Early Education For The Poor Of New Brentford

By David Shavreen

Brentford and Chiswick Local History Journal 9 (2000)

That there was some kind of schooling of an intermittent nature in Brentford in the 17th century is suggested by an entry in the Vestry Minutes of May 1676 which orders that ‘part of the Church-house is to be lett by the Chapel Wardens for a school, at the rent which was formerly paid for the same’. So creeps education into the annals of Brentford.

Not till 1694 does it reappear. In 1694 the Chapel Minister David Williams died and his widow Mrs Susan Williams applied to the Vestry for room to be made in the chapel for a school. It was ordered ‘that the chappie wardens do erect or cause to be set up in the north isle of the church a handsome decent seat or pew for Mrs Susan Williams….to accommodate herself, schoolmaster and boarders and to pay William Nicholas, carpenter, as they think fit for stuff and workmanship for the same’.

The fact that the boarders could be accommodated in a pew suggests that it was not a large establishment. However, changes were afoot regarding the ‘taming of the lower classes’ and providing them with those minimal skills which would allow them to eschew sin and keep accounts.

The Charity School
In 1698 the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge was founded to reform manners and to encourage the provision of charity schools under the auspices of the Church of England. And so it was that the citizens of New Brentford, led by Christopher Clitherow, the Lord of the Manor, and Henry Hawley, licensee of the market, decided to set up a charity school for poor children from the Brentford area, thus involving the parishes of Ealing, covering Old Brentford, and Isleworth within whose boundaries lay Brentford End.

Parents were invited to propose their children for admittance but children unable to spell were not to be admitted but were to attend Dame schools ’till they be qualified by being able to spell ABC by the week’.

Each year the trustees would examine the children. The syllabus was reading and writing passages from the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, supplemented by the Catechism. Frequent attendance at Church was demanded and misbehaviour gained severe reproof and ultimately whipping and even expulsion. In days when poor children were employed at an early age to help fill the family coffers the main attraction was more likely to have been not so much literacy and Bible knowledge as the provision of free clothing.

Thus the first bill presented in 1704 in addition to 25 Bibles and Prayer Books includes 24 caps and bands (hanging extensions of the collar), 12 coifs and seven bands for girls. In addition there were four ells of cloth and seven pence worth of tape with a note explaining ‘This last cloth made 17 bands and 18 coifs’, adding ‘six girls’ bands were made by several persons gratis’.

In general the trustees found the pupils made satisfactory progress but some of them were recalcitrant. For example a note in the report records that William and Sarah Peachey should be dismissed ‘unless they come clean’. They were not the only unclean children. No bathrooms were available and soap and basins were expensive. Nevertheless ‘severall parents were summon’d and appear’d who were charged to show good example to their children and send them cleaner for the future at the perrill of having their children sent home’.

In 1705 a printed handbill was issued to stimulate contributions from the Gentry. It declared that the success of the school was encouraging emulation by other parishes. Persons of Honour and Quality, Gentry, Clergy, Neighbours and Persons Unknown had contributed £88 8s 3d to the school and this included considerable contributions from Ealing and Isleworth.

The school was expanding. Sixty four children had been admitted. A school building had been opened on The Butts which now contained 24 boys and six girls all learning to write. Thirteen boys and fourteen girls were with masters and dames at Brentford and Ealing. Two boys had been put out as apprentices, two boys and two girls had gone into service and one girl had died.

The provision of uniforms for the children seems to have become a major activity for the little town ‘. . .  Everything is bought at the best hand and neighbours are employed to make the cloaths. Tis computed that a boy’s cloathing amounts to 9s. He has a cap, band, coat, shoes and stockings. A girl’s gown, petticoat, shoes, stockings, band and coif cost twelve shillings and sixpence’.

In justification of this expense a pamphlet published in 1705 emphasises the benefits of educating poor children: ‘It is not doubted that this charitable work of instructing poor children is and will be an advantage to all other children, who were before liable to be corrupted by the ill exemplar of those children whose want of education by reason of their parents’ poverty made them idle, rude and guilty of such abominable vices as profane cursing and swearing, pilfering etc’.

Little vignettes paint familiar pictures of troublesome pupils. Sometimes parents were unco-operative and ‘were strictly charged . . . to send their offspring . . . clean and orderly to school and not to detain them at home on any pretence or send them to Harvest work without leave of the Trustees’.

Though recalcitrant boys were whipped, the whipping appears to have made little difference. William Loader who had already been beaten continued to play truant, Edward and John Dean who had already been punished for idleness found reserves of energy for robbing orchards. Nicholls and Carter crawled unwillingly to school, and Shuttleworth had been rude to his mother and spoiled his books.

One thing soon became clear. Good intentions and even charitable contributions did not always go hand in hand with interest and enthusiasm and these were not the most endearing of children. Contributions began to tail off. Numbers fell. Ealing opened its own school in Old Brentford and by 1708 was educating 50 children and Isleworth was thinking of establishing its own school. By 1715 New Brentford was on its own as explained in a letter, now in Chiswick Library, dated April 9th from John Rogers, one of the trustees:

‘In order to satisfy your kind inquiry concerning the present state and condition of the Charity Schools of New Brentford I shall inform you that till Lady Day 1714 one Mr Gwynn, a writing master of the town was master of it and had been so for some years during which time it was supported chiefly by the neighbouring parishes of Isleworth and Ealing, the subscriptions of the town being at the time insufficient alone to maintain it.

‘It happened the inhabitants of the Parishes of Isleworth and Ealing in 1713 had designs on foot of erecting a charity schoole for their own poore upon which most of them withdrew their subscriptions here and so the Master resigned so that the school was dismissed and I believe would scarce have survived had it not been for Mr Le Hunt ye Minister who, before he could prove any assistance for other people did himself advance pritty considerably towards ye cloathing and teaching 10 of the poorest boys in the town.

‘Since that year 1714 we get subscriptions to the amount of about £30 and after having agreed upon trustees…we chose Mr Le Hunt Master, who accepted of it being allowed to put in an assistant to whom he pays the full salary and is besides a contributor himselfe. This assistant is one Richard Howard and was recommended to the Master by Mr Henry Hoar, Goldsmith in London, a person very prominent for promoting this kind of Charity, and is approved of by Mr Le Hunt and the trustees as a sober man and very diligent in teaching the children to read, write, cast accounts and sing while Mr Le Hunt also catechizes, and to instill into them good principles and for better conveniency to perform, he has allotted them part of his own house and has fitted it up at his own charge. The trustees have had several meetings and did agree to take in 20 boys and to allow the master £30 for teaching them; £13 8s. 2d.for cloathing them; £1 10s. for one chauldron of coles; £1 5s. 9d. for common prayer books, catechisms and copy books. Total £46. 3s. lid.

‘Thus I have given you instance of the condition and management of the Charity Schools and as near an estimate both of ye charges and deficiency for ye year past as possible, all ye subscriptions not being yett gott in. As soon as we can receive the money we shall appoint a meeting in order to close the last year’s account and to consider wherein to retrench it.’

In the following year a Vestry meeting was called ‘to consider a place in the Chappell for the children of the Charity School’. And then followed a series of bequests that seem to have secured the future of the little school. In 1718 the Countess of Derby, a generous benefactor to schools in Kew and Ealing, left a sum of money for the purchase of land for the benefit of the master. And in 1721 Dorothy Lady Capel, left income from part of her lands in Kent to the trustees, so that in 1725 land was purchased lying ‘on the north part of the Charity School in Brentford Butts’ for a house and garden for the Master.

Taking in Boarders
In 1733 the Vestry notes that the town supports a number of children on pensions and suggests selecting the best and lodging them in the school at a cost of 21 d. each per week. Comparisons are made with the costs incurred in Isleworth by lodging them in the workhouse, and it is decided that a boarding school would be economical and the Overseers of the Poor are ordered ‘to provide the said necessaries according to their estimates’. They were to be fed, provided with clean clothes, beds and bedding, ‘and other necessaries which are to remain to the use of the parish’.

Four boys slept in the garret and were furnished with four flock beds and bolsters, four rugs and blankets, eight pairs of sheets and three bug traps. Tables, bowls and spoons, water stands and various kitchen implements were all provided.

The subsequent history of the school is not clear, but there seems to have been a period when a new minister lost interest, for an entry in the Rate Book for 1742 tells us that the Reverend Chilcott, who lived in the Butts, paid extra rates for an orchard but none for the schoolhouse which was empty.
However the school was clearly functioning by 1756, for when the workhouse was reorganised, it was expressly stated that the Charity School children were to be excused work to attend the school for two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. Furthermore the newly rebuilt Chapel was to include a new gallery on the north side ‘opposite the Charity School gallery’.

The Charity Boys were still in evidence at the end of the century for when the bounds of the township were to be trod it was the Charity Boys who were paraded, decked out in gay new ribbons.

The National School
In the early 19th century, the Napoleonic Wars were raging and social dislocation and poverty were on the increase. Along the main road to the west the forlorn train of discharged sailors and soldiers, their wives and children, grew more demanding and finally, when the wars ended, the country, so far from rejoicing, was in the throes of riot and disorder brought about by the passing of the controversial Corn Laws. To avoid revolution Henry Brougham, one of the ministers of the Government, urged the development of a national system of education that, at least, would get poor children off the streets. In 1811 the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church had been founded as part of the growing effort to provide through education a means of dealing with the perceived threat to the stability of the nation. The moving spirit behind the new venture locally was the Vicar of Ealing, the Reverend Coulson Carr, who applied to Colonel Clitherow, the Lord of the Manor, in 1817 for a grant of land on the Ham for erecting a school for boys, to serve the whole township of Brentford, and this was duly granted. The foundation stone, still in place, however claims that the school was actually erected in 1815.

It was created with the ‘sole object in view to communicate to the poor by a summary mode of education, lately brought into practice, such knowledge and habits, as are sufficient to guide them through life in their proper stations, especially to teach the doctrines of Religion according to the Established Church and to train them to the performance of their religious duties by early discipline’.

The lack of ambition in such goals is evident. The emphasis was to be on discipline to prevent disorder and curb any ambitions the children might have to rise above their proper stations.

The system of education to be employed was to be based on the monitorial system first developed by Joseph Lancaster, a Quaker, founder of the British Society, and Andrew Bell who had imported a system developed in Madras army circles which used older children to teach younger ones. This system attracted much attention. Its simplicity and economy procured for it extensive favour.

Later a school house was provided for the Master, but it was not until 1833 that the State made any contribution to the development of a national system and then the first tentative grants were aimed at paying towards the cost of school buildings only.

In 1841 the Boys’ School on the Ham had 58 pupils on the roll, of whom 20 were provided with their school uniforms. A new Master had recently been appointed who had brought about considerable improvement in attendance, in discipline and general progress. He also appears to have added to the curriculum. ‘In addition to daily instruction in the Bible and a Knowledge of the Faith and Duties of Christianity according to the views and formularies of the Established Church, and the usual routine of Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, the Boys are further instructed in the elements of English Grammar, History and Geography, in which useful branches of Education several of them have already made considerable progress’.

The note concludes with the hope that all these undertakings ‘will be favourably regarded by the real Friends of the poor in this populous Parish, and procure from them that cordial co-operation and zealous exertion which are at all times so necessary but especially in the great and pious work of Education, whereby alone, with God’s blessing the Children of the rising and future generations can be expected to become good fathers, good mothers and good members of society’.

Educating the Girls

The Girls’ School in Half Acre.


The progress of education in the township is recorded in a hand-bill preserved in Chiswick Library. It is headed ‘Report of the Committee of 1840 on the Free Daily National Schools for the Children of New and Old Brentford and Brentford End – Colonel Clitherow, treasurer; Rev John Stoddart, DD, Secretary; presented to a General Meeting of subscribers in the Girls’ School Room in the Half Acre, on Friday January 22, 1841′.

It tells how owing to the generosity of the Clitherow family ‘a new and excellent School Room’ had been erected in the Half Acre for the girls of New Brentford with a house for the residence of the Mistress. The School House in the Butts had become redundant but after considerable repairs, had re-opened for the children of the Infant School but ‘the Parents of Children in the Infant School are in future to pay a Penny a Week to Miss Burrowes; one half of which is to be expended in Rewards of Books or Clothing, and the other to be given to the Mistress for their instruction’.

In all the two schools contained 119 pupils, 61 girls and 58 infants. lt was from such beginnings, which the author extracted from documents preserved in the libraries of Brentford and Chiswick, that our modern schooling has been shaped. What applies to New Brentford (that part of Brentford between the bridge and Half Acre) is not, though, the whole story. Old Brentford had established its own church school in 1786 under the powerful persuasions of the indomitable Anglican Sarah Trimmer and by way of local industrialists had opened a non-denominational British School in Old Spring Gardens in 1834. Education became a serious business as the new industrialists, supported by the wealth of the local Rothschilds, strove to provide the best education that money could buy. But that is another story and after 1870 education for the masses became the business of the state.

David Shavreen lives in Brentford and has long been interested in its history. He retired 13 years ago after 40 years in the teaching profession, mainly teaching in schools in Brentford and Chiswick.

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