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Best, Crabb and Tucker: Beaminster’s schools

Katie Carpenter traces the history of education in Beaminster and its many and various schools from 1634 to the present day

Boys at work in waistcoats and britches at Beaminster and Netherbury Grammar

The earliest references to a school in Beaminster are of a schoolmaster called Lancelot Crabb in 1634 and of the items bought for a schoolhouse, which appear in the churchwardens’ accounts for 1651 and 1663. In 1682 a prosperous spinster, Frances Tucker, left in her will £20 a year (taken from the income of her farm, South Mapperton), for the maintenance of a schoolmaster to teach twenty of the poorest boys of the parish of Beaminster. He was to ‘take care of their manners’, ‘catechise them, teach them to read and write,’ and, ‘in some competent measure to cast an account’. She also made provision in her will for the trustees to fire the schoolmaster if he ‘shall be negligent loud or debauched’ and appoint a new one. A further £30 a year was to be used to fund apprenticeships for three or four of these boys, including one or two to be sent to sea. Due to wrangles over the bequest, the first schoolmaster, William Coombe, was only appointed in 1703. Joseph Harbin took over as schoolmaster in 1709 followed by John Harbin in 1711 and from 1715 the Revd Samuel Hood (later to become the father of the two distinguished Admirals Hood). The school was in an upper room of an ‘annex’ attached to the southwest corner of the church, which was the location of an apparently supernatural event.
In the early 1730s, the school transferred to a thatched building – on the south side of the churchyard – which burnt down in 1781. Betty, daughter of the schoolmaster William Pavy (or Paviott?), died in the fire. The school was rebuilt, this time with a tiled roof. In 1784 the trustees decided that boys were only to be admitted between eight and ten years of age and could not stay at the school for longer than four years. By 1814 the building was considered too dilapidated and unsuitable for use as a school and it was demolished. To replace it a dwelling-house, a malt-house and half an acre of land at Shortmoor were purchased and converted to a master’s house and a schoolroom capable of accommodating 110 boys with a playground and an orchard. It was described as ‘an ivy covered building with small windows of leaded lights, stone floor, white-washed walls and tiled roof.’ The income for Tucker’s Charity had increased and the roll was no longer restricted to the original 20 boys. In the early years of the nineteenth century the only education available to poorer people in the town were the Tucker Free School for boys, a ‘School of Industry’, which ran for a short time at the workhouse, and a Sunday School at the church.

Beaminster Museum's initial display on the education of local children. The museum's ground-floor 'school room' now charts Miss Tucker's educational works

For the professional class, some small private schools existed – usually in a private house and often for only a handful of pupils. The sons and daughters of gentry were taught at home by a tutor or governess; the boys were eventually sent away to school. By the mid-19th century, Beaminster was a more populous place than it had been fifty years before. There was a greater need for educational provision for the children of the better off and the number of private schools increased.
J Adam’s school in St Mary Well Street and William May’s in Fleet Street existed in 1824, as did a grammar school run by G A  Henessey & Son, which was taken over by William Gardner in 1832. At the latter, boarders and day boys followed a curriculum of English language, reading, writing, arithmetic, composition and geography. Greek, Latin, merchants’ accounts, drawing and land surveying were offered as additional optional subjects. Gardner’s Academy, run in a private house, now called Shadrack House, in Shadrack Street, had closed by about 1868.
There were also private girls’ schools. Mrs John Wan’s was in Hogshill Street and Elizabeth Nicholls ran a ladies’ boarding school in 1842, at Barton End in Fleet Street. In 1830 a voluntary school for girls was established and affiliated to the National Society for Educating the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church. In 1835 the charge to each of the fifty-plus girls was a penny a week – or tuppence if taught writing. The school was in a room adjoining the workhouse in East Street. In 1860 boys joined the infant class there. November 1865 saw the vicar of Beaminster, Rev. Alfred Codd, requesting subscribers for a new school to be built for the girls and infants in Hogshill Street. Grants and local subscriptions were forthcoming and the building, comprising a schoolroom and smaller classroom for girls and a schoolroom for infant boys and girls, was opened on 3 September 1868. There was still an attendance charge for pupils. In 1872 the children of labourers paid 2d. a week, two children from the same family paying 3d. Later, higher fees were required from farmers and tradespeople.

The Old School House in Beaminster

The school was then called the Girls’ Elementary School. A new boys’ school was built, opening in 1875, on the old workhouse site in East Street. The new Boys’ Elementary School had one schoolroom and a classroom. The old Tucker Free School at Shortmoor was eventually demolished in 1883. In 1871 a ‘middle school’, which would teach boys up to age fifteen, was proposed. It would teach reading and spelling, mensuration (measuring and calculating length area and volume) and land surveying, English grammar, composition and literature, history and geography, drawing, vocal music, Latin and/or French, and at least one branch of natural science. The new school in Beaminster and the older Netherbury Grammar School joined to become Beaminster & Netherbury Grammar School, at first at Shortmoor and then, from 1882, at Barton End in Fleet Street. It closed in 1893 for a short time due to low pupil numbers, reopening under headmaster Mr Thomas Brown in January 1897 with 22 pupils at new premises built on the site of the old potteries in Hogshill Street. Tuition fees were £5 for boys under 13 and £6 for older boys with a charge of 5s a term for stationery and games equipment; boarders were charged considerably more.

Boarders were required to keep their dormitory not just neat but with almost military precision

Later that year a ‘chemical laboratory’ and workshop were erected to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. In 1904 girls were admitted both as boarders and as day pupils; the girls from Miss Warr’s private Brook House Ladies School transferred there in 1905. A significant feature of Beaminster & Netherbury Grammar School was its agricultural curriculum taught by a specialist teacher from 1904. Four agricultural boarding scholarships were offered for the sons of Dorset farmers and there was great competition for these places. There was an Agricultural Field off Clay Lane up until 1933, which was divided into a number of plots on which experiments were undertaken trialling different fertilisers and varieties of vegetables. From 1919 to 1959 Mr A W Graveson taught botany and agriculture as subjects at the school. The school was enlarged in 1912 and there were eighty pupils by 1915. In 1935 Tucker House, opposite the school on Hogshill Street, was opened as boarding accommodation for girls, who were housed there until 1953 when they moved to Woodlands on Bridport Road. From 1939 war made its mark on school life as these extracts from the 1939 Christmas edition of the Beaminster & Netherbury School Magazine reveal: ‘…masters, parents and boys who worked, sometimes three and four hours a day during the holidays, digging ARP trenches for the School…. Work has been continuing during the term by all the bigger boys and some of the smaller ones have managed to lend a hand when the eye of authority has been turned away…. We have blacked out windows, we have dug more ground ready for vegetables, we have knitted and, apparently knitted and then done a little knitting.’

Now to be found in the Beaminster School, this is the bell from the original Netherbury-Beaminster School

The Boys’ Elementary School was also preparing for war, ‘We dug two trenches at the Boys’ School, either side of the school gardens’, one pupil reminisced. Education reform continued and Beaminster & Netherbury Grammar School closed at Christmas 1962. The grammar school pupils, together with the boys and girls from the town and village elementary schools, formed the new Beaminster secondary school, which opened in January 1963 under headmaster John Walton in new buildings at Newtown. It was renamed Beaminster Comprehensive School and became a Technology College in 2001. Current Beaminster School Headmaster Mike Best, says: ‘We are proud of our school and its achievements across the entire curriculum. We are optimistic about the future for our students and seek to develop their abilities in a happy, secure, stimulating and purposeful environment. The courses and extracurricular experiences we offer are selected to allow our students to develop as individuals, and to make the most of their time with us. We are fortunate to have good facilities, high standards of teaching, and supportive, caring staff,’ all of which augurs well for the next 378 years.

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