Chapter 2. The Children

If the reader is anticipating a watered down, classics-based, poor man’s public school, then he/she is decidedly wrong. The founders had their feet firmly on the ground. The syllabus was carefully designed to give the children a basic background education. It consisted of “Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Household Work and Other Useful Things”. The children were “soundly instructed in religion, according to the doctrines and forms of the Established Church”. Needlework was collected and sold and the schoolmistress received 5% of the profits.

The school supplied the children with the following clothes:
Boys: Jacket, waistcoat and pantaloons with plain round hats.
Girls: Bombazine (twill) jacket and coat, with straw bonnets and white tippets (capes), plus all the necessary underclothing, etc.
(Shoes at this time cost 4/-(20p) per pair)

At Christmas, the children were given a week’s holiday from lessons although they were kept in school, since their parents could not afford to keep them.

By the following March the need was felt for a non-resident schoolmaster, and Thomas Layton was appointed at a salary of £20.

The hours of attendance of the schoolmaster were later increased to 7am-9.30am, 1pm-1.30pm and from 4.30pm until bedtime. He was to attend on all holidays he had from another school where he was senior master. His salary was raised to £50. If this rise was in proportion to his increase in work, then he cannot have attended much in the first place.

(£20 per annum is 8/- (40p) a week; £50 about £1 a week OR approximately 7d (3p) an hour)

The school continued to grow until 1806, when it was reported to the Committee that the school­mistress’s daughter was living in the school and was ‘receiving Sunday callers’. This was adjudged a major scandal and as a result it was decided to replace the existing staff with a married couple.

The same year the school building was purchased for £1,080.

The Committee appointed Mr and Mrs Adams, but they only lasted two years and were replaced by Mr and Mrs Hardy at a joint salary of £60.

In Parliament, Mr Whitbread’s Parochial School Bill was rejected by the House of Lords, who were suspicious of attempts to educate the poor, “lest they should be aware of their lowly state and desire better”.

In 1810 two boys gained the dubious distinction of being the first to be expelled, for continuous truancy.

In 1812, the year that war broke out with the USA, the children attended the first annual anniversary dinner of the Society. This event, which was to become a yearly treat for the children, was not simply a kind-hearted gift to the children. Although they were treated to food and drink, they earned it by parading with banners to soften the hearts and loosen the purses of the guests, and so help to raise the funds necessary to run the school.

Until 1813 the children had never been allowed out of school on visits to their parents, but in this year, perhaps as compensation for visiting times being reduced to 9am-12noon, and 2-5pm on the first Sunday in the month, they were allowed out on visits on three days each year.

The French/Napoleonic and American wars came to an end in 1815. The values of the school at the time seem rather strange today. One boy was sent, at the expense of the school, to Margate to improve his health by bathing, while another was severely flogged before all the boys for persuading four others to go absent, and two of the boys concerned were called upon to administer twelve lashes each on his back.

Accusations against Mr Hardy by a girl after she had left the school, although never proven, led to his dismissal and to the appointing of Mr and Mrs Lessington in 1819.

In the same year, the adjoining houses were bought from Sir Joseph Mawbey’s trustees, and the visiting days further reduced, so that now parents could only attend on the first Sunday in January, April, July and October between 9 and 12 noon.

One year after their appointment, the Lessingtons were removed and their post advertised. The post was so desirable that 116 applications were received, but only 11 couples were considered suitable for interview. Mr and Mrs Price were appointed.

The powers of the resident staff at this time were confined largely to the welfare of the children and even this was closely watched by a visiting subcommittee which changed monthly. The members visited at least once a week.

Until this time the people of London had been under the protection of only 4,000 watchmen who, armed with staff and rattle, patrolled the streets throughout the night calling out the time and the state of the weather. In 1820 the Metropolitan Police was formed to replace them and to fight crime.

The school doctor was also sometimes referred to as being an apothecary, or a surgeon, so it is difficult to know his qualifications. One such doctor had doubt cast on his ability when he could not find a cure for the outbreak of a strange disease called ‘The Itch’, thought to be due to the over-long storage of meat. After some considerable time three other doctors from the district were called in and the malady cured within two weeks.

The staff increased in 1829 when a second master was appointed at £30 per annum, including board. Shoes, by the way, had risen in price to 16/- a pair (70p) and haircuts were 3d (1p).

South Thames labourers marched to gain a wage of 2/6d (12p) a day. Three were hanged and 420 transported to Australia.

Meanwhileback at the school, one enterprising youth set fire to the potato room over the boys’ schoolroom, with a phosphorous box. He was taken to the Watch House at Union Hall (police station) at the direction of the chief officer and later expelled.

This reference to the boys’ schoolroom should remind the reader that children (boys separately from girls) of all ages and abilities were taught in one room at one time. It was the usual method at the time that a few of the older brighter boys were taught a topic then returned to the class to teach the others. These “monitors” must have helped the staff, but it must have been a demanding task for them nonetheless.

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