Education in Great Linford
Until the passing of the 1870 Elementary Education Act, schooling in England was not compulsory in any way and not until 1880 did it even become a legal obligation of the local school boards created by the act to enforce attendance for children aged 5-10 years. It is estimated that in 1870, of the 4.3 million children in England and Wales of primary school age, 2 million had no access to schooling. Those that were in school of one sort of another faced something of a postcode lottery in terms of the scope and quality of the education on offer, given that it was provided by a variety of institutions, some little more than unregulated businesses, many often religious in character, and those frequently unpopular with segments of the population who found the spiritual indoctrination on offer at odds with their own religious loyalties.
Sir Frank Markham’s two volume history of Milton Keynes paints a fairly bleak picture of extremely limited education in Milton Keynes prior to the Civil War of 1642-1651 and nor were things much better in the peace following. There were charity schools and various private and ecclesiastical endeavours established in larger towns and villages, but by the time of the 1798 Posse Comitatus (which recorded able bodied men who might be called up in time of war) Buckinghamshire had only 52 men described as school teachers, and only 12 in the Newport Hundred region which included Great Linford.
The Posse Comitatus recorded only men judged fit for military service between the ages of 15 and 60 years of age, hence although no person of the teaching profession is recorded at Great Linford in 1798, we know there was a school, and certainly at least in terms of its longevity, one of the more successful in the county of Buckinghamshire. This was the charity school established in Great Linford by William Pritchard circa 1702, one of about fifteen such endeavours scattered about the county paid for by the largesse of various wealthy individuals. Pritchard, who was the Lord of the Manor at Great Linford, had built a block of Alms Houses for the poor in his grounds, and incorporated into the middle section of this was a school where some 40 boys could be taught. Pritchard’s school was still in operation when the foundations were being laid in 1874 for the mixed St Andrew’s school on the High Street, which finally provided some legal equality for the education for girls.
Prior to the establishment of St Andrews, there appears to have been little educational opportunity for girls, though we know that a Sunday school was being held for girls in the 1850s under the tutelage of William Burn, the headmaster of the boys school. Other than this, the only other possible source of learning came from the village “Lace Making School”, though boys as well as girls made lace. The idea that schools like this were “educational” is however a purely notional concept, as the students were normally engaged in lace making for long hours in poor conditions, and may have only had the most rudimentary of education in other subjects, if indeed any at all.
At some point prior to 1854, The Alms House School appears to have become a part of the National Schools movement, set up and run by The Church of England. By 1851 the Church was able to boast some 17,000 of these schools across the country, teaching reading, writing, arithmetic and religion, though attendance was intermittent as the demands of agriculture took precedent for many hard-pressed parents, especially at harvest times. These schools were also not necessarily free, and though they increasingly received state aid, many still charged a small fee, sometimes on a sliding scale, with labourers paying a penny a week and more affluent parents a few pence more.
Of the variety of fee-paying private schools in existence, these ranged in form and quality from the so called Dame Schools, often run by old ladies or retired soldiers from their private homes and offering rudimentary schooling in the 3 Rs, to the elite schools such as Eton, obviously far out of the reach of all but the wealthiest strata of society. There is no evidence of a Dame School in the village, though Great Linford Manor was briefly the home of a fee-paying girls’ boarding school (circa 1877 to 1883) that went on to be a major name in the history of education in Milton Keynes.
The village had two School Mistresses recorded on the 1871 census, presumably teaching in the dying years of Pritchard’s Charity school. Finally, in 1875, Great Linford was endowed with a purpose-built school for boys and girls, though it would not have been free for all except the poorest families until the passing of the 1891 Elementary Education Act. An expansion of the building occurred in 1905, and with some further unsympathetic alterations, remains to this day broadly as it did then.