Education in Amblecote in the Nineteenth Century.
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The little township of Amblecote boasted an impressive array of schools in the nineteenth century. Indeed in modern boxing parlance it could be considered to have ‘punched above its weight’.
The first school to be established was the Madras School founded in 1815 at Holloway End just a few yards from the Stour, the river being the easily identifiable boundary with Stourbridge. Later the building was to be used as offices for the Stourbridge Gas Works. It covered an area of 222 square yards1.
The name of the school which must have been somewhat puzzling to the good people of Amblecote was only loosely connected with the Indian sub continent. It took its name for the type of education system it used. The Madras system was the brain child of Dr Andrew Bell an Anglican minister who introduced it in Madras for the benefit of the children of Army Officers and officials of the East India Company. Simply it involved the master teaching the older more able pupils who in turn instructed the younger students. This monitorial system, as it was called, initially proved quite successful particularly where there were enthusiastic teachers, small classes and limited finance. Indeed at the time of Bell’s death in 1832 no fewer than twelve thousand schools had been established in Britain and the colonies utilising this system.
The first evidence of Amblecote’s attempt to establish the school can be found in a document2 prepared by Messrs Rufford and Biggs Stourbridge bankers who were obviously appointed to collect and keep safe the not inconsiderable funds donated by local people. This first half of the nineteenth century was a turbulent time for small provincial banks. The seemingly stable Rufford and Biggs bank which had changed its name to Rufford and Wragge collapsed in 1851 causing much distress to its investors. Imprudent speculation in railway investment was given as the main reason for the bank’s demise. Fortunately the funds deposited in 1815 appear to have been efficiently handled.
The document is entitled ‘Proposals for Establishing by Subscription and supporting by Annual Contribution, Two Schools, on Dr. Bell’s Plan for the Better Education of the Poor of the Parish of Oldswinford’:-
1 That one school be established in the Town of Stourbridge - a person properly qualified to Teach being procured and a proper room being provided,
2 That another School be established in some central part of the Lye Waste under the same circumstances.
Unfortunately the second proposal failed to come to fruition and it has in fact been crossed out on the document.
Without doubt the major instigator of these proposals was the wealthy Hill family of Dennis House Amblecote who also had close connections with Lye. No fewer than seven members of the family are listed as subscribers donating a total of £115-15s and then guaranteeing annual subscriptions of £4-14s. Joseph Lea resident of The Hill, later to become Corbett Hospital, donated £50 and other prominent supporters included lawyers Causer, Collis, Wragge and Hunt, bankers Bate, Rufford and Robbins, industrialist James Foster, glassmaker John Pidcock of The Platts, fellmonger and tanner Joseph Pitman who subsequently purchased the Hill and served as church warden at Holy Trinity Church, John White, a builder from Holloway End who a few decades later was the main contractor for the construction of the church and printer John Heming. By 1834 the school could boast both a master and mistress, but it is doubtful whether the school continued much longer after this date.
A National School for girls and infants was built in 1846 on the corner of King William Street and Hill Street3. This coincided with the rapid development of the Dennis Park area of Amblecote. Previously the main area of domestic housing was clustered around Holloway End and the ribbon development on the main turnpike road to Wolverhampton. Local solicitor and entrepreneur William Blow Collis was the driving force behind the high density development between Brettell Lane and Collis Street. He formed a land society which provided finance and knowhow, and not only generated him a profit, but he also benefited by having one of the main thoroughfares named after him.
The school by 1851 had a mistress and two assistants. In 1905 attendance averaged 141 which is quite staggering bearing in mind there was only two class rooms, the larger one being just about large enough to be partitioned by a curtain or screen. In 1962 a new infant school was erected in School Drive. Florence Starkey the long serving headmistress continued to rule with a rod of iron until her retirement a few years later. The building in King William Street was demolished and eventually redeveloped by the author. Few builders can claim the dubious distinction of building flats on the site of their former school and houses on the playground where he had self consciously danced round the maypole.
A larger National School was erected in Coalbournbrook in 1856 and officially opened on 2 February 1857. These schools were intended to provide basic education for the poor and their establishment was usually instigated by the National Society whose aim was to provide a national school in every parish. Frequently the school stood next to the parish church and took its name; in Amblecote’s case suitable land was not readily available next to the newly erected church so a site owned and freely given by the Earl and Countess of Stamford and Warrington, in what is now known as School Drive, was gratefully accepted. From 1833 central government became increasingly aware of the importance of education amongst the lower orders particularly in the ever expanding industrial areas. They decided to award annual grants to societies providing such education, the largest of which was the National Society. This financial support obviously came with bureaucratic strings attached, the most demanding of which was the implementation of regular inspections. It was these government officials who eventually brought about the demise of the monitorial system, considering it too rigid and incapable of meeting the standards required by the rapidly industrialising world.
The opening ceremony was reported in some detail by the local press; - On Monday last the new National School at Amblecote was opened by Lord Lyttelton. In the morning prayers were read at the church by the Rev. J.W.Grier. The children afterwards walked with flags in procession to the schools. Among those present were Lord Lyttelton, the Rev. J.W. Grier, the Rev R.P. Turner, the Rev. J Bromley, J. Amery and others. His Lordship delivered a short address. He regretted that want of moral training often experienced at home, which frequently neutralized the precepts learned at the school and urged upon the children to use what influence they could with their parents to allow them to remain at school as long as possible. The juvenile band played several popular airs during the intervals between the speeches, in a manner which reflected great credit upon themselves and their tutor Mr. Bullock.
Another paper reported that The children numbering upward of 500 encircled the school and gave 3 hearty cheers. Tea at the Corn Exchange was given for the children. A sheep roasting was held on the following Monday.
The school was visited on the 6 February 1858 by Her Majesties Inspector, the Rev. H. Sandford, who was 'pleased with his findings'. There were 160 boys, 58 girls, and 100 infants.
A report to the subscribers4 following a meeting held in the vestry of Amblecote Church on 20th December 1858 is an invaluable source of information with regard to the finances, attendance and teaching staff at the school some two years after its inception.
The forty three years which had ensued between the establishment of the Madras School and the National School had seen Amblecote take a more individual identity; the construction of Holy Trinity Church in 1842 being a major factor influencing the independent outlook of the hamlet. Population had also increased considerably and a significant number of industrial enterprises had begun to make their presence felt in the neighbourhood. The list of subscribers contained in this 1858 document include, as one would expect the influential Foster family. By this time James Foster had been dead for some six years but his nephew William Orme Foster who had inherited most of his uncle’s estate contributed £25, this being in addition to the £200 he had donated to establish the school some two years earlier. Joseph Pitman had continued to prosper from his skin works in Lower High Street and he, together with his wife and two daughters donated £9. The Earl of Stamford provided £5 and Rev JW Grier the incumbent at Holy Trinity a further £2; the emerging entrepreneurs W C Firmstone, J Webb and W S Wheeley subscribed a guinea each. Collections in Church amounted to £28-1-3 and the Capitation grant £30.
The pupils themselves paid £125-12-2 described in the accounts as “Children’s Pence” This contribution is worthy of further comment. It is doubtful if the parents of the Madras School pupils could have made such a payment nearly half a century earlier. Workers by the mid century were at last experiencing a reasonable increase in income in real terms and some were now able to lift their heads above the parapet of subsistence and provide their children with an odd penny to ensure they had some, albeit limited, education. The more enlightened appreciated that this could be one way out of abject poverty.
The school had three full time teachers Mr. Bullock, the head of the boys department receiving £70, Miss Baptie in charge of infants, £36 and Miss Caddick, head of the girls department, £30. They were supplemented by assistant or pupil teachers Miss Webb, Miss Coley, Miss Johnson Miss, Miss Hamblin, Miss Bowen and Miss Hatton. Messrs Broughton, Scott, Jordan and Yeates concentrated on the boys department.
Pupil numbers were as follows Boys 189 additional on Sunday 66 Girls 105 additional on Sunday 68 Infants 176 and Night School 31. In addition there are 35 pupils enlisted at the school at Amblecote Bank. This is the first time mention has been made of this establishment but the accounts show rent of £6-2-0 being paid to Messrs Aston Corser and Pearson for rent of this Amblecote Bank School room. Despite further investigation it has proved impossible to find the exact location of this seat of learning so any further information would be gratefully received.
There was undoubtedly a strong connection between this school and Holy Trinity Church. The Rev. John W Grier acted as both Chairman and Secretary to the Management Committee and the £28 collected from the church congregation was not an insignificant sum. As the century wore on the school became totally accepted as a Church School.
It continued to offer basic education up until the late 1930’s. In 1942 the building was taken over by The Ministry of Food who were represented by Birmingham City Council and paid the Church £100 a year rent. The correspondence between the District Valuer and local agent Frank C Cooper, who represented the interests of the Church is quite revealing. As is normal, prior to the granting of a lease the parties agree a schedule of condition. From this document it is obvious that the school had been sadly neglected for some time.
The report5 states;-
The playgrounds are formed of ash and clinker, the surface is rough and uneven. Recently used as a salvage dump and the remains of the salvaged materials have been left lying about.
Drains in bad condition with leaking joints. Children’s Latrines in bad state of repair. Water services need renewal. 32 broken window panes.
Many roof tiles broken, some areas are so badly perished as to necessitate their entire removal and replacement by galvanized sheets. (Work carried out by Corporation).
The whole of the cast iron gutters and rain water pipes are badly in need of repair.
The heating apparatus and pipes are fractured and could not possibly be repaired.
It is understood that the premises were condemned by the County Authority as being unsuitable for schools and consequently have not been occupied for several years. Apparently during that time no repairs have been carried out and the building was fast becoming in a ruinous state.
The school became an emergency feeding centre until the end of the War and then took on the roll of a school canteen. In 1962 after some considerable expenditure by Amblecote UDC it became a civic hall and public library. It was finally demolished in the late twentieth century.
Another School worthy of detailed consideration is the Amblecote Training School. Established in 1853 and occupying an imposing position on the corner of High Street and Vicarage Road, the school’s effective life spanned only fifteen years. Nevertheless it appears to have been extremely active and never missed an opportunity to promote itself in the local community.
An advertisement on the front page of the Brierley Hill Advertiser and South Staffordshire Mining District Journal dated 8 March 1856 proclaimed as follows;-
“Amblecote Training School Stourbridge. Established 1853. Principal, Mr. Philip Marks. It is respectfully announced that adequate arrangements have been made for the accommodation of a limited number of young gentlemen as boarders and that the comforts of a well regulated home are thus combined with the other educational advantages for which this Academy enjoys so great a celebrity. Amongst the chief subjects of study may be mentioned, scripture geography astronomy, spelling reading, grammar, elocution, English composition, plain and ornamental writing, shorthand, drawing, mental and slate arithmetic, book keeping, mensuration, algebra, Euclid physical science ‘The science of common things’, the Latin and French languages, drill and exercises, gymnastics and vocal and instrumental music. To assist in the various subjects mentioned above there is an efficient staff of well qualified and painstaking teachers thoroughly conversant with Mr. Marks system of moral intellectual and physical training. The following terms include the entire expense for tuition as well as for boarding, washing etc. (The terms vary with age from 6 guineas a quarter to 8 guineas) N.B. There are now in the school upwards of 100 of the most respectable youths residing in the neighbourhood”.
Obviously Mr. Marks showed little reluctance to advertise the benefits of an education in his school. Indeed there must have been several noted Public Schools at the time that would have been envious of the extensive subjects available at the Amblecote Training School. That is if the advertisement was truly accurate.
In 1949 D R Guttery, an eminent local historian, glass expert and retired head teacher, who at that time lived at Chestnut House in Villa Street, uncovered the advertisement and the accompanying lithograph6. He became suspicious that the advertisement made no mention of the union between the school and The Royal or any other College of Preceptors although the lithograph clearly shows the sign on the front elevation proudly displaying the connection. Guttery’s investigations revealed that The College of Preceptors never had the right and never claimed to be ‘Royal’ and their records failed to find any registration or association with the Amblecote Training School. So perhaps Mr. Marks became a little carried away when he was striving to convince parents of the benefits of his Black Country School. Perhaps he failed to live up to the expectations of his pupils and their parents and this contributed to the schools demise only fifteen years after its establishment. Although it was not unusual for the life of these private schools to be short-lived in Victorian England.
Nevertheless we may be doing the headmaster an injustice as the author has in his possession7 an interesting letter dated April 1978 from a lady whose grandfather attended the school. She revealed that she was the proud owner of a book presented by the school to her grandfather as first prize for “Gentlemanly Conduct” signed, as one would expect, by Philip Marks. She continues by describing her grand father’s unhappy and tragic childhood. Evidently both his parents died in the East Indies, where his father was a civil engineer. He together with his three younger sisters were all sent home to England and brought up by relatives. An uncle sent the boy to Amblecote training school and he managed, when his education there was complete, to obtain an apprenticeship for him at the Soho Works in Birmingham and he eventually qualified as a mining engineer. The letter writer had, like Reginald Guttery some two decades before, attempted to glean information from The College of Preceptors with regards to the school but had drawn a blank. Nevertheless at least one pupil was taught to a sufficiently high standard to enable him to embark on a respected career despite the school’s dubious connection with The College of Preceptors.
The recipient of this correspondence was none other than local historian H Jack Haden whose grandfather also attended this infamous school but sadly he was unable to supply any further information apart from expressing his regret that he had not questioned his grandfather more closely about his school days. The two parties also remarked that the pupils in the lithograph appear to be wearing some type of uniform including an interesting tricorne style hat.
The accompanying photographs8 taken in the early part of the twentieth century clearly show the three storey building known as the High House. This was demolished in 1949 although part of the rear wall is still in existence. The two storey part of the school to the right had by this time been converted to the Royal Oak public house and a small dwelling set a few yards forward of the public house had been erected. This can be clearly seen in the photograph of the church which is dated 1919.
Other transient and less significant schools include a private school owned by Eliza and Maria Hopkins9 whose location is as yet unknown, whilst 10James H Meese refers to a ‘dame school’ renting the Methodist Sunday School building in Amblecote from 1848 until 1867. The rent paid was 1/6d a week and the four teachers mentioned were Miss Walters, Miss Thompson, Miss Page and Miss Scott.
Meese also comments at some length on the development and role of the Sunday school teachers who devoted ‘a great portion of their time to the matter of teaching the scholars to read and for this purpose alphabet sheet, primers and spelling books had to be used. Corporal punishment was then also administered in the Sunday school pretty freely. The writer remembers having seen scholars forcibly carried on the backs of teachers to the Superintendent’s desk when guilty of disobedience’.
Clearly Nineteenth century education in the expanding village of Amblecote varied greatly in scope size and efficiency. The private schools, like so many in the country at the time, appear to have had a limited life, being subject to the vagaries of the rapidly fluctuating economic climate and the enthusiasm and effectiveness of the owner and teachers. The establishment of the National School however brought with it a degree of stability and offered the children of the good people of Amblecote an opportunity to obtain a sound if limited basic education.
 Scott-Stourbridge and its Vicinity.
 Haden/Morgan Collection.
 Vic. County History.
 Haden/Morgan Collection
 Haden/Morgan Collection.
 County Express October 8th 1949.
 Haden/Morgan Collection.
 Haden/Morgan Collection.
 White Directory of Stourbridge 1834.
 Meese JH. The Story of a Hundred Years. Handbook of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Stourbridge.
© amblecote history society 2011