Abbots Langley School

Part 2

The National Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church in England and Wales was formed in 1811 and in its first twenty years founded 3,000 schools.

These National Schools, as they became known, enabled the poorer classes to learn not only the 3Rs, but Religious Instruction, Bible reading and the Catechism. Its teachers were members of the Church of England and the pupils had to attend regular assemblies in the parish church for worship. There was an annual inspection by a representative of the Diocesan Board, acting on behalf of the National Society, whose report went to the Bishop for a final assessment.

In 1862, an Education Department of the Privy Council was set up with Robert Lowe, a leading Liberal of his day, as its head. He became concerned that, despite the large amount of Government grants being allocated to schools, the proficiency of the children in their main subjects of study remained quite low. As a result of this, he introduced an improvement system of ‘payment by results’. This meant that in the future, Government grants paid to school managers would be dependent on the performance of the children at each stage of their schooling and also on their attendance levels. Although the system produced a certain amount of efficiency, it was not foolproof as it encouraged the uninspired ‘drilling’ and parrot-like learning by heart – all that was needed then to make sure the maximum number of pupils reached the required standard by ‘inspectors’ day’.

This system continued until 1897 – after what must have been a wearisome burden on school life.

When Abbots Langley Boys’ National School first opened its doors in 1831 – possibly in September after the harvest* – there were places for about 100 boys. The new brick and tiled building, which measured 45' x 15' x 10', was somewhat larger than originally intended. Set back from the High Street, with a large playground in front, it faced onto the churchyard and a chestnut tree.

This new school replaced the previously converted barn, which had been used as Mrs Freeman’s Charity School for some 43 years. The old barn was demolished in the spring of 1831 and some of the material from it salvaged to use in the new building, which eventually cost about 100 to build. The National Society grant was 50.

However, the new school, being for boys only, caused some consternation among several of the ladies from the large houses in the village – including Lucy, the wife of Vicar Lewis! She pointed out that the closure of the old barn had left Mrs Taylor, the teacher (described as ‘a most respectable instructress of the poor children’), and her 10 pupils with no school! Eventually Mrs Taylor set up a ‘School of Industry’ for the girls in the front room of her cottage in the High Street – which she continued to run for the next 13 years.

When Vicar Gee came to the parish, the need for a girls’ school arose again when Mrs Taylor’s pupil numbers increased and it was realised that her front room was no longer satisfactory as a ‘school’. After much discussion, an application was made for a grant towards the building of a Girls’ National School, and finally agreed.

The new school building was built on the same land as the boys’ school, but was quite separate. It measured 30' x 18' x 13' and could take up to 90 girls. There was also an adjoining building added on for the School Mistress to live in. With subscriptions raised and a grant from the National Society, the school was built by Joseph Chalk, a local builder, at a cost of about 440.

The girls’ school opened in 1844 and by the end of the first year it had an average attendance of 50 girls, each paying 2d per week towards their schooling.

Now the village had both a boys’ and a girls’ National School…

To be continued.

A Ashby

* from Clive Clark’s book: Abbots Langley Then 1760-1960


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