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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One villager in 1564 left £100 owed him by the lord, partly to set his children to school. (fn. 1) There was no school in the parish c. 1800, (fn. 2) and an attempt by the acting curate in 1817 to start a Sunday school, supported by subscription, failed: parents allegedly objected to school discipline. (fn. 3) Another church Sunday school, started in 1826, had 40 pupils by 1833, as did an infant school opened in 1828. By 1833 three other schools recently started, apparently dame schools, for which parents paid, took 77 more children. At her death in 1832 Mrs. Rayner left £600 to trustees to found and maintain, in a newly built schoolhouse, day and Sunday schools for the children of Wicken's poor. She required of them both Bible reading and regular church-going. The minister and churchwardens were to manage the school. The day school had 70 pupils by 1833. (fn. 4)
Miss Hatch, the foundress's sister, who effectively controlled that school until her death in 1858, enlarged it westward by 1835 to provide for a Sunday school. That school, occupying a site along the north side of North Street, (fn. 5) was a long, narrow, one-storeyed building, only 16½ ft. wide, which housed the teachers between two schoolrooms, one larger, one smaller. (fn. 6) Miss Hatch enlarged its site in 1855 in trust for a church school. (fn. 7) In her will of 1858 she added another £1,000 to her sister's endowment, then yielding c. £19 yearly. Although the later bequest apparently failed under the mortmain law, her trustees paid c. £40, as 4 per cent interest, to the school until c. 1870, when those benefactions provided almost two thirds of the school's £90 income. (fn. 8)
Married couples usually taught at the school from the 1840s to the 1860s, seldom staying long. Also supported by schoolpence, those teachers had 65-80 pupils c. 1845-50, while 90, out of 100-120 enrolled, attended in 1866. Local women were recruited to teach the infants, and, sometimes, sewing. (fn. 9) At a night school started by 1860, the newly obtained certificated master taught some 50 youths to read and write, besides geography, in 1866. (fn. 10) On Government insistence the school was reconstructed, the cost being subscribed locally, in 1867-8 to take 155 children, providing a two-storeyed teacher's house at one end and a larger infants' schoolroom. (fn. 11) Out of 104 pupils in 1868, 45-60 passed in reading and writing, only a third in arithmetic. (fn. 12)
The vicar still maintained the school as a church one in 1873, but, since the endowments then only produced £50 of the £130 cost, he was obliged in 1876, as teachers' pay rose, to accept a school board, to which he leased the school buildings. In 1897 the vicar still taught there regularly, (fn. 13) being paid £10-12 yearly out of the Rayner bequest from c. 1878 for giving religious instruction. (fn. 14) That charity was wound up in 1994, the capital being assigned for church repairs. (fn. 15)
Attendance under the mistresses in charge ranged from the late 1870s between 80 and 100. (fn. 16) The county council, which took the school over from 1903, built a new school in 1908 slightly further west along North Street. (fn. 17) The old school was sold in 1910. A Scheme made that year established the Rayner and Hatch Educational Foundation, which combined the sale proceeds, £50, with Mrs. Rayner's £650 of stock, in practice still yielding only c. £10 a year, and assigned half the total income to the vicar for the church Sunday school. The other half was to provide secondary education scholarships for former Wicken and Upware school-pupils. (fn. 18) In the late 20th century the old schoolroom, still standing in 1995, housed school carpentry and cookery classes and later the village youth club. (fn. 19)
At the new school, under a headmaster serving 1906-46 who revived the night school and taught gardening, (fn. 20) attendance was c. 90-100 into the early 1930s, but only 77 in 1938. (fn. 21) From 1958 the older children were sent to Soham village college. (fn. 22) Though Wicken school was enlarged in 1974, (fn. 23) it was threatened with closure in 1987-8, when there were only 53 pupils, arousing local opposition. (fn. 24) Having lost eight head teachers successively since 1976, (fn. 25) the school was finally closed in 1992, when barely 35 pupils attended. They were sent to the church school in Soham, (fn. 26) and the building was sold for conversion to a house.
In 1879 the new Swaffham Prior school board opened a school, initially with only 12 pupils, under a Wicken woman in a newbuilt schoolroom at Upware, which also took children from cottages in Swaffham Prior's fen. (fn. 27) That school, from 1958 only a junior and infant school, was originally intended to hold 86 children, but was attended by only 47 pupils in 1910, by 22 in 1919, and by 28 in 1938. Numbers had been reduced to six by 1967 when it was closed. From 1970 the building was used for a Field Studies Centre. (fn. 28)