Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Wainstalls - a Village School

When we were walking on the hills above Wainstalls on Saturday, we met a man taking photos who had been born up on the moor near Cold Edge Dam – about as high as you can get on the moor – and went to the school in Wainstalls village when he was five years old.  It must have been quite a trek for a little boy of five.  See this map for location. That got me thinking about the school, which is still there, and I found out some of its history.

The Elementary Education Act of 1870 established a system of ‘School Boards’ to build and manage schools where they were needed.  Only two fifth of children between five and ten were estimated to be attending school at that date.  There was some opposition to the idea of universal education  and it was not taken up everywhere – after all, if the working classes learned to ‘think’ they might revolt.  Most schooling for the poorer children had previously been provided by the various Churches, with grants from the Government who were reluctant to lose their influence.  Industrialists were keen, on the whole, arguing that a better educated workforce would improve Britain’s competitiveness.

By today’s standards, they set their sights very low.  Education would be provided from 5 to 12 years of age and the main thrust was to be the 3 Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic.

In 1876 a Royal Commission recommended that education be made compulsory and, in 1880, school attendance became compulsory between the ages of five and ten – though by the early 1890’s attendance within this age group was still falling woefully short.

Wainstalls School opened 10th January 1877 with 84 children, mainly part timers.  This meant that they worked, either in local textile mills or factories for the rest of the day.  I was surprised to read in the school log that by the end of January there were 221 children registered.  At this point there were two teachers including the headmaster!  Two local ladies helped ‘at times’ and monitors (older children) were used to teach the younger ones.

The population on the moors must have been much higher then.  We see the ruins of houses in the most unlikely places on the tops and some of the population would be itinerant labour brought in for lambing, shearing and haymaking, so student numbers probably fluctuated a fair bit.

On 2nd November the same year, the school was inspected by HM Inspectors of Schools ‘This is a new school, in a wild and neglected district, which lies at a great height and is terribly exposed in winter to snow and stormy weather.’ they wrote in their report.

The village is only 3.5 miles from Halifax but in 1886 the school log shows ‘Two wanderers from the moors admitted, 11 and 8 respectively.  Know nothing whatever but Aah!’

The local mills ‘imported’ orphans from Liverpool as workers and some attended the school.  That reminded me of a local gravestone which we photographed some years ago.  It is almost impossible to read the names but it says :

                                                   ORPHANS EMPLOYED
                                                         I & C CALVERT
                                       MARY ELLEN CLARK AGED 14 YEARS
                                            ALICE DEVITT AGED 12 YEARS
                                      ELIZABETH EDWARDS AGED 17 YEARS
                                           JANE JOHNSON AGED 12 YEARS
                           SARAH SHAW DIED MAY 17TH 1892 AGED 15 YEARS
                            MARY EMERY DIED JAN 22TH 1895 AGED 15 YEARS
                    ANNIE STEWART DIED MARCH 7TH 1895 AGED 16 YEARS

What struck me as most sad was that the first four children did not even have a date of death recorded.  About 100 children were recruited over several years  from 1879 and the last one still living in the village died in 1966 aged 88.  It seems terrible to think of children being uprooted and taken across the country to a strange place to work in a mill but it was considered a philanthropic gesture on the part of the mill owners to give these children a ‘fresh start’.

It was difficult to get the labour the mills needed at Wainstalls as there was no transport from Halifax – just a horse bus which ran once on Saturdays.  The children under 12 worked ‘half time’ (41/2 hours) and were fed, clothed, housed and given a few pence a week pocket money. Once they were 13, they worked full time - 56 hours a week, Monday to Saturday and had to attend Church on Sundays.  Philanthropy or cheap labour?  (cynical, moi?)

Now the school has 140 children in five classes, its own website with weekly newsletters and podcasts.  The pictures of the children on the website are of happy healthy youngsters and I can’t help wondering what the first Headmaster would think if he could see it now.  Wainstalls school website is here.  Scroll down to the bottom of the ‘About us’ page to open the history documents.

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