A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.
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About 1710 a school teaching reading with the catechism was linked with the S.P.C.K. (fn. 1) In the 1770s two successive curates kept boarding schools, teaching the classics, at the vicarage. (fn. 2) An aged and respected schoolmaster died, after long service, in 1814. (fn. 3) In 1818 three day schools, one probably kept by a schoolmaster resident c. 1815-25, took c. 110 children. The vicar had by then started a Sunday school with 90 pupils, (fn. 4) which curates still maintained in 1833 and in 1846, when it was held in the chancel. The church Sunday school had 100 children in 1833, compared with the 90-100 who then went to those attached to each Baptist chapel. The Baptists also then supported a small day school with 20 paying pupils. (fn. 5) From the 1840s to the mid 1860s Elizabeth Pycroft kept a boarding school, with 16 pupils, mostly girls, in 1851, at Sunbury House, a substantial 18thcentury house in largely rendered red brick, with a doorhood on carved consoles and three bays of sashes, at the east end of Sun Street. Until c. 1900 that house was occasionally used for a dame school, taking children during the official school holidays. (fn. 6)
In 1848, despite some popular opposition, the vicar and more respectable inhabitants succeeded in having two thirds of the rent of the Isleham poor fen, newly constituted a charity, devoted to education. Under a Scheme of that year the trustees, including the minister ex officio, were to manage the school, using the income to pay its master and mistress, whom they were to appoint and whose instruction they were to supervise. The school was to be open free to all poor children. (fn. 7) Until 1898 the whole charity income was in practice devoted to the village school. Even thereafter, despite local demands following the 1902 Education Act that the money be returned to the poor, the Fen charity continued, under a Scheme of 1907, to pay two thirds of its net receipts, amounting to c. £20 then and in the 1960s, £50 by 1975, but £1,500-2,000 in the 1990s, to support the village school. (fn. 8)
That school, costing c. £700, was built in 1848 and opened in 1849 on a plot north of Malting Lane provided by the vicar. The long, low greybrick building for 230 pupils comprised, with a small teacher's house behind, separate schoolrooms c. 25 ft. square for boys and girls. (fn. 9) A separate infants' classroom was added to the east in 1872. (fn. 10)
The National school was not initially very successful. Of probably some 110 pupils c. 1850; most of them came from the main village, barely 20 from the poorer families at the Pits and East End. Only 75, two thirds girls, normally attended under the mistress in charge in 1852. (fn. 11) The master next appointed, probably in 1858, left the school disorganized, with only 60 pupils regularly attending, at his dismissal in 1870. His certificated successor, (fn. 12) who kept the school with his wife and an infants' mistress until c. 1910, (fn. 13) gradually improved it. (fn. 14) He usually taught religion himself. By 1873 he had started a night school, held intermittently with c. 30 pupils into the 1890s, when subjects taught included history, geography, and shorthand. In 1875 the day school was attended by 134 children out of c. 190 enrolled, a number which rose to 248 by 1885 and reached 287, including 100 infants, in 1910. (fn. 15) While its income from the Fen charity had dwindled from £45 or more in the 1870s to only £6 by 1885, schoolpence then yielded almost £90. In the 1890s the vicar could without difficulty preserve it as a church school. (fn. 16)
For the scattered fen dwellers, previously only served educationally by dissenting Sunday schools, including one opened in a barn in 1862, (fn. 17) another kept by a turf cutter, an earlier vicar, deploring their 'ignorance', had appealed in 1876 for funds to provide a day school doubling as a mission room. Building, on a site reserved by 1877 on the fen bank a little south of Lark Hall Farm, of one schoolroom with a teacher's house began in 1878 and the school was opened in 1879. The first master, (fn. 18) who served single-handed until the 1910s, had c. 45 pupils in the 1880s, but usually 20-30 in the 1890s. (fn. 19) Attendance later fell from 41 in 1910 to c. 25 by the 1920s and only 18 in 1938. (fn. 20) The school was closed in 1946. The building still apparently stood in the 1980s. (fn. 21)
At the church village school served by 1908 by a staff of eight, where girls were still regularly trained in cookery and needlework, boys in woodwork, (fn. 22) attendance under the second headmaster, in office until the 1940s, steadily declined to 258 in 1919 and 170 by 1938. (fn. 23) The school, formally taken over by the county council in 1951, served all ages until 1958 when the older children, numbering 60 by 1964, were sent to Soham village college. (fn. 24) Under a headmaster in charge 1953-79 the school, still conservatively conducted with quiet and orderly pupils, numbering 130 in 1973, was enlarged c. 1959. (fn. 25) Overcrowding, from 1979 partly with children from Chippenham, required the building of another classroom in 1989. (fn. 26) Isleham school was still open as a church primary school in 1995.