This extremely long page is comprised mainly of local newspaper reports. Most of these I have copied in full rather than make notes, as they give an excellent picture of village life at that time. The fact that the vicar of a genteel village parish as refined as Aspley Guise and a local lady had such a public falling-out, over such a prolonged period and chose to use the local newspapers as the battleground, was extraordinary.
The main protagonists were:
British School and supporters
Mrs. Emily Mary Grimshawe (b.1831-d.1897) Second wife of C. L. Grimshawe, tenant of Aspley House from 1862 to 1875. The daughter of Sir Charles Gillies Payne.
Mr. Charles Livius Grimshawe (b.1820-d.1887) Tenant of Aspley House from 1862 to 1875. Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, he was a J.P., Deputy Lieutenant for Bedfordshire and had served as High Sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1866.
Mr. John Palmer (b.1824-d.1904) Master of the British School from 1861-1873.
Mrs. Ellen Palmer (b1828-d.1935) Mistress of the British School from 1861-1873.
Mr. Thomas Gautrey (b.1852-d.1949) Master of the British School 1873-1879.
National School and supporters
Rev. Samuel Harvey Gem (b.1836-d.1926) Vicar of St. Botolph, Aspley Guise between 1869 and 1878.
Mr. John William Wall (b.1839-d.1874) Master of the National School, from c.1863 to 1874.
Mrs. Jane Wall (b.1842-d.1921) Mistress of the National School from c.1863 to 1874.
Mr. James Mumford (b.1852-d.1937) Master of the National School, then the Board School, from 1874 to 1889.
Before 1870, elementary education in Britain was voluntary and left up to locals to administrate. Whilst there were Public (Private) schools which would take fee-paying pupils for those who could afford it, education of the poor lower classes was left to charities or the Church to organise. These fell broadly into two schemes: British Schools set up by the British and Foreign School Society to teach without reference to the catechism of the Church of England (and so tended to be favoured by non-conformist families); and National Schools set up by the National Society for Promoting Religious Education, who provided elementary education in accordance with the teaching of the Church of England.
There were a great many non-conformist groups in this area, with Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists and the Society of Friends, who all wanted their children to receive an education, but perhaps not the one promoted by the Church of England. As well as the famous Aspley Academy, (a private fee-paying school), Aspley Guise had British and later National schools too. Thus, there were opposing schools, both competing for the eager young minds of the poor.
A county-wide survey was conducted in 1833, when Aspley was listed as having a “Daily School” (which had only commenced that year), as well as the private Boarding school. The Church of England Sunday School attracted 30-40 scholars, whilst the Wesleyan Methodist version attracted between 80-100.
The British School
By the side of the Square in Aspley Guise stands a small single-storey chapel building bearing a plaque announcing that it is the “Courtney Memorial Hall”, until recently used as an Evangelical Free Church. This was once used by the Aspley Guise British School.
The British school was probably established in a disused barn on the same spot as the chapel, sometime just before 1842. This was then demolished and the building you see today built to accommodate it in 1842, with a date stone on the gable end. The original barn building belonged to a local Quaker, Richard Thomas How, but it passed on his death in 1835 to his nephew William, who in turn left it to his widow Lucy in 1862.
The first known teacher of the British School was John Wood, who was recorded as schoolmaster in a directory of 1850. A report made that year on the British school noted that there were 91 children present; that it was very effective at arithmetic and technical subjects, but less so at intellectual ones. The next year the inspector noted that the general plan of instruction had been “decidedly advanced since the last inspection“, with less emphasis on technical teaching though, in his opinion, the girls were doing too much fancy needlework rather than plain designs! Overall, the inspector decided it was “A most favourable specimen of a country British school“.
The 1861 census shows that John Wood, School Master, aged 36, was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, as was his wife Grace, 37 and daughter Mary A. Wood, 16. They lived in West Street (now West Hill).
The amenity of having a large room in the centre of the village made it an ideal location for all sorts of other events after the school day and at the weekends. The earliest reference I can find to this in online newspapers is that of 5th June 1852, when the Beds Mercury reported that a Mr. Hopcroft of Dunstable had given a lecture there on the superior advantages of life assurance over the old local benefit societies. Mr Hopcroft may have been slightly biased in his approach, as he worked for the Times Life Assurance Company and had established a local agency for them!
John Wood is still listed as Schoolmaster in the Kelly’s directory of 1854 and he also appears listed as helping with examinations at Leighton Buzzard British School in 1859, but the 1861 census showed a new Master had taken over at the school. John Palmer was 37 and from Frome, Somerset. His wife Ellen, 34, originally from Portsmouth, was also listed as a “Mistress of British School”. They had one daughter, Fanny, who was 19 months old, born in Alresford, Hampshire. He is mentioned in a Beds Times, 11th March 1862, report about the school:
“ASPLEY GUISE. On Friday, the 7th inst., a tea meeting was held in the British school-room, Aspley, for the purpose of bringing together the parents of the children to hear the examination conducted by W. Milne, Esq., of the Borough-road Establishment. In the absence of G. Clayton, Esq., B. Wiffen took the chair, who, having briefly explained the purport of the meeting, introduced Mr. Milne, who questioned the children upon reading, geography, mental arithmetic, &c. The questions upon each subject were answered very correctly; the reading was especially good; and the readiness with which the answers were given in mental arithmetic showed they had been well taught. After the examination of the children the report was read, showing a balance in favour of the school of £1 8s. 7d., after paying for some considerable alterations for the improvement and accommodation of the children. Mr. Milne then addressed the parents upon the advantages of education, and the good results derived from sound moral principles being instilled into the minds of youth. Mr. Palmer, the schoolmaster, also addressed the audience, and especially called upon the parents to see that their children were sent regularly to school, as much of the success was descendant on the parents as well as the master. The tea, which was of the best quality, was done ample justice to by the numerous attendance of parents and friends, and the public meeting was also well attended, the company being highly satisfied with the condition the school. At the conclusion the old song of “Don’t Fret” was sung, and the meeting broke up.”
Cravens trade directory of 1863 still gives the previous British Schoolmaster’s name, but sometimes these trade directories used previous edition information without checking very thoroughly. However, it also gives figures of average attendance: “British School, J. Wood, master: Number of boys, 70; girls, 30.”
Palmer obviously had strong views on the national education system question. From the Northampton Mercury, 14th December 1867:
“Elementary Teachers’ Association. On Saturday last the tenth quarterly meeting of the Beds and Bucks Association was held at the British School room. Mr. J. Palmer, of Aspley Guise, read a very interesting paper on “English Provincialisms,” which was followed by an animated discussion. Afterwards the meeting took into their consideration the relation of elementary teachers to the present aspect of the educational question; and it was deemed advisable that all teachers as practical men should give public expression to their opinions upon Educational Reform.”
The National School
A National school was opened in Aspley Guise in 1848. This was a short distance up Woburn Lane, south of the Square. They had advertised for a new master for it in the Northampton Mercury in November the previous year.
“Aspley Guise. Wanted, for the National School, at Aspley, a Master and Mistress, who are competent to teach upon the National System, and who are members of the Established Church. Applications, with references as to character, to be made to the Rev. J. Vaux Moore, Rector of Aspley.”
The Government had insisted that schools which received government grant monies should be inspected. This was resisted by the Church of England, until a compromise on inspection by clergymen was reached. Two years after opening, Aspley Guise National school was surveyed by Rev. F. C. Cook, who reported:
“Aspley Guise Boys, 1st July 1850. 213 present. 1. Desks and furniture: Good; convenient and well-arranged. 2. Books and apparatus: Not sufficient supply of easy reading books nor of slates. 3. Organisation: Two school rooms in each, the instruction is conducted with great care and industry, by a teacher and assistants. 4. Instruction and discipline: May be much improved in the boys’ school. 5. Methods: The teaching in the boys’ school is too mechanical. 6. Master and Mistress: The master is a very respectable and conscientious man. I also think well of the intelligence and industry of the mistress. 7. Special: This report represents the two schools as one mixed school. Many subjects of instruction are common and each teacher takes part in both. The school is efficient in many points of great importance – the numbers have increased rapidly and regularly, and the children are well instructed in most elementary subjects, while some have made fair progress in the higher subjects – but great improvement in discipline and method of teaching will be requisite to justify the continuance of the three pupil teachers, after the next annual examination.”
A year later, the same inspector returned and his report said that whilst an abundant supply of good books and maps had appeared, he had now decided the furniture was now not suitable! “The desks are not convenient, but they cost much money, were approved by the Committee of Council when the school was built and could not be altered without great expense”. It was a different inspector in 1853, who mentioned that the master and mistress were Mr. and Mrs. Ellen and commented “There is much real and hearty work in this school, and I can speak of it in terms of high commendation.”
The Ellen’s are recorded as still in charge in 1854, but by 1861 the schoolmaster was listed as Mr. Webb G. Humphries. He lived in the house next door to the school, with his wife and two children. At the same time, nearby in Fenny Stratford, Mr. John William Wall was a boarder at a house. He was a single man, described as a schoolmaster. He married a Wavendon lady called Jane Sollom in 1863 and would soon become an important figure in the local National school history.
Cravens trade directory of 1863 was also out of date for this school, still giving Charles Ellen, as master. The numbers they gave as attending were 90 boys and 50 girls.
The earliest reference in the press to Mr Wall (of Fenny Stratford in 1861) having taken on Aspley Guise National School is in 1868. The Beds Mercury reported in November that the school had given a testimonial to Rev. Hay Erskine who was leaving for Long Marston. There were songs and recitations from the scholars and they presented him with a blotting book, a book-slide, a letter-weighing machine “in coromandel wood set with ormolu and Wedgwood cameos” and an illuminated paper with illustrated border of wild flowers made by Mrs. Wall, as they were then in charge as Master and Mistress.
In 1869, a new vicar, Rev. Samuel Harvey Gem, took over at Aspley Guise. The son of a Lincoln’s Inn solicitor in London, he had grown up living with his grandfather in Sion Hill, Wolverley, just north of Kidderminster. He studied at University College, Oxford, (where he won the Ellerton Oxford University Prize for best essay of the year in 1861, on “The state of religious belief among the Jews at the time of the coming of Our Lord”). After attaining his M.A., he was married to Louisa de Berniere, daughter of Rev. Newton Smart, of the Prebendary of Salisbury, with the service being conducted by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury in August 1865. They had a daughter in 1866 and a son in 1869 soon after coming to Aspley Guise. Rev. Gem took a very keen interest in the National School and the national education system as a whole.
So both schools arrived at the 1870’s with prospering fortunes and a good attendance. Rev. Gem, although having his own National school to support, was not above coming to the British school to access the scholars, so there must have been a good spirit of co-operation between them. From the Beds Times, 25th Feb 1871:
“ASPLEY GUISE. This village last week was the scene of two interesting juvenile gatherings which, though not partaking of the outdoor amusements that the summer season permits, we yet desire to chronicle. The first in order was a tea given to the children of the British School by Mr. Letchworth, and of which Mr. Palmer is the highly efficient master. The results of his training were practically evinced in the examination that took place afterwards, when we would particularly specify the rapid answers given by the children in mental arithmetic and their excellent knowledge of geography. Mr. Harvey Gem, the rector of the parish, examined them in the Scriptures, and praised their proficiency. His presence on the occasion and his address to the parents best testify to the interest he takes in promoting the cause of education under whatever designation it may be promoted. There were also present Mr. and Mrs. Grimshawe, Mrs. How, Miss Thorpe, Mr. and Mrs. Dymond, Miss Letchworth, &c., &c. Then on Friday took place a meeting of the children of the National School to receive the presents suspended from a beautiful Christmas tree given by Mr. and Mrs. Gem, and which we regret her illness had prevented at Christmas. Mrs. Gem, we are happy to add, was able to be present, and we observed also Mrs. Smart, Rev. Hay Erskine, Mrs, and Mrs. Grimshawe, Mrs. Hugh Jackson, Mrs. Carlisle Parker, Mr. and Mrs. Dymond, Mrs. Trew, Miss Tattam, &c. The singing of the children in the various pieces was much admired, and the modulation of their voices very good.”
There followed the lyrics of a song, “The Christmas Tree”, composed by the school mistress for the occasion.
By the time of the 1871 census, the Palmer family had expanded to include daughter Emma, 9 and sons Fred, 5 and John, 2. There were two other children in the house described as ‘Boarders’; William Palmer, 4, from Linslade, Bucks. and William Faulker, 10, from London.
Also in Aspley, nearby in Woburn Lane, were the family of Mr. Wall, Master of the National School. John W. Wall, 32, was born in Tetbury, Gloucestershire but his wife Jane, 29, was from Wavendon. They had married on Christmas Eve 1863. Daughter Emily, six and son Harry E., not yet one, were both born in Aspley. Frederick Dickens, 14, and Alfred H. Davis, 13, were both described as Boarders. They also had a servant, Ruth Collins who was just 12. The Wall’s had to deal with a horrific accident at the National school in April, when a tall gymnastic pole erected in the playground toppled over and killed Julia Bunyan, the 14-year-old daughter of the local plumber and painter of East Street. Although looking perfectly serviceable from the outside, it was later found the timber had rotted away in the middle. The coroner ruled it an accidental death with no blame on anyone. School was suspended for two days and Mr Wall wrote in the school log-book “Distressing and fatal accident in the play ground Julia Bunyan instantaneously killed by the falling of the circular swing post.”
Change eventually had to come to the factional nationwide education system. The Elementary Education Act of 1870 was the first of a number of Acts of Parliament passed by the Government between 1870 and 1893 to create compulsory education in England and Wales for children aged between five and 13. Not only did this guarantee an education for the children, it stopped them being used as cheap labour in dangerous occupations. This led not only to arguments about who should pay for such a scheme, but also an inevitable power struggle between the opposing sides of British and National schools and their belief systems, as each wanted to be in charge locally. It was easy where only one school existed, or where one had a far greater attendance than the other, but in Aspley it was split fairly evenly in numbers. It appears neither side wished for the local arrangements to be handled by a voted-in School Board, as they would have lost overall control. This set the scene for an interesting stand-off, not only between the adults, but sometimes the children too. The friendly terms between the Aspley Guise vicar and British school were soon a distant memory…
The first report seems innocent enough. Someone took the initiative and decided to bring the two sets of children together for a late-summer fayre. The National school had had summer fayres as far back as 1850. What could be jollier than a joint-schools fete, held on neutral territory? The Grimshawe’s were tenants of Aspley House, where they lived with their three children, a French governess and five servants. From the Beds Times, 5th September 1871:
“Village Fete and Garden Party at Aspley Guise. On Friday, Sept. 1st, Mr. and Mrs. C. L. Grimshawe invited the whole of the children of the British and National Schools with their parents and friends to a festival, which was held in the grounds of Aspley House. A large number of the clergy and gentry accepted the invitation to a croquet party, which was held in the gardens on the same occasion. The children, to the number of about 220, assembled at 1.30 p.m.at the Obelisk on the Village Green, which was gaily decorated with flags, and after being marshalled into order were marched to the grounds, headed by the Aspley band, and preceded by the Rev. Mr. Isaacs, Mr. Whitman (churchwarden), Messrs. Pickering, James Turney, Ardley, W. Harris, Joel Perry, Charles Inwards, D. W. Wooding, and Goodman (members of the School Committee), and Mr. Palmer (the master of the British School). On entering the grounds the procession was received and welcomed by Mr. and Mrs. Grimshawe, both on horseback, when Mrs. Grimshawe delivered the following spirited address from the saddle: – Gentlemen of the Committee and Children of the British and National Schools, On this the first occasion of your meeting in these grounds, the first occasion, too, I believe, of your different schools meeting at a combined village fete intended equally for each, I wish to address to you a few words of welcome and some short observations suggested by the occasion. I have just described you as different schools, yet that is not a sufficiently clear definition, unless we recollect that there is such a thing as “a distinction without a difference”. All schools now under Government inspection are regarded as “British and National Schools,” and under the new code are subject to the same Government inspection and are accorded the same Government patronage regarding grants. In the Nation’s Schools I believe the Church Catechism, which constituted the original distinction, is now no longer insisted upon, and I think it is rightly so, for, whatever truth that catechism may contain, I think, with many others that it is certainly not a compendium of the Christian religion. There is one book only which can lay claim to that title, the Bible – and the Bible alone – and this is equally taught in both British and National Schools. Some are of the opinion that no one school would be sufficient for this village, while others there are who say there are as many as a hundred of the village children who attend no school whatever. I would ask those who are aware of this fact whether they think it probable that school attendance would be promoted by the extinction of the British School – established 30 years ago, the very first, when no other school existed here; I was never more astonished than when informed of its projected abandonment for want of funds. I attended the meeting at which the question was discussed, and I and several others immediately offered to double our subscriptions. I am glad to say that before the meeting broke up a new committee was formed of the leading tradesmen, who, rejecting all idea of its abandonment, forthwith voted the enlargement of the school with an additional class-room and its entire reconstruction (regarding accommodation and discipline) under its present valued master. I have known Mr Palmer now some time, and from many conversations with him on the subject of popular education I have ever found him a man of clear and liberal views – understanding the art of imparting knowledge and very earnest that such knowledge should be based on religious principles – not the distinctive tenets of any sect, but the broad principles of Christianity. I am a churchwoman myself, from a conviction as well as early education, and a member of the Church of England and I hope I shall always remain. Many of you, I believe, are not; yet there is common ground on which we can all meet – of membership in the Catholic Church of Christ – no matter by whatever name we may elect to be distinctively known; but I must not now enter on this extensive subject. Of the National schoolmaster, not here, I wish to say but little; I have tried to interest him and his wife in our gathering here today, but I regret to say without success. What I hoped I might turn out to be the means of bringing about a better understanding, has consequently resulted in an exhibition of feeling which it would be more desirable to consign to oblivion than to be further alluded to here, his scholars are here – he is absent, let him now therefore be “out of sight, out of mind.” Mr Grimshawe and myself in welcoming you here today are desirous of publicly showing you the interest we take in the education question; under whatever name such education may be advanced. Your country has pronounced, and from one end of England to the other it has gone forth, that the people must be educated, and that such education is not merely to be secular but that the Bible shall be the test book of her national religion – enforced on none, offered to all. We bid you all heartily welcome to the fete and I beg you observe three banners under which you assemble, respectively, “Education Fete” – “Read and Write Club” and “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men”. The education that we hope to promote is best symbolised by the large “Ivy Cross” from which you first started here today. The Christian religion is the only basis of real education. The being able to read and write well is the elementary machinery of all knowledge, and the spirit in which we all desire to meet today is that of “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to men.” The flags are also symbolic colours, red, white and blue – white symbolises purity and truth; red – determination (and I trust in the right path); and blue – hope, the colour of the heavens to which all our hopes ascend. Symbolic language is I think impressive, and I have translated mine that it might be rightly interpreted.
It is of course impossible to reproduce in print the clear enunciation, the vigorous, earnest style, the sweet intonation, which characterised the delivery of this address, as it is also equally impossible to paint the impressive action which accompanied the words as they fell from the lips of the graceful equestrienne. It was listened to with deepest attention throughout, and loudly applauded. After the delivery of the address the children and their friends set to work to make the most of their holiday, and enjoyment soon became the order of the day. The tents and gateway and the church tower adjacent were gaily decorated with flags bearing severally the following mottoes: – “Long Life and Happiness”, “Education Fete”, “Read and Write Club”, “Peace and Plenty”, “Peace on earth, Goodwill to men,” & c. The band was playing, the bells ringing, here was trap-ball vigorously carried on, there football, there again a croquet party; over yonder was a time-honoured aunt sally; further on a large party at French romps; opposite were a group of the younger visitors running, skipping, jumping, rolling, laughing, romping, tumbling and generally enjoying themselves to the upmost by “threading my grandmother’s needle” until four o’clock approached, when the buns and tea and cake attracted the majority to the tents for refreshment. The first tea was supplied to about 350 in two tents provided by Mr. Lilly of Woburn, the tables being ornamented with bouquets; the second supplied about 50 or 60 more. The little folks were kindly attended and waited upon during tea by the committee, with the misses Grimshawe (under the care of their Governess) at their head. In the garden meantime the croquet party was proceeding. Mr Wilshaw’s Quadrille Band being in attendance. Refreshment were provided in a tent on the lawn and were freely partaken of.
… After tea the children, accompanied by Wilshaw’s Band, sang the exquisite melody, “O Paradise, O Paradise,” with most delicious effect. The sports were resumed until about six o’clock, when several balloons were sent up, to the great amusement of the juveniles. A variety of prizes having been distributed, dancing was continued until the shades of evening gathered around the festive party and gave the signal for departure.”
Under that news report was a letter addendum from the Grimshawe’s:
“THE VILLAGE FETE. The fete given at Aspley House on Friday last to the Committee and Children of the British and National Schools and the promoters of education generally is intended, should circumstances permit, to take place annually. Next year it will probably be fixed for an earlier day during the months of July or August. At this fete, given in honour of education and for the enjoyment of the people, the game called Kiss in the ring will under no circumstances whatever be permitted, and is absolutely prohibited. Everyone who thinks twice will see the reason of this, in the highly objectionable character of the game. The freedom and licence it allows are destructive of good manners, and too generally conduce to conduct that is morally wrong. What real enjoyment is there in pleasure that we feel we cannot look back upon with satisfaction? What real enjoyment is there in any recreation that, instead of better fitting us for our work in this world, only leads into temptations that unfit us for life in the other world In England now, at all properly organized fetes, whether private or public, this game is forbidden by all those promoting the healthy enjoyment and recreation of the people. There are many other English outdoor games that all can join in with pleasure and satisfaction instead of “Kiss in the ring.” We will have a “dance on the green,” to music that all can listen to with delight and all take part in who desire. Let us at Aspley have education (at least to such extent) that it may everywhere be said, “All people at Aspley know how to read and write.” Let us at Aspley have such recreation as may everywhere be said, “The people of Aspley know how enjoy themselves. Let us at Aspley have such conduct as may everywhere be said, “The people of Aspley (by whatever name they like the call themselves) are Christians.” E.M.P.G.”
A laudable idea surely? It seems an idyllic fun-filled British summer fete had been had by all. All, that is, except the two people who had apparently refused the invitation to attend… the Master and Mistress of the National School, Mr. and Mrs. Wall.
After the next Sunday service at St Botolph’s, where two sermons were preached for the benefit of the National School, the Beds Times reported that a note had been found in the collection plate:
“There are two parish schools in this village,
Both acknowledged by the Government of our country,
Both, I hope, fulfilling their mission of usefulness.
The one, poor — by some despised and rejected;
The other, rich — by many patronised and supported.
To the first, my sympathies as an Englishwoman belong;
To the last, my contribution as an individual is small;
To both, as a Christian, I must wish success.”
To me, that sounds very similar to Mrs. Grimshawe speech from the fete, so it appears she, or perhaps someone close to her, was having a further dig at the National School.
Mr. Palmer, of the British School, was a keen photographer and was obviously on good terms with the Grimshawe’s. He attended their house in November the same year to give a dissolving lantern show of comic scenes and astronomical images. He returned a week later with his whole school science class, when he delivered a lecture on “Electricity and Magnetism”, to which Mr. and Mrs. Grimshawe attended with their children. He also had an engagement to perform the same lecture to Baroness Mayer de Rothschild at Mentmore. Mrs. Grimshawe also had an interest in photographs and projecting lanterns.
Just into the New Year of 1872, she loaned her equipment to the British School for an entertainment in their hall. The Beds Mercury of 13th January, said, “the photographs were most artistic, and the comic scraps and chromatropes were welcomed with shouts of delight from the juvenile audience”. About 140 sat down for tea and singing. The article went on to describe the history of the hall, the school and the budget, in a very pro-British School piece:
“It may not be out of place if we, on this occasion, lay before our readers some information regarding this school, the oldest parochial school of the village. Built in 1842, at a time when none other existed, it has gone on steadily pursuing its educational work. During the mastership of its present master, nearly 700 scholars have passed through the school, the majority of whom are occupying most respectable positions in life, some ministers, some clerks, some schoolmasters and schoolmistresses themselves. Not later than a fortnight ago 70 of these old scholars, at their mutual desire, met together at the British school and spent an interesting evening, recurring to their past life there, and their present happy prospects that one and all felt were owing to the care bestowed by their former master, which must have been highly gratifying to him, and at the same time satisfactory proof of the success of the British school system. Last year, owing to failure of funds, the school was on the point of abandonment. It was felt with adequate support this ought not to be, and Mrs. Grimshawe, whose interests in the education of the working classes is well known, threw life and energy into the movement. The Government had in great measure adopted the principles of the British school system and the Elementary Education Act, giving a stimulus. A new committee was formed who decided according to its requirements to considerably enlarge the school, which now we believe is the largest in the parish. How it is to carried on remains to be seen, for in the parish of Aspley Guise there are two schools, the British and the National, now equally dividing the education of the place, each of them having the same number – about 100 scholars – in daily attendance. The great difference of the two schools being by the last report, that while that of the National is carried on at the expense annually of £179, that of the British with the same number of scholars has only £85 per annum to meet all expenses. The salary of Mr. Palmer, a certificated master, has consequently been reduced from £70 per annum to £25. It is estimated that besides these 200 children there are nearly 100 more who attend no school whatever. How long this state of things will last, whether the solution of present difficulties will be only be in a schoolboard, the future will decide. Those who deprecate such a solution will have only themselves to thank for the dogmatic spirit in which they have endeavoured to carry out the Act, instead of softening difficulties and amalgamating the exertions in the important matter of national education, has aroused throughout the country a feeling of sectarian bitterness, of which, as Professor Jowett says, the little children are the victims. Those who dislike a school-board, from the fear of rates, should calmly examine the subject for themselves, and not be panic-stricken by the prejudiced statements of others, but work out for themselves the simple problem, using homely adage of whether prevention may not be better than cure; whether by the blessings of national education the chances of temptations to vice and crime would not be considerably diminished whether in a word an education rate would not considerably decrease the national tax which we have now to pay for our paupers and criminals. To those who regard school-board looming in the distance with feelings of satisfaction, events appear fast hastening when compulsory education must become the order of the day; then only can ignorance cease, and the people no longer perish for the lack of knowledge; and the day is probably not far distant when elementary education shall be free, when such education shall not necessity and quibble, but the free inheritance and legal possession the whole English people.”
Another rousing speech which may have come directly from the pen of Mrs. Grimshawe? This latest attack on the costs and (suspected) blinkered view of the coming Board system by the National School could not go unanswered, but it was not the National School master who wrote in in defence the next week, it was the vicar of Aspley Guise himself. From the Beds Times, 23rd January 1872:
“ASPLEY GUISE. Sir, l have observed in your paper during the past summer several communications respecting the Aspley Schools. I have thought it better pass these over, being anxious to avoid all chance of controversy; more especially as the British and National Schools have for many years lived on terms of peace and amity, a state of things which I have earnestly endeavoured to maintain. But an article communicated to your last impression is calculated to give an erroneous view of the condition of parochial education in Aspley (St. Peter). It is stated that nearly 100 children in that parish attend no school whatever. But the same article makes the number at the British and National Schools to be 200. Now the population is 962, and the Government rule is that one-sixth should be under education; 160 therefore is the number that should be at school, but the article admits 200 be there. The excess might be supposed to be due to children coming from other parishes, but these are in no great number, and the necessary inference is that the parish children attend tolerably well. That this is so was proved a year ago by a house to house investigation by my curate and myself, conducted for this special purpose. The number on the books the National School was the last return 105. Its master and mistress are each certificated; there are two pupil-teachers and a pupil-monitor. Everyone who knows anything of parish schools knows that 100 children – boys and girls cannot be disciplined, taught, and trained in at all a satisfactory manner with teaching power of less amount than this; and in fact with less power than this any inspector will say that the teaching and discipline must necessarily be inefficient. The sum earned Government by good examinations and attendances was £65 including £5 1s. 8d. for the Night School, and the Inspector’s report was highly creditable. Nor should it be omitted that the National Night School has a full average of 20. Your correspondent, taking the last year’s accounts only, asserts that “the National School is carried on an expense of £179 annually.” This is not so. A heavy charge for repairs and another increased item raised the ordinary outlay (which is about £165) to higher sum than usual; and I may appeal to all who understand the matter, and to the authority of Mr. Forster himself, whether a really good school is not reckoned to cost 30s. a child: indeed on that calculation it is that 15s. child, or 50 per cent., is allowed by Government for those children who fulfil the conditions. For 105 children the whole cost would thus be £157. If we exceed this it is to be remembered that the expenses of the Night School are included in our annual total. The writer, I must observe further, is inaccurate in regard the size of the National School-rooms. Having been built originally for Crawley and Woburn Sands as well as for Aspley, the school space, according to the requirements of the Privy Council, is sufficient for all and more than all the children of school age in Aspley (St. Peter). To free the British School from its “difficulties,” (of which, I should say, there may be other solutions,) your correspondent advocates a School Board. The parish can hardly desire to incur the expense of one to bear the cost of salaries to treasurer, clerk, rate collector, and beadle – to encounter the disputes and bickerings and party divisions inherent, apparently, School Board – to throw away the liberal voluntary contributions which now save the ratepayer from an increase to his already heavy burdens, and to reject too, along with those contributions, the kindly feeling which it is the privilege of schools voluntarily tended and cared for enjoy; and as to the compulsory power of Board, I think the parish will ask if it be wise to give up positive advantages and incur certain evils, when the value, operation, and efficacy of compulsion are yet in doubt. The supposed “dogmatic spirit of certain parties” elsewhere has no counter-part in this parish. It is well known here in how thoroughly friendly a spirit I have endeavoured to act towards the British School; and how, considering nearer connexion with the National School, I have gone out of my way on many occasions to shew my readiness to co-operate with the supporters of the other school on the broad ground of Christian good-will and unity. There has been nothing therefore in the conduct of the clergy to give occasion for a Board School.
Your obedient servant, S. HARVEY GEM. Aspley Rectory, Jan. 16.”
The vicar had to write in the next week correcting his own figures, as the costs for the national school should have read “£65 excluding £5 1s. 8d. for the Night School”. Immediately below the correction was printed the return salvo from a British School supporter, who signed themselves as “A Subscriber to both Parochial Schools” (Mrs. Grimshawe?). The correspondent extolled the successes of the British School system, “however despised and rejected it had been by some at the outset”. They thought that if a rector was upset by the Government decision to take education out of the hands of the National system, it was hardly a surprise. “If Mr. Gem desires to shut his eyes to the impressive phase Elementary Education has now assumed, and the necessity allowed on all hands of its speedy settlement of a broad popular and really national basis, there can be no hopes on enlightening him. The people of Aspley are, I believe, too well informed to be scared by any conjured vison of school rates, which, borne equally by all, would fall heavily on none…”
The vicar was quick to respond. The Beds Times – 6th February 1872:
“Sir, I do not purpose to enter into any controversy on parochial education, and therefore only wish to state:
1st. That I purposely abstained from any observation on the British School because I consider that criticism of this kind should be avoided, as it is only likely to stir up strife. But I demur to this inference that all the “facts” alleged by your correspondent about the school is therefore “unassailable”.
2ndly, Mr. Foster’s intention was that the School Board should be established in places where the education proviso was deficient, not in parishes like Aspley, already amply supplied with schoolrooms, teachers and scholars.
“A Subscriber” desires a change in the Education Act. But it is clear that if a change in it is ever affected, it will not be in the direction wished for by “A Subscriber”. The Manchester Conference has gone over to the Education League, and has pledged itself to secular Education, pure and simple. This would bring with it the destruction of the British system by the resolutions of the Conference no Board school master is allowed, even out of school hours, to give any religious instructions. The lips of every English schoolmaster, accepting office under a School Board would be for ever sealed on those sacred subjects which, as Christians, he has hitherto regarded as the most important of all.
Further, I will only refer “A Subscriber”” to the admirable speech made at Sandwich last week by a member of the Government, Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen.
Your obedient servant, S. Harvey Gem.
Battle lines thus drawn; the situation proceeded with each side trying to get the most favourable view of their school into the newspapers. The Beds Times of 2nd March 1872 featured reports on the “Day of National Thanksgiving” thrown for the recovery of the Prince of Wales (who became Edward VII) from typhoid. It said the village was decorated in red, white and blue with arches decorated with flowers thrown up across the roads. “The flag of England was hoisted on the British School, and at its entrance gate was another arch of laurels supported by two tricolour flags. Both representative – the one, that of the people – the other, that of Prussia suggestive of the wishes of the people of England on one of the leading questions of the day – education – “compulsory and un-denominational.” However that may be, the festal decorations of this pretty village were most picturesque, and the tout ensemble in admirable keeping with the occasion they were to celebrate. The whole of them were designed by Mrs. Grimshawe and carried out under her superintendence.” It was also Mrs. Grimshawe that read out The Queen’s Letter, giving an update of the Prince’s health, “with clear voice and intonation”. The children then sung a specially commissioned song, “God Bless the Prince of Wales”, comprising of four verses written by… Mrs. Grimshawe. It started:
“Throughout the homes of England
And all her distant land.
The voice of prayer ascended
For God’s Almighty hand
To save—to bless her people
And spare her Monarch’s Son,
At gate of death unconscious;
The people prayed as one.”
Not to be outdone, the very next article in the same newspaper edition had the news from the National school. To celebrate the Prince’s recovery, they had had a tea with cake for 140 children and the church choir, the award of prizes for writing, maps and needlework and then sung their own song, composed by Mrs. Wall, mistress of the Girls’ school.
“Now through the length of Britain’s isle,
High songs of praise shall ring,
To-day we welcome back our Prince,
Our future King.
It pleas’d our God to lay him low,
In sickness and in pain,
Yet He in mercy to our prayers
Healed him again.”
Stirring stuff indeed! The issue of costs was to be brought up time and time again. Who would be paying for the new school system if it were taken out of the hands of the church groups? The local rate payers didn’t think it should be them. In July 1872, the Beds Mercury published the official notice for the setting up a “School District of Aspley Guise” and therefore necessitating a School Board.
“Elementary Education Act, 1870 (Section IX.) Notice A. County of Bedford. School District of Aspley Guise. Whereas the Education Department in pursuance of the Elementary Education Act, 1870, have received the returns in the said Act mentioned, and made such inquiry as they think necessary with respect to the school accommodation of the District hereinafter mentioned; now, therefore, the Lords of the Committee of Council on Education have decided, and Hereby give notice as follows: –
I. – The school district is the Parish of Aspley Guise
II. – The school named in the schedule to this Notice is considered to be available for such district.
III. – No additional public school accommodation appears to be required for the district.
National School, no. of children: 205.
British School, no. of children: 94
Education Department, 12th day of July, 1872. F. R. Sandford, secretary. Notice No.2,039. Poor Law Union of Woburn.”
…but nothing seems to have been done about it over the next six months. In the time since the jostling in the press had mentioned that each school had about 100 pupils and there were a 100 without any schooling, the National School seems to have leapt to 205 while the British had just 94. Was there some massaging of the figures?
In an attempt to settled which schools were where, how much they cost and how many pupils attended county-wide, an education survey was taken. The local results were published in the Beds Times in August 1872. This showed that the National school in Aspley had received grants of £273 10s. 0d. for buildings, enlargements and improvements for the 92 day and 18 evening scholars, plus an annual grant of £70 1s. 8d. The British school had not received any building grant at all, but had annual grants of £66 12s. for their 67 day and 78 evening scholars.
In September, the Grimshawe’s repeated their garden fete of the previous year at Aspley House for all the local school children, about 200 in number. There was a long list of local dignitaries in the Beds Mercury, including Her Grace the Duchess of Bedford, two other Russell ladies, Colonel’s, Major’s, M.P.’s and local clergy, although not Rev. Gem of Aspley Guise or the National school Master and his wife. Mrs. Grimshawe’s welcoming speech was shorter, but included the lines “I am sorry that the master of the National School is absent. Your rector’s absence too I must also regret, and I am sure you will all share that regret with me; but we must allow everyone to have freedom of thought and will to act as they conscientiously believe to be right and best, which we desire for ourselves…”
There are very few references to the British school in the National School log book, just a few notes on children having swopped schools to go there instead, but Mr Wall recorded in it “Joint treat given by Mrs Grimshawe to both schools. Over 30 of the National School children did not attend as their Master & Mistress were not invited.” This was followed by an entry reporting on the National School’s own treat that 138 children attended a week later.
A long letter appeared in the Beds Times on 28th September 1872, from a writer signed as “Tilbury” under a heading of “Women’s Rights” and how Mrs. Grimshawe had overstepped the mark with her comments about the National School master at the Fete. “This lady is entitled to great respect as benevolent and philanthropic person, an indefatigable admirer of Earl Russell, and evidently one who directs her thoughts to matters of serious and solemn import. It is evident also that she thinks the occasions on which she meets the combined schools’ children on the lawn of Aspley House are occasions of considerable importance, for she always addresses the children on horseback, carrying our thoughts and memories irresistibly back to Queen Elizabeth at Tilbury Fort.” The writer also disliked the “…sneers at the master of the National School and at the rector of the parish, regretting their absence… She has unfortunately exhibited that defect of judgment which is often the real defect of women when they interfere in the practical government and business of the world.” and continues, “Their judgment on abstract matters is better, surer, swifter than that of men. Their judgment on practical matters cannot be so good. Their domestic habits of life necessarily hinder them from that contact with the minds, habits, and of men, from that experience of men, their motives, vices, follies, weaknesses, without which it impossible to legislate wisely or safely for mankind.”! The letter ends “It is plain that there a great desire on the part of Mrs. Grimshawe to do good; but it certainly appears to me that she does not go the right way.”
The Beds Mercury of the same date, 28th September, had an entire column from Mrs. Grimshawe, headed by a copy of a petition she had received just before the fete:
“Aspley Guise. Village Fete at Aspley House. We have been requested to publish the following correspondence: –
“We, the undersigned, being members of the Committee of the Aspley Guise National School, desire hereby publicly to protest against the wrong inflicted on the children of the school by the exclusion of the Master and Mistress, Mr. and Mrs. Wall, from taking their proper place at the head of their scholars at the entertainment to be given at Aspley House tomorrow, – a proceeding calculated to lower them from the position they rightfully hold.
Harvey Gem, Rector,
Sept 13, 1873. To Mrs. Grimshawe, Aspley House.”
Gentlemen, – ln reply to a communication from yourselves (the majority of the National School Committee), you must pardon saying I could not avoid smiling at so formal a protest on my refusal to invite this year to our village fete the National Schoolmaster. But the spirit of the inhabitants of Aspley is well known, the variety of their opinions, and the energy with which they one and all take up any question which they may interested. Yet I think we are, or ought to be, all agreed on one point, that variety of opinion may exist without variance, and mere difference of opinion ought to exist without personal differences.
Being much engaged, superintending the decorations for the fete, my impression on first reading it was that, having already stated our reasons for such exclusion to the Rector, such protest called for no further reply on my part. Yet second thoughts on a second reading may, perhaps, be best; and I cannot by silence give consent to the tone of feeling and doubt that protest appears to me to contain.
You say, ‘Inflicting wrong on the children of the National School.’ ‘Lowering the school in the position it rightfully holds.’ Strange words, I think, to apply to anything I have either said or done! And I appeal from such private misinterpretation of my conduct to my public acts that are before you. Through the Press they were widely known last year, and to the public I must look for a morn faithful interpretation and more favourable judgment, if not from those who ought to know me better. I repudiate such misconception of conduct on your part, and I conceive that had you taken a little more time for consideration, you would not have so worded any remonstrance a difference of opinion might have led you to make the occasion.
You arouse me to speak, and though without the slightest annoyance at the course you thought right to adopt: yet it is with no slight feeling of emotion that I should have been so misunderstood that I commence my reply. For such purpose I must go back to last year. The question of National Education had been agitating all minds interested in the subject. The new Elementary Education Act had come into operation, and I at once, with Mr. Grimshawe’s approval, seized the opportunity it gave me of carrying out a long cherished project – that of endeavouring (so far as a humble individual like myself could do so) to destroy the detrimental rivalry that had so long existed between the two parish schools of this village, dividing, I may say in round numbers, the elementary education of the place. With such object in view, I naturally sought all the co-operation I could, and without which I could have done nothing. The mental and personal exertion it cost at the same time to organise such a gathering as I proposed – on Liberal principles, and Christian principles of charity, you will see, must have required considerable efforts on my part, and I spared none. I took up the matter with a woman’s enthusiasm; and if such course, as it appears, has drawn to myself the disapprobation of some, yet, though it does not appear here, I have received the high approval of others, to which I cannot allude without sincerely thanking them for their generous support. Powerless woman may be able to carry out any purpose of her mind, such support gives a spirit to proceed, that, I trust, no want of moral courage woman’s part will ever cause to fail. To return now to last year. On such principles, with such object, and with such hope, Mr. Grimshawe and myself gave a village fete to both British and National Schools. I hope exception may not be taken to such verbal precedence on my part. You are aware that, in recognition by Government, and under the now Education Act, both schools are equal, and, in speaking, I adopt an alphabetical as well as chronological arrangement, – the chronological order being that the British School was established here many years before that of the National, as also the British School Society preceded by several years the establishment of the National Society. Until the rise of this latter, the British Society was the only society for the education of the poor. Its grand principles of a Bible education and unsectarian teaching gradually drew to it the patronage of most of the leading men and thinking minds of that day, as of this; and Mr. Gladstone has declared it the model for a really national education. Among its supporters of the generation in which it arose was the then Duke of Bedford, who received Lancaster as an honoured guest at Woburn Abbey, and established the British Schools at Woburn. Since then the successive Dukes of Bedford have ever given a powerful and influential support to the British School Society. Earl Russell takes a most active part in promoting its interests. I need not say with which society my sympathies are: they are known, and at the time my impartiality regarding both schools here I thought was too well known for you to address me in the terms you have. Everyone must have their preferences. These do not involve prejudices, and we must all advance what think right with that charity without which all orthodoxy of doctrine and moral action in worthless.
While I was last year endeavouring in the most impartial manner to arrange such fete, the National Schoolmaster not only wrote me letter unbecoming his position, but behaved with great rudeness and discourtesy – ‘banged up’ his books when I was speaking to him, and, turning his back, walked off, saying would ‘have nothing to do with the fete,’ and ‘that he washed his bands of the affair.’ He consequently was not present, and his scholars enjoyed themselves without him. Is it surprising that this year I did not intend to extend my invitation to him? When the Rector asked me, I stated to him the only conditions on which I would so.
The National Schoolmaster, to say the least, set at nought and despised my invitation. The Rector will know where precedent might be found, to which I might here reference.
Though I could not invite the National Master, I did not see that on his account the National children were to be deprived of their promised fete together with those of the British School. I, therefore, chose a holiday, and fixed Saturday, when they would be free and liberty to attend. The first year of our fete occurred the conduct I refer to. The second year I was obliged to mark my sense of it. It is now past and gone. For the coming year: this may now be a fitting opportunity to announce to you that I purpose next year giving an invitation again to the National Master and Mistress, as well the National children, together with the British. Ending this long letter, I cannot more distinctly assure you, gentlemen, of the misconception I consider has dictated your communication than repeating words you may have heard before. ‘There are two parish schools in this village. Both acknowledged by the Government of our country. Each, I hope, their mission of usefulness. The one poor – by some despised and rejected. The other rich – by many patronised and supported. To both as a Christian I must wish success.’ “
Yours faithfully, E. M. P. Grimshawe. Aspley, 17 Sept.”
How had the National school dealt with this furore internally? They held their own day of celebration. The children must have been getting tired of the marching and singing! This appears directly below Mrs. Grimshawe’s letter, as above, in the Beds Mercury:
“NATIONAL SCHOOL FESTIVAL. On Friday, the 20th inst., the annual festival the Aspley Guise National School was held. The children, headed their teachers, marched in procession to the Church, where a short service consecrated the rejoicings of the day. A substantial tea, provided Mr. Lilley, of Woburn, followed, – the National School-rooms being decorated for the occasion with many festive devices, among which was a very effective one of gold letters on scarlet ground framing the inscription “Long live our noble Duke and Duchess.” At five o’clock, her Grace the Duchess of Bedford entered the school-rooms, and took her seat at the head of the long table on which the prizes to be distributed were arranged. The Rector then addressed a few words to the supporters of the school, informing them of its continued progress in efficiency. A larger Government grant had been obtained than on any previous occasion, and the exertions of the master and mistress, Mr. and Mrs. Wall, had enabled 29 children to pass in the “extra subjects” of geography and physical geography. The prizes for good attendance were now to given away, and the Rector desired to express to her Grace the sincere acknowledgments of all present for her great kindness in coming among them that day, and their earnest wishes that the Duke and herself might long enjoy the honours of their high position. Each child then came forward to receive from her Grace’s hand the toward it had earned, a favour which the little ones will no doubt long remember.”
Another specially-written song followed. But these were not the only pieces in this edition of the Mercury that week. On the letters page was a long reply on the matter from the Rector himself.
“The Village Fete at Aspley House. To the Editor of the Bedfordshire Mercury,
Sir, – The able and interesting letter of Mrs. Grimshawe in your columns calls for a few words of explanation from me, after which I have no intention of trespassing further your space. On reading the exposition of Mrs. Grimshawe’s views about the British and National School, your liberal readers will naturally exclaim – Bigoted Churchmen! enthusiastic lady, nobly vindicating the cause of the oppressed, and the principles of true Christian charity! But let me invite attention to the humbler region of village facts. Is it the case that the British School was “despised and rejected” Before Mrs. Grimshawe moved at all in these matters, I had established a working-men’s reading-room in the house of the British Schoolmaster (of which kindly offered me the use on account of its central situation), and this I carried on for two whole winters with success – becoming thereby as well acquainted with the British Schoolmaster as I was with my own valued master. Moreover, when invited so to do, I attended the entertainments given in the British School, and I expressed on those occasions my pleasure in coming there, to recognize our common ties of Christian brotherhood, and the ample field which there was, in my opinion, for the work of both schools in this parish. On one of those evenings I examined the children in religious knowledge, at the request of master, in the presence of the parents and supporters of the school. Soon after Mrs. Grimshawe threw herself into the educational interests of the place, I gave her the use of the National School on one occasion for an exhibition by the British Schoolmaster. At this very time, as now, several of our leading gentry, as well as the tradespeople, subscribed both to the National and to the British School. At that period “detrimental rivalry” of which Mrs. Grimshawe complains existed almost entirely in her own imagination: at any rate, the clergyman of the parish was doing his best to render it only an honourable emulation in work and duty between the two schools; but, at this moment, the project of a combined school-treat (excellent in itself) was so carried out in detail as to be far from impartial affair. It was on this ground, and not at all a matter of principle, that we objected to its management both this year and last. The letter of which Mrs. Grimshawe complains had the approval, before Mr. Wall sent it, of a member our committee. But apart from the personal question between Mrs. Grimshawe and Mr. Wall, there was condition annexed by her to his admission to the festival this year, which I could not consent to fulfil. The National School was to be given up for entertainments alternately with the British. At first sight, nothing seems more reasonable, but there were grave objections to the plan. We have a night-school three evenings a week, and this would render the arrangement of the school-room for entertainments highly inconvenient. The British School is central, and lighted by the village gas, an advantage which ours cannot have; and, when one school-room is so well adapted and readily available, I see not why a second should be required for the same purpose. With those particulars, however, I must not trouble you further: my only wish is show that it is on details, not on principles, that we have differed with Mrs. Grimshawe. I am very happy to find, however, that it is her purpose to invite our master and mistress next year, which is all we wished for on the present occasion. To mark our regret at their exclusion, all the resident gentry of Aspley absented themselves from the Aspley House entertainment (with the exception three individuals), and 30 of the children, of their own spontaneous feeling, gave up the pleasure of the treat, rather than go where their teachers were not welcomed.
Your obedient servant, S. Harvey Gem. Aspley Rectory, September 24, 1872.”
Given that the entire newspaper was only eight pages long at that time, the coverage of this village spat accounted for a significant part of it! You may have thought each side would have retired and called it a draw. But it appears someone (Mr. Wall?) was not satisfied that his character had been suitably cleared. Rev. Gem had to write again, to the 12th October Beds Mercury:
“Aspley Guise Schools. To the Editor of the “Bedfordshire Mercury.”
Sir, – I have again to ask your indulgence. My letter on this subject, written under heavy pressure of duties which have the first claim upon me, has been thought insufficient; it is complained that I have not gone through the whole facts. Now, to enter into the details of differences that happened a year ago, – and which should by this time be forgiven, if not forgotten, by all concerned, – is most repugnant to my feelings, and I decline the task. But, explanation on one point, and as an act of justice to Mr. Wall, it may be right to say that his supposed personal insult to Mrs. Grimshawe was recently examined into by three gentlemen of the committee and myself, and was found to deserve no such name; it appeared that what occurred was in fact trivial, and that Mr. Wall had received much provocation. This latter fact I more especially know from an investigation I made into it in the presence of Mr. Palmer, the British schoolmaster.
Then as to Mr. Wall’s “impertinent letter,” I have now before me a letter written September 6th, 1871, by Rev. W. D. Isaac, the clergyman officiating in my absence, who knew the cause of provocation and all the circumstances, in which he says, – “I do not think Wall was fairly treated by Mrs. Grimshawe, and to the letter he wrote to her, which she calls impertinent, I am rather disposed to consider it under the circumstances that called it forth a proper one.”
The facts of the present year are these, – and they of themselves furnish ample justification to the committee and other friends of the school. After a long season of quiet, during Mrs. Grimshawe’s absence, that lady sent out “at home” cards for a specified day without any indication to me, the committee, or others invited, of a school treat being her object, and the invitations were accepted in ignorance of it, and of her intention to ask the National School children without their master. As such a proceeding was calculated to lower the teacher the eyes of the school, to injure his authority and discipline, and to excite dissension in the parish, I called on Mrs. Grimshawe and remonstrated, but in vain. Finding her inexorable I told her I could not sanction her highly objectionable proceeding by my presence at her fete, and should not attend. The school committee took the same view, and thought the case sufficiently serious to make a formal protest against Mrs. Grimshawe’s intentions; but still she persisted. She was willing to yield on two conditions, one being impossible for reasons given in my former letter, the other equally so, namely, an apology from Mr. Wall, without (of course) any admission of the provocation given to him. I forbear to add more detail, as I might well do, to this mere outline of the recent facts. I have been all along willing to believe in Mrs. Grimshawe’s good intentions, although in common with the friends of our school I have found it difficult to reconcile her proceedings with her professed “good feeling for its welfare.” Assuming, however, that good feeling, one would have thought a little consideration would have shewn Mrs. Grimshawe that if she could not forgive the supposed affront she should have previously referred the matter to the committee, and not have brought the children into the question, by putting an open slight upon one to whom their respect was due. Mr. Wall might have been present under reservation; anything rather than endanger the interests of the school.
I would add only a personal remark. It is hard measure for clergyman to be called from his higher duties to enter into controversy with persons of leisure who may have relish for discussion and disputation as a mental distraction. We must be excused, I think, if in such case our letters are hastily written, or curtly or imperfectly worded.
Your obedient servant, Aspley Rectory. S. Harvey Gem.”
Mrs. Grimshawe did not write to defend herself; this was done by Mr Palmer, British school Master, the next week. Preceding it was a notice that all six local children entered had succeeded in a science exam at South Kensington Art Department, thanks to the teaching by Mr. Palmer, “quite distinct from his British school”. Many villagers came to the certificate ceremony, taking an “astonished interest” in the various science experiments shown.
“Aspley Guise Schools. To the Editor the “Bedfordshire Mercury.”
Sir, – I have hitherto been a silent, though interested reader of the letters in your paper in reference to our village school doings, and should have remained silent, but for another letter from the Rev. S. H. Gem, in your last issue, where my name occurs in such a way that it requires an answer, or I might be justly accused of double dealing.
I am surprised at Mr. Gem’s inconsistency, which is unaccountable, desiring to live in harmony and peace, to “let by-gones be by-gones,” “the past be forgiven, if not forgotten, by all parties,” and yet, in spite of these professions, he is not satisfied with writing once, but seeks by misstatement to deal a heavier blow in a second letter, declining to enter into details of the past, and yet dealing with one-sided details to the end of his letter.
I thoroughly believe that had each of the gentlemen who inquired into the alleged provocation to Mr. Wall been made acquainted with the facts of the case, they would have come to the conclusion that it was “trivial” indeed. In fact, I most emphatically deny that Mr. Wall had any cause for provocation; this is just what Mr. Gem wished me to admit when he made the investigation he alluded to in my presence: but my reply to him was “No, sir, I admit nothing of the kind.” Mr. Gem may still hold his opinion, and perhaps induce others to see with him, but let him act at least consistently by stating both sides of the question, then I think that every unprejudiced mind would say that I, the British Schoolmaster, had the most cause to feel aggrieved. Let Mr. Gem do any act of justice to Mr. Wall, by all means, but let him be just also to Mr. Palmer at the same time. Mr. Gem declines to show the imagined cause of provocation; and why? because it is so “repugnant to his feelings.” Then why write at all? But I know it all from beginning to end; and were it not so strictly local, and uninteresting to general readers, I would state it without fear of contradiction, and the public verdict would, I sure, be that it was puerile and bigoted in the extreme; in fact, there was nothing said or done to hurt Mr. Wall’s feelings in any way. The truth is, Mrs. Grimshaw acted in good faith throughout. With the intention of making the schools work agreeably together, she felt they required to be placed upon an equal footing, as viewed by Government, and that neither the British or National should take precedence one of the other, but that the children of the two should intermingle. She also arranged that the master of one school with the mistress of another should preside at one table, and the same arrangement should be observed at the other. This intention is unknown to most people, and it is ignored by Mr. Gem.
Mr. Gem considers there was no insult from Mr Wall to Mrs. Grimshaw. Now much depends upon the medium through which we an object or action, and as much depends upon the manner as the words to which utterance is given, I venture to say that if I, the British schoolmaster, had conducted myself with such impropriety of manner and words to anybody connected with the three gentlemen of the National School Committee who enquired into the matter, as Mr. Wall did to Mrs. Grimshaw, they would have come to an opposite conclusion to that they arrived at; and had I acted so, when my passion was cooled I should have thought myself most unmanly if I had not offered an apology even before I was asked. Let me say word or two on the “impertinent” letter from Mr. Wall to Mrs. Grimshaw; if the right word had been used it would have been libellous letter, written with the evident intention of damaging my own reputation in that lady’s estimation, accusing me of the meanest tricks – of “untruthfulness”, ”want of truth and honesty,” and gross misrepresentation (I quote from the letter). Mrs. Grimshawe asked me to explain the letter in Mr. Wall’s presence, when I affirmed what I do again reiterate – that it is tissue of untruths. It was in attempting to defend his charges that he certainly lost his temper, and hence Mrs. Grimshaw’s words – that he “banged up his books and said he should not attend, and that he washed his hands of the whole affair.” But there was another witness on the occasion, but his testimony is by Mr. Gem not alluded to, although similar to my own. In self defence I appealed to Mr. Gem, who proposed meeting at the Rectory, where mutual explanations would perhaps heal the breach. Here Mr. Wall would have had the opportunity of establishing his charges to my shame, or I the pleasure of refuting them. I say nothing of that interview now farther than this – by mutual consent the past was to be forgotten. How far this has been carried out let Mr. Gem’s letters answer; and I will add, should the gentlemen of the National School Committee, who know me well enough, think the charges in that letter to be true in any way, and consequently look on me as bearing such brand, I challenge publicity, and propose that the managers of both schools form a committee and enquire impartially into the matter, and not as Mr. Gem has done, investigate one side of the question and ignore the other. Such an enquiry would show clearly enough whether any cause existed for Mr. Wall’s so called provocation, and would give that gentleman the chance of proving what he asserts of me to be true, and if so, the right to tear away the mask that must have worn for twelve years as British schoolmaster in Aspley, retaining the testimony of my neighbours to my character for uprightness and integrity which I have not deserved.
I need say nothing in defence of Mrs. Grimshaw’s acts of this year, she is well capable of defending herself without any champion; but let it be known her intention – perfect equality of the two schools – was carried out, the children being intermingled to destroy differences and distinctions, and the treat was given on a Saturday, which is not a school day, and when the children would be free to attend. In conclusion, I am sorry to appear in print in this affair; but silence would be a tacit admission of wrong doing on my part, which I must repudiate.
I am, sir, your obedient servant, J. Palmer. Aspley Guise.”
Did that silence the comments and allow the situation to heal? Well… no. If only someone had a blow-by-blow account of the conversation that had taken place in 1871 that had seemed to so upset so many people. Thankfully, they did. The vicar wrote again on the 26th October with just that account, direct from Mr. Wall. You can almost see the steam rising off his words…
“Aspley Guise Schools. To the Editor of the “Bedfordshire Mercury.” Sir, – My last letter was reluctantly forced from me by representations, from various quarters, of the necessity of justifying the committee, the friends, and the master of the schools, in relation to Mrs. Grimshawe, which it was urged I had not done in my former letter; – my present one by Mr. Palmer’s letter; which obliges me to publish the earlier facts of the case. These I had held back out of forbearance for Mrs. Grimshawe as a lady, and in the interests of peace. They will be found in the subjoined statement, drawn up with my approval by Mr, Wall, who made notes at the time, and which, our conciliatory attitude being mistaken, I now make public, expressing at the same time my deliberate opinion that Mr. Wall has been greatly injured, and is undeserving of any blame.
I have by me an exact copy of Mr. Wall’s list of scholars, with 28 of their names as erased by Mrs. Grimshawe herself. The conversation at the British School was lately read in the presence of the witness to whom Mr. Palmer alludes, namely, Mr. Pickering, who suggested no difference except in the single sentence noted as doubtful.
To Mr. Palmer’s unbecoming and (to avoid a harsher term) unscrupulous letter I do not condescend to reply; but I will observe that at the investigation before which he misrepresents, I greatly blamed him for accepting at Mrs. Grimshawe’s hands the name of evening scholars to whom he had no right whatever.
Your obedient servant, Harvey Gem. Aspley Guise Rectory, Oct. 17, 1872.
FACTS IN CONNECTION WITH MRS. GRIMSHAWE’S FETE WITH REGARD THE NATIONAL SCHOOL, 1871. Mrs. Grimshawe called on me and asked me to make her out, from my registers, a list of day, Sunday, and night scholars. She told me she intended giving a tea to the children of both schools, their parents, and committees. I made out a list, giving the names of the children, their ages, and the names and residences of their parents. I was careful to have everything correct, and in compliance with Mrs. Grimshawe’s expressed wishes I took the list to Aspley House.
The next day, on meeting Mrs. Grimshawe, she told me “she had scratched a number of the names off my list as they belonged to the British School,” reducing my list from 137 to 109. Mrs. Wall went the next morning to ask to see the list. Mrs. Grimshawe told her, after reading the names of those scratched off, that the British School could not muster so many children, therefore she had cut off number of the national scholars, and that several of them were to go to tea with the British School as scholars of that school. Mrs. Wall asked her if it would be fair and just to the National School to take a number of its scholars and make them appear as scholars of the British School. Mrs. Grimshawe replied, “It is not for you or for any one to question me about my fairness to the National School.” Mrs. Wall replied she was afraid it would be unjust to the Rector, the school committee, and supporters who were present at the fete. Mrs. Grimshawe said, “I shall please myself. I have a perfect right to do as I think proper; neither Mr. Gem nor Mr. Wall have anything to with its being fair or not. Those children have promised Mr. Palmer to go to his night school next winter if he commences one, and I have determined that they shall go to my tea only as British night scholars.”
Mrs. Wall asked to allowed to bring back the list to me. On her return I went to each scholar’s parent (marked B. N. S. in the list) and asked if they had promised that their children should attend a British night school if one were opened, and they preferred them to appear as British scholars at the coming tea party, and each and all denied having made any such promise. Then I wrote a letter to Mrs. Grimshawe, explaining the case as it stood, and the bad effect it would have upon my school, and asking for justice to the school and children. Having submitted it to the approval of C. S. Parker, Esq. (a member of our committee), and the Rev. W. D. Isaac (officiating clergyman), I sent it to Mrs. Grimshawe. Shortly after I received a verbal message in reply to my letter – “You are to go down to Mr. Palmer’s directly and meet Mrs. Grimshawe there.” After a little hesitation I went, taking with me my registers. I found Mrs. Grimshawe on horseback in the playground of the British School, Mr. Palmer with my letter, and Mr. Pickering standing by. The following conversation took place:
Mrs. Grimshawe: Mr. Wall, I’ve given your letter to Mr. Painter.
Mr. Wall: Very well, ma’am; I believe will find what I have stated correct.
Mr. Pickering: I think it a very wrong letter, altogether. [Mr. Pickering was then ignorant of the provocation given. – S. H. G.]
Mr. Wall to Mr. Palmer: I’ve brought my registers, Mr. Palmer, to prove that those children are on my books, and in actual attendance at my school.
Mr. Palmer: They have promised to come to my night school.
Mrs. Grimshawe: Mr. Wall, I am determined that those children belong to the British Night School.
Mr. Wall: There is no British Night School.
Mrs. Grimshawe: There is a British Night School, and there shall be a British Night School; I have determined that there shall be a night school here.
Mr. Wall: Then I can have nothing to do with it.
Mrs. Grimshawe: Won’t you come to my tea?
Mr. Wall: Unless everything is honest and straight-forward I can have nothing to do with it.
[Here Mr. Wall may have said he washed his hands of the affair.]
Mrs. Grimshawe: Then I’ll invite your children and not you.
Mr. Wall: As you please, ma’am; I and Mrs. Wall shall be from home. Good morning, ma’am.
Here I turned and left the premises. Mrs. Grimshawe sent her servant on horseback directly for the list. Mrs. Wall was making a copy of it with its crossings, &c., and she told the servant that she would send it in a few minutes, which she accordingly did. None of the minor arrangements regarding the fete were known to me, as it being harvest holidays, I and my family left the village on our usual visits. I had given up the first part of my holidays to Mrs. Grimshawe, and intended staying at home till after the fete, if all had gone on well. Mrs. Wall and I had promised to collect our elder children during the holidays, and teach them songs to sing, which Mrs. Grimshawe should select, and we lent all our school song books to Mrs. Grimshawe for that purpose.
J. W. Wall.”
The Bedfordshire Mercury duly published the reply from Mrs. Grimshaw on 2nd November, when she made public all the correspondence between herself and Rev. Gem:
“Aspley Guise Schools. To the Editor of the “Bedfordshire Mercury.”
Sir, – You publish this week a singularly dramatic scene referring to occurrences of a year ago; but I cannot accept to play the role therein assigned me. Its style of language, its own antidote. Mr Gem may still dream on of “his forbearance to me as a lady.” It will scarcely be accepted by others as a reality, after his three successive letters in your paper attacking me! To knock a man when down is universally condemned. But this is the way that men requite women’s generosity. I have, though, to thank Mr. Gem in one respect – one that I value above all others. He has believed my word; for he had evidently calculated on my well-known declaration that I will never quarrel with the clergyman of my parish! I have indeed forborne, and will still keep to my word, but no longer in silence. In the meantime I request a favour of your inserting the accompanying correspondence.
Your obedient servant, E. M. P. Grimshawe. Aspley House, 23 Oct
Dear Mr. Gem. – Like most ladies’ letters, mine of yesterday requires a P.S., and I must ask you whether your last letter in the Beds. Mercury closes the case for the prosecution? Whether the statement you have endorsed from Mr. Wall contains all the imagined cause of grievance, or whether you are still withholding anything under the idea you name “of forbearance to me as lady” for I now call upon you an honourable man to state to me (if there is anything more) all you have been told and believe to be the truth, in this matter. Yours faithfully, E. Grimshawe. My servant awaits your reply.
I must ask you also to name the 30 children who you stated, to support the National Master, voluntarily absented themselves from my fete on the 14th Sept, 1872. You need fear from me no such result as excluding them from my fete next year: they all shall be invited again. But I have now to pay Mr. Lilley’s bill, and it is requisite the numbers should be correct on all sides. E.M.P.G. Aspley, Oct. 23, 1872.
Dear Mrs. Grimshawe, – It is satisfactory to me to hear from you that you desire equally with myself to avoid any personal feelings being introduced into this unhappy affair.
I have a list by me of the 30 children, but I feel I should not be acting justly to them, or to their parents, were I to give up their names; and I am able to assure you, from my own experience of several treats, that Mr. Lilley always counts those who are present, and deducts the difference between them and the list ordered for.
Believe me, yours faithfully, S. Harvey. Gem.
Aspley House, 24 Oct.
Dear Mr. Gem, – You must be aware that the note you have written is no answer to the two questions contained my letter of the 23d inst.
When I had completely closed the matter and in a public letter of great moderation (after the manner yourself and some others, influenced by ex parte statements, had treated me), and there conceding for the future all that was then asked, you have voluntarily re-opened the whole question.
In your character as a clergyman, you have done that which few laymen would be found to do. You have attacked a lady in three successive letters without ever having asked her a word regarding the matter. You have in those letters endorsed the misrepresentation of others, and the last more false than all. I called upon you yesterday as a man of honour to state anything further you might have heard and listened to, which, under the idea “of forbearance to me a lady,” you stated you had hitherto withheld. I ask you for the last time to act towards myself and others with the common justice we all have a right to claim one from another, and I again therefore ask whether there is anything farther in this matter against myself that you believe to be the truth. This I should have thought the mere courtesy of a gentleman towards a lady, whom you have thought proper to attack in a most reckless manner, would at once have answered.
The other question (asking you to give me the names of the “30 children absent from the fete”) you must be conscious you ought to state, nor can you get out of it by staling your fears, when I have assured you by my express word to the contrary, that no unpleasant results to them should follow. I call upon you to act with common courtesy and justice in this unfortunate affair that you yourself have reopened.
The mission you have sworn to uphold in this world is the propagation the truth. Truth can never be promoted by private “caucus’s,” nor by treating with scorn the counter statements of others. The earthly dwelling place of truth, to be a “well,” can only fathomed by impartial investigation. Truth necessitates, from her many phases, a careful hearing of what is called “both sides,” and is not established by a partisan-raising of a sandy edifice, without the rock-foundation of fact.
Canon Kingsley says, “Those nations (and people) are most successful who face facts, whether they like them or not,” and that for want of accuracy in statement arises a variety of lies and a multitude of evils.” Partisanship ought never to set aside judgment, nor overleap the eternal barriers of truth and justice. The waves of the sea may toss and rage, “but thus far shall they go and no further.” I do not hesitate to say you are under the greatest delusions, from misplaced confidence and unfounded prejudices. I have not hitherto thought it worthwhile to make any reply to your three successive letters, though you have in the public papers attacked my reputation as a lady for truthfulness and strict impartiality regarding the two schools of this parish. But I must now declare that if those statements are not withdrawn, I shall most certainly call upon you in the most public manner to prove what you have thought proper to endorse. There can be no controversy nor question on this point, and I will avoid, as I ever have done, all personal quarrel with the clergyman of my parish.
And, further still, I shall not hesitate to publicly call for the very documents you possess to “confound the knavish tricks” which you now state “have met with your approval.” David when defied flung aside all armour, –
“Mine shall be my honesty, And simple truth my only shield.”
Yours faithfully, E.M.P. Grimshawe.”
While much of the foregoing had been carried by the Mercury, it seems the Beds Times had been copied in too. They now took a step back, writing on 9th November: “ASPLEY GUISE: A resident at this village has sent us for publication the particulars of an unseemly disturbance which has prevailed there for the last two months, owing to differences between some of the leading people of the parish in connection with the respective claims of the British and National Schools. We desire to inform the writer that a quantity of correspondence on the subject was sent in the first instance to this journal from Aspley Guise, but as it seemed like spreading a village “storm in a tea-pot” over the county, we declined to insert it. The correspondence, however, has since seen the light in other columns.”
The arguments certainly raised the profile of schooling in Aspley Guise. It was pointed out that the collection at church for the National School was significantly up and a visit by the Church Missionary Society, held in the National School Room and presided over by Lord C. J. F. Russell, drew a very large attendance from the parish and neighbourhood.
The atmosphere in the village must have been very awkward for those concerned. Something had to give and the British School master Mr Palmer had had enough. In the New Year of 1873, he accepted a position as Master at the British School for Boys in Biggleswade, where his successes in getting half of his pupils a First-Class certificate in their subjects and his Science Certificate would perhaps be made more welcome. (By 1881, he had moved on to Allhallows Board School, Hoo, Kent and later retired to the Isle of Grain, nearby, dying in 1904.)
“Bedfordshire Mercury – 4th January 1873
Aspley Guise British School. On Monday the 30th December, was given the annual Christmas-tree party to the scholars of this school. The room, from one end to the other, presented a most brilliant appearance. The Christmas text was “Glory to God on high” – large white letters on crimson ground, with laurel borders. Another belt of decoration ran along the end of the room, alternating with stars of Bethlehem and holly. Over each window were some novel and very effective decorations, and jardiniere, and numerous tricolor flags. Outside, on the flagstaff of the school, floated the English British flag.
At 4.30 the scholars all sat down to tea – tables laid on each side of the great room, with the little Christmas tree laden with presents. On another table ware useful articles of clothing and flannel petticoats. Among the books was a beautiful edition of “Cassell’s Illustrated Bible,” presented by Mrs. Grimshawe to Mr. Palmer, the master.
The room, with its merry faces of enjoyment, was, until nearly six o’clock, in possession of the children and their friends; at that hour a considerable number came in, and there were many outside who could not gain admittance, but who could still hear the singing and all that was going on.
The programme was partly sacred and partly secular songs. They were beautifully sung by the children, who are instructed on the sol-fa system. The following verses, written by Mrs. Grimshawe, and set music by Mdle. Gregoire, were sung:
CHRISTMAS DAY. “He came to bring life and immortality to light.”
Let us sing the song of Christmas,
All hearts now filled with joy,
Since near two thousand years ago
The angels sang on high.
[Five more verses omitted]
After these, then a Sanctus was given by the children that we have never heard rendered with better effect by any choral choir. At the end of the sacred songs, Mr. Somers Douglas, chairman of the school committee, came forward, and expressing his pleasure in so large a gathering, announced that Mrs. Grimshawe had promised to address them.
Mrs. Grimshawe said: In accordance with my own feelings, and seconded by the suggestion of others, I would at the annual Christmas gathering of the Aspley Guise British School, address the Committee, the scholars, and friends of this old parochial school some observations, which, considering the question of education, that of late moved with such extraordinary impetus, and on which the ratepayers of Aspley will shortly be called upon to decide the form here, may not be without interest to those now assembled. Of the past year (not many more hours left to live) it may be said: Let the dead past bury its dead, regarding all that any of us on reflection may think is better forgotten. In the heat of contest, there is generally at all times words to be forgiven. As far as the controversy of the two schools here this last year was personal, or partisan, it certainly ought never to have existed. As far as in such controversy, there may have existed a struggle for principles that each party – the National school party and the British school party – may respectively have deemed essential, there is on our side nothing to regret. And from first to last the words I address you are words of congratulation. British school principles are now triumphant – triumphant as they deserve to be – but triumphant as no party can ever be, unless it possess the germ of principles that are in accordance with the eternal principles of truth and justice, and above all with that liberty of conscience we all desire, and must all eventually yield. At this season, the most beloved of all the Christian festivals, because then was born the great Founder of Christianity, to establish a kingdom, the proclamation of which heralded by angels was “Glory to God on high, on earth peace, goodwill to men.” Their song had gone out into all lands, and their words echo until the end of the world. At this season, I wish to say one word regarding myself, and the part I have taken in decorating your school, in which I take so deep an interest, and the village green, our common property. The obelisk thereon, bears symbols that if rightly interpreted, ought not to give offence to any, but pleasure to all. Banners of “the Cross,” “the Anchor,” and “the Heart.” Emblems of Faith, Hope, and Charity. Faith in God’s word, Hope in God’s promises, Charity towards all Christians. The venerable Bede called pictures “the books of the simple,” and most telegraphic books they are. The Cross has been the recognised as a symbol of our common Christianity from the days of Constantine, when in his vision of the Cross he read the words “In hoc signo vinces,” it revolutionised an empire, and overturned the mythology of the whole world. Most of us have seen Dora’s magnificent picture of “The Triumph of Christianity.” To speak on such topics fully, this is neither the time, nor place, and I pass on to what I know, is, this evening, more immediately occupying your thoughts. Though the usual Christmas tree to the scholars, is – probably the last under which they will gather together in charge of their present master. Valued as he is by us, his reputation has extended beyond the limits of this village, and unsolicited, he has had the offer made him of a post of far greater emolument than we could afford, – that of head-master to the British school for boys at Biggleswade. An appointment it would be selfish in us to regret, and which, I am sure I express the feeling of all who know Mr. Palmer’s scholastic acquirements and religious principles, in saying, we sincerely congratulate him upon. His talents in his profession, are eminently worthy of a higher remuneration, and a more extended field of action than Aspley. At Biggleswade, his singing classes, and his science classes will be most popular. In connection with the British school here, I know he has carried on those classes most successfully. I look back with satisfaction to the part I look in helping him to bear the unjust persecution with which he was last year assailed. I should have been untrue to woman’s nature, had I not done so, and should have belied every sympathy I possess, had I not exerted myself on the occasion of the attack on the British school, in the person of its excellent master. The managers of the British school at Biggleswade have read the public correspondence that occurred, and have offered him the appointment he has now accepted. The British school here, Mr. Palmer leaves in a higher state of efficiency than it has been for years. There are now the books, 120 day scholars, 24 science, and 15 physical geography classes. That he is thoroughly beloved by his scholars, past as well as present, is high praise. We are now on the eve of great and important changes. Of further development in the path of education and progress. That farther progress the Duke of Bedford is pre-eminently promoting by the establishment of School Boards, and in this light I believe is the withdrawal of his Grace’s name as a subscriber to be regarded. Not that the Duke has ceased to take interest in the schools of the “British and Foreign School Society,” but that he desires to see such education general, under the Education Act of 1870. A letter, I received from the Duchess of Bedford whom we hoped would have honoured us with her presence this afternoon, confirms this view. Her reply is most graciously written, (not a mere formal non-acceptance of my invitation) but, expressing her sincere regret that she should this day be engaged at Mentmore, or would have had great pleasure in coming to our School gathering. In such regret the Duke also joined, who, I sorry to say, is suffering from a badly sprained ankle. The withdrawal of the Duke of Bedford’s name, as subscriber, was I know a blow to many – but there are some minds to whom a shock is necessary to arouse them to the exigencies of their time. Not the least of these is certainly the establishment of School Boards, and the Duke, in using his high influence to promote them, is but extending in more national manner and form, the great and unsectarian principles of the “British and Foreign School Society” which Mr. Gladstone declared to be the Government model, and which Mr. Forster embodied in the “Elementary Education Act.” I believe, I was the first in this parish by an article last year, to try and disarm the prejudices of many here against School Boards, and welcome their national establishment as the only protection against the domination of the denominationalists. That article Mr. Gem attacked, and argued that if the people of Aspley accepted a School Board they would give up positive advantages, only to incur certain evils. That he has changed his mind is not a little singular. But his conversion is our triumph. The National Society, as Earl Russell has observed, “has been obliged to yield the flag of the British Society,” – their plan of education being adopted by Government, and become law by Parliament. A Board School is but a British School rate aided: “No catechism or religious formulary is allowed to be taught.” The Bible alone is henceforth the only form of religious teaching permitted by England in the Elementary Schools of her people. The British and Foreign Society may well be proud of the national recognition it obtained of its principles. The day, I hope, is not far distant when Elementary Education shall be free – when such education shall be not only a necessity and a quibble, but the inheritance and legal possession of the whole English people. The British party, in this pariah have at last prevailed, and the prospect of a School Board is an event on which I heartily congratulate them and also the people of Aspley.
Mrs. Grimshawe’s address was clearly delivered and heard in every part of the room, and was received with acclamation and loud applause.
Mr. Grimshaw then proposed a vote of thanks to Mr. Palmer for his successful and efficient management of the school during more than 12 years, and wished him all prosperity in his new career.
This was seconded by Mr. Somers Douglas, with cheers of three times three.
Mr. Palmer returned thanks for the honour done him, and his sincere thanks for the kindness manifested towards him. He left Aspley with many regrets, and said that in looking back on his career, he found courage for his new duties. That during that career he found by his register that 750 scholars had passed out into the world, now occupying highly respectable positions. Some were Nonconformist ministers, some tradesmen, some mercantile clerks, some were teachers themselves. Mr. Inwood, from Croydon, an old pupil of Mr. Palmer, then eloquently confirmed all that had been said. Mr. Passmore, his brother-in-law, another former pupil, is the author of the “Compendium of Evangelical Theology” that bears his name. Immediately after Mrs. Grimshawe’s address the following lines (adapted from those of Mr. Ford, written on the occasion of the Duke of Bedford presenting the county town with statue of the celebrated Nonconformist preacher) were enthusiastically sung; the music was most appropriate, and composed Mdle. Gregoire: –
All honour to thee, noble Duke,
Thy mission nobly begun!
Thine act to all time shall rebuke
Uncharity under the sun;
Shall show to our great Fatherland,
Though justice may sometime delay,
That those who for truth firmly stand
Are honoured at no distant day.
[Three more verses omitted]
It was 10 o’clock before the company dispersed, and it was one of the most interesting and merry meetings in favour of a school board we have over witnessed. All then departed to their homes with light hearts, gladdened by the Christmas festivities and presents of the season.”
Mr. Palmer was replaced by a Mr. Gautrey. Mrs. Grimshawe’s speech just re-ignited the animosity. The Beds Times editor had had more than enough of the bickering, and chose not to report it. He wrote on 11th January 1873:
“ASPLEY GUISE. Much takes place in this village which does not appear to promote peace if it does progress. We received from Mrs. Grimshawe a long report of the proceedings which took place on the occasion of the Christmas treat to the scholars of the Aspley British School, but did not insert it, inasmuch we thought the Bedfordshire public had heard enough, if not too much, on the subject. The report, however, appeared in a local contemporary, and we have this week received a letter from one of Mrs. Grimshawe’s neighbours commenting on that lady’s speech in the most caustic terms. In fairness to the lady we decline inserting the letter, much as we sympathise with many of the comments made by the writer.”
In February 1873, a petition for the formation of an Aspley Guise School Board, (noted as having “…considerably more the necessarily required number of signatures…”), was sent to the clerk of the local Board of Guardians in Woburn. The Beds Mercury ran a column on 1st of March:
“Aspley Guise. The Prospect of a School Board.
A meeting of the ratepayers of this parish is fixed take place at the British School, on Wednesday, the 5th of March at 12 o’clock, to consider the expediency of forming a school-board for the parish.
The question has been long in agitation. The Rev. S. H. Gem came forward for an amalgamated board: but not being supported by the feeling of the parish, he abandoned the project. The British School party the same time canvassed for support, with these words added to the usual requisition, “For this parish alone, without amalgamation with any other,” and in this form obtained the signatures of many more than the required number of ratepayers. The meeting is looked forward with considerable interest
The Elementary Education of Aspley Guise parish has hitherto been well supported on the voluntary principle, by subscriptions; but owing to the rivalries promoted by certain parties, between the two schools, party spirit has run high; and the clerical party give all their support and influence to the National School. The British school possesses at the same time a considerable majority of scholars, and has to carry on its efficiency under the disadvantage of insufficient funds. When Government itself has shown the way of securing for such unsectarian and Christian education legal parochial support, the party of liberty and progress consider they could not do better than endeavour to obtain the adoption of the Education Act as recommended by the Duke of Bedford, who is a supporter of both schools of the parish.
Opposition is now expected from the National School party, who not being able to obtain an amalgamated board, are opposed to a parochial board.
Aspley Guise, wide awake to the questions of the day, is well aware of the essential difference between the two. An amalgamated board while drawing the parish under the ratepaying clauses of the Act, also, what is still more important, lessens representation. The number of members to which they are entitled would, on an amalgamated board, be reduced more than half; and therefore, an amalgamated board is certain from the clergy to meet with favour, in the hope of so securing a clerical board. It is of course viewed by the people with equal disfavour, as lessening their privileges and imperilling their liberties. Nothing could be more deplorable than to hand over the educational destinies of a district to a clerical board; thus monopolising the schools as they have the churches of the people. There is a growing conviction among all parties, in our own country as on the Continent, against the dominance or interference of the clergy in matters of education; and a repugnance to hand over education to ecclesiastical bodies of any kind. It is an opinion generally expressed that the clergy can have no business on school-boards. They are not good men of business; they cannot there teach a dogmatic theology. Elementary and unsectarian education is neither their mission nor their forte; and their presence on school-boards usually involves the differences and squabbles that appear inherent in a board so constituted. The religious difficulty would never arise, if the ministers of the various religious denominations, would but confine themselves to their proper sphere of duty and legitimate influence. The clergy by their very office and position, cannot avoid proselytising denominationally. A school-Board is a civil corporation, elected by the ratepayers, and entrusted with the spending of their money for the advancement of a real and undenominational education, as it ought to be, where Christians of all denominations are bound to contribute. Not to incur the risk of school funds ever becoming diverted from such purpose, which would be church rates under a new name – the greatest caution is required. The clergy we know are by law disqualified from sitting on municipal corporations. There is a feeling in many minds against their acting as magistrates. A general opinion exists that the more distinct are the duties, and the less interference there is between the civil and religious powers, the better it is for the commonwealth of the State. Aspley Guise, with its two schools, conducting the Elementary Education of the place, might be supposed by some to render a*school-board needless. But without school-board, there exists no power by which ignorant as not even to know the value of education, can be reached. There are in the parish about 50, some say even a far greater number, of children who attend no public Elementary school whatever. As long as there is no school-board in a locality, this must ever be the case; and thus thousands in our towns and rural districts pass their lives, never able to read or write.
Unintelligent and uneducated, they cannot be religious; passing from youth to manhood and womanhood, they are powerless against evil, and ripe for crime. Eventually swelling our workhouses and our gaols, creating the necessity for pauper rate and a criminal rate, far beyond that which any educational rate could possibly demand.
To vote a school-board is one of the most economical, as well as moral and politic investments a parish could make. Aspley Guise, it is hoped, will not hesitate to follow the example given; and the public spirit to act, as already have many hundreds of the towns and villages all parts of England – so establishing on a secure and permanent basis Elementary Education of the country.”
The grand village meeting to decide on whether or not to have a School Board for Aspley Guise took place in the British School on 5th March. Beforehand, each side issued a statement detailing their case, Rev. Gem for the opposition to a Board:
“Do we want a Board?”, Aspley Rectory, February 1873.
To the parishioners of Aspley Guise. My Friends, – Allow me, in friendly spirit, to lay before you a few considerations and facts about our educational affairs. Some of us have thought, that if we could join in promoting a wide scheme of education for the neighbourhood, it would be worthwhile, with so important an object in view, to incur the inconveniences of School Board. But the Education Department find that they cannot carry out such a plan, even though several parishes have desired it.
I ask, therefore, – Is there any reason why we should saddle ourselves with the expense of a School Board at all? let us look before we leap, and ask ourselves, What shall gain by it?
If we vote a Board, a contested election, with all its attendant evils, will be sure to follow. Every cottager, whose name is in the rate-book (as indirectly ratepayer through the amount his rent), has a vote under the Act: so the whole parish will be split up, and great offence given every vote, whether offered or withheld.
Some persons say “A Board must come”; “Government mean to make School Boards compulsory.” This is not so. ln a visit I paid myself, on the 7th January in the present year, to the Education Department, I was informed, somewhat to my surprise, that “Government do not desire to establish Boards in parishes where there is already school accommodation enough. They would have all the ratepayers in the country down upon them if they did.” Now, in our parish. Government have certified the school accommodation to be ample. Even if the British School were closed, the National School alone would hold all the children in the parish. You can see it in the following figures. Government require 80 cubic feet of space for each child, and consider that one-sixth of the population are within the school age. Our population is 982; by Government calculation there should be 160 children. The National School alone will hold 206 children, as was certified by notice from the Education Department placed on the church door by the parish officers. With regard to the part of Woburn Sands in Aspley parish, I have ascertained from the Education Department that Woburn Sands School, though in Wavendon parish, is, under the provisions of the Act, reckoned as available for all Woburn Sands children. (But the ratepayers there would be rated for our Board if we had one.)
As Treasurer of the National School, I am able to assure the ratepayers that there is not the slightest necessity for an educational rate at the present time. Our funds are in a good condition, and we look forward to the future without the slightest apprehension. Let the farmers subscribe a few shillings, and they will keep pounds in their pockets which a rate would extract, and (under existing circumstances) expend in quarrels.
We, on our part, have no personal objection to rate. If the peace of the parish had not been disturbed, – if we could join a wide and enlightened scheme, – l would not be the one to raise a warning voice against expense. Far from it. But before we commit to an additional rate, I ask, What shall we gain by it? And I can find no likely result beyond new expense, spent on new quarrels, in a Parish Board at the present time.
My object in these few words is not to bias your judgement, but simply to lay correct information before you. With all good wishes for the future of the parish,
I am, faithfully yours, S. Harvey Gem.
A parish meeting, to pass a resolution as to the expediency of forming a School Board, has been fixed by the Clark to the Guardians for March 5th, at twelve o’clock, at the British School. If you object to a school rate, it will be well to attend and vote.”
…and Mr Grimshawe’s, in support:
“Why we want a Board.
To the people Aspley Guise. You all well know the interest I take in this village regarding the elementary education of the children. You will, therefore, readily understand why it is that I cannot allow the mis-statements Mr. Gem puts forth in his circular about a School Board to remain unanswered. What Mr. Gem states is so calculated mislead, that I wish to place before you a few plain facts. Mr. Gem says that the peace of the parish has been disturbed. By whom? By Mr. Gem himself; and, unfortunately, disturbances are constantly arising. Last year, though I had conceded for the future what was asked, Mr. Gem raked up the old quarrel between the two schoolmasters; and, because written evidence I possessed proved the national master wrong, he would not even look at it.
One of the reasons why we want a board is, to prevent such quarrels arising, to give freedom to the people, and stability to the education of the perish. Those who value peace and wish to promote education, ask you to come to the meeting and vote for a School Board. Now Mr. Gem would not like a School Board, because he knows a School Board is bound to carry out education on British School principles. Under School Board, children are no longer to be taught the Church catechism. In fact, no Christian schools ever teach it, except those of the National Schools. Government has, therefore, decided that, in Board school, children must be taught from the Bible alone.
What better plan or system could we have than this: on which alt Christians agree? The Education Act therefore calls upon all people who pay rates for other things to pay rates for elementary education. Nothing could be more reasonable and just. Now Mr. Gem’s circular would quite mislead you upon the point about ratepayers. They are not the cottagers and working people. Those who pay the rates are the landowners, farmers, and cottage proprietors. These are the people who have to pay all the rates, and who will have to pay the School Board rate. Not the tenants, though they have the privilege of voting. A School Board is no expense to the tenants of cottages. The expenses must all fall on the landlords, farmers, and other owners; while, at the same time, the people who occupy the cottages will reap the benefit of the education obtained.
The cottagers themselves will not have one farthing more to pay for such education than they do now. Indeed, under a School Board, if they are too poor to pay their children’s schooling, the Board will have to pay it for them It was Mr. Gem and the National School party, about two months ago, who came forward themselves trying to get a board; but the British School party were then obliged to oppose it, because it was only a contrivance on their opponents part to try and do away with the British School.
Mr. Gem says the National School has accommodation enough for all the children of the parish. My reply is: The National School will not hold all the public opinion of the parish, and all the children will not go there. The British children, in great measure, are the children of Dissenters, the children of that great Nonconformist party to whom we are indebted, more than to any other, for the proud position in which England stands regarding liberty of conscience. From this party – though belonging to the Established Church myself – l cannot withhold my tribute admiration.
The British School of Aspley Guise, and those of Woburn and Ampthill, are among the oldest British schools in all England. Nobly has the British School of this parish done its work, meeting with the sympathy of all who value a Christian and Bible education. Shall we cast these British children adrift? I, and others reply – Never. It is in support of schools like this that I advocate a Board before those who value peace and education, and who prize liberty of conscience above all liberties. The clergy of the Established Church know well enough that denominational education is not equal to the task of educating the people of England, and that School Boards must be established before long. They may profess zeal for the education of the poor, but they ley themselves open to the charge of insincerity if they resist the only machinery by which those who stand most in need can be instructed.
Mr. Gem, evidently feeling that School Boards must come at no distant day, thought he would endeavour with others – and I believe it was the first time it was ever attempted in rural parishes – to get what is called an ‘amalgamated board,’ – a most unfair thing! Mr. Gem did not then talk to you about expenses, though by his plan those who have to pay education rate would have been drawn into paying a school rate if required for any parish with which they were in union. Also you would not have been able then to get your own proper number of members on the board. But such a scheme well suited some of the clergy who hoped thus to get on the board, and with fewer members would then be able to rule everything their own way. When this amalgamation scheme came before the Education Department, they would not for a moment allow it, its results would militate against the liberties of the people. At such time, to protect you against Mr. Gem’s scheme, the British School party canvassed the village to obtain a School Board for the parish alone. Owing to their exertions on your behalf you will be entitled now to five, or perhaps seven, members on your board, and also to elect whom you choose. I hope you will thus be able to secure, for the present and for the future, a great educational advantage. To the working classes it will not necessitate one farthing of expense, though having the power of voting, they can help those who desire a board for the good of the parish by coming to the meeting and voting for a board.
When the election of members for the School Board comes on, and you vote for whom like, it cannot bring you into any bother, for it will be conducted quietly, by ballot. I consider you will the gainers by not deferring a School Board. The Duke of Bedford, who, you know, takes a great interest in both the Aspley Schools, has recommended the adoption of the Education Act, and a board for Aspley. Mr. Forster, M.P., who drew up the Education Act, said his object in doing so to give the people the benefit of School Boards all over the country. The letter of Earl Russell to Mr. Dixon, M.P. (chairman of Education League), will show that Government intend to carry out School Boards. Mr. Gem tells you about an interview he had with Education Department; but does not state all, for the latest intelligence is, that there is every prospect of School Boards becoming universal and compulsory, for Government going to request Mr. Dixon not to bring forward his motion making thorn so, as they intend at an early day themselves to bring forward amendments to the Education Act.
Mr. Forster has stated that the education rate for England will not exceed 1d. in the £. So any one at Aspley Heath who may possess a cottage of their own, valued at either £5 or £6 rental, would at the very highest computation pay only 15d. or 18d. yearly towards board.
Bear this in mind, that these who are only tenants of cottages, pay nothing. My object in this short address, written at the request of others, is to show you the real reason why Mr. Gem now agitates against a board, and simply to place before you the information you ought to have.
Your faithful friend, E.M.P. Grimshawe. Aspley House, March 3, 1873.”
The Beds Mercury was on hand to report on the actual meeting, with this appearing in their March 8th edition:
“Aspley Guise. Rejection of a School Board.
A large public meeting, convened by requisition, took place in the British School-room, at Aspley, on Wednesday, at noon, for the purpose of considering the desirability of establishing a School Board in this village. About two hundred persons, ratepayers and otherwise, were present, among whom were – Mr. H. A. Hoare (Wavendon Hall), Mr. C. L. Grimshawe, Mr. J. C. Blackden, the Rev. Harvey Gem, the Rev. Hewitt Butler, Mr. W. H. Denison, Mr. J. Pain, Mr. Carlisle S. Parker, Mr. A. Turney, Mr. E. E. Diamond, Mr. Phillips, Mr. G. Whitman and Mr. Thomas Pickering (churchwardens), and Mr. H. Smith (the summoning officer); Mrs. Grimshawe, Mrs. Hugh Jackson, Miss Moore, Miss Blackden, Miss M. Hinkes, Miss Pain, &c.
On the motion of Mr. Pain, seconded by Mr. Denison, Mr. C. S. Parker was appointed Chairman. The summoning officer opened the proceedings, observing that he had convened the meeting in accordance with a requisition placed in his bands on the 20th of Feb. He had issued the usual notices according to the government regulations, and all that remained to be done now was for some duly qualified ratepayer to move to the effect “That it is expedient that a School Board should be formed in the parish.” It would necessary for someone to second the proposition, and that having been done, he should be in position to report to the educational department.
The Chairman next addressed the meeting, observing that the parishioners would now have a full opportunity of discussing the question in all its bearings, and above all things would ask them steer clear of any acrimonious or bitter feeling, and to let bygones remain bygones (hear).
Mr. Grimshawe said, as one of those who signed the requisition, he rose to state that he considered it very expedient that a School Board should formed for this parish. A great deal of rivalry existed between the schools at the present time, why it was so it was difficult to surmise. One party thought that the other had asked scholars to leave their school and attend the other, and this created a deal of jealousy. Of all places where it was desirable to have a School Board, Aspley was that place (no, no). In making this statement he begged to say that there were many others of the same opinion. Hitherto, there were two parties the village – the British School and National School party – who were each represented by a school committee. The British School party, feeling the necessity of something being done, boldly went to the front and requested that the committees should meet, and their request was acceded to. Mr. Gem, the minister, was present, but he was happy to say that the result of the meeting was failure, and he would tell them why: because it appeared that if it had been otherwise there would have been an amalgamated board. Perhaps some of them did not know what an amalgamated board was. It was a board with which other parishes were associated. They considered that they stood in very fair position at Aspley; they considered themselves an intelligent body of people. He did not think that they were conceited in thinking so (hear). They were all ready to advocate their principles, and he despised the man who was afraid to do so (hear). He did not like to run one party down at the expense of another, and as a proof of this told them plainly that, before the question was agitated, he on the National School committee, and approved and supported its principles. In saying so did not for one moment wish to run down the British School. The latter was established long before the National School, and, if he might be allowed to say so, had done as much, and perhaps more good. Many a man had gone to him and told him how much they owed to the British School (hear). The British School stood upon a firm and sound basis, and they were given to understand that the government scheme was founded on the same basis. They had no less a man than Lord Russell advocating the scheme, also the Dean of Westminster, and other men of note. It was a matter of the deepest regret to him that they could not establish the system in that parish without unfortunately mixing themselves up with the Woburn Sands people (loud applause). He was glad to hear them so loudly applaud that remark. He did not know whether was in his favour or not. He took it as being in bis favour (no, no). He did not know why – (hooting, and continued interruption). There was one thing: they had full liberty to do they chose. The Duke of Bedford, who was just and liberal-minded, had said, “Gentlemen, you know my opinion; I am favour of the scheme, but I will not interfere in the matter. Let there be liberty of conscience” (loud applause). What stronger argument did they want than that? He (the speaker) attended that meeting for the purpose of advocating religious liberty. Bear that in mind. He wished them to act as they chose. He had not been about raising the obnoxious idea of rates and taxes. He knew it was unpopular, and also knew that the other party had been about frightening them by introducing that subject (continued interruption). The compulsory clause in the act seemed to be very unpopular among them. But the time would come when those who had been educated mainly through this provision would go down on their knees to thank its promoters. He had known many soldiers who could not gain a promotion because of their ignorance. But let the measure be what it might, the scheme in which it had a place was entirely undenominational and unsectarian (hear). That was a principle they ought all to advocate. He concluded with expressing his regret that the Chairman of the British School committee was unavoidably absent through indisposition.
At this point of the proceedings Mr. Z. Phillips rose and observed that although the meeting was announced to be one of ratepayers only, a large number of non-ratepayers were present.
The Chairman asked if Mr. Phillips desired that the non-ratepayers should leave the room?
Mr. Phillips replied that he had not the slightest objection to its being an open meeting, but only wished that it should be conducted in the usual manner.
Ultimately it was decided that it should be an open meeting, the non-ratepayers being requested to take no part in the proceedings.
The Rev. H. Gem said the great question before the meeting was – Were they to have a school board or not? That point rested with the parish to decide; but before speaking upon that particular subject, he wished to reply to one or two observations that had been made regarding his attitude towards the British School. He declared that he had not the slightest ill-feeling towards the British school (hear). Many present would remember that two years ago, when the parish was in a happier state than it was now, he had the pleasure of being one of the speakers at an entertainment given in the British School, and he then took occasion to express the earnest goodwill felt towards the Nonconformist parishioners and their school (hear). Moreover, at the request of the British schoolmaster, Mr. Palmer, he on one occasion examined the children of that school in religious knowledge. Again, so friendly were his feelings towards them that on another occasion when one of the pupils died, he with very great pleasure consented to the whole school attending the burial in a body, with Mr. Palmer at their head, and singing a hymn of their own at the conclusion of the service. He gave it out himself, and felt very pleased to hear it sung (hear). Farther, there was not one present in Aspley who could say that he had ever sold his honour as a Christian man by endeavouring in the slightest degree to draw any child away from the British school (“That’s true,” and hear). On the other hand, he was only too glad to see that they were being educated. If his relations with that school had been less friendly of late, it was not because he objected to the principle upon which the school was carried on, but it was simply on account of unfortunate circumstance that had arisen between other parties and himself, whereby he was obliged to take the defensive. He was speaking what he meant when he said was as glad to see the school flourish as ever he was (hear). He did not think that it would out of place if he were to mention that a lady well-known in connection with that school – Mrs. How – was so satisfied with the interest he showed in the school, that she had voluntarily come forward as a subscriber to the National School (hear). He therefore appealed with confidence to the public opinion of the pariah to ask whether or not he had not done his utmost towards maintaining friendly relationship between the schools? (hear). He was very sorry to continue speaking on this point, but for his own credit deemed it necessary to so. He had been accused of wishing to press the church catechism on the children of Nonconformists, and of proposing an amalgamated board because he knew that thereby he should extinguish the British School and have everything his own way. That argument fell entirely to the ground, because of this very simple fact: that if they had an amalgamated board the catechism could not have been taught in the school (applause). He wished to make a few remarks upon this subject. If they formed an amalgamated board it would have included the Woburn Sands School, whereas the proposed school-board scheme would inflict great injustice upon the inhabitants of that district. They would be rated for the support of Aspley school, and not one-fourth of the money would go towards the support of their own schools (hear). They would here the pleasure subscribing their own school, and to pay rates towards the support of the schools Aspley at the same time (A voice: That is just what we don’t want) The board would take the money of the Sands people, and spend it on the schools (hear). I
Mr. Turney: On what condition?
Mr. Gem replied on no condition all (hear).
When they had got the money they would spend it on their own conditions and not on the conditions of the people of Woburn Sands. With regard to the expense of a school-board, he might say it was very great. It might be said, perhaps, “Oh, Mr. Gem has not said anything about this before,” No, because he hoped the people would get their money’s worth. If they determined upon a school board in that village, they would be indulging in an educational luxury which many others, already in possession of it, would be glad to get rid of. The schools in that village receive much support from voluntary contributions, and they did not want a rate (hear). The advocates of the school board did not tell them they should have anything more than they had already in the matter of education. The only thing they held up to them was compulsion.
Mr. Grimshawe: Allow me to say (cries of “sit down,” and hisses).
Mr. Gem continued to observe that the advocates for a School-board said that the Government would soon introduce a system of compulsory attendance, and they had better have it at once. To this he would answer that it was perfectly well-known that Mr. Forster intended introducing a measure for the furtherance of regular attendance at school, without introducing school boards. He would give power to the Boards of Guardians to enquire whether the children attended school or not, and to see that they did attend (hear). Besides which, a plan had been proposed, and would probably be adopted, by which no child should be allowed to undertake farm labour who could not produce a certificate of attendance at school so many times during the previous year. Some such measure as that, called an indirect compulsory measure, was certain to be introduced, and he could not see why they should saddle themselves with rates for the purpose of obtaining a system of compulsion which they would shortly obtain without expense (hear). Again, they were told that it would only cost them 3d. in the £, but he would ask how often would that rate have to be made in the course of year. Four or five times probably (hear, and hisses). Probably it would amount to an 18d. rate altogether. They could charge them much as 2s. 6d. rate, and in some places it had been charged (“oh”). The formation of a School-board must of necessity entail expense upon the parishioners. There was the clerk to pay, as well as other officials, and they would get no more for their money than they did now. He had received full Information upon the subject from the Rev. John Hodgson, vicar of Kinver, Staffordshire. A School-board had been formed in that parish, and the results had been most injurious to the interests of education. After making allusion to the effect a School-board was likely to have upon the Sunday Schools in the village, Mr. Gem concluded with requesting the meeting to fully consider the matter before voting upon the subject.
Mr. Turney, who obtained a hearing with great difficulty, was understood to ask if the subscribers to the British School would continue their subscriptions [A voice: That’s nothing to do with the question before the meeting. Keep to that (hear)]
Mr. Grimshawe in replying to Mr. Gem, said it was matter of deep regret to him that Mr. Gem’s efforts to maintain friendly feeling between the two schools had not been more successful (hear). He (the speaker) and his wife had done their utmost to promote good feeling, and was very sorry that their efforts had also failed. With regard to Mrs. How coming forward as a supporter of the National School, he would ask who persuaded her to do so but his own wife? She had taken a most active part in matters connected with the educational interests of the parish, and would take care that it should not be long before she should possess the liberties of ratepayer.
Mr. Z. Phillips, of Birchmoor, said he had not attended the meeting with the intention of saying a word on the matter, but the question of education had been lost sight of altogether.
Mr. Gem: I rise to explain. I entirely deny that the question of education was lost sight of. I have stated that if it were a question of better education – if a School-board would give more than we already possess – l was not the person to say “Don’t put your hands into your pockets.” If they will give us greater educational facilities, all well and good, but wait till we see our way clear before we voluntarily burden ourselves with a rate (hear).
Mr. Phillips said he did not come before them as a supporter of the School-board. He should like to have seen an amalgamated board. By that means every child in the village would have received a good education. On the other hand, he begged to be allowed to say that Mr. Gem had laid too much stress upon the probability of their entailing a heavy rate. He did not think it would approach near what was stated. They might ask, what business had he to express an opinion on such an occasion; but he answered he was a large ratepayer, and attended on principle, because, he should like to have every child in the parish thoroughly educated. But what did hear? Nothing but a personal quarrel between the clergyman and other people of the village (“no, no,” cheers, and uproar).
Mr. Grimshawe then moved, and Mr. Turney seconded, the resolution which had been submitted to the meeting. On a division, the whole meeting, with the exception of about eight individuals, voted in opposition to the motion. The result was received with deafening cheers, and the meeting, which had been of most exciting character, then terminated. A banner, bearing the words “No School Board,” was subsequently carried through the streets and the utmost enthusiasm prevailed.“
This rejection of what the British School and its supporters wanted is quite surprising. The resounding defeat and very obvious public celebration of that fact would have put paid to any idea of Aspley having a School Board for some time. The Beds Times ran just a paragraph the meeting, saying the voting had been 180 against and 20 for. Rev. Gem’s warnings of extra expense must have been too much for the ratepayers to bear. The letters in the Press virtually stopped overnight.
In April, rival schoolmasters Mr. Gautry and Mr. and Mrs. Wall attended a conference of elementary school teachers at the Girls’ School in Bedford. Then in September, the Grimshawe’s hosted their third annual summer educational fete, giving Mrs. Grimshawe a chance for another impassioned speech and conduct another of her specially written songs. This time, they had also invited the Aspley Heath National School, which swelled the numbers to 330 children. Rev. Gem is listed as having attended, so would have heard her attacks on the local clergy. The Walls are not mentioned by name anywhere, yet the National school ‘mistresses’ seemed to have gone. The Beds Mercury, 13th September 1873:
“Aspley Guise. Village Fete. On Friday, the 5th inst., Mr. and Mrs. Grimshawe gave their annual fete to the elementary schools of the parish, and the village was again rejoicing in this most popular form of promoting education in a rural district. The British School, the National Schools of Aspley, and that of Woburn Sands met in concord and friendship, as equally Government schools. Trouping from their different lines came the schools; over three hundred children were assembled in answer to the hospitable invitation. The occasion was a marked one. The defeat of school board appeared to have left impression but that of an earnest desire on the part of their host and hostess to work with what materials they could, and to extend without favour the reception they gave to the three schools. The sun shone on as pretty a scene with its many children and flags as could well be imagined, on The Green of this beautiful village. The flag of England floated from the British School, and a flag of thanksgiving was above a gigantic cross of ivy that arose from the midst of that assemblage. Mr. and Mrs. Grimshawe meeting them on horseback gave a hearty welcome to the children there gathered together, and the following verses, to the air of “Auld Lang Syne,” especially written for the occasion, were sung by the schools: TIMES GONE BY.
Should times gone by be nye forgot,
And never brought to mind?
When Christians once were one in faith,
The days of long time past
And surely now our hearts grow warm
On festive days like this;
Though education’s battle sounds,
We’ll sing our song of peace!
Then here’s a hand, my Christian friend,
And give a hand all around,
Forget divisions when we meet,
Let festal joy abound.
[Second verse omitted]
Numbers of the villagers looked on a scene that had never before been witnessed in the parish, and which stirred the hearts of many. Then was formed a procession of the children amalgamated for the day, bearing their tricolour flag, preceded by Mr. Grimshawe and Mr. Whitman and Mr. Pickering, churchwardens; Mr. Woodin, postmaster; Mr. Gautrey, British schoolmaster; the mistresses of the National Schools; and the pupil-teachers and monitors of the three schools. The children’s choir following was joined by Mrs. Grimshawe, her children and their governesses, Mlle. Gregoire and Miss Cookson. The picturesque procession passed through the village up to the Church, where the bells rang a merry peal, and, entering the grounds of Aspley House, halted in front.
Mrs. Grimshawe then delivered following address: –
Children of the Elementary Schools of Aspley Guise, and the teachers, managers, and friends present here today. It is with no ordinary feelings that Mr. Grimshawe and I bid you welcome. This is the third year of our education fete. The first was suddenly thought practical, and as suddenly adopted under shelter of the Education Act of 1870. The second was carried out under trumpet of alarm by sounded some of the clergy; and the faces of former friends were hidden. A dark cloud through which we had to pursue our way. Yet, in darkness, we all see the Great Light, not of this world, but which lights every one needing help to chase the shadows that fall along our path. This, our third anniversary (that some, misunderstanding me, looked forward to “stamping out”), is therefore a subject of congratulation. It is not unfitting on the occasion our third gathering, and welcoming the three parochial schools of Aspley Guise, that should to some extent review the events of last spring, and which have led to this greater gathering. This annual gathering is originally due to the British School in this parish – to the increased interest, which through that school bringing me face to face with British School system, and its adoption by Government, I took in elementary education – the being able to read and write, without which all knowledge can have but an ephemeral existence, and all progress is impossible. The art of reading and writing is the sole machinery by which our brains can work. Reading brings the thoughts of the good and wise within reach of all; writing enables us to transmit the good of our own age to distant generations. The non-existence of these arts among all, but favoured few, of ancient times, has been the cause of irreparable loss to all ages. Those two elementary arts are both the propagators of that speech which distinguishes man from brute, and without them speech itself would be childish and evanescent, instead of being manly and eternal. Interest in such elementary education could not fail of being increased, and energy aroused by the Education Act of 1870. It moved our whole country. My little part I then desired to play by giving a fete each year to those schools recognised by Government as giving efficient education. Though my sympathies were awakened and given becoming acquainted for the first time with that noble system – the British School Society – l yet felt it could not expect the assistance I desired in the project I entertained, unless I could at the same time to some extent sympathise with others, who, though thinking differently on some points, yet took an equal interest in education. Solely I determined therefore not to be guided only what I thought best, but to show on the occasion our annual fete, interest also in that society – the National Society, that some others preferred – and so help the great cause of education under whatever form it might be proceeding in my own locality. With all my admiration for the British Society, I appeal to you fearlessly as to the strict impartiality that on these occasions has guided my actions regarding the two schools which find themselves side by side in this parish. Yet, strange to say, it this very fact – my recognising in my humble capacity the two schools on a footing of perfect equality indicated by the Education Act of 1870 – for which I have been called in question. For this cause I have been attacked publicly, privately, openly, and anonymously. Not pleasant “lions in the way,” when you desire to advance! How was I, single-handed, to meet such host arrayed? From the very tactics of my opponents sprang hope. I was worth attacking, that was something; I had strong faith in the cause I advocated, that was something more. I cared for none of these things. But I cared for keeping the promise made three years ago to the children and people of Aspley regarding the fete we now celebrate. And we extend our welcome this year to a third school, making two National one British! This is apparently terrible odds; but in looking at things our vision ought to extend three ways – past, present, and future. The British Society was the first that took interest in the “education of the poor,” and its principles are now acknowledged by Government to be the model for a really national education. I am glad to have this opportunity of contradicting a sermon lately preached by a stranger in Aspley church, in which he claimed this honour for the National Society. But what I state is matter of history: and this high honour none can take from the British Society. As Earl Russell expressed it the other day, “The National Society was afterwards established to exclude from the benefits of education every child who would not conform to the Church of England.” When the Education Act of 1870 is carried out in all its integrity, the National Society must remodel its programme to deserve its name; and the British Society, to be true to its name, must receive its consequent development. Parliament will then carry out its own measure for the education of the people, and the establishment of School Boards, and what is called compulsory education. I cannot myself at all comprehend the repugnance with which this is received by some. Last spring when, with the signature of fifty of the principal ratepayers, this step was brought under consideration in this parish, we know the idea was rejected by an overwhelming majority. It was then I first became aware that the Woburn Sands school was a Government school of Aspley Guise; and the only satisfaction I derive from that campaign in which I associated, and took so active a part, is the pleasure of welcoming that school this day. There can be no question that with a School Board a stability and a permanency is given to the education of a place far beyond what can ever be the case under the voluntary or denominational system. But the time had not yet come for Aspley – and probably never will, neither here, nor in many places elsewhere, until the expenses of education are made not to fall on the rates of a parish, but on the taxation of the country. We do not hesitate to pay for a standing army; why should wo object to pay for a standing education? The welfare of our commonwealth is as closely connected with the one as the other. If on the one our national integrity depends, as certainly by the other is our national prosperity ensured. Elementary education ought not to be at once a necessity and a quibble! Its present confusion, I believe, can never cease until such education is free, and the legal inheritance of the whole nation – with the expenditure of the people’s money, controlled by officers of their own selection. Some of the clergy of the Established Church have come forward in opposition with a vehemence that overlooks all the other churches of these realms – as the Dean of Westminster called them the other day in Scotland – forgetting that their fellow countrymen and fellow Christians – the great Nonconformist Churches of Great Britain – are equally before the law, and possess an equal right to heard in the councils of the nation. When mothers in Solomon’s time disputed as to the possession of children, his judgment was to divide the child, and perhaps this battle of the churches may eventually be decided by a combined secular and separate religious instruction. When apostles disputed as to which should be greatest, the Great Founder of Christianity placed a little child in their midst. From that day to this is the same battle ever renewed, and again is the battle now waging around the little children, who in simple faith and child-like submission are a standing rebuke, of old, to the desired supremacy of the “successors of the Apostles”. “The churches of those realms” is a designation on which should all do well to ponder. For to those who listen may be heard the voice of a great multitude, above the troubled waters, saying: –
Oh Mother Church, thy children own,
And so together tread the courts
Of God, the Father of us all;
Whose Sun of Righteousness doth light
With golden rays the harvest field.
And then shall echo through the Land
That name which first at Antioch rose.
The Church thus called from Him whose death
Long since has conquered death for all;
For Christ, though dead, yet liveth still,
And, passing King of Glory through,
Wide flung the gates of Heaven back
For nil believers in His name.
At the conclusion of this address cheers with three times three were given for Mr. and Mrs. Grimshawe, and the children started off to their various games. At four o’clock they, with their teachers, all sat down under the tents to tea and good things provided as usual by Mr. Lilley, of Woburn. A garden party was held in the private grounds on the same occasion. Among those who accepted invitations were:- Lord Charles Russell and Miss Russell; Lady Burgoyne; Lady Pauncefort-Duncombe, Miss Paunceforte-Duncombe, and party; the Hon. R. and Mrs. Leslie-Melville; the Hon. W. Lowther, M.P., and Hon. Mrs. Lowther; Mr. Francis Bassett, M.P., Miss Bassett and Miss Maunsell; Colonel Gilpin, M.P., and Miss Browne; Mr. James Howard, M.P., and Mrs. Howard; Mr. and Mrs. Mellor, of Cardington; the Rev. H. H. Birley; Mr. and Miss Blackden; Captain and Mrs. Boultbee; Major and Mrs. Brooks and Miss Brooks; Mr. and Mrs. Burton, of Walton; Major and Mrs. Cooper, of Toddington, and party; Miss Cooper; the Rev. S. F. and Mrs. Cumberlege; Mrs. and Miss Downes; Mrs. and Miss Erskine; the Rev. F. and Mrs. Fanshawe; Colonel Forester; Mr. Foster, of Sandy Place; the Rev. S. Harvey Gem; Mr. and Mrs. Brandreth Gibbs; Mrs. Ross Grove; Mrs. Harter, of Cranfield Court, and party; Mr. and Mrs. Higgins, of Tyringham; Mrs. Hugh Jackson; Major and Mrs. Jary, of Battlesden; Miss Letchworth; Mr. R. Lowndes and party; Miss Moore; Mr. Chandos Morgan; Mr. and Mrs. Carlisle S. Parker; Mrs. Smart and party; Mrs. Villiers Smith and Miss Brandreth; Captain and Mrs. Lovel Thursby; Dr. and Mrs. Trew; Mr. C. Tylecote, Mr. F. Tylecote; Major and Mrs. Warner and Miss Piers; Mrs. Watts, of Hanslope Park, and party; &c., &c. The unfavourable weather soon made the scarlet geranium and scarlet benches to be deserted for more waterproof shelter than a tent afforded, and the drawing-room and tea-room presented a gay assemblage, enlivened the music of Willshaw’s band. At six o’clock the grounds wore open to all the villagers, among whom a merry dance was kept up. The tradespeople invited were entertained at supper, after which many expressions of mutual goodwill brought the festive proceedings close.”
Mr. Wall received a substantial testimonial of £45 on the completion of 10 years’ service at the National School in October. News of this appeared in the Leighton Buzzard Observer on the 21st, but just four days later, his name appeared in a far less auspicious manner. Sadly, the spirit of friendship and co-operation between schools was beyond some. A case was heard before the local Petty Sessions with magistrates present Lord C. J. F. Russell, C. L. Grimshawe, C. S. Parker and C. P. Stuart.
“A School Row. John W. Wall, master of the National School, Aspley Guise, was charged by Brandon Barnwell, pupil teacher of the British School, Aspley Guise, of assaulting him at Aspley on the 2nd October. Mr. Mitchell, of Bedford, appeared for the complainant, and Mr. A. Stimson, of Bedford, for the defendant. It appeared, from the evidence of the complainant and others, that the National School boys were quarrelling with the British School boys in Aspley, and driving them before them, when the complainant, hearing the noise, came out of the British School Yard, and the National boys retired up Aspley Lane to their own school, the British boys and complainant following. When they arrived opposite the National School there was howling and stone throwing, and the defendant came out and asked what the complainant Barnwell did there, told the boys to away, and finally boxed complainant’s ears with his open hand, struck him in the eye, and, as was alleged, kicked him behind. A basket of stones was produced which were picked up in the National School Yard. For the defence it was proved that the British boys hooted defendant’s wife, who was in the yard, and threw the stones into the playground, and complainant was with them, but was not proved have thrown. Mrs. Wall requested complainant to go away. It was not till then that the defendant came out and the assault took place. Fined and costs. C. S. Parker, Esq., took no part in the adjudication of this case, in consequence of being interested in the welfare of the National School.” (Leighton Buzzard Reporter – 21st October 1873)
…yet Mr. Grimshawe was allowed to remain on the Bench despite his known support for the British School? How strange!
Some papers chose to report it under a headline of “Disgraceful Proceedings at Aspley”. I can find a “Willie Barnwell”, living in Church End, Husborne Crawley, who would have been 15 at this time, so the complainant was probably him. Nothing was entered in the National School log book about the event or the case. Presumably the School committee would have taken a very dim view of this conviction and I thought they had possibly dismissed him for it. An entry in the National School Register for week ending January 30, 1874 reads “Mr Wall left on Wednesday, when I took charge of the school. Sewing taken by Mrs Chibnall (Jan 28th) James Hoades”. Was John Wall given three months’ notice from his conviction date. Mr. Hoades was in charge less than eight weeks before a Mr William Hurlstone took over, for another month, before Mr Edward Bolus joined. He complained in the log book that attendances were low due to “unfair means formerly used to draw children away from school, illness of late Master and recent want of a permanent one.”
Mrs. Grimshawe continued her support of the British school with free fuel in the winter of 1873-74:
“ASPLEY GUISE. British School. A very kind and seasonable Christmas present has been given to the poorer parents of the children of this school, by Mrs. Grimshawe. A few days before Christmas, tickets for coals were distributed to the children, and on Saturday, the 29th inst., the coals were given out in front of the school yard in quantities ranging high as 4 or 5cwt., according to the position of the parents and the number of their children attending school. It need scarcely be said that the gift was gratefully acknowledged the parents.”
Yet Edward Bolus did not last long either. The National School had to move out of its premises and be taught in the Rector’s Cottage from June to August in 1874, while the school was refurbished, so it must have been extremely cramped for the new Master. Mr. Bolus decided to leave at the end of the school year in August. The annual Government inspection of the National school noted that there had been a falling off of discipline and attendance, and that their annual grant was dependant on improvements. Fortunately, Rev. Gem wrote a page-long note in the school log book, explaining what was going on.
“It will be observed by comparing this with former reports, that we have lost some ground. The cause is as follows: Mr. Wall, who had long served with great success as Master, fell into ill health. The question before the Committee was whether he should be at once superseded; or an attempt made to retain him at least until he could be recommended for some easier post. The latter course clearly involved risk to the school, the former on the other hand the ruin of the Masters prospects. The Committee at the suggestion of the Rector chose the latter course which ended in Mr. Wall leaving to take a School at St. Albans (he has since fallen ill.) Mr. James Hoades & Mr. Hurlstone came only as Temporary Masters. Mr. E. Bolus left through a necessity of seeking a London School… On Sept. 7, 1874, Mr James Mumford of St. Mark’s College, Chelsea, began his duties as Master. The School reopening after repair and the Holidays.”
Soon after, in November 1874, John Wall died and was buried at St. Michael’s in Aspley Heath. His gravestone inscription reads “In Affectionate Remembrance of John W. Wall late Master of Aspley Guise National School who died November 25th 1874 aged 36 years. He rests from his labours and his works, do follow him, he is not dead but sleepeth.” Strangely for such an early death, no local newspaper obituary appeared for him, in fact, there was no mention of his death at all, but the National School log book noted it had closed earlier than usual on the day of his burial for several of the children to attend. His wife Jane took over the Woburn Sands National School in 1876, running it for 11 years. Teaching must have run in the family, as their daughter Emily was appointed to run the Simpson & Woughton Branch School in Fenny Stratford in 1883. In 1887, Jane left Woburn Sands and went to Rodmersham in Kent to run a school there, where her son had been appointed organist to the local church.
James Mumford had come from Clavering in Essex. He was a young single man of just 22 when he took the position., but he was married in Loughborough two years later to Eliza Hardy.
Meanwhile, Mr. Gautrey at the British School is mentioned as attending a few Education conferences throughout the year, but there are no more cross-swords in the press during the first half of 1874. Had the situation improved? Not really, judging by Mrs. Grimshawe’s speech at her fete later that year. Unfettered by not having the National school, it’s committee, or Rev. Gem present, she went further than before. From the Beds Mercury, 26th September:
“Aspley Guise. The British School. On Thursday, the 17th September, Mr. and Mrs. Grimshawe gave a garden party, at which were present a large circle of friends. Dancing began at about five o’clock, Wilshaw’s band being in attendance. A long corridor, filled with flowers, arranged for promenade, with crimson benches and sofas, and lighted with Chinese lanterns, led to the supper tent adjoining the house. The scene was of the gayest description, and the Company did not disperse until after nine o’clock.
On the following day Mrs. Grimshawe received the British School of 110 scholars, and their mothers, together with the British School Committee, the British schoolmaster and staff, the Churchwardens, Mr. Pickering and Mr. Whitman, and others. Mr. Lilley, of Woburn, provided the tea. The children, with the British schoolmaster, Mr. Gautrey, and some the committee, met at one o’clock on the village green. The processional banners were of brilliant colours and designs. Mrs. Grimshawe, driving a phaeton, with Mrs. Holford and Mr. Grimshawe, met them on the Green; there were also present Master Grimshawe, Miss Grimshawe, Master Cecil Grimshawe, and Mdlle. Gregoire. Each scholar of the British School carried a tricolour flag. The whole assemblage sang on the green, to the air of “God bless the Prince of Wales.” verses composed for the occasion – an antidotal version of the ritualistic hymn at Rysdale School, some of the verses reading thus: –
I am little Christian child,
I love my Church and school;
I love God’s Book, the Bible,
I love that faith and rule.
I’m not a little Ritualist,
As some would have me be –
I’m not a little Romanist,
For Christ has set free.
[Three more verses omitted]
The procession, the children singing “Onward Christian Soldiers,” then passed up the village, to Aspley House, when Mrs. Grimshawe made the following address: –
Committee of the British School, scholars of the British School, and parents and friends assembled – a special welcome I would give you this day. The welfare of your school is a matter of deep interest to me. The welcome I can give today is with joy and with pride – rejoicing at this the fourth festival since your school (then at the point of abandonment) gathered up its strength and is now again become the leading school of the parish, and a just pride in recalling how I have borne part with others in such resuscitation. Till then I know nothing of the British School Society, but, to use a familiar form of words, “to know it was to love it.” I think anyone with a germ of Christian charity in their hearts cannot but feel that that charity expands under its influence. It is the most perfect form of Christian charity and teaching that exists. To the British School and to that society I am indebted for bringing me face to face with the most truly national form of elementary education there can be. While holding my own religious opinions, at the same time it has taught me a catholic charity towards those of others unthought of before. When Christian charity has received Apostolic pre-eminence over all other Christian virtues, I think it no small debt we owe to that society which points out so practical method for its exorcise. And what I can do in any way to promote the objects that society, supporting its schools in this parish, shall cheerfully done; and I will not, as I have not, spare any exertion on its behalf. That I and others have not laboured in vain is an epistle that may be read of all men. Speaking of the Christian charity of which I conceive the British School Society embodiment, I endeavoured to follow in its path by the three previous years our gatherings by inviting the National School to partake of equal hospitality, but the singular sentiments expressed by the managers of those schools, and the continued manner of their reception of my invitation, completely precludes its repetition. While expressing my regret at such absence, I can only allude to its cause with unfeigned astonishment. If clergymen of the Established Church would only condescend to listen to the teachings from the pulpits of other Christian churches beside their own, their visions, I think, of the Holy Catholic Church, with its “Communion of Saints,” would be far clearer and more extended than at present. The light from God’s heaven would then be seen in prismatic unity, and its earthly reflection acknowledged to the Christian life – the so-called “Church Catechism” no longer hold a fictitious place in religious teaching, but the Bible would be the text-book nationally of religious elementary education. The battle of education would cease, and the progress of education be ensured. But there is, I fear, but little hope of the former ending, or of the latter advancing, except under the guarantee of School Boards. A School Board establishes education, independently of the fickleness of voluntary support, on a permanent basis. Nothing can be efficiently carried out without its being the business of certain parties to see it done. What may be everybody’s business is said to nobody’s work. The light of education flickers, swayed to and fro by every draught of opinion that blows, while it cannot but more steadily and more efficiently under the care of an educational Board. I am not speaking theoretically, but experimentally, of both phases. I am well acquainted with the working of education in this parish, and I have seen how it proceeds, under one of the best School Boards in England. I attended last winter several of the meetings of that at Brighton: I saw the same difficulties there, as here and elsewhere, and I saw the admirable way which they were met and overcome. I could enlarge on this subject, but the time has not yet come when it would of interest to you to hear more. Aspley is not yet awakened. Aspley, still sleeping, dreams on of an effective education under most defective attendance, scared by a nightmare of rates from placing education on a secure foundation with an assured progress. With nineteen villages in Bedfordshire possessing School Boards, how long will Aspley be content to slumber on possessing none? Until such time comes the British School, I trust, will hold its own. It is a noble school. It was the first established in this parish. It meets with the sympathy of the people, and its scholars are now a most considerable majority over that of the National School. Scholars of the British School, glory in belonging to school of which all this can said. Parents of children belonging to the British School, try all you can to get other children to share the blessings you receive in the education declared by Government to be efficient, and by all communions of Christians (with one exception) to founded on the religion of the Bible. The motto of the British School is the infallible one of “teaching from the Bible, and the Bible alone.” A few words now in reference to the little books you receive this day. I mean little regarding the letter, but great regarding the spirit. None other than the “Pilgrim’s Progress” was stated by the Dean of Westminster, at the late Bunyan festival, to be the book next to the Bible that has most formed the religious character of the English people. At that festival, to my deep regret, I was unable to be present, but I read the Dean’s glowing address and noble tribute to Bunyan, and rejoiced that the Established Church of England possessed one like him. There are not many. Wherever there is good to be done or religion advanced there is the Dean of Westminster in the midst, not halting to ask whether orthodox or uniform, but, if true and catholic, there you see him helping forward God’s kingdom on earth with whatever fellow-labourers God may call to work in his vineyard. He, of all men, was highly fitted to honour to Bunyan’s genius and Christianity, when his statue, given by the Duke Bedford, was presented to the county town. Two hundred years before Bunyan had been condemned to Bedford prison for maintaining the right of liberty and preaching, and like all other rights, this was not obtained without suffering. Fighting that fight, he came out of prison victorious, and was the first Nonconformist minister licensed to preach in England. Personal liberty was to Bunyan, without liberty of conscience, utterly valueless. That liberty conscience, combined with elementary teaching, the British School Society was established to protect and advance. Its triumphant success seen in the Education Act of 1870. Until those principles receive full development in this parish under a School Board, I know it will nobly do its work: you will l am sure respond to my address by giving cheers of three times throe for the British School Committee.
Prolonged cheers followed, and again for the host and hostess. Each parent then received a copy of the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” while the children were liberally supplied with toys. Various games were kept up till a late hour, and the children as the shades of night fell, departed, delighted with the day’s entertainment. Among the company we observed Lord Charles Russell, Mr. Robinson, Miss Moore, Mrs. Hugh Jackson, Mrs. Howe, Miss Thorpe, &c., &c.”
An anonymous writer to the Leighton Buzzard Gazette took offence to the lyrics penned by Mrs. Grimshawe. “…If this is a specimen of the spirit in which the education young ‘Britons’ is conducted, we shall probably have to sing “God HELP the Prince of Wales,” for his throne will be no easy one. I think that most of your readers who really love God’s Book, the Bible and love that faith and rule, will consider that the British School Aspley Guise presented a very ‘grim’ appearance when confronted with the teaching of the Saviour they profess love so much, and the Book they profess to revere.” Another anonymous writer from Fenny Stratford then wrote in to defend it, prompting further exchanges! Stories extolling the British school’s virtues and rising attendance numbers begin to appear again after the September fete. This from the Bedfordshire Mercury, 31st October 1874:
“ASPLEY GUISE. Science Classes. – We are glad to leam that these useful classes are to be again continued at the British School. Mr. Gautrey, the new master from the Borough Road College, has spared no pains to render this school worthy of its reputation, and has been successful in raising it to its present high numbers, with an average attendance of 80, by the thorough efficiency of his teaching. Mr. Gautrey certificated from the South Kensington Science and Art Department for teaching physical geography, inorganic chemistry, mathematics, physiology, and magnetism and electricity. The required Science Committee has been formed with the Rev. Dr. Hillier as chairman, the subjects this season being physical geography and inorganic chemistry. A class of 20 have already joined for the first and 15 for the second. The classes are held every Friday evening, at the British School, 2s. 6d. being the fee for the course.”
The Grimshawe’s continued to support the British school into 1875, with not only their time and influence, but also their own money, From the Beds Mercury, 2nd January 1875:
“ASPLEY GUISE British School. – The decorations, usual to this season of the year, have not been forgotten, and the school on Christmas eve was a bower of evergreens, and conspicuous among them were the symbolic banners of Faith, Hope, and Charity. Over the school hung the British flag with its colours in brilliant contrast with the snow on the surrounding hills. At this inclement season, the usual gift from Mr. C. L. Grimshawe of coals to the parents of the scholars has been a special welcome. Mr. Francis Bassett, M.P., has kindly sent a donation of £5 in addition to his subscription to the school fund. This school, numbering about 114 scholars, will assemble again the first week in January, when there will be an exhibition of the magic lantern and dissolving views for the children.”
A report on the lantern show duly appeared in the Leighton Buzzard Observer on 26th January 1875:
“ASPLEY GUISE. Entertainment. – On Monday evening a magic lantern entertainment, with dissolving views, was given to the scholars of the British School and others, in the School Room, by Mr. Gautrey. The lantern, which is a very good one, was kindly lent for the occasion by C. Grimshawe, Esq. The scenes represented were of varied character, and were well suited for children. They consisted of land and sea views, interspersed with some of a laughable nature. Some striking chemical experiments brought pleasing and instructive evening to a close.”
The regular emphasis on teaching science at the British school is interesting. I wonder if this was in contradiction with the National school’s more traditional religious teaching, and put them at odds over creationism?
Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette – Tuesday 11 May 1875:
“Science and Art. – ln the March Art Examinations of the Science and Art Departments for Schools, forty children of the British School were presented in the first-grade freehand drawing. The returns are at hand, and are very satisfactory. Thirty-five were successful, six of whom have received certificates of proficiency, viz.; A. Claridge, Elizabeth Goodman, K. Jackson, F. Lane, F. King, and A. Spufford; and two have received certificates and prizes for excellence in the examination, viz., Fredk. Inwood and Walter Harris; in addition, W. B. Barnwell, pupil teacher, has received a certificate of proficiency in the second grade. During the past ten days the science classes at the British School have undergone their annual examinations. On Wednesday evening, the 28th ult., ten members of the classes took the papers in inorganic chemistry; and Monday evening last twelve took the papers in physical geography. The examinations have been conducted according to the regulations of the Department, under the supervision of the committee, consisting of the Rev. W. Hillier, Dr. Mahon, Messrs. Douglas and Pickering, and Mr. D. W. Woodin, who has acted hon. sec. to both art and science classes. Successful results are anticipated. On the first evening the inspector of science and art was present.”
Was it any wonder that Rev. Gem decided to publish one of his sermons this year? “The People’s Church: Shall we Destroy It? A sermon preached in the Parish Church of Apsley [sic] Guise, by S. Harvey Gem, M.A. (William Skeffington 168 Piccadilly, 2d.) – A valuable sermon. If only Non-Conformists would read and study it, we believe that it would cause very many amongst them to cease from longing after Disestablishment. If they ever secure Disestablishment, none will rue the deed as much as they.” It was reviewed in a religious magazine of the time.
In a change to meeting reports, the next instance of the Grimshawe’s in the local press was an auction advert in the Beds Mercury in September. They were selling the “nearly-new” building materials used in the erection of a school-room and morning room at Aspley House. This wasn’t in connection with the British school, it was probably erected for the two governesses they had employed to teach their own children. Bidders were invited for the materials used in the construction of a detached 30×20-foot by 21-foot-high building, with all attendant tiling, windows, stoves etc., etc. Also a Greenhouse, 30×10-foot. The Grimshawe’s did not own Aspley House, they had rented it since 1862. They left the village at the end of 1875 to move to Bedford and took Goldington Grange. Perhaps this was in preparation of that move, returning the property to the state in which they had rented it.
Although they had now moved out of Aspley Guise, the Grimshawe’s still provided a tea and entertainment for all the British schoolchildren for the New Year celebrations. From the Beds Mercury, 8th January 1876:
“Aspley Guise. British School. On Tuesday the children of the British School had their annual in the Schoolroom, when 75 children partook of a very good tea, kindly given by a lady in the village. After the children had finished the committee had tea also. In the evening the schoolmaster, Mr Gautry, gave an entertainment to the children and friends with a magic lantern, kindly lent for the occasion by Mrs Grimshawe, of Goldington Grange, who, though removed from Aspley, still continues to take great interest in the school. The lantern was a very good one, by Solomons, of Regent-street, London, and the scenes represented were Scriptural, marine, and scenes from the life of Robinson Crusoe, with a few of a humorous character. After the entertainment the children were presented with toys and prizes from a large and richly-laden Christmas tree. The whole entertainment passed off very successfully, and was much enjoyed. Only a few children were absent from illness.”
Leighton Buzzard Observer, 8th February 1876:
“Aspley Guise. Entertainment. – On Wednesday evening last an entertainment, consisting of recitations, duets, solos, and choruses, was given in the British School, Aspley Guise, by the Woburn Sands Wesleyan Choir, conducted by Mr. Henry Inwood. The chair was taken Mr. E. G. Miller. There was large attendance, and all appeared to greatly enjoy the entertainment. The recitations were very interesting, and the singing of the choir excellent. The proceeds will go to the funds of the British School.”
Lectures from the Temperance movement, trying to get the poor out of the pubs and beerhouses, had begun at the British school by April 1876. The National Temperance League ran a series of lectures in the evening, ending with a “lady advocate”, probably Emma Courtney of Aspley, as the last one. There were also less studious events at the hall:
Leighton Buzzard Observer, 6th June 1876
“Concert. On Tuesday evening a concert was given in the National School-room by the members of the Aspley Guise glee class. The class has been formed almost three months and meets weekly for practice. It is chiefly under the able management of the Misses Downes and Mr. Mumford. The first concert on Tuesday evening was on the whole a very creditable one. The programme was, with one or two exceptions, exceedingly well performed. The choruses were well rendered, and the playing and singing of the Misses Downes and the singing of Miss Spencer and Miss Goodman were greatly admired, as was also the singing of Messrs. Mumford and Goodman. The vocal duet of the Misses Downes and Messrs. Mumford and F. Goodman were well worthy of an encore. There was a large and fashionable audience, who seemingly much enjoyed the performances.”
“…with one or two exceptions…”, oh dear!
The Woburn Board of Guardians met in August 1877 and the Beds Mercury reported that the School Attendance Committee had noted there were 14 schools in their jurisdiction which had 1200 children attending them. It was thought about another 300 children were missing regular attendance. The parish of Aspley Guise had asked for a “code of compulsory bye-laws” to force children to school, but this was adjourned pending a public meeting. It came back to the committee in September, after 50 ratepayers of Aspley Guise had signed a resolution that:
1st. That the School Attendance Committee of the Woburn Union be requested to make bye-laws respecting the attendance of children at School under Section 74 of the Elementary School Act, 1870, and for otherwise having Sections 21, 22 and 23 of the Elementary Education Act, 1876, applied to the parish of Aspley Guise.
2nd. That, with reference to the making of bye-laws under Sections 21, 22 and 23 of the Elementary Education Act, 1876, and Section 74 of the Elementary School Act, 1870, this meeting hereby makes representation, as per Section 22 of the Education Act, 1876, that the subjoined bye-laws are those desired by the parish of Aspley Guise.”
The Bye-laws were duly passed. Had Aspley attempted avoided appointing a School Board by having only the sections of the Act they wanted passed as local laws? The Committee appointed an Attendance Officer and cases of parents being brought up before the magistrates for failing to ensure their children went to school began to swiftly appear.
Average attendance figures were published again in November 1877. The National school had an average of 49 attendees with grants of £25 14s 0d., while the British school had 44 for grants of £21 4s 10d.
The year started with news breaking in February that Rev. Gem would be leaving Aspley Guise. He had been presented with the living of Gatton, near Reigate. However, he must have been down for a look at the proposed church and rectory, as he decided he could not accept as the rectory house was not in a satisfactory condition! So in April, he announced he would be staying for the time being…
In February, things had now calmed down to such an extent for Rev. Gem to feel he could attend events at the British school again. The Church of England Temperance Society held events in both the Church and school in October 1878, which Rev. Gem chaired.
By the end of the year, the National School was struggling for funding. This usually came in the form of grants from the Government and subscriptions from individual locals, but these seemed to be drying up at just the time when the school needed more investment. The managers took an unusually public way of bringing this to wider attention, not only shaming(?) the Duke of Bedford, but going so far as stating they would not continue more than five months more. Leighton Buzzard Observer, 5th November:
“National School. The following report has lately been printed, and, since its issue, we understand that instructions have been forwarded from the Education Department to take immediate steps to form Wavendon, Woburn Sands, Walton, and a part of Aspley into one School Board. The managers wish to bring before the notice of the supporters of the Woburn Sands National School the following facts. That, since the year 1875, when his Grace the Duke of Bedford gave his last donation of £40, the subscriptions have barely sufficed to keep the school open; that during the past school year a sufficient amount of subscriptions was with difficulty collected; that it is most desirable to put the maintenance of the school on a more assured basis; that this year a portion of the grant was deducted on account of the unsatisfactory examination passed by some of the children, and the inspector in his report states that unless the infants pass a better examination next year a larger portion will deducted. The managers think that the only way to avert this is to improve the teaching power of the school, which will necessarily increase the expenses. It is computed that subscriptions amounting to about £75 would be required to meet the school expenditure. Seeing the difficulty which last year attended the raising of £63, the managers cannot expect the supporters of the school to make themselves answerable for the larger amount of £75. The managers have therefore given notice to the Education Department of their inability to keep on the school after 25th March, 1879, and have asked the committee of Council on Education to take such steps that the school may not be closed. It may be well to state here that the managers have tried all available means, but without success, to make the district into a civil parish, so that it might be able to form a School Board with power to levy a rate for the maintenance of the school.”
Perhaps the idea of a merged School Board taking in two parishes of Buckinghamshire was just scare tactics. This would have put Rev. Gem in a very uncomfortable position. The school could obviously not be funded further by the Church, but the only alternative to keep it open was to transfer it to be Board, the one thing he had been dead-set against. What could he do? The Leighton Buzzard Observer again, December 10th:
“Farewell Sermon. On Sunday evening last the Rev. S. H. Gem, who leaving the neighbourhood, preached his farewell sermon in the parish church, to a large congregation. Mr. Gem took for his text the 20th of the Epistle Jude:- “Now unto him that is able keep you from failing, and present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,” and after dealing with the subject of the text, referred to the approaching disconnection of himself and the parish, and said that the parishioners of Aspley would always lie near his heart; he had been their rector for ten years, and should hark back upon that time with feelings of pleasure. He had hoped to continue with them a little longer, but the state of his health and other things prevented him from so doing. In conclusion he exhorted them to be faithful servants of Christ, and expressed the hope that he might meet them “with exceeding joy” in heaven bye-and-bye. During the time Mr. Gem has been in this parish he has done all in his power to relieve distress amongst the poor, and this class will have lost a sincere friend. Although a clergyman of the Church of England, he has not shown that prejudice and bigotry which characterises many who hold that office, for it has been his invariable practice to support by a yearly subscription of 10s. the Wesleyan Sabbath School and the Missionary Society, and to visit dissenters when sick as well his own flock. During the past fortnight he has entertained at his house a number the parishioners, including the old people, the church choir, the ringers, churchwardens, ex-churchwardens, Sunday school teachers, and the children of the day and Sunday schools. The school, the choir, and the confirmation class each presented him with small token of their esteem.”
“The state of his health and other things…” I wonder if that included the school situation? The new vicar of Aspley Guise was Rev. Daniel Pring Alford. The years of steadfast resolute refusal of a school Board idea seemed to fall away in an instant.
With no extra subscriptions forthcoming and the threat of a much larger geographical-area School Board upon them, Aspley Guise organised a meeting, with the new vicar in the chair. The Leighton Buzzard Observer once more, 4th February:
“Proposed School Board. ln consequence of a notice from the Education Department that the parish of Aspley Guise would be called upon to contribute to the expenses of a proposed school district for Wavendon and Walton, a meeting of the parishioners was called on Thursday, at the National Schoolroom. There was very large attendance. The Rev. D. P. Alford took the chair, and introduced the subject. As a result of considerable informal discussion the feeling of the meeting was in favour of the formation of a School Board, but there was difference of opinion upon the question of whether the Board should be for the parish of Aspley Guise alone, or whether an application should be made to the Education Department for the addition of the parish to the district of Wavendon and Walton. It was proposed by Mr. Dymond, seconded by Mr. E. G. Miller, that a school Board be formed for Aspley. An amendment was proposed by Mr. Kemp, and seconded Mr. Veasey, that the Education Department be requested to add the parish of Aspley Guise to the district of Wavendon and Walton. Upon a show of hands four only voted for the amendment, which was negatived by a large majority. Upon the original motion being put, almost all voted in its favour, and one against. Mr. Dymond then proposed and Mr. Whitman seconded, that the chairman be requested to communicate the result of the meeting to the Education Department, with a request that further time might be allowed for the consideration of their notice; this was carried unanimously. A requisition to the clerk of the union, requiring him to call a meeting the ratepayers for the purpose of passing resolution, “that it is expedient that a School Board shall be formed for the parish of Aspley Guise,” was then signed by almost all present, and, with a vote of thanks to the chairman, the meeting terminated.”
The ratepayers must have assumed the associated costs of a Board would be lower for their own village alone, rather than having other parishes included. There were a great deal more families in Wavendon (which then included most of modern Woburn Sands) who would need schooling and given the choice, Aspley was now happy to have its own Board!
Leighton Buzzard Observer 18th February 1879:
“Proposed School Board. A meeting of the ratepayers was held at the National School on Thursday evening; there were about fifty present the Rev. D. P. Alford presided. Mr. W H. Smith read a requisition, received from Mr. Alford, and signed by fifty ratepayers, for the meeting to pass a resolution for the formation of a School Board. The chairman read a correspondence between himself and the Education Department on the subject of a Board lor Aspley and Wavendon. Mr. Dymond moved “That a School Board be formed for Aspley;” Mr. W. H. Denison seconded, and it was carried unanimously. In reply to Mr. Handscomb, the chairman stated that the Education Department informed him that Aspley would have to pay the Wavendon Board for children at the Woburn Sands school. If the Woburn Sands school, which belongs to the Duke of Bedford, were handed over to the Board, Wavendon would become contributory. Mr. Wish proposed a resolution stating that they wished the school to be under the Aspley Board, as two-thirds of the children attending it belonged to Aspley. This was carried, only Mr. Denison and Mr. Collins opposing. Mrs. Grimshawe, of Goldington Grange, has issued an address in favour of a School Board lor Aspley alone.”
In the same week, the Wavendon parishioners were having their own meeting about the proposed joint Board. At a meeting in their own Schoolroom, attended by the vicar, the great and good of Wavendon and Walton, along with “a goodly gathering of the working class,” decided on the resolution “That in the opinion of the meeting it will be best to retain Wavendon School as a voluntary school, and that Wavendon should contribute to the Aspley School board for education of those children belonging to Wavendon parish who reside I the district of Woburn Sands.” An amendment was tabled by churchwarden Mr. W. H. Denison saying “that it is inexpedient to alter the arrangement proposed by the education committee and council, viz., that a school board shall be formed for the parishes of Wavendon and Walton”, but this was refused on a show of hands. This annoyed Mr. Denison greatly and he declared that “the original proposition was at once valueless in its origin, valueless in its operation, and valueless to the end desired. It was mere moonshine. For the better informed, he would say it was chimerical.” You will note that it was Mr. W.H. Denison who had attended the Aspley meeting too and there seconded the motion for Aspley to have its own Board.
Wavendon parish had their follow-up meeting in mid-March, despite their schoolmaster, Mr. Vokes, having just passed away. The meeting heard that no efforts had been made to see if their school could continue with voluntary subscriptions, as most of those concerned wanted a School Board. Walton did not send a representative as they had elected to go into an arrangement with Simpson school. They therefore voted that Wavendon and Walton (regardless of their wishes!) be formed into a School Board and that Aspley should contribute towards it.
Aspley Vestry met at the end of the month. In order to avoid the unnecessary parish expense of an election and the bad feeling it would certainly cause, they hoped to settle on five names to put forward as a Board. The new vicar was far more open to the prospect of a School Board, and acted almost impartially. The Beds Mercury reported that he said:
“I must thank you all very much for coming, for if we can achieve our purpose for which we have come we shall achieve a great victory over ourselves. Our object is to come to some understanding to avoid the expense, trouble, and possibly ill-feeling that might result from a contested election. We are authorised to choose five members for the School Board, and our motives should be to choose the five best men we can and to choose them irrespective of everything except their being the best to act upon the School Board. It is a matter in which there is little opportunity for a man to show peculiar fancies, if he has them, for if a man has some particular hobby, some particular notions, as to education, religious or secular, he has no room to carry them out, for he is only a unit, and the amount of Freedom left to him is very small indeed. The only question that might be considered a partisan question is that of religious teaching, and as to that, the School Board’s functions are very limited indeed. Practically the Board will be certain to establish religious teaching upon the British School system (he was interrupted by shouts of “Hear, hear!”), that is, to limit religious teaching to the reading and explaining of the Bible. From my short knowledge of Aspley, that is what it would turn upon here, so that the School Board would swamp any feeling in reference to religious education. The only thing we can do is look about and see what five persons, men only, or men and women, in the parish would be likely to give the most attention, ability, and experience in conducting on a broad and liberal principle the education of the children of the parish. If after this meeting anybody undertakes to nominate others, he should feel that the responsibility of such conduct lies upon his shoulders.”
Mr Dymond then said: “I suppose we are all agreed on what we want, – peace, quietness, and a good Board. I think in our selection of members we should consider the religious difficulty, although, as the rector has said, the religious question will not produce the slightest practical result in the working of the Board. The Board is bound to adopt the School Board system, of the Bible and nothing else, unless, which heaven forbid, it should reject the Bible altogether, so that although some are Church people and some Dissenters it makes but the slightest difference whether all the members are Church people or all Dissenters. We have got a local division, however, to consider. Some of us live in Aspley and some in Woburn Sands, and taking the population as the basis, I suppose it would be fair to have three Church people and two Dissenters, three for Aspley and two for Woburn Sands, but whether we can get the five best persons without reference to these matters is a point for consideration.”
Mr Kemp [owner of the print-works], remarked that “The ratepayers are divided, religiously and geographically, into four sections, and if each section nominated its own candidate, the only question left would be to select the fifth, who should be neutral as possible.”
The rector then proposed Mr Dymond as the most suitable man for the fifth seat, whose nomination was seconded by Mr Veasey. The following people were then proposed and seconded, Mr S. Douglass, Mr Featherstonhaugh, Mr Wright, Mr Fisher, Mr Veasey, Miss Courtney, Mr Sedgwick and Mr D. Rich, “but after a great deal of time had been spent in the effort to arrive at the sense of the meeting, it was resolved to adjourn the proceedings.”
Without a consensus of opinion, there was no choice but to have a parish election for the five posts. The previous vicar was still very much in the minds of the National School and its scholars., In April, the children had a half-day off to sit for a photograph to be presented as a memento to Rev. Gem.
The election was duly held and the Luton Times of 11th April gives a full (and colourful) report:
“ASPLEY GUISE. The School Board Contest. A correspondent writes: On Thursday evening, the 3rd instant, an adjourned meeting was held in the National schoolroom. Before 7 o’clock, the appointed hour for the meeting, a large number of persons had assembled, and when the doors were opened the room was quickly filled. There was no ceremony of appointing a chairman, but the Rev. D. P. Alford took his position at one of the schoolmasters’ desks, and quietly announced the object of the meeting, which was, if possible, to avoid a School Board election contest in the parish. (Mr. Alford, it may be mentioned, has lately succeeded to the Rev. S. Harvey Gem, and hails from Tavistock, one of the many seats of Hastings Russell, Duke of Bedford.) The rev. chairman was not supported by the gentry, with the exception Mr. Ernest Dymond, a newly appointed magistrate of the district; but tradesmen, men of mark, were present. Mr. Turvey, a prominent grocer of the neighbourhood, took his seat by the side of the Chairman. Dr. Mahon, the leading medical gentleman of the village, was satisfied with the body of the hall. Mr. W. H. Smith, the returning officer, was not present, but his acting man, Mr. James Smith, was. The first communication to the meeting was a letter from Mr. Henry Veasey, a surgeon of Aspley, who withdrew on the ground that the duties of a School Board committee man were incompatible with those of a local medical attendant. This resignation was received without denoting any great disappointment, nor conveying popularity. Mr. Dennis Woodin, retired shoemaker of the village, rose and personally announced his retirement. Mr. James Smith, Woburn, conveyed to the meeting that Mr. Blundell, of Birchmoor, who has succeeded to the farm of the late Mr. Zachariah Phillips, also wished to retire, and here there seemed to be a hope that others would follow, and the object of the gathering been obtained, when a Mr. William Tompkins, itinerant pig killer, who had been wisely or unwisely proposed, ‘blaired out’ at the meeting, and said that whoever retired he should ‘stick’. He called upon the Chairman, he was on the list ‘fust,’ to speak ‘fust’; upon Mr. Benjamin Lines (the rector’s churchwarden) ‘not to be silent afore his master;’ upon Mr. Kemp, a large printer in the village, to spake; he was a K and ought to open. Mr. David Rich called upon ‘Ben, to get up;’ he (Rich) was last the list, and should speak last. At times the meeting was ‘dumb show,’ and at others only the murmuring of the tongues of Babel. The rev. chairman, who, it is plain, has had very large School Board experience, gave all the information it was possible to be given. Mr. Dymond seemed anxiously earnest. Mr. Miller, a Dissenter, a printer of Woburn Sands, simply and eloquently spoke of his up-hill career and the value of education. Mr. Wright, of Woburn Sands (a Dissenter) deprecated any feeling of discussion between Churchmen and Dissenters, but to go boldly forth hand in hand for the common good. Mr. J. Rich, an active member of the Labour Union, addressed the meeting with much common sense, but at the end it was found that that result must be determined by a poll, which the Chairman trusted would be conducted with discretion and in good temper. It is plain an element of discord is afoot in Aspley, not so much for the good of the state, as for individual gratification, and that the same is by one whose education should have led him better attainments. and whose reflection will not make him in later days happier man. Mr. William Harry Smith, the returning officer, has officially announced the following candidates: The Rev. D. P. Alford, rector (Aspley); Miss Courtenay (Aspley); Mr. W. H. Denison (Woburn Sands); Mr. Douglas Somers (Aspley); Mr. Charles Featherstonehaugh (Woburn Sands); Mr. Fisher (Aspley Heath); Mr. David Giltrow (Aspley); Mr. B. Jackson (Woburn Sands), Mr David Rich (Aspley): Mr. W. Tompkins (Woburn Sands); Mr. Wright (Woburn Sands).
The election is to take place at the British schoolroom on Saturday. During the evening, Mr. William Sturgess of Wavendon addressed the Rev. D. P. Alford as to the position of Aspley and that portion of Woburn Sands belonging to Wavendon. For some time past there has been much discussion as to the better course to adopt in this somewhat difficult matter. Wavendon has its Endowed schools and does not want a School Board. Wavendon would prefer paying over to Aspley a voluntary contribution towards the support of those children for whom its parish is liable; but Aspley feels, according to the Rector’s expression, that “to lean on a voluntary contribution would be trusting to the support of a broken reed”. Mr. Ernest Dymond clenched the question for the time being by showing that until the Apsley [sic] School Board was formed, no one had the power to decide what would be accepted. Mr. Dennison said that there were only two or three desirous of avoiding School Board – that ‘he would not trust them so far as he could see them tor voluntary contribution’ – that the last year £30 was promised, and that £20 was accepted as a compromise. Mr. Dennison was proved to be in error, for £20 being all that was deficient, it was not thought just to ask for more, although a larger amount had been promised, and could have been had. Mr. Dennison qualified his remark by saying ‘his meaning was future voluntary contributions were impracticable.’ There seemed no inclination on those interested on the part of Apsley [sic] to listen to a secured voluntary contribution, so that in that case Wavendon would be spared for the present a School Board. Mr. Ernest Dymond moved a vote of thanks to the Chairman, which was unanimously adopted. The meeting could not have lasted ten minutes had it not been for the congenial forbearance of Mr. Alford.”
So regretfully, despite the vicar’s best efforts, an open ballot had to go ahead. The Leighton Buzzard Observer, 22nd April 1879:
“School Board Election. The first election of members to serve the Aspley Guise School Board took place on Saturday, the 12th inst., at the British school-room in this village. There were twenty-one persons nominated for the honourable position, from which number five only could be elected. Nine, however, of the number nominated withdrew, and the following twelve stood the contest Miss Courtney, and Messrs. Alford, Douglas, Denison, Dymond, Featherstonhaugh, Wright, Fisher, Giltrow, Rich, Jackson, and Tompkins.
Through the inclemency of the weather, about 100 of the ratepayers did not vote. Had they done so, the state of the poll might have appeared different. The poll commenced at one o’clock and closed at seven; throughout the time the village was very quiet, and a stranger would scarcely have known that an election was being carried on. About half-past seven the votes were counted up by Mr. Smith, the returning officer, and just before nine he announced the numbers to be follows:
He declared Miss Courtney, Messrs. Douglas, Alford, Denison and Tompkins duly elected. The result of the poll appeared to surprise a number of the ratepayers. Private meetings of the ratepayers had been held at Mr. Kemp’s for the purpose of securing the return of Miss Courtney, Messrs. Alford, Dymond, and Douglas who reside in Aspley Guise proper. As the Board now stands, two of the members of the British School committee are returned (Miss Courtney and Mr. Douglas), one of the National School committee (Mr. Alford), and one of the Woburn Sands School committee (Mr Denison). They are familiar with school matters, particularly Mr. Alford, who was on the Tavistock School Board five years previous to his removal to Aspley. Mr. Tompkins is the only member who has not previously connected with any school. Respecting religious sentiment, there are two Churchmen and three dissenters. As the National School has to made over the Board, and other preliminary matters to be arranged, it will nearly three months before the National and British schools cease to exist, and the Board School comes into operation.”
The Luton Times & Advertiser of a few days earlier had painted their usual more colourful view of the vote, with much more detail (and obvious delight at the county accents…):
“ASPLEY GUISE. The School Board Election came off on Saturday last, the 12th inst., conducted by W. H. Smith, Esq. the returning officer, assisted by Mr. James Smith. The critical examination of the voting papers took place under the further reference of Mr. Assbee and Mr. Doddington of Woburn; and the majority of the candidates. The voting was as follows, the first five being the successful candidates:
- Somers, Douglas, Esq. farmer 241 18
- The Rev. D. P. Alford, rector 201 16
- Denison, W. H., gentleman 123 17
- Tompkins, William, butcher 122 19
- Courtney, Miss, gentlewoman 114 5
Dymond, E. E., gentleman 111 5
Featherstonehaugh, C., ropemaker 68 9
Fisher, Joseph, yeoman, 50 7
Giltrow, David, innkeeper 18 3
Wright, James, draper, 47 3
Rich, David, coal merchant 12 1
Jackson, Benjamin, farmer 0 0
During the announcement of the voting there were several objections made by the returning officer. The first was seven marks placed against the name of Denison. Mr. Smith said that his instructions were so clear that five marks only be made that he must pass it over. Next was a similar case, six marks being placed against a name; and in one instance twelve marks appeared; in another a voter wrote his name on the list. There was one knotty point, however, to be decided. On one sheet a single tick had been placed against name, and here the returning officer gave it as his opinion that it was the evident intention of the person to record his five votes for such candidate, not one; it was, however, a question for the meeting. Mr. Dymond rose as one of the candidates and explained the position, and the same being put to show of bands, it was carried that one vote only was intended, and this was recorded in favour of Mr. Dymond, no name having been at first given by Mr Smith. Had it been accepted as five, which was evidently the opinion of the returning officer should have been, Mr. Dymond would have had a majority of two over Miss Courtnev. Mr. Denison the foremost gentleman of the village of Woburn Sands-cum-Aspley is thus only in majority of one over Mr. William Tompkins, the pig-killer who in the Walter Handicap list of ‘Monkeys’ to run the race was called ‘a daring one’ which he answered characteristically ‘that he wor, he shud climb to top o’ the pole, and stick there.’ He could have hardly intended to stick his pigs from such an elevated position. It may be mentioned that no gentleman in Aspley served the office of guardian for a longer term together and with greater honour than did Mr. Douglas Somers, until from some step he took, Mr, Pickering was started to oppose him, and after a hard-fought fight was elected. Aspley has on the first time of his offer for a public office elected him at the head of the poll, thus showing their continued confidence. The Rev. D. P. Alford since his appointment to the rectorship has already made ‘troops of friends’ by his ‘meekness and humility, which becomes a churchman better than ambition.’ Mr. Denison is of the oldest and most respected families in the county, and in the circle of which he is now chosen as a member of the School Board is personally known to every man, women and child, in whatever grade society. If he is at any time condemned, his excessive zeal creates a feeling ‘that too great a familiarity breeds’ &c. It is perhaps an error in the right direction. Miss Courtney is beloved by everybody. She does not live for herself alone. In the same British school in which these School Board votes were recorded she may be found Sunday after Sunday, eloquently preaching to an intellectual congregation as may be found in any of the neighbouring parishes, always assisted by Miss Laws, her chosen friend and companion of the same village home. In the week days she has her school (free) and ‘goes about doing good.’ Mr. Tompkins may be looked upon in some sense as a ‘rough diamond’ who, after a good rubbing with his colleagues, may one day become a priceless jewel and a refined corner stone, who can tell? The day was far from a congenial one, snow falling heavily, and at night, when Mr. Doddington read the list of successful candidates under the lamp on the village green, the rain and snow fell thick and fast, and sent some to their homes, and others to taverns for a parting glass to fight the battles o’er again. There was no manner of rioting or injudicious expression of feeling.”
With the space around it and larger buildings, it was inevitable that the National school premises would become the new Board school and the existing schoolmaster, James Mumford, stayed on too. After the National School reopened from the summer holidays in September 1879, there are three successive entries in their log with references to new children starting “as the old British School had now closed”. No other mention of the change of circumstances are recorded in its pages, other than the names of the Committee members that begin to appear, making inspections of the now Board School. The cost of attending school was still an issue, as the Board school logbook entry for November 14th illustrates: “the new scale of fees came into operation on Monday, several children have left in consequence of the higher fees charged for those coming from other parishes“.
Was it all plain sailing from that point? There were still contentious elections to be fought, as this from a couple of years later shows, but in the main, things quietened down and the Aspley Guise and district children got on with their learning.
“Woburn Sands: School Board Election. The inhabitants of Woburn Sands and Aspley Guise were kept in a constant state of excitement on Thursday and Friday last by the energetic agents of some of the candidates for the School Board, who endeavoured, by all and any means, to enlist the sympathies of the ratepayers on behalf of the gentlemen they represented. Much amusement was caused by a few harmless squibs such as the “Aspley Spring Meeting”, the first race being “The Aspley and Hogstye-end handicap”, with a list of the betting, horses, pedigrees, colours, jockeys, and weights. “Barnum’s menagerie”, with Jumbo and Alice, etc., on view; also an itinerant showman with an “Exhibition of clowns” caused some fun. In fact, everything went merry as a marriage bell until the morn of the polling day, April 1, when all respectable people in Woburn Sands were disgusted to find their houses placarded with a scurrilous and gross libel on the personal relations of one of the candidates. The polling, which took place in the school-room, Woburn-lane, Aspley Guise, commenced at 11.30 and closed at 6.30, during which time 1,388 votes were recorded. The votes accorded to each candidate were as follows: Mr C. S. Parker, 213; Mr G. A. D. Mahon, 207; Mr Tompkins, 196; Mr Somers Douglas, 180; Mr Collins, 164; Mr W. H. Denison,164; Mr Sturges, 135; Mr E. G. Miller, 57; Mrs Green, 35; and Mr Millard, 17. As five members compose the board, Mr Collins and Mr W. H. Denison, who had each received the same number of votes, drew lots to see which should, with Mr Tompkins, represent the ratepayers of Woburn Sands; the lot fell to Mr Collins. Some dissatisfaction was felt because a certain number of the poorer class who had received medicine during the late epidemic of measles were not allowed to vote; had they done Mr Tompkins would probably have been returned at the head of the poll.” (Beds Mercury, 8th April 1882)
In due course, the old British school building in the Square became known as the Aspley Guise Mission Room. On 18th September 1879, it was the scene of a Church Missionary Society meeting, hosted by Rev Alford. The Luton Reporter commented, “Since Mr Alford has been rector, he has shown such a catholic spirit that the gulf existing between church and dissent here has been partly bridged over.” The building was used extensively by Emma Courtney, who was on the new School Board, for the local Temperance movement and after her death in 1906, the name of the hall was changed to the “Courtney Memorial Hall”. This was sold by the Evangelical Free Church in 2020.
The Board School remained in Woburn Lane until it moved to new premises at Spinney Lane, Mount Pleasant in 1940 and is now Aspley Guise Lower School. The old National building was later used by an industrial firm and has now become private residential housing.
Charles Livius and Emily Mary Grimshawe had moved to Goldington Grange, Bedford, in late 1875. Charles died in the Queen’s Hotel, Richmond on April 1st, 1887, leaving the house to his wife. Emily died in February 1897 in Brighton, where she had gone for her health.
Mr. John Palmer, Schoolmaster of the British School from 1861-1873, died in 1904 in Kent. His wife Ellen, who taught needlework at the school, attained the grand age of 108, living with her daughter in Blackheath. Thought to be the oldest woman in London, she died in December 1935 and her photo appeared in the Daily Mirror.
Mr. Thomas Gautrey, Schoolmaster of the British School from 1873-1879, moved to London. He continued in education and then local government, being an unsuccessful Liberal candidate for election in Peckham in 1908. He was elected to London County Council in 1919 and became Deputy Chairman of that body for 1919-20. He was President of the London Council of RSPoA and a founder of Safety-First movement. He was still a J.P. at the age of 92. He died in 1949.
Rev. Samuel Harvey Gem, vicar of Aspley Guise between 1869-1878. After leaving Aspley Guise, he lived with his father at Brandwood House, Kings Norton at the time of the 1881 census, before becoming one of the assistant clergy at St. Giles, Reading and preaching at Wells Cathedral in 1888. (He found time to come back and visit St Botolph and preach there in 1882.) Whilst at Reading, his daughter married John Arthur Pott in a high society wedding in 1891 conducted by the Archdeacon of Bedford and reported in “Gentlewoman”. In 1899 he was preaching in the Oxford area and was still there in Banbury Road, Oxford, in 1911. He passed away on October 17th 1926, whilst living at Goodrich House, Ross-on-Wye, leaving £15,000 to his daughter and a cousin, with £100 being left to his nurse. Apart from some early sermons, he had also published a number of books. “William Law on Christian Practice and William Law on Christian Mysticism: two lectures, etc.”, 1905; “Hidden Saints: a study of the Brothers of the Common Life”, 1907; “An Anglo-Saxon Abbot: Ælfric of Eynsham”, 1912; “The Mysticism of William Law. A study”, 1914 and “Parochial Occasions: fifteen addresses for special days”, 1919.
Mr. James Mumford, Schoolmaster of the National School and later the Board School. After his first wife died in 1882, he married local lady Agnes Usher in 1889, they decided not to live in the School House, as he said it needed repair and he also wanted an extension built. The Board would not agree, so he moved out. The Board said the position meant he must live-in, so they gave him his notice, despite his also being the organist at St. Botolph. He moved to Reading and became Headmaster at the Reading Blue Coat School, during which time, the Rev. S. H. Gem wrote their school song “Veritas Omnia Vincit”. Mr. & Mrs. Mumford later returned to Aspley Guise and ran a private school on West Hill called “Fernside”, in Mrs. Mumford’s’ parents’ old house until she died in 1936. James left the village again soon after. I believe he died a year later in Reading. He was remembered as being a stalwart of the village cricket team, superintendent of the church Sunday School as well as organist and churchwarden.
Mrs. Jane Wall, widow of John, the National Schoolmaster, was later Headmistress of Woburn Sands School for a decade before moving to Rodmersham in Kent to be near her son. When she died in 1921, aged 80, she was buried with her husband at St Michael’s, Aspley Heath. Her gravestone notes her work as Headmistress of Woburn Sands School, from 1876-1887.
Readers interested in the educational history of the area are directed to “The Bedfordshire School Child” by David Bushby. (BHRS Vol. 67. 1988)
Page last updated Nov. 2020.