Tatham Fells Schools 1816-1916
What is now commonly referred to as 'the Old School' is situated behind the Church of the Good Shepherd in Tatham Fells. It functioned as a school from 1863 to 1961, when it was replaced by the current school in Lowgill village itself. The building still stands and is used for events and meetings; indeed it is the only public meeting place in Tatham Fells. It is small and deceptively simple in design, consisting of just two rooms measuring 34 feet by 22 feet 6 inches and 20 feet by 14 feet with a front porch yet it was built in three stages between 1863 and 1896. Bronwen Osborne has used extensive extracts from the teachers' log book in her excellent little book, This Remote School to paint a vivid picture of the life and work of the school after 1875 and readers are encouraged to consult that for details. But the log book reveals nothing about the school's origins, financing and management; not until 1917 when the school managers' minute book becomes available is it possible to describe these in any detail. Nevertheless, it is possible to piece together something of these aspects of the school before then from local newspapers, parish records, the annual Return of Schools aided by Parliamentary grants and various files in the National Archives. That is what this article seeks to do, setting its development in the wider context of the changes in school provision which took place nationally at the time.
Schooling in Tatham Fells in the early 19th century
Schooling in Tatham Fells is first referred to in a report by the assistant curate, Revd Joseph Thompson, replying to a government survey and published in 1818. He reported that there was 'In Tatham Fell, school with a school-house belonging to it, which from 15 to 23 children are taught'. There was also 'a Sunday school, supported by voluntary contributions, attended by from 45 to 70 children'. His report concluded that 'In Tatham Fell, the poorer classes are desirous of possessing more sufficient means of education' but that some of the children attended a school in Bentham, supported by a subscription from Tatham parish. Fifteen years later the school in the fells taught 16 boys and 11 girls, while the free Sunday school had 75.1
The Day School before 1863
We know that the name of teacher at the fee paying school for 40 years was Richard Dixon. He had been born in 1798 at Knott Hill, just up the hill from the chapel, and he was still living there in 1822 when he married Ann Holme. She was described in the parish register as a servant at Ridleys [near Tatham Bridge Inn], but more significantly she was the daughter of Bryan Holme, the schoolmaster in Lower Tatham who regularly featured in the diary of George Smith, the agent for Hornby Castle estate at the time.2 Dixon later moved to Lowgill village where he was, in the tithe schedule of 1848, owner and occupier of what is now Ivy Cottage, along with some 10 acres of land at Moorlands which he rented out to John Marsden.3 He was census enumerator in 1851 and a correspondent for the Lancaster Gazette. He died on 9 May 1858 aged 60.4
No records of the fee-charging private school survive, so it is not possible to know what Mr Dixon taught. T. D. Smith in his reminiscences referred to wife, Margaret Davidson of Summersgill, attending the school and church in the 1840s as child.
"His eldest daughter (my mother) had not much advantage in education, and was sent as a daily scholar to Lowgill School, Master Dixon, the Master, getting some knowledge of the three Rs. She, however, acquired a strong liking for fancy work, in the way of Clipping, Letters, Birds, & devices which were afterwards framed & some wonderful ingenious specimens, handed down to her children. She was musical and was a fair singer. She was probably a singer in the Tatham Chapel Choir, being brought up as a Church Woman".5
Nor is it possible to identify where the school building was with complete certainty. It was usually described as being at Lowgill but there are no detailed references to it and it possible that Dixon used the same school building as the Sunday school which is shown on the first OS map of 1848 to the east of the chapel grounds but just to the north of the present premises. This was in the corner of a plot of land called 'Chapel Meadow' which belonged to Tatham Mill, not to the chapel. Press reports are ambiguous. Queen Victoria's coronation was celebrated on 28 June 1838 'on the plot of ground situated at the front sides of Tatham Chapel School', with coffee served in the school room, but there is no mention of day scholars attending.6 In 1856 the end of the Crimean War was celebrated by both day and Sunday School scholars. 'Mr Dixon, accompanied by his day scholars, met Miss Burrow with her juvenile pupils and the Sunday scholars of Tatham Chapel School, on the spacious hill before the school house ... From thence, all the scholars, in number about 70, were headed to the village by the brass band of Bentham, where they played some most delightful airs'.7
The Sunday School: Agnes Varley and Revd William Carus Wilson
The Sunday School was the initiative of Miss Agnes Varley of Barley Bank. Her family were amongst the church's staunchest supporters and active evangelicals. She had been inspired by the charismatic Revd William Carus Wilson, vicar of Tunstall, immortalised, perhaps unjustly, in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre as Mr. Brocklehurst, the proprietor of the Clergymen's Daughters' school at Cowan Bridge (the forerunner of Casterton School). Miss Varley had clearly attended Carus Wilson's church as a young woman. When she died in 1820 aged just 25, Wilson wrote a long article about her in the national journal, The Christian Guardian and Church of England Magazine which conjures up a vivid picture of the evangelical fervour of those days:
"She considered what she could do to glorify God, in that station of life in which he had placed her, and she determined upon establishing a Sunday-school. This of course kept her at home generally on the Sunday. She also became interested for the poor heathen; attended some of our missionary meetings; determined upon soliciting the subscriptions of her neighbours; called at almost every house for some miles round; and the result of these exertions was a quarterly remittance to me of £1 7s 1d from the first of her efforts to her death. She prevailed upon the Clergyman of the chapelry to allow me to preach two sermons: one for her Sunday-school, and the other for the Church Missionary Society. Never shall I forget these events. I went up, on both occasions, after my duties; and such interesting scenes I have seldom witnessed. The chapel is most romantically situated in a woody valley below Miss Varley's residence. As we approached it, we saw the dwellers of the hills and vales hastening along the mountain sides to the house of God. Presently we discovered that the chapel-yard was crowded; and on entering the chapel it was with considerable difficulty that I squeezed through the aisle into the reading desk. There certainly was not a single standing-place empty in the whole chapel, and the windows, in all directions, were darkened by the heads of the outside hearers. It was not an easy matter, after service, to know where to place the collectors; at length they took their station at the gates of the chapel-yard. Scenes such as these simply reply one for a little toil, and I returned to my vicarage nearly at midnight, thankful for having witnessed such things. Miss Varley was also unwearied in visiting the sick in her neighbourhood; and in administering, as she was able, spiritual advice and comfort."8
Accounts relating to the Sunday School for 1817-48 have survived and are now preserved at Lancashire Archives in Preston and from these it is possible to piece together a picture of the school's financing, activities and likely curriculum.9 The early committee was chaired by Revd Hodgson, with William Varley, treasurer, and members Henry Varley, John Parker, Arthur Cort, Christopher Langstroth, Gilbert Procter and Marmaduke Robinson. Major annual subscribers in the early years were members of the Varley family themselves; Mr William Dixon (till 1823 - possibly Miss Varley's fiancée); Arthur Cort of Lowgill House;10 and local clergy such as the Revds R Beaty, J. M. Wright (rector of Tatham) and J. M. Hodgson (curate of Tatham Fells). These and others in the area including Miss Alice Johnson and Miss Isabella Varley subscribed one penny weekly. These sums were supplemented by specific collections in the chapel after sermons by Revd Carus Wilson and Revd Hodgson.
Expenditure include a nominal salary of £3 pa for the teacher, later raised to £4 but otherwise the main expenses were for coals (from Giles Cort and later Thomas Dowbiggin), and various publications all seemingly purchased from Revd Carus Wilson. These give a good idea of the likely curriculum. Prominent among these were 200 bibles and testaments, tracts, Books of Common Prayer and church catechisms. Prizes were given for reciting passages of scripture, usually bibles or testaments, and press reports confirm the preponderance of religious teaching. On Christmas Day 1841, for example, 24 of the Sunday scholars successfully recited the epistle of Jude, the shortest book in the bible (but still 25 verses!), and other scriptural references.11
Revd Wilson's monthly magazine for children, The Children's Friend, was also purchased. This, too, was clearly evangelical in content but it also sought to make children aware of national, even global lifestyles, issues and debates, and the way in which the church sought to influence them. The issues for 1821, for example, explained what the bible reference to 'Take up thy bed and walk' meant by explaining what beds were in other countries. It also included moralising articles on missionary work in Africa, the slave trade, the mistreatment of black people, the ignorance of other races and attempts to convert them, and cruelty to children.
Although the main purpose of the school was to encourage Christianity, as in other Sunday schools of that period it is probable that children were encouraged to read, since that enabled them to access religious texts themselves. It seems highly unlikely that more practical subjects such as arithmetic and writing would have been taught on the Sabbath. The Sunday School continued to operate, albeit with a reduced income and attendance, until at least the 1870s when surviving attendance records end. By then, day school provision had been significantly improved and, as with the Sunday School, the church was to the fore.
Revd James Chadwick and the financing of the new day school 1863
Revd John Matthias Hodgson, perpetual curate of Tatham Fells from 1839 and assistant curate earlier in the century, died 20 January 1862, aged 82. Revd James Chadwick, who was finally appointed perpetual curate in May, was very different from the men who preceded him, most of whom had been locally born. One suspects that he would have been appalled at what he found, but possibly inspired by challenge. A Rochdale man, he had graduated from Cambridge in 1848 and had previously been curate in much more prosperous parishes in Dukinfield (Cheshire) and Slaidburn. In the former a Church of England school had been established in 1844 while Slaidburn boasted a grammar school adjacent to the church, endowed by John Brennand in 1717 and with a dedicated clerical headmaster.
He immediately set about improving facilities in the parish. Within a year of his appointment, he had raised over £84 in subscriptions to build a new school on the field behind Tatham Chapel. The subscribers were primarily the owners of farms in Tatham Fells and Botton, whether they lived here or elsewhere; only one them was simply a tenant. Heading the list of 52 donors with £5 was Chadwick's patron, the Revd John Marsden Wright of Lower Tatham rectory, but the largest donor with £8 was John Foster, the new owner of Hornby Castle, and lord of the manor, followed by Miss Remington (£6) and her brother William (£2) of Crow Trees, Melling whose family had owned Summersgill in Botton. Some landowners lived some distance from the parish: Henry Blackburn and Thomas Charlton, who owned the Hill and Spens estate and Oxenforth Green, were textile manufacturers in Halifax; Henry Rawlinson of Manchester was a relative of the late owner of Swans; John Fell, a barrister at Flan Howe near Ulverston owned Thrushgill and the plot of land called Williamsons. In addition, Chadwick was successful in gaining donations from individuals who were not local landowners: Messrs Gregson, Hinde & Co., the Lancaster-based owners of Wray silk mill, and their resident manager, John Dickinson; William Alcock, the barrister of New Field Hall, Gargrave and son of a founder of Craven Bank and a 'Mr Hamilton' of Preston. Five donors, all subscribing £1 or less, hailed from Slaidburn including the rector's wife and members of the King-Wilkinson family. (for full list see appendix below). Donations in kind came from Revd Thomas Livesey, previously headmaster of Bentham Grammar School who had married into the Cort family of Lowgill and inherited their properties there and at Stockbridge but who now lived in Worthing; he donated the sand for the building. Stephen Taylor and Robert Whitehead, farmers at Swans and in Lowgill, each provided a cart and horse for a day. Mrs Varley of Barleybank, John Langstroth of Knott Hill, and an unidentified 'Miss Woods' and a 'friend' gave £2 5s for a bookcase.
The new school 1863
Revd Chadwick designed and oversaw the construction of the school, with its fashionable Gothic style windows. It originally consisted of just one room, 'well lighted, lofty, and ventilated, with a strong boarded floor', and a small porch, 7ft by 6ft. The building contractors engaged to undertake the construction were Thomas Todd, stone mason of Melling, and George Grime, joiner of Wray, who also fixed and painted the spouts.
The formal opening of this 'ornament to the locality' on a Saturday afternoon in September 1863 was an elaborate affair. Revd Chadwick and his wife and the assembled company processed to William Varley's residence at Barley Bank, carrying flags and banners, accompanied by music from the Low Bentham brass band and singing the hymn 'A day's march nearer home', better known as 'For ever with the Lord'. After being given a cake, they then walked to Lowgill and back to the school where the scholars were each given a cake. A marquee had been erected in which the scholars were given yet more fruit cake and tea before being turned out to play on the field. The assembled company, reported to be some 200 in number and including Miss Remington from Melling, John Dickinson, the manager of Wray silk mill and visiting clergymen then sat down to tea. The proceedings concluded with an address by Revd Chadwick and hymns and glees from the Wray and Tatham chapel choirs.12
Although we have no log books for this early period, we can glean a little about the operation of the school in its first twelve years of existence. Despite its close association with the church, the school was not officially a church school. It would also appear not to have been accepted as a school eligible for Education Department grants based on the result of government inspectors' annual examinations and reports about attainment in the 3 Rs. Such schools had to be run by a 'certified teacher' who had received appropriate training at one of the new teacher training establishments or had passed appropriate examinations while in service. William Dixon, the 66-year-old first schoolmaster, clearly did not fit into this category despite being potentially well-educated as a Cambridge graduate. He was possibly William, the son of Thomas Dixon, the yeoman poet of Low Bentham and quite likely was the same William Dixon who had subscribed to the Sunday School between 1817 and 1823 and then moving away from the parish.13 In 1861 he was a 'schoolmaster' living at Fourstones, with his wife and two daughters. Mr Dixon's salary was negligible, just 6s per week when the school opened. By June 1866, however, he had gone, and the trustees were advertising for a schoolmaster to teach 'reading, writing and arithmetic' at the rather low salary of £12 p.a. plus 'quarterage': the fees paid by parents who were not resident in the parish or whose children received tuition in additional subjects.14 Who, if anyone, filled the vacancy is not clear; there was no school teacher resident in Tatham Fells in 1871. By then, however, the school was facing a challenge to its very survival championed by the supporters of the Education Act of 1870.
The Education Act of 1870: the threat of a rate-supported Board School
The Education Act of 1870 is often wrongly portrayed as introducing education for working-class children. In fact, what it did was allow districts to form school boards, not tied to any religious organisation and funded by rates on local property, to 'fill the gaps' in existing provision. Whether there were gaps was determined either by reference to standards laid down by the act relating to the number of school places in an area and the space available for each pupil, or by local pressure groups who wished to establish their own educational establishments. Prominent among the latter were nonconformists, particularly Methodists. Locally, they had already clashed with the Revd Chadwick in 1865 when he had attempted to levy a church rate on properties to maintain the chapel, and it is likely that this clash prompted them to erect the new Wesleyan chapel in Lowgill the following year.15
Not surprisingly, such dissenters seized the opportunity offered by the Act and sought to create a board school for the district which would replace, or compete with, the church school in Tatham Fells and the endowed school in Lower Tatham. At a meeting held in Tatham Fells school on 9 December 1870, chaired by Chadwick, a Revd Hope argued that Tatham was already well served and that there was no need for any change. He was challenged by James Thompson, the Methodist J.P. and owner of Foss Bank who lived in Wray, who proposed establishing a school board for Tatham and upper Botton. His motion was defeated by a tiny majority of two with many of the audience apparently alarmed at the rumour that £500 would need to be raised on the rates.16 A letter to the press, signed "Tatham Fells", on 24 December satirised Thompsons' stance:
"Mr. Heditor, - I thowt as ow my eddication as been a good un, for my worthy faither ad a good lot self denial and spent a power of money over it. But, lord blass ye, I did find mysell short of the raal thing when I eard James Thomson, Esquire at our meeting tother neet. Ah, but I was sorry for 't lasses in our Tatham spot. i always thowt as James Thomson, Esquire had done somut toward the' eddication of em; but when I eard that he wanted um all to ave larning I thowt to mysell ah what clever bairns we shall have at Tatham.
"And what a burning sham our chaps didn't do as James Thomson, Esquire wished um and pass thact. Why, it were to uproot poverty and crime. i was rather obfusticated about this un, axing your pardon, Mr. Heditor, is there a span new ploo found out or is it a spaid? Ah, but i shud loike to see it, for i is sorry for our poor lasses, and i is sorry to have so much to pay for poor rates. i never eard if mich croime in our parts; but James Thomson, Esqure is a deal wiser thatn me. i ave eard, Mr. Heditor, as ow th' Lancaster Corporation is going by this new ploo and uproort all papers and ave no crime. Ah, wat a nice spot you'll ave. I think I mun quit.
The prospect of a school board being imposed on Tatham, however was clearly a real one and probably accounts for advertisement for a new schoolmistress at Lowgill at the following summer 'a certified one preferred', to provide the necessary curriculum for girls. The school was then in receipt of a government allowance based on inspections and this formed part of the remuneration, in addition to the salary £10 pa and the usual school pence.17
In the end, however, it was not the quality of the teacher which was to prove crucial; it was the quality of the school buildings. In Lower Tatham the provision was met by the opening of a completely new school in 1875, funded by the executors of the late rector, Revd John Marsden Wright, which was built on land adjacent to the old cramped accommodation as the top of Park Lane. In the absence of a similar benefactor in the fells, however, Chadwick again resorted to obtaining subscriptions, raising nearly £63 and using £29 from the parish rates to build an additional classroom to the end of the existing building. Completed in 1875 the school was then put under full government inspection and a mistress appointed to teach 'industrial work' to the girls.18
Tatham Chapel School under government regulation: 1875-1916
The school allegedly had space to accommodate 83 children, although how this was possible within its two rooms defeats the imagination. Fortunately average attendance in 1875-76 was just 24. The school's annual expenses were covered by £27 voluntary contributions, £19 18s school pence (or fees) and a grant of £30 9s from the government. Of this £25 11s 9d was used to pay the schoolteacher, 8s to purchase books and £4 9s 3d was spent on miscellaneous expenditure.19
The conditions of receiving the government grant included the appointment of a 'certified' teacher, the teaching of 'industrial' skills to girls and the compilation log of events, attendance and other matters pertaining to school operations. The logbook provides a vivid picture of daily life in the school and have been extensively used by Bronwen Osborne in her book on This Remote School.20 A register of children entering and leaving the school from 1892 has also survived.21 In terms of management and finance, however, we have only fragmentary records in the Education Department's records in the National Archives in London22 and stray references in the newspapers. Revd Chadwick wrote to the department in October 1874 asking for approval of their current teacher, Mr John Servant, and his wife, appointed in the summer after the death of the previous teacher, pointing out that he had served elsewhere in the county and requesting an inspection in January the following year. His request was either not granted or Mr Servant left voluntarily since Joseph Fieldsend was the first certified teacher to keep the required log book from April 1875, reporting that the standards of the pupils were 'very low'. He too left for more remunerative work in the November of that year.
Chadwick died in 1876 but his long-serving successor, Revd John Marshall, clearly continued to be a strong supporter of the school and the official correspondent with the Education Department. In April 1896 he sought permission to extend the porch to make cloak room on each side, one for the boys and the other for the girls, and for the erection of new 'outside offices further away from school'. These were clearly granted since both are still in operation today. The alterations were to be carried out in the hay harvest holiday 'which is often protracted'. Attendance in 1896 was little different from the 1870s, averaging just 26, so the reduction in 1910 of the permitted numbers from 83 to 47 mixed with 21 infants would not have posed any problems.23
Tatham Fells C of E School: changing the name 1916
In June 1916 the new correspondent, Revd John Cort Livesey, a descendant of the local families of Cort and Livesey who had returned as curate in the parish from which his family hailed, became correspondent. He wrote to the Education Department asking for the name of the school to be changed to 'Tatham Fells Church School' on the grounds that the area had become a 'Statutory Parish', certified by H.M. Privy Council. His request was eventually granted but only after considerable head-scratching. The area had not become a civil parish, as Livesey's letter implied, but a district ecclesiastical parish. As such there were two objections. First, the department considered that the name of the civil parish also had to be included as 'Tatham, Tatham Fells'. As they admitted, however, 'the duplication seems rather stupid'. However, they had 'strong official objections to introducing C of E in the name where it did not occur at the time of the nomenclature change but to continue "chapel" would be wrong when the district has become a separate Ecclesiastic Parish'. The official suggestion therefore was that it should be called 'Tatham, Tatham Fells C of E school' whilst acknowledging that the first Tatham would probably never be used. There had, apparently been a precedent for inserting C of E. However, they thought it would have been simpler if the dedication of the 'Good Shepherd' had been used.
Conclusion: Tatham Fells in the national context
In many respects the experiences in Tatham Fells mirrored those in other rural areas at the time. In both Lower Tatham and Tatham Fells the Church of England had been only unofficially concerned with day schooling in the early 19th century, preferring instead to promote Sunday school provision. As elsewhere the increasing availability government grants and the need for regulation, combined with the threatened imposition of a nonsectarian School Board financed from local rates if provision was not improved, persuaded the church to make even greater efforts. Unlike many other parishes, however, the funding of new school provision did not depend on a grant from the Church of England National Society which had been founded in the early 19th century to assist with the building and running of Anglican schools. In Lower Tatham the funding came from the late rector's family; in the Fells it was raised by subscription. A similar pattern was evident in the rebuilding of the churches in the late 1880s. Unlike Lower Tatham where Robert Cluney was the teacher from the 1870s until his retirement in 1907, Tatham Fells also clearly struggled to find and retain teachers until the beginning of the 20th century. What is surprising, perhaps, is that the small building erected by Revd Chadwick continued to serve the needs of the district for so long without any substantial modification or improvement. Only in the late 1950s was it deemed to be completely unsuitable and steps were taken to build a replacement in Lowgill village itself. But it continues to provide a valuable function in the fells as the main venue for social and church occasions - and long may it continue to do so.
1 'A digest of parochial returns made to the select committee appointed to inquire into the education of the poor': parliamentary session 1818,. Vol. I (1819). p.437; 'Education enquiry. Abstract of the answers and returns made pursuant to an address of the House of Commons, dated 24th May 1833', parliamentary session, Vol. I (1835), p.461.
2 George Smith diary (in private hands). Bryan Holme died 1828.
3 1848 Tithe schedule numbers 753-757: http://www.tathamhistory.org.uk/resources/tithe-new/index.html
4 Census returns, obituary notice in Lancaster Gazette May/June 1858. See also 14 March 1863.
5 T D Smith recollections, http://www.tathamhistory.org.uk/tdsmith.php
6 Lancaster Gazette, 7 July 1838
7 Lancaster Gazette, 5 July 1856.
8 The Christian Guardian and Church of England Magazine (London: Seeley, 1822), 48-54. Reproduced in William Carus Wilson, A Collection of Tracts: originally published separately, and in the Christian Guardian (Kirkby Lonsdale: Arthur Foster printer, 1824), 124-34. Arthur Foster was printer, bookseller, and publisher and for nearly twenty years postmaster of Kirkby Lonsdale.
9 Lancashire Archives, Tatham Parish Records, Sunday School Accounts, 1817-48, PR2918/2/3.
10 Mike Kelly, 'The Story of Lowgill House Estate', http://www.tathamhistory.org.uk/lowgill-house.php
11 Lancaster Gazette, 1 January 1842
12 Lancaster Gazette, 19 September 1863.
13 Born in 1797 he had been schooled at Richmond before entering St John's College Cambridge in 1815, graduating with a BA in 1820. He married in Tatham in 1824 the year after Miss Varley's death, describing himself as 'yeoman' but he had then moved around living in Skerton, just outside Lancaster, where he was described as a 'gent' in the 1830s, then in Liverpool working as commercial clerk.
14 Lancaster Guardian, 23 June 1866.
15 Lancaster Gazette, 12 and 26 August 1865; 15 September 1866; 13 October 1866.
16 Lancaster Gazette, 17 and 24 December 1870.
17 Lancaster Gazette, 29 July 1871.
18 Lancaster Gazette, 14 November 1874
19 'Return for Public Elementary Schools in England and Wales of Amount of Income and Expenditure, 1875-76', pp 148-49
20 Obtainable from Tatham History Society
21 A separate article on this is planned.
22 The National Archives (Kew) Education Department ED21/870916.
23 Revd Marshall to Education Department 27 April 1896; Education
Department to Revd Livesey, correspondent, 22 August 1910, ED21/870916.