Schooling in 1818

We heard a lot about home schooling recently, when the political pressure was on to return to face-to-face teaching as soon as possible. Yet compulsory schooling for children of five to ten years old was only introduced in the UK in 1880, extending to 12 year olds by 1899. Before that educational provision was a largely hit and miss affair, a postcode lottery, if there’d been postcodes. Let’s take three Cornish parishes in 1818 and see what was on offer.

In the west, at Marazion, a charity school allowed a schoolmaster £1 a year (£86 in modern terms) for each boy taught. With this bounty he taught seven boys to ‘read, write and cipher’. Another charity for ‘the instruction of poor children of the parish’ had ‘come into the hands of the descendants’ of the donor and efforts to prise it from their grip were proving unsuccessful. In addition to the charity school there were three other small schools in the rural part of St Hilary parish teaching 54 children and three in Marazion with 187 children in attendance, plus three Sunday Schools.

Cornish schools were not large in the early 1800s, many having just one teaching room. Even Cornwall’s premier school, Truro Grammar School, was not exactly Eton or Harrow.

More generally in Marazion and St Hilary, ’the poor have not sufficient means of education’ and over half the children ‘are totally uneducated … The poorer classes are not disposed to send their children to school or to church, unless they can dress them beyond their station’.

In mid-Cornwall Probus was fortunate in having two charity schools. At one, 40 boys were taught ‘by a dissenter’, who received £15 a year (£1,300 nowadays) for his work. Another school taught 30 girls. The schoolmistress was only paid £5 a year from the charity, or £430, which she had to supplement by ‘other small charges’. Although no mention was made of other schools, the clergyman who reported was sanguine: ‘the poor have sufficient means of education’, although he warned that ‘they are not instructed in the principles of the Established Church so generally as they might be’.

Finally, what of Thomasine Bonaventure’s home parish in the far east of Cornwall? At Week St Mary there were three schools. At one 20 boys and 15 girls were taught, at a second ten boys and eight girls and at a third six boys and ten girls. A dozen or so of the scholars had their fees paid by the local rector or farmers. The population of Week St Mary in 1821 was 782. Around 180 of these would have been aged 5-14. This suggests that between a third and a half of children were at school. The clergyman drily observed that ‘the poor have not sufficient means of education, nor are they very desirous of them’.

(Information from a report from a parliamentary select committee on the education of the poor in 1818.)

2 thoughts on “Schooling in 1818

  1. Daniel Baudris, vicar of Warleggan 1705 to 1749, reported that various women of the parish taught children in their homes. I would love to more about such homeschooling. There was a penny school in Warleggan too. Can anyone advise where I can find more information about education before it became compulsary well over a century later. Are records for a parish like Warleggan across the centuries available?

    It is interesting to read the patronizing comments about poor people and being unwilling to send their children to school on the grounds of inadequate clothing. Adam Smith wrote about the lack of appropriate clothing being a real indicator of poverty in the eighteenth century, and the way in which people were stigmatized and unable to take part in many aspects of society due to poor clothing (see citation below). I conducted my PhD work in Madagascar among farmers and was amazed to hear very similar sentiments being expressed by extremely poor people. Some men did not possess even one shirt and said they never went to the local town because it was impossible for them to appear with a naked upper body. Inadequate clothing continues to exclude and transmit poverty intergenerationally into our own times.

    “A linen shirt … is, strictly speaking, not a necessary of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt, the want of which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty which, it is presumed, nobody can well fall into without extreme bad conduct.”

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    1. The best start to research schooling in Warleggan before the 1890s would be the archive catalogue at Kresen Kernow – at https://kresenkernow.org/ although it’s not that straightforward to use if you want to pin down the search. The 1818 report has an entry for Warleggan of course and there are other parliamentary reports of value – particularly one in the 1830s

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