In the Beginning

Shelagh Ryan

1n 1833, when the government conducted a census of education in England, Bengeo with a population of 855, boasted five daily schools. One held 15 children of both sexes and was supported by subscription – i.e. by the local gentry. In the other four schools 54 children were being educated at their parents expense. There was also a Sunday school, established in 1829, where forty ‘females’ (age unknown) were educated for free. A lending library was attached to this school.

In 1846, the National Society for the Promotion of Religious Education for the Children of the Working Class conducted their own survey. They found there were three schools operating in the parish church, (still St Leonard’s then) and two licensed lecture rooms. The Sunday School now held 30 boys and 30 girls and was supported by subscription. The Day school had 19 boys and 24 girls and was funded by a mixture of payment and subscription. There was also a Dame School containing 8 children whose parents paid all costs. The Society felt the village needed a National School.

Plans were made and in 1848 William Parker of Ware Park conveyed a plot of land under the School Sites Act of 1941. This land faced onto what was then called High Street, where Mansfield gardens stand now, next to Holy Trinity Church. A London architect Henry Harrison of Bedford Sq. drew up the plans for the school with attached Master’s House for the teacher. It was built in 1849 at a cost of £900. This money was raised by local subscription and government grant.

Bengeo was considered a salubrious place in those days and the population expanded rapidly until in 1854 it stood at approximately 1,520. A classroom was added to the school at a cost of £214 and in 1860, when there were 80 boys and 70 girls, a separate girls school was built at a cost of £887. The children in the school were aged 7 and over. The under 7’s were catered for in several private nursery schools in the village.

Education for the children of the working classes was a hot topic in the mid-19th Century. A lecture held in Hertford Town Hall in May 1851 touched on the need for schooling for the very young:

Infant schools are also contemplated, in which the instruction of the moral feelings would of course be a prominent feature. The object of the Infant School would be to take care of those little children whose mothers were obliged to be working in the fields or engaged in factory operations, or in some other labour which obliged them to leave their infant offspring during the day, either utterly neglected or to the baneful influence of Godfrey’s Cordial (an opium solution.)

Note that the emphasis is not on educating the children, but rather on providing a safe place for them whilst their mothers were at work and on ensuring their moral well being.

For whatever reason, in 1868/9, Robert Smith of Goldings had built, at his own expense, an Infant School next to the Boys and Girls schools. He leased it to the church for the immense sum of 1s (5p) per annum.

The school could accommodate 112 children in one large room. The ‘offices’, Victorian twee for the toilets, were outside and consisted of a long plank with holes at regular intervals balanced over a hole in the ground. This was the first purpose built Infant School in Bengeo and was to be occupied for eighty-six years.



This page was added on 16/12/2023.

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