A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
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Between 1579 and 1610 Waterbeach had a succession of schoolmasters, mostly licensed and including c. 1596 the vicar. Another was recorded between 1628 and 1635, (fn. 1) but none in 1660. (fn. 2) Grace Clark, by will proved 1688, gave £100 for teaching six poor children, to be replaced when they could read the Bible, a condition still observed in 1807. Any surplus was to go to the poor. The money was invested in 1688 in 8 a. of Waterbeach fenland, yielding £5 a year in 1729, when £3 12s., or 1s. a month for each child, went to the school. (fn. 3) Dorothy, daughter of William Knight (d. c. 1660) and widow of William Sterne M.D., buried at Waterbeach in 1680, by will proved 1688, left purchased land, 3 a. in Chittering and 6 a. in Bottisham, which later provided £3 a year, in trust to support 'an English Protestant school' for poor children to learn to read, and £1 to buy them Bibles and other protestant books when they could read. (fn. 4) By 1728 the school, which received both benefactions, had 16 pupils taught by an unlicensed master. (fn. 5) It was held in the chapel north of the chancel by 1745, (fn. 6) but no longer by 1783, when its endowments were worth £14 a year. The master was appointed in 1760 as c. 1808 by the lord of the manor. (fn. 7)
In the early 19th century 18 children, all male by 1818, and chosen in the 1820s by the lessee of Denny Abbey or his agent, learnt to read on the foundation. The master, paid £20 by 1831, also received the £14 rent of the Bottisham freehold land, increased to 13 a. when that parish was inclosed in 1818. He charged each child 3d. for writing and arithmetic, also taking wholly paying pupils, 7 in 1833. That practice continued into the 1860s: 48 out of 100 were paying in 1862. The parish in 1813 built on a 1-a. close that it owned west of the green a master's house and schoolroom in brick. In the 1830s the master appointed c. 1808 was thought unsatisfactory, and was to be replaced. In 1816 the curate, who had opened a Sunday school with 100 pupils by 1818, built a school for 60 girls. The girls' school, well taught until 1837, received half its income from the vicar, Henry Fardell, until his death in 1854. Dame schools numbered two in 1807, three and a night school in 1818 and 1833; they taught c. 45 pupils in 1818, c. 80, half boys, in 1833. (fn. 8)
By 1846 the free boys' and girls' schools, still in separate buildings, by then linked to the National Society, had 39 and 45 day pupils respectively. (fn. 9) Three dame schools were still kept in the 1840s and 1850s by gardeners' and labourers' daughters. The families living in the fen sent only 40 children to school in 1851, compared with c. 200 from the village; the numbers were 50 and 245 in 1861. (fn. 10) The National schools, to which the parish charity contributed over £60 a year by the 1860s, had 130 pupils in 1854. (fn. 11) The buildings were reconstructed in 1858 to hold 100 boys and 80 girls. The master, chosen by 1858, uncertificated despite 33 years' experience, also kept an evening school, but was in 1863 reckoned incompetent either to teach or to keep order, and there were very few schoolbooks. The vicar, W. K. Clay, overcoming opposition from his fellow trustees, under Schemes of 1862 and 1865 diverted most of the charity income to education. He reorganized the school as a Church school, with a conscience clause to satisfy the nonconformists. Despite objections, one farmer asking what use learning geography was to his labourers, Clay had an 'enlarged and liberal' curriculum laid down. (fn. 12) About 1867 almost 150 children attended the day school, about half boys, but few over 10. Working boys were catered for by winter night schools. (fn. 13) There were still two or three dame schools, all for girls and allegedly small, although one at Vine Cottage had 63 pupils in 1871 and took boarders in 1881. (fn. 14) In 1873 the Church school was attended by c. 125 older children and 90 infants. (fn. 15)
Further changes followed government demands after 1870 to enlarge the school. A school board, demanded by the radicals, was rejected by 1873, most dissenting farmers fearing higher rates. Instead the new vicar induced them to continue the Church school as the principal one, and to set up a board in 1875 merely to maintain subsidiary schools for infants in the village and for all ages at Chittering. Complete rebuilding being beyond the charity's means, the old schoolroom, remodelled in Gothic style c. 1868, was enlarged in 1874 to hold 150 children as required. In 1875-6 Mrs. Horne paid for a new boys' schoolroom. The old one was left to the girls, so providing room for 225 pupils in all. In 1877 an infants' school for 185 was put up on a site bought from the charity off the south-west corner of the green. A mixed school for 54 was built in 1877 at Chittering. Both had teachers' houses attached, and were of grey brick to similar simple Gothic designs; All the teachers long remained Anglicans, but many labourers in 1878 thought the Church school's religious teaching a waste of their children's time. (fn. 16)
The main school was usually taught by a master and mistress, although c. 1890 the master was dispensed with. (fn. 17) Between the 1880s and 1905 attendance at the Church school was between 105 and 115, at the infant school between 75 and 85 until c. 1900, rising after enlargement in 1908 to 100 by 1914, and at the Chittering school, enlarged in 1910, between 35 and 50. The Chittering school, at which attendance declined below 30 in the 1920s and to 19 by 1938 when the older children went to the Church school, was closed in 1969. Its building was used in 1986 as an antique shop. Numbers at the infants' school fell to 86 by 1919 and 50 thereafter. Those at the Church school, which continued as such after 1903, were c. 100 in the 1920s and 1930s. Its older pupils went to Impington village college from 1939, and to Cottenham village college from 1963. Both the Church and the infants' schools were closed in 1952, (fn. 18) when a large council primary school was built east of Denny End for 250-300 children. An infants' wing was added in 1956. (fn. 19) By the early 1970s the school had c. 400 pupils, a third of them drawn from the families at the airfield. (fn. 20) In the 1970s the school became well known for 'progressive' methods. (fn. 21) 99
The parish charity, reconstituted in 1903 as the Waterbeach Educational Foundation, continued to pay c. £50 a year until 1952 toward school expenses. It sold the Bottisham land between 1961 and 1971. By then its income was being accumulated, the capital amounting by 1970 to £2,500, for its only expense was the upkeep of the old Church school building. (fn. 22) In 1986 its sale to the parish was being arranged. (fn. 23) From 1970 the old infants' school was used for a 'work experience centre' for handicapped young people. (fn. 24) A home for disturbed children off Burgess Road was started in 1976 with 10 staff for c. 25 resident pupils. (fn. 25) It closed in 1984, the building being later converted into a home for the elderly. (fn. 26)