Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stony Stratford Schools

In the last post I discussed how the Rose and Crown formed the basis of a school endowment in 1609 and by the 19th century, when the government began to provide some support for schools it became a National School. It continued at No: 30 High Street and was rebuilt in 1858. During the latter part of the century there were some complaints from the Non-Conformists that the school exclusively admitted Church of England pupils, but the Trustees showed no inclination to change this policy.

A British School was built in 1844 for both boys and girls available for those who were not permitted to attend the Church of England Schools. It was closed as a school in 1907 when a new school was built in Russell Street. The former school building it still evident. The Russell Street School is still in use.

The Church of England built a new school in 1867 on the corner of the Wolverton and London Roads in St Mary's Parish. It was designed by local architect Edgar Swinfen Harris. In the 20th century it was no longer required and became a pub, as it is today, known as The Plough Inn.

Some of the more interesting schools were the private ones that cropped up in the 19th century and there seemed to be at least two on the Market Square. One of them was run by a Mr Joseph Hambling and it seems that the curriculum placed emphasis on social skills, and relegated academic learning to a lesser category of achievement. Mr Hambling styled himself in the census as a Dancing Master and it was his general deportment that caught the sharp eye of one Charles Dickens as he was travelling through Stony Stratford. Here is Dickens' characterization of Mr. Turveydrop in Bleak House, modelled on Stony Stratford's Mr. Hambling.

'He was a fat old gentleman with a false complexion and a wig. He had a fur collar, and a padded breast to his coat, which only wanted a star or a broad blue ribbon to be com­plete. He was pinched in and swelled out, and got up, and strapped down, as much as he could possibly bear. He had such a neckcloth on that his chin and even his ears sunk into it, that it seemed as though he must inevitably double up if it were cast loose. He had, under his arm, a hat of great size and weight, and in his hand a pair of white gloves, with which he flapped it, as he stood poised on one leg in a high shouldered, round elbowed state of elegance not to be sur­passed. He had a cane, he had an eye glass, he had a snuff box, he had rings, he had wristbands, he had everything but any touch of nature; he was not like youth, he was not like age, he was not like anything in the world but a model of Deportment.'
In the 1851 Census we can find Mr Hambling and his wife Kate, both aged 60, with a groom and two house servants. The house also accommodates three female teachers and eight female pupils, aged between 10 and 13. Mr Hambling styles himself as a Professor of Dancing. It is extraordinary now to reflect on the 2:1 pupil-teacher ratio.

The great 19th century venture into a private school in Stony Stratford was the building of St. Paul's School, which opened for business in 1863. It was the brainchild of the Reverend W. T. Sankey who became Vicar of St Giles in 1859. Sankey was independently wealthy and could easily raise the funds to build the new school and the land and buildings between The Malletts and the evocatively named Pudding Bag Lane were purchased. These buildings, including the ancient Horseshoe Inn, were acquired. part demolished, and the new College and Chapel were built at a cost of £40,000. The school could accommodate up to 200 boys and under Sankey's leadership appeared to have a good reputation. Unfortunately that reputation did not survive Sankey's death in the 1870s and under the headship of Walter Short appears to have degenerated into a kind of "Dotheboys Hall" where, according to Ratliffe, "The management having changed hands to men who ruled as tyrants, and wielded the birch incessantly, its reputation as a school soon became ruined." Even in Victorian times, parents were not willing to pay 30 guineas a year to have their sons repeatedly flogged!

Very, very quickly the school was drained of pupils and in 1882 the school closed. An attempt to revive it was made in 1888 but the harm to its reputation was such that it did not attract sufficient numbers. It closed again in 1895 and a few years later was sold as an orphanage. Mr. Fegan's Homes ran the orphanage there for the better part of the 20th century. The site is now a commercial and housing development.

There was also a small private school at Belvedere House up to mid-19th century and in the 1930s York House was opened as a Private School - I think for girls.

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