A history of Halesworth, Suffolk, UK, through the ages.


Volume 3


Education in Halesworth

The education of the young, prior to the disappearance of the monasteries, had often been in the care of the monks. The Master's Accounts of Mettingham College (a religious house near Bungay) for 1401 - 1413 includes the entry:-

Paid for the board and lodging of Richard Clerke

going to school at Beccles for 8 weeks, 4 days at 7d (3p) per week,- 5s (25p)

For the teaching of the said Richard and his companion                  - 16d (7p)

By Elizabethan times Grammar Schools, where boys were prepared for university, were appearing in many Suffolk towns and even in villages. They were often run by masters for profit or were endowed by some charity on a long term basis. By 1600 it has been estimated that many of the gentry were literate in some form, that some 70% of yeomen and tradesmen were certainly numerate, but most of the country folk were illiterate, not being able to take advantage of the educational possibilities that were available.

At Wenhaston, William Peyn directed in his will of 1562 that a piece of land called Dose Mere Pightle be used for the maintenance of a free school within the town of Wenhaston for the 'instruction of poor children in learning, godliness and virtue', another piece of land was left by Reginald Verney in his will of 1562 for the same purpose. The school was probably behind the Guildhall near Wenhaston Church.

At Halesworth the story is a little more disjointed, we know the desire of Thomas Shipham to ensure the education of his children, for in his will of 1589 he provides money so that Thomas was to go to grammar school until 'he be thoughte to have his Latten tonge so well, as he may be able and meete to sett forthe ... to some lerned manne, where it may be thoughte he shall profitt himself in some knowledge of learnings for his benefitt afterwards'.

Which Grammar School is uncertain, but there was obviously some form of school in Halesworth, as the Halesworth Communion List of 1580 includes 'Mr Henry Cocke, Schoolmaster' also ten years later, in his will of 27th February 1590, Thomas Feltham held property in Halesworth which included 'a property in which George King had a school'. This school was still there in 1598 when Bishop Redman visited the town, for he records also 'George Kinge. He teachests a scole'.

A century passes before Thomas Neale of Bramfield grants 'The sum of 3 per annum ... as interest in 60 ... for the education of six poor children of this parish (Halesworth), and a further sum of 10s (50p) yearly is paid for the purchase Bibles to be distributed gratis to the said children' in his will of 1700. This caused Richard Porter a year later in 1701 to draw up his will in which a 'rent-charge of 17.6s.8d (17.33p) is settled upon a farm in Halesworth, now, or lately, the property of Mr.Charles Woolby, of which sum one half is paid to a schoolmaster and the other half is paid to a school mistress' for education of 40 children'.

It looks as if a school was actually in existence, and this is confirmed by the action of the Rev. Thomas Warren who left a sum of money to the local Charity School (will of 1767 and codicil 1770). The 'Account of Charity Schools in Great Britain and Ireland' (1712) lists those charity schools in Suffolk and the number of children attending or catered for. This list includes Dunwich with no number of children given, Stradbroke which has 20 children, and Halesworth also has 20 children. It also gives a rather interesting account of the rates for clothing poor children belonging to Charity Schools.

An unusual way of raising annual funds for the local school was made by John Hatcher, in his will of 1816. He owned a pew in the gallery of the Parish Church, at a time when you paid for a good seat in church services, a seat where you could both see and be seen. So he left instructions to his executors to rent the pew at 30 per annum, and this fee was to be paid to the Committee of the National School. A report of 1818 indicates there were at that time two endowed schools in the town, with a new school room built in 1813. There was also a Dissenters' school with 120 pupils attending, as a number of non-conformists, such as Baptists, Methodists or Congregationalists would not want their children to attend the Church of England School.

There is a further reference to a Day and Sunday National School established in 1829 with 200 attending and incorporating 40 endowed scholars; these are probably the 20 boys and girls educated under the will of Richard Porter mentioned before.

The Church School for Girls and Infants was established in a 'handsome building' which was erected by subscription in 1835 in Rectory Road (School Lane). This was built at a cost of 800 collected in memory of Priscilla, the wife of Andrew Johnston who was Agent to the Halesworth Bank and who had interested himself in much philanthropic work in the district. The Church School for Boys was built in 1854 at a cost of 550 in Holton Road, (now Hope Terrace), and was enlarged in 1898. There is a reference to an infant school in Pound Street (later called London Road) which housed 100 students, but I am not certain where that would have been. Similarly the 1864 Directory covering Halesworth mentions 'The town room is situated in the Market Place, - a very plain building, formerly a schoolroom'.

There were also private schools in Halesworth, for the Academy in Gothic House was up and running as a boarding school for boys by 1800, and by 1855 it had moved to Castle House in Holton Road. Another 'Gentleman's Day School' was started in the Market Place by John Mannall about 1868, it changed its name to an 'Academy' by 1873 and moved to the Thoroughfare. In the same way several 'Ladies Schools', such as that of Miss Susanna Byden of Chapel Terrace, Mrs Sarah Elworthy in Holton Terrace and Miss Sarah Wade in Pound Street which are listed in the 1858 Directory, have moved up market and become Ladies Seminaries by 1864, and Boarding Seminaries by 1885.

To further the education of the older generation the Mechanics Institute was established in Quay Street in 1850, but by 1885 it was given the highfalutin title of 'The Halesworth Institute of Moral and Intellectual Improvement' and was provided with a Reading Room, a Library of 1500 volumes, a good range of periodicals and a games room at the back. 


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