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North Mymms Schools & their Children
1700 - 1964

by Peter Kingsford

Chapter 2
Born to be daily labourers 1840-1870

In the 1840s there were considerable stirrings in education. An enormous investment in railways and the increasing development of manufacture, making Britain the workshop of the world, were taking place. It was an age of rapid economic change, like our own times; then, however, policy was concerned with improving and extending education. Two events were significant. The Battersea Normal School of 1840 was followed by the pupil teacher system in 1846. The Privy Council had been obliged to form an Education Committee to manage the Education Vote which, by 1847, had risen to £100,000, five times the original figure.

The monitorial method of teaching had been found inadequate; "monitorial humbug" the secretary of the Committee called it. Convinced that more teachers had to be found, he started the Battersea training college of which the Prince Consort became patron. He soon followed this with the new pupil teacher scheme which was to be the main source of teachers for the rest of the century.

Such was the national background of the initiative in North Mymms by Miss Caroline Lydia Casamajor in 1847 when she built and endowed the school for girls and infants at Water End. Her will directed that the school should be in two parts, one for not more than fifty girls between six and fourteen years, The other for infants with a maximum number of fifty boys and girls under six years. She bequeathed £3000 in 3% bank annuities for the school’s maintenance, and stipulated how it was to be spent. Four ninths of the income was to pay the salary of the mistress of the girls’ school, two ninths was for the infants’ mistress, two ninths for clothing, books, stationery, tape, needles, thread etc. and one ninth towards the maintenance of the school house. The income of £90 a year divided conveniently into ninths.

The trustees named were R W Gaussen of Brookmans, Fulke Southwell Grevill of North Mymms Place and Thomas Kemble of Leggatts, the chief landowners of the parish. They and their successors were to have "full power" to dismiss and appoint teachers and to control the school. Her will stated the two, and for her, synonymous aims of the school: -

"And I hereby expressly direct that the said school in which I take so keen an interest shall be conducted and established and carried on and the children thereof educated and instructed according to the principles of the Church of England and for the benefit of children of the poor of the parish of North Mymms."

It seems likely that the Water End school replaced the Brookmans school mentioned in chapter 1. Caroline Casamajor was connected by marriage with Cecilia Gaussen. The families lived near each other, no doubt attended the same church and were in the same social circle. Miss Casamajor was the daughter of the Casamajor whose farm at Potterells was vividly described by Arthur Young. By 1847 she had moved to Moffats where, a lady of independent means, she lived alone, attended by five servants; footman George Farrow, page William Goodson, cook Mary Syrett, lady’s maid Lydia Langley and housemaid Elizabeth Farrow. This girls’ and infants’ school seems to have made a slow start. Although a schoolmistress’s house was built in 1850 by Lady Greville of North Mymms Place, there was only one mistress there a year later. She was a mere girl of nineteen, Magdalene White from Nottingham. Perhaps she was the infants’ mistress provided for in the will. It is difficult to suppose that she could have taught the girls as well, especially as by 1854 there were about forty girls in the school.

In the boys’ school at Welham Green about fifty boys assembled under William Goulburn. There was plenty of leeway to be made up for both boys and girls, but more for the boys than for the girls. The poor, described in 1818 as "both ignorant and irreligious" were still, in 1850, ignorant of their letters, even if better instructed. Illiteracy was common. Nearly 150 years after the first school was founded in the parish, half of the bridegrooms could not sign theft names in the marriage register. The brides could do better; only a third of them had to put their mark instead of a signature.

One reason for this is clear. Few children stayed at school after the age of twelve. Child labour was still a reality. In the parish there were seventeen children under twelve, most of them boys, mainly working in the fields for a wage. Their earnings added to the meagre wages of their fathers, themselves usually farm labourers. Another seventeen child workers were aged up to fourteen. As well as these full time juvenile wage earners there were many more part timers who were kept away from school when the farmers’ demand for labour was heavy.

The teachers at both schools seem to have been without assistance for some years for their large classes of all ages and all abilities. The pupil teacher system of 1846 spread only slowly to the village schools. The Water End school had a pupil teacher by 1864 as well as two mistresses, Caroline Read and Elisabeth Trickett, not to mention two youthful monitresses. But at the boys’ school one does not appear until 1871. No doubt the fact that the girls’ school had its assured annual income from the endowment whereas the boys’ had none and was all the more dependent on subscriptions from the gentry, had a bearing on the staffing.

If one asks what was the standard of education provided soon after the Great Exhibition of 1851 one must turn to the expectations of the authorities at that time. They are expressed by one of the assistant commissioners (later Bishop of Manchester) of the Newcastle Royal Commission appointed in 1858: -

"Even if it were possible, I doubt whether it would be desirable, with a view to the real interests of the peasant boy, to keep him at school till he was 14 or 15 years of age. But it is not possible. We must make up our minds to see the last of him, so far as the day school is concerned, at 10 or 11. We must frame our system of education upon this hypothesis; I venture to maintain that it is quite possible to teach a child soundly and thoroughly, in a way that he shall not forget it, all that is necessary for him to possess in the shape of intellectual attainment, by the time that he is 10 years old."

The Report of the Royal Commission approved these observations but it emphasised that the possibilities were not being realised:

"a large proportion of the children are not satisfactorily taught that which they come to school to learn ... Though children leave school at a very early age, and attend with little regularity, they do attend long enough to afford an opportunity of teaching them to rend, write and cypher. A Large proportion of them, however in some districts do not learn even to read; at least their power of rending is so slight, so little connected with any intelligent perception of its importance, and so much of mere mechanical routine, as to be of little value to them in after-life, and to be frequently forgotten as soon as the school is left. The children do not generally obtain the mastery over elementary subjects which the school ought to give. They neither read well nor write well. They work sums, but they learn their arithmetic in such a way as to-be of little practical use in common life. Their religious instruction is unintelligent, and to a great extend confined to exercises of merely verbal memory ...".

There is little reason to suppose that the North Mymms schools were an exception to this severe, if general, criticism.

It is clear that many children in the parish described as "scholars" in the 1851 census either did not go to school or went irregularly. The number of children so described was 150, excluding those at Bell Bar who walked across the Great North Road and the fields to Westfield School in Grubbs Lane, outside the parish. However, according to Kelly’s directory the average number at the parish schools was 90, 50 boys and 40 girls. It is no wonder that illiteracy was so common. Change was imminent.

New prospects for teachers

1863 was a year, which opened a new prospect for all schoolteachers, school managers and pupils for the rest of the century. On 1 August that year the Revised Code of Regulations for the administration of grants to schools came into force. The prospect was not wholly beneficial. The Code arose from the Newcastle Commission which stated: "Till something like a real examination is introduced into our day schools, good elementary teaching will never be given to half the children who attend them."

The architect of the Code was Robert Lowe, Palmerstone’s Vice President of the Privy Council. He told Parliament: -

"I cannot promise the House that this system will be an economical one and I cannot promise that it will be an efficient one, but I can promise that it shall be one or the other. If it is not cheap it shall be efficient; if it is not efficient it shall be cheap."

This aim was to be achieved by making the grants to schools depend strictly on attendance and on examination passes in reading, writing and arithmetic in six standards from age six to eleven. Until then the grants had been based simply on the amounts raised by local voluntary efforts. The intention now was to economise at a time when educational expenditure was rising, on top of the cost of the Crimean War. This intention was realised. The Royal Commission had recommended "the extension of sound and cheap education".

Some effects of the Revised Code may be seen in the Welham Green and Water End Schools. The code altered radically the way in which the schools were financed and maintained. More important were the changes it brought about in what was taught and how it was taught.

To turn to money first, the capitation grants were very small to begin with, only £3 4s 0d in 1864, and that was only at the girls’ school. Since grants were made only for trained, certificated teachers, it seems likely that the master at the boys’ school, John Gray, was not qualified. Seven years later, however, the grants had shot up under the new system to £45 8s 0d for the boys and £36 17s 0d for the girls. By that time the schoolmaster, George Foster, was properly certificated. The school managers were, therefore, faced with a complete change in the sources of money for the schools. The new grants rose to 35% of total income during those seven years in the boys’ school, and to 24% in the girls’.

The School Pence

There were two other main sources of income. The school pence, fees paid by parents, were graduated according to social status: labourers 2d per week, gardeners, gamekeepers and artisans 3d, all others 6d. This income was largely unaffected by the grants. The other source of money, a much more important one, subscriptions from the gentry, was much reduced. In the 1860s these amounts were practically the whole income of the boys’ school; in the 1870s they were only about half of it. The names of the vicar and of the landowners, Gaussen and Kemble and the banker Cotton Curtis, figure largely and regularly among the subscribers.

The case of the girls’ school was different because of its endowment bringing in £90 a year but its contributions from the gentry also became less important, even to vanishing point. Thus as the money from the central government increased, so the voluntary subscriptions were less significant, though still required for the boys. The link between the gentry and the schools became looser, or at least made fewer demands on their purses, and no doubt this aspect was appreciated by them.

Education depends on the resources made available to it and the uses to which they are put. In the 1860s in North Mymms the resources consisted of teachers, buildings and their maintenance, heating, lighting and cleaning, books and apparatus, prizes and rewards, and materials for the girls’ school. These last were, at the end of the decade in 1870, print for frocks and flannel for petticoats amounting to £10 4s 7d. Books and apparatus were less important and cost less at £6 l0s 7d; for the boys even less at £3 1s 5d.

Teachers Pay

The largest expenditure was then, as now, on teachers’ pay, low as it was. Thus the master’s salary amounted to £76.16s.4d. including allowance for "apartments", plus £13.2s.6d. for pupil teachers. The mistress got less - £50, but she had an assistant at £25 and a pupil teacher at £10 .5s. 0d. All these items, with others, came to a total expenditure of £111.7s.l0d. on the boys’ schooling, compared with £189.0s.3d. on the girls and infants.

That particular year 1870, the girls had new desks and seats (the school was twenty three years old). There was no option, they were required by H M Inspector. Without them, there was the risk of, in the vicar’s words "having a School Board inflicted on the parish and a Rate Supported School." School Boards were to be set up under the 1870 Education Act where there was inadequate provision. The vicar, the Rev Arthur Latter, put his hand in his pocket, as so often, and paid for the furniture.

Just as Lowe’s Revised Code changed the resources of schools, so it heavily influenced the way those resources were used. The two aspects were linked in as much as the grants depended on examination results and attendance. The Church opposed the Code because the emphasis on the three Rs would be a danger to religious instruction. In village schools the new system was grafted on to the old one in which religious knowledge took pre-eminence.

Something of this situation may be seen from the logbooks of the boys’ school at Welham Green. The first year for which they survive is 1868/9. The new master was George Foster from Kent, a young man of twenty-eight, fully trained and "certificated first class". He lived in the schoolhouse with his wife Jemima, baby daughter and son, and with him his brother in law, master bootmaker by trade. His meagre salary was supplemented by a fee as church organist. He had, as assistant, a pupil teacher, a lad of 14 called George Bligh, son of the farm bailiff at Travellers Farm. Some help also came from the vicar who taught his own special subject and who some times stood in for absent teachers.

By this time the Revised Code had operated for five years. The three Rs were prominent in the timetable. Arithmetic consisted of the three rules, together with pounds, shillings and pence and weights and measures. Writing was usually done on slates, though occasionally on paper. Some poetry came into the reading. But that was by no means all. Every day, after prayers, there was religious instruction based on the Bible and the Prayer Book. Scripture also permeated other subjects, reading and writing. That much was useful or considered proper, but there were extras, some English history and geography, especially of the Holy Land. George Foster was quick off the mark, for these two subjects had been added to the three examinable subjects only in the previous year.

At the end of that year thirty-eight boys were presented for examination. Thirty-four passed in reading, thirty in writing and twenty-six in arithmetic, at six different standards. Her Majesty’s Inspector commented: "Instruction very fair, but not yet up to standard, too much noise and talking, more discipline needed."

In the next year, 1869/ 70, some advance was made, in arithmetic fractions were introduced; copybooks were used in the writing lessons; geography became more liberal with lessons on Europe, Asia and Africa. The number of boys entering the examinations increased to forty seven, with forty three passing in reading, thirty eight in writing and forty in arithmetic. The vicar was so pleased that he gave a book to each successful boy. This time the HMI reported, "School in very fair order, and attainments good."

As the average attendance was probably about sixty, the Inspector’s comment may also be considered very fair. Attendance was, inevitably, highly irregular.

Wet weather, frost and snow, high winds and floods took a higher toll than today. Boys of school age worked for the farmers whenever work was available, haymaking and potato picking; and for their families at gleaning, acorn picking and wood gathering. The gentry’s sport also made demands on them; beating for Gaussen’s shoots at Brookmans lasted several days. A note of exasperation may be seen in the master’s entry in the school logbook for 25 November 1869.

"Attendance still low - more shooting - gave the 1st Class a Lesson on the Ark in the Land of the Philistines ..."

Such was the state of education at the end of the 1860s. One of Her Majesty’s Inspectors, Matthew Arnold, was a severe critic of the changes brought about by Robert Lowe. He wrote in 1867: -

"In a country where everyone is prone to rely too much on mechanical processes and too little on intelligence, a change in the Education Department’s regulations, which by making two-thirds of the Government pant depend upon a mechanical examination, inevitably gives a mechanical turn to the school teaching, a mechanical turn to the inspection, is and must be trying to the intellectual life of a school ..." "In the game of mechanical contrivances the teacher will in the end beat us; it is now found possible, by ingenious preparation, to get children through the Revised Code examination in reading, writing and ciphering ..."

It may be that the Welham Green school escaped from the harmful influence of the new regulations, but it hardly seems likely.

A safety net for boys who wanted to continue learning existed in the night school. As boys left day school at ten, eleven, or twelve years there was plenty of scope for continuation studies. The vicar’s report for 1864 gives a pleasant picture: -

"Our night schools have been carried on very satisfactorily through the winter months. They were closed for this season on Tuesday, the 14th March. All the lads who had attended them met to partake of tea, etc, etc, at the Waterend Schools. There were sixty four present. Prizes were given for the Welham Green Night School to the following lads: for good conduct and regular attendance, to James Hipgrave, Henry Bodger and Samuel Pollard; for arithmetic, to Thomas Massey, Alfred Massey, Richard Chuck, Alfred Hipgrave, and W Jennings; for writing, to S Burr and James Hawkins. For the Roestock Night School, to the following lads: for good conduct and regular attendance, to George Frost; John Hart and George Field; for reading, to Thomas Taylor, James Sibley, Thomas Kenny, and Mark Pugh; and for writing to Joseph Hipgrave. After the distribution of the prizes, a magic lantern was exhibited to the lads, who seemed thoroughly to enjoy the evening’s entertainment. Their behaviour was all that could be wished. The prizes given were copies of "Good Words", ‘The Leisure Hour", ‘The Sunday at Home", ‘PIeasant, Hours", "The Parish Magazine", etc."

One can see at least one name there, which survives in the parish today.

Clearly there was in the night school an unsatisfied thirst for knowledge among the boys. Among those who helped to quench it were John E Gray, former schoolmaster, and William Groom, bricklayer and parish clerk for the modest fee of £4.l0s.0d which included the use of rooms. By 1870 the night school also received a government grant, but it also depended heavily on the gentry’s subscriptions to which the vicar made the largest contribution.

Peter Kingsford, 1987


Chapter 3 - With every mouth, God sends a pair of hands 1870-1890
Index - North Mymms Schools & their Children 1700 - 1964
Preface - Why Peter Kingsford wrote the book
Time Chart - Key dates in the educational history of North Mymms
Sources - Where Peter Kingsford researched his material for the book

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