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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Four schoolmasters, one from the Grange family, successively taught, usually elementary subjects, between 1584 and 1592, and another served c. 1604-18, but none was recorded between 1640 and 1700. (fn. 1) In 1711 Frances Towers (d. 1712), sister of a former vicar, left £50 to endow an English school for teaching poor village children chosen by the minister, whose schooling was to continue only until they could read the Bible, copies of which should be bestowed as their leaving gift. All pupils were to attend church regularly. Frances's executor, her brother's probable former curate Richard Hill (d. 1733), added another £109 10s. when he established the school. He used the whole sum in 1721 to buy 11½ a. at Wicken, whose rent supported the first two recorded masters serving between the 1740s and 1799. (fn. 2) The school building, probably housing the master upstairs, was erected in 1728, slightly north-east of the church: of clunch dressed with brick, it had a gabled roof. The income was then £10, (fn. 3) and £12 by 1783, when there were 18 free foundation pupils. (fn. 4)
In 1807 the next master, William Edmunds, supposedly teaching 100 children, was reported as attentively catechizing them, and as inculcating reverence in church. (fn. 5) By 1818, although by then the curate had started a Sunday school for 70 children, the charity school was declining through Edmunds's negligence: he allegedly haunted public houses, leaving the few remaining pupils, who were reduced from 20 then to barely 8 by 1830, to be taught by his wife. Only after he was crushed digging in a clunchpit in 1831 could the new vicar, L. Jenyns, take over management of the school. By 1833, when two paying infant schools had 44 pupils, his first choice as master, an 'intelligent, young man' interested in science, was teaching 47 pupils. (fn. 6) Among them were 10 boys and 10 girls from the largest families taught free. The master also kept a night school. By 1836 Jenyns had affiliated the 'well conducted' school to the National Society, and himself taught there twice weekly. From 1837 he doubled to £40 the salary for the master and mistress, usually until 1900 a married couple; the wife taught sewing. (fn. 7) In 1840 Jenyns procured a government grant to add a new schoolroom, still of clunch, next to the old one, thereafter used to house the teacher. (fn. 8) By 1846, when two dame schools with 36 children survived, the National school had almost 100 pupils. (fn. 9)
In the mid 19th century there were usually 120-150 pupils, but not many came from dwellings on the fen or heathland. (fn. 10) About 1870 control of the school was disputed between William Fleetwood and his radical curate, who sacked the master and tried to seize the teacher's house for his own nominee. (fn. 11) The school remained closed until 1872. In 1873, when it had c. 100 pupils enrolled, a new infants' classroom was ordered to be erected, which was done by subscription by 1874. (fn. 12) The school was again enlarged in 1903, increasing nominal accommodation from 159 to 185, a third of which was for infants. (fn. 13) Actual attendance, barely 50 in 1875, was raised to slightly over 100 in the 1880s and 1890s. (fn. 14) Successive masters then regularly held night schools in winter for 20-30 young men. (fn. 15) By 1890 the vicar found it harder to extract from the farmers the 'voluntary rates' levied since the 1870s to meet the higher salaries needed for better qualified teachers. (fn. 16) The school nevertheless remained a church school after 1902 and into the late 20th century. From a peak of 122 in 1919 attendance fell to 68 in 1932, and after the older children were sent from 1936 to Bottisham village college, to 44 at the continuing primary school. (fn. 17) Its building was further extended in 1959. (fn. 18) The church school was still open in 1992. (fn. 19)
The school charity rent, c. £20 in the 1860s, was devoted under a Scheme of 1877 to prizes for pupils under eight to encourage regular attendance, and 'scholarships' for those pursuing education beyond twelve. Few came forward for them: most children c. 1870 were removed as soon as they could do sums. (fn. 20) From 1835 £5, from 1840 £10, and by the 1860s £20 were contributed to the church school from the parish poor charity. The £20 yearly, confirmed by a Scheme of 1871, then assigned for such prizes and scholarships, remained formally due until 1974. (fn. 21) After 1907 a third of the Towers and Hill endowment, worth only £16 c. 1935, went under an amended Scheme to the church Sunday school; the rest, with any rent from the teacher's house, was devoted to the general benefit of the primary school. (fn. 22) In the 1980s much of the rent, c. £600 from the Wicken land, still then retained, was accumulated: part was spent on building work, some on books for school leavers, along with income from hiring out the 18th-century schoolhouse, (fn. 23) converted into a church room in 1931, its upper floor being removed. (fn. 24)