rait, London, 1911.
12 Court of the Arches: Curtis v Curtis 1663
13 Wilts. R.O.: Subscriptions to the 39 Articles (DS/5/ 9. All further subscriptions quoted are to be found in this class unless otherwise stated.
14 Churchwardens Depositions
15 P.R.O.: C93/25/14
16 Wilts. R.O.: D5/28/50 fo.39
17 Berks. R.O.: Hungerford Hocktide Court Book 1695
18 P.R.O.: C54/17085/ 21
19 Wilts. R.O.: D.C.W. Will of Henry Thatcher 1732
20 Berks. R.O.: H/ZQ/ 1-6
21 Wilts. R.O.: D5/1 fo.123
22 Wilts. R.O.: D.of S. Will of Robert Miller 1788
23 B. Croucher : ‘The Village in the Valley’ Ramsbury 1988 p.188
24 V.C.H. Wilts. xii, 46
25 Royal Exchange Assurance policy no. 87937
26 Reading Mercury 9 December 1808
27 P.R.O.: PROB 11/1266

See also:

- Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford