Tuesday 15 November 2022

The First School in the Village by Jeannie Waudby

Inside this little old church in West London, there is a monument to someone who made a lasting difference to the children of Greenford.
Parts of the church date back to the 14th Century and some of the gravestones have been there so long that they are sinking into the ground. Inside, it has that spicy smell of ancient wood. When I went in to take my photos, a little robin flitted to and fro from one window sill to another. On the wall at the back there is a record of all the Rectors of this church from 1326 to the present.
The first three names - Radbert de Saleby, Richard de Norton and John de Corringham - are Norman names. I find it amazing to look at this list of real men (and they are all men) who mark out 700 years. The one I'd like to focus on is Edward Betham, who was Rector of this church from 1769 to 1783, and he has his own monument on the wall because of a gift he made in 1780 that still continues.
He gave £1600 (a lot of money then) to run the school that he built for poor children in Greenford, with a trust to continue into the future. In the 18th Century, poor children in England didn't have free schooling - or even any school at all, so this would have made a huge difference. This is what the monument says: '£30 to the Master for Instructing 30 Poor Boys & Girls, to Read, Write, Cast Accompts, & Know the Principles of the Xtian Religion; the Girls to be Taught also to Work, Sew & Knit; £30 in Coals for the School; Other part in Cloathing the Children, & the Remainder in Repairing the School & House, & in buying Spelling-Prayer-Books, Testaments, &C. Inroll'd in Chancery Nov. 16th. 1780.' This is the original building, not used as the school now.
There are a few things on the monument that seem surprising - for instance it's interesting to see how spelling and the use of capital letters has changed. Nowadays we don't divide what children learn in school in terms of gender - the girls had some extra things to learn: to 'Work, Sew & Knit'! In the late 19th Century the Edward Betham School built a new building, which is still part of the school today.
WRITING CHALLENGE Imagine that you are an 18th Century person who is giving a lot of money to start a new school - the first one in its village! We won't divide the children by gender, but as the founder of the school you get to choose what they will learn. They don't have to be things that schools teach now - you can choose anything at all! What are your top 5 things for children to learn in your school?
Jeannie Waudby is the author of YA thriller/love story One of Us. She is currently writing a YA novel set in Victorian times.
You can watch Jeannie's video here

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