The Devon Historian Volume 88, 2019

Special 50th Anniversary Issue: Early Victorian Schools


Chapter One: Introduction and Overview

The introductory chapter describes the origins and conduct of the Devon History Society’s Early Victorian Schools project. It provides the context, both historiographical and socio-political, for the detailed case studies undertaken by members of the project and outlines the thematic analysis that emerged. It presents the overall conclusion to the project, that neither the challenging geography of the county nor its sectarian divisions are as significant in explaining local variations of provision in the mid-nineteenth century as the availability or otherwise of a local champion or entrepreneur, an individual who was able to see the need for a school, seize the opportunity to obtain resources to establish it, and manage relationships within the community to deliver and assure its continuing existence.

Chapter Two: Patrons and Parsons: the development of elementary education in rural Devon parishes, 1833-1870

This chapter takes as its principal focus the action by the Church of England within the diocese of Exeter. The established church dominated most of the case study village communities, but this chapter draws a distinction between the different character of development in different places: villages where the squire maintained the old traditions of providing charitable schooling for parishioners; villages where an individual, lay or clerical, put energy and effort into school development; and those where little or nothing was done. It concludes that the impetus for action given by the Diocesan Board of Education was insufficient to compensate for the lack of a committed individual entrepreneur, and thus that progress to secure uniform provision was slow and halting.

Chapter Three: Religious Rivalry

By focusing on a small number of communities in Devon, this chapter shows the different ways that the development of elementary schools was driven by churches, chapels and their national educational societies, reflecting the various religious challenges of the age. A renewal of the established church’s Catholic heritage coupled with an accelerated growth in non-conformist chapels threatened the Church of England’s traditional role in providing elementary schools. The enmity between the various sects was often vitriolic, and produced schools which functioned and were maintained in separate ways.

Chapter Four: a – Marwood Schools; b – The Chagford Philanthropists Ensuring Education for the Poorer Members of their Community 1790–1870; c – The Slow Death of Dartmouth’s Endowed Grammar School

The three vignettes presented in this chapter display the wide variety of the origins and success of educational establishments in the county. Marwood’s educational provision, as with many other small rural parishes in Devon, benefited in the beginning from relatively small bequests, and continued with the aid of clergymen, local parishioners and the local Education Board, whereas Chagford’s educational provision, although also initially benefiting from a local individual, was, over time, greatly encouraged and helped by just one local philanthropic family, the Hayter Hames. Dartmouth’s Endowed Grammar School, originating from the time of the Reformation, was always in the hands of the Corporation. However, not holding education high in their list of priorities, the Corporation failed to maintain the School and, despite the endeavours of a few individuals (who were not supported by the Corporation), the school failed.

Chapter Five: The Heathcoat Family and Education in Tiverton

This chapter shows the effects that one man, John Heathcoat, and his immediate family, had on education in the town of Tiverton. Heathcoat opened his factory in 1816, giving much-needed work to the townspeople, and soon became involved in the town’s existing schools. In 1841 he founded the first Factory School in the Southwest. Whereas most philanthropists supported either the Anglican church or one of the nonconformist groupings, Heathcoat did not differentiate between the sects: declaring that he believed in the education of pupils of all classes without religious restriction. Similarly, the other members of his family harboured the same outlook and supported all the educational establishments of the town and surrounding villages.

Chapter Six: The Development of Schools for the Pauper Children of Devon, 1833-1870

Poor Law guardians were legally obliged to provide workhouse children with at least three hours schooling a day, but their dilemma became, ‘what type of education should be provided?.’ However, there was a large amount of inconsistency in the ways education was delivered in the workhouses. The chapter looks at how workhouse schools differed from the certified schools established as an alternative, and investigates how local conditions determined the educational provision in each situation.

Chapter Seven: Lace Schools in East Devon

The question of education as preparation for earning a living is further discussed in this chapter on the East Devon lace schools. This demonstrates that the significance of a few additional weekly pence to a labourer’s family made parents reluctant to send girls to school, when they could earn money making lace. While some at least of the lace schools sought to offer education, generally in reading and bible study as well as occupational training, the girls often achieved only minimal levels of literacy. Decline of the handmade-lace trade, together with the greater availability of alternative educational provision, led to the decline of the lace schools by the 1860s, but some girls were still withdrawn to secure additional pence for the family income..

Chapter Eight: Private Schools in the south Devon resorts, 1830-1870, with particular reference to Exmouth

This article charts the growth of private educational establishments for the Victorian middle and upper classes in the blossoming coastal resort of Exmouth, and compares its situation with those in Torquay and Sidmouth. The study investigates the ownership and longevity of these schools, as well as the curricula and fees, and the facilities offered.

Chapter Nine: West Buckland Farm and County School: Post-Elementary Education for Farmers’ Sons in the 1860s

In this chapter the pioneering attempt to provide middle class education for farmers’ sons through the Devon ‘County Schools’ is discussed. The efforts of Rev John Brereton, in partnership with members of the Fortescue family, local aristocratic leaders, to provide sa school through a limited company that provided secondary education with a curriculum that was tailored to the needs of agriculturists made this a model that the 1867 Schools Inquiry Commission were to commend. Though the recommendations of the Commission about general secondary education were not followed nationally, the chapter argues that the success of these ‘county schools’ influenced the development of county secondary education over the next fifty years.