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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A licensed schoolmaster was recorded in Cottenham from 1579. (fn. 1) The master in 1596 taught in a 'chapel' (fn. 2) apparently at the west end of the parish church, since the schoolroom is said to have been destroyed by the fall of the church tower in 1617. (fn. 3) An unlicensed teacher was at work in 1619 (fn. 4) and some sort of regular school presumably continued, since by 1640 the ordermakers held meetings in the school house. (fn. 5) By 1685, however, there was only a dame school, (fn. 6) and in 1697 the lady of the manor, Catherine Pepys, rebuilt the schoolroom in the churchyard on the northwest side of the church. (fn. 7) She endowed the school in her will, proved 1703, with £100 and the reversion of a commonable house. (fn. 8) The money was put with £45 given for the poor and £5 from the churchwardens to buy land in Bottisham in 1713. Two thirds of the income was used to pay a master to teach 16 poor boys free. (fn. 9) Mrs. Pepys had nominated the first master in 1703 and stipulated that his successors were to be born in Cottenham, a rule observed until 1828. (fn. 10)
Pepys's school was further endowed under the will of her granddaughter Alice Rogers, proved 1728, who gave £10 to teach five additional poor boys reading, writing, and accounts. (fn. 11) By 1742 the school had been moved to the vestry, probably in the north porch of the church, (fn. 12) and by 1783 to the master's house in Church End given by Catherine Pepys. The front of the house was rebuilt as a schoolroom in 1834 with money provided by Moreton's charity. (fn. 13) In 1818 the master received a salary of £50 for teaching 21 poor boys, (fn. 14) and by 1837 there were 49 other pupils who paid fees. (fn. 15) In 1873 the school had places for 80 boys and an average attendance of 64. It was reported as inefficient in 1878 and closed in 1880, when the pupils transferred to the board school; the master, possibly only the fifth since 1703, was paid off, and the endowments were applied to payments for good attendance at the board school. (fn. 16)
A school for dissenters had 15 pupils in 1728. (fn. 17) Numerous unendowed schools flourished in the 19th century. By 1818 there were six, teaching c. 150 children, and the rector thought that the poorer classes were well provided for. (fn. 18) Ten day schools, teaching 278 pupils, were recorded in 1833. (fn. 19) The proportion of boys aged 5-13 at school rose from 58 per cent in 1851 to 80 per cent in 1861, and of girls from 54 per cent to 91 per cent. (fn. 20) Their schools included several dame schools for infants and two dissenting boys' schools, one run by the sons of the minister of Ebenezer Baptist chapel. (fn. 21)
A church school for girls, teaching mainly needlework, was opened by the rector c. 1852 (fn. 22) and enlarged in 1860 in a purpose-built schoolroom opposite the church. (fn. 23) The building was also used for a Sunday school established by the curate in the early 1830s. (fn. 24) The day school, which had 77 pupils in 1873, (fn. 25) closed in 1878 when the girls were transferred to the board school. (fn. 26)
A British school was opened in 1865. (fn. 27) It occupied a new building for 300 in Margett Street, which also contained a hall for public lectures and entertainments accommodating 500. Building costs were met mostly by local subscriptions, running costs by fees. (fn. 28) Over 200 pupils, some from other villages, were enrolled in the first year, and after an increase to over 250 in 1867 an infants' schoolroom was added.
A school board was formed in 1873 under nonconformist control, and the British school was immediately transferred to its management. (fn. 29) New buildings on the site increased the school's capacity to over 600. After the closure of the church girls' school in 1878 and the Pepys school in 1880, average attendance was 329 in 1880 and 399 in 1890. (fn. 30)
The tradition of evening classes established by the church school in the 1860s (fn. 31) continued at the board school, and in 1890 Cottenham was one of only 12 parishes in Cambridgeshire which provided them. (fn. 32)
The former British school building was burnt down in 1936 (fn. 33) and that part of the council school was rebuilt in modern style. A new infants' department was built in Lamb's Lane in 1968 (fn. 34) and extensions there allowed the Margett Street building to be closed in 1981. (fn. 35) The older pupils had in 1963 been transferred to the village college opened that year east of the green, (fn. 36) which also served other villages in the area. In the 1980s the village had exceptionally good provision of pre-school play groups. (fn. 37)