EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS - TOWN’S RECORD SINCE 1870
It would appear that Rushden, prior to 1870, was poorly placed educationally. I think there were only two schools of any size, one for girls and infants carried on by Mrs. Wagstaff, and situated at the north-east corner of the Green, and the other for boys, held in a fairly large building at the corner of the church-yard, near where the present Vestry Hall stands.
In that interesting book, written and published by the Rev. W. F. Harris (minister of the old Baptist Church, Rushden) in 1901, this building referred to is mentioned as having been the parish workhouse at the time when the village administered its own poor relief. It was a plain, uncomfortable structure, but at that time afforded the only accommodation there was for a school or for public meetings.
In a chapter of that book on “Men and Monuments in Rushden” Mr. Harris speaks of the Rev. R. E. Bradfield, who was minister of the above Church, and his endeavours to obtain a school run on undenominational lines, and he felt that the time was ripe for an appeal to the British and Foreign Bible Society, but this failed through inadequate support.
MR. EBENEZER KNIGHT
However, Mr. Ebenezer Knight then became schoolmaster. Formerly a shoemaker, he had educated himself and he was a man of sterling character, and in attainments doubtless much above the average at that time. His salary consisted of fees paid by his scholars. The three R’s were taught and a fair number of boys attended, for at that time attendance was voluntary, and no attendance officer had appeared, with the result that the number of scholars was greatest in the winter months!
The equipment, under the circumstances, was poor, but there were many in the village who could speak with approbation of Mr. Knight’s voluntary efforts in the education of the village.
Changes, however, were imminent, and Mr. Gladstone’s government had promised an Education Bill, which shortly afterwards came into force. About this time, too, the Rev. J. T. Barker (afterwards Canon Barker) settled at Rushden and soon agitated for a better building and better facilities for education, though the Nonconformists were in favour of waiting until the new Bill was brought forward in Parliament.
However, the new Rector pressed the matter forward, the Squire of the parish, Mr. F. U. Sartoris, gave the land, and under the organisation of the Rector and a grant from Parliament, added to local funds, a new National school was built in the south end of the village and opened in 1870.
The Nonconformists, being strong in numbers, would have preferred a school other than a “National” one, being in favour of an unsectarian foundation on the Board School principle, which was found to be provided for in Mr. Forster’s Bill.
SCHOOL BOARD AGITATION
After the passing of this Act agitation was made for the establishment of a School Board in Rushden, but as this was not successful, in 1872 a voluntary school was started in the new Temperance Hall, now called the British Women’s Hall, a fairly suitable place in the centre of the town. This school was called “The General School,” and amongst those on the management were the Rev. R. E. Bradfield, Mr. Samuel Knight, junr., Mr. George Denton, Mr. William Colson, and Mr. Hadyn Packwood.
This school was successful and ran for about five years, but in 1877 another attempt was made to establish a School Board, which this time was successful, and a little later an election took place for the members the result being a strong majority in favour of unsectarian education.
Steps were soon taken to secure a site for building a new school in Alfred-street, which, in due course, was erected, consisting of a large mixed school and an infants’ department adjoining.
Rushden, nevertheless, was then growing tremendously as the following Census figures show: 1871, 2,122 inhabitants; 1881, 3,657; 1891, 7,442; and 1901, 12,447. New estates were being opened up in different parts of the town to accommodate the increasing numbers who came to Rushden because of its growing trade and for years the education authorities were continually busy building new schools to accommodate the young people.
ERECTION OF SCHOOLS
Thus we note the erection of Alfred-street in 1877, Moor-road Infants in 1889, Newton-road in 1894, additions to Moor-road in 1896, Newton-road Infants in 1898, Alfred-street enlarged after Cave's fire in 1901, North End Infants in 1908, and North End Mixed in 1909.
In 1902 a great change was introduced into the educational world by the passing of Mr. Arthur Balfour’s Act, which aroused great excitement and opposition, for by it the Church of England, or National schools, were placed on the rates besides which the School Boards were disbanded, and the overhead power transferred to the County Council.
Under the County Council local committees were appointed to carry out certain duties subject to the County Council Education Committee, the chief duty, perhaps, being a share in the selection of tenders. All appointments, however, are subject to the County Committee’s approval.
Many will recall the Passive Resistance Movement, which meant the retention of that part of the rate earmarked for educational purposes. There were many who suffered distraint of their goods rather than willingly pay towards the support of a principal to which they strongly objected, i.e., the support of denominational schools.
Perhaps one of the chief advantages of the new Act was the placing of all elementary schools under the one authority. In this way, although helped by the rates to carry on, the Church of England schools were compelled to bring their buildings as far up to date as possible, and this, in many cases, meant the spending of large sums of money.
The Managers of the Rushden National School, soon after the Act was passed, approached the Northants Education Committee with a view to their taking over their school, this eventually being done. Since then the school has been re-conditioned and other improvements carried out from time to time, so that they are now in very good order. Thus we find the whole of the schools in Rushden under one authority.
A few years ago a move was made in the direction of obtaining an Intermediate or Central school in Rushden. The secretary of the Northants Education Committee met the local Committee and arrangements were made whereby the North End or Hayway School should be used for this purpose. The course is a three years’ one and the pupils who are drawn from the Rushden schools, and also from Higham Ferrers, Irthlingborough, and Raunds, are selected by examination. At the present time there are 250 on the roll. The infant school close by has been converted into a workshop and laboratory, and the County Council have also purchased a field close by for sports.
Thus, during the last 50 or 60 years of Rushden’s educational history, the changes are nothing short of marvellous. Not only have we these various blocks of fine premises but a fine body of teachers to whom we entrust the young people – our future citizens.
During the winter months classes are held for those who have left school where they may further increase their knowledge, and about 400 students are taking advantage of this great boon, and are taking the various courses.
One might think this is a fairly complete account of all that is needed for educational matters, but there is always something yet to be done. Owing to the vast building scheme developed by the Rushden Urban Council in connection with Council houses, a pressing need is felt in the Irchester-road district for another school, at least an infants’ school. Already land has been purchased which in course of time will be used to carry out the plans prepared to cope with the need existing in the district.