Bridgwater: Education

Pages 238-241

A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6, andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1992.

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There was a school in the town by 1298 when its rector undertook to send seven of his poor pupils to receive daily pittances at St. John's hospital, where a further 13 schoolchildren lived on the foundation. (fn. 1) A master of schools was mentioned in the town in 1379 (fn. 2) and the hospital's impropriate rectories of Morwenstow (Cornw.) and Wembdon were charged together with the support of 13 boys in 1535. (fn. 3) The inhabitants' request for a free grammar school in 1548 (fn. 4) was an attempt to secure an endowment for the existing school, probably held by 1553 in a school house belonging to the corporation. (fn. 5) The grant to the corporation, first of tithes in 1561 and later of the rectory, provided an endowment for what became the free grammar school. (fn. 6) In 1819 the school had no pupils, but a school in Mount Street, established under Dr. John Morgan's will dated 1723 and originally designed as a grammar school, was by then teaching elementary subjects. In 1816 it had been increased in size by the addition of a schoolroom for 300 boys. (fn. 7) It became a secondary school in 1871 and from 1888 received the endowment of the former grammar school, which had closed in 1869. Under a Scheme of 1910 it became an aided secondary school and in 1930, becoming a maintained school, moved to new buildings in Durleigh Road. (fn. 8) It was replaced in 1973 by Haygrove comprehensive school. (fn. 9)

In the 1460s John Wheler, the parish priest, took boys at the vicarage house and, at the vicar's behest, taught them to read and sing. (fn. 10) The curate of Chilton Trinity had a school in the town in 1609, and there was an unlicensed school in the parish in 1613. (fn. 11) Two schools for reading, writing, arithmetic, and accounting were licensed in 1662. (fn. 12)

A nonconformist academy, considered one of the principal academies in the country, was founded c. 1688 by John Moore (d. 1717), Presbyterian minister of Christ Church. Moore is said to have been arrested for keeping the academy, and its work was interrupted in 1714. Moore's son John continued it until his death in 1747, and it possibly continued later. (fn. 13)

Before 1715 Frances Safford gave £40 to the corporation to teach poor children to read. The interest of £2 provided schooling for ten children by 1737, and the school continued until 1826 or later. In 1839 its endowment was attached to the grammar school. (fn. 14)

Christ Church Sunday school was founded in 1780, and there was also a Wesleyan Sunday school by 1800. (fn. 15) Private schools included Snook's writing school in 1793, (fn. 16) and Mr. Gill's writing school in 1804. (fn. 17) By 1819 there were, apart from the grammar school, three writing schools, a girls' school supported by subscriptions, several schools for 'little children', and Sunday schools having together 352 pupils. (fn. 18) In addition, by 1822 there were five boarding schools. (fn. 19)

Elementary schools founded 1824-70.

By 1835 the day schools of the town, including the grammar school, taught 897 pupils, and the Sunday schools 805 pupils. (fn. 20) Among the day schools was an infant school begun in 1830 with 70 children, supported partly by subscriptions and partly by school pence. It was probably the National infant school, then near Angel Crescent, which seems to have moved to a site between Mount Lane and Prickett's Lane c. 1841. The school had 121 pupils in 1846 (fn. 21) and 149 paying school pence in 1875. (fn. 22) It merged with the girls' National school in 1891. (fn. 23)

A British school opened in 1824 was the largest day school in 1835, when it had 134 pupils in premises in Mount Street and was supported by subscriptions and fees. It was last recorded in 1852. (fn. 24) A day and Sunday school with 20 boys and 100 girls in 1835 had probably grown out of a girls' school supported by subscriptions in 1819. In 1835 80 of the girls paid fees. (fn. 25) The largest Sunday school in 1835, begun by the Independents in 1819, taught 126 boys and 150 girls; one of the two Baptist Sunday schools had 66 boys and 71 girls in 1835, and the Church boys' Sunday school, begun in 1823, had 120 pupils. The last was in Mount Street and in 1846 had 70 pupils with a paid master. (fn. 26)

In 1830 the Unitarian minister opened a day school in Friarn Street, and a schoolroom was built in 1834. In 1835 it had 60 pupils. (fn. 27) An infant school was also held there from 1838. Average attendance rose from 40 in 1840 to c. 130 in 1850; the building was enlarged c. 1842, and the infants were moved in 1850 to a building in Provident Place, Wembdon. Adult evening classes were begun in 1850, probably in the original building in Friarn Street. (fn. 28) About 1866 the Provident Place school was demolished, and the Friarn Street school probably merged with a girls' British school in the same street; that school may have occupied the former Unitarian infant school buildings since 1852. The girls' school continued to be supported by the Unitarians; in 1875 157 pupils paid school pence. The school was transferred to Bridgwater school board in 1878. In the following year the school closed. (fn. 29)

By 1846 there were National schools for both boys and girls. The boys' school, in Mount Street by 1839, had 78 pupils both on Sundays and weekdays, and was supported by subscriptions and school pence. The school seems to have merged with Dr. Morgan's school by 1852. (fn. 30) The girls' school, founded in 1830 and in Northgate by 1839, in 1846 had 32 pupils on Sundays only and 100 on Sundays and weekdays under 4 paid and 16 unpaid teachers. (fn. 31) In 1875 it had 120 pupils paying school pence. (fn. 32) The girls' school, which also took infants, amalgamated with the infant school in Mount Street in 1891. (fn. 33) In 1907 the school had 307 pupils on the books, but in 1937 the number had fallen to 176, with average attendances of 154. (fn. 34) From 1937 the school, by then usually known as St. Mary's C. of E. school, took infants and juniors only and by 1947 had assumed voluntary controlled status. In 1959 it had 223 pupils on its books. From 1961 it took infants only, in 1973 moved to Park Road, and in 1977 amalgamated with St. Matthew's school in Oakfield Road. The school thus formed was known as St. Mary's C. of E. school and took children up to the age of 11. In 1988 the estimated number on roll was 263. (fn. 35)

In 1846 there was a school in the union workhouse where a master and mistress taught 20 girls and 38 boys. (fn. 36) In the following year schools were being built in Eastover for 240 children. The site, in St. John's Place, later Blake Place, had been bought by J. Moore Capes, first minister of St. John's, who with the Poole family and a grant from the National Society paid for the buildings. (fn. 37) The original buildings, in the early Tudor style, were extended probably in 1869. (fn. 38) In 1875 a total of 404 pupils paid school pence, (fn. 39) but average attendance was 357 in 1906-7 and 190 in 1937-8. (fn. 40) By 1947, when there were 250 children on the books, St. John's (Eastover Parochial) school was a voluntary aided primary school. In 1975 the school transferred to new buildings in Westonzoyland Road and from 1983 was called St. John and St. Francis C. of E. school. In 1988 the estimated number on roll was 342. (fn. 41)

Two cottages known as School Cottages in Gordon Terrace were bought c. 1846 for the newly founded Catholic mission there, and one was in use as a school by 1850. St. Joseph's school received a diocesan grant in 1859, and by the 1870s was taking pupils from both the town and Highbridge. The school occupied the former mission church in 1882, but in the following year it moved to new premises on the north side of the new Catholic church in Binford Place. There was accommodation for 70 pupils, and parents paid school pence. Between 1885 and 1891 teachers were drawn from the adjoining convent; the school gradually declined after the sisters left, and in 1894, having 41 pupils, was closed. It was reopened during the First World War for the children of Belgian refugees, but from 1918 was used only for the Sunday school and other parish purposes. (fn. 42)

In 1940 it was reopened to take the influx of evacuees, but was not considered necessary by the education authority and remained not fully recognized. The teaching staff were drawn from sisters of the Holy Rosary convent and classes were held both in the original school and in the former convent buildings in King Street. The number on roll on opening was 57 and within a year had risen to 115. By 1955 there were 205 pupils, and classes were also held in Cranleigh Gardens and Salmon Parade. In common with other schools in the town, it took only juniors and infants from 1957; in 1963 there were 131 children on the books. (fn. 43) The original buildings were finally replaced by St. Joseph's Roman Catholic aided primary school, Park Avenue, opened in 1963 for 240 pupils. An extension was built in 1973. The estimated number on roll in 1988 was 242. (fn. 44)

The West Street Ragged school was opened in 1860 (fn. 45) for boys and girls, and a new classroom was added in 1870. (fn. 46) By 1875, known as the West Street National (later C. of E.) school and occasionally as Trinity National, it was for boys only and there were 169 paying school pence. (fn. 47) By 1889 girls were again taught, and in 1907 there were 173 boys and girls and 111 infants on the books. (fn. 48) Average attendances fell to 152 in 1921-2 and fluctuated in the 1930s. (fn. 49) By 1947 the school had adopted voluntary controlled status and there were 230 children under 11 on its books. From 1958 it took juniors only, and was renamed St. Matthew's C. of E. school. In 1964 the school moved to a site in Oakfield Road and in 1977 it was joined by St. Mary's school, formerly in Park Road. (fn. 50)

Board schools.

A school board for the borough was established in 1870; its members visited 27 public and private schools and decided that schools were needed in the populous districts east and west of the town. (fn. 51) A united school district for the borough and the extra-municipal parts of the parish was formed compulsorily in 1875. (fn. 52)

Eastover school opened in 1873 in Cornborough Place, off Wellington Road. (fn. 53) In 1875 a total of 607 pupils there paid school pence. (fn. 54) In 1897 a new junior mixed school was established on the site, and in 1899 the school had 1,334 pupils. (fn. 55) In 1906-7 average attendance was 1,072, divided between four departments, boys, girls, junior mixed, and infants. It fell to 1,038 in 1913-14, and to 423 in 1937-8. (fn. 56) In 1947 the school was reorganized for juniors and infants; in that year there were 475 pupils on the books. In 1969 the juniors moved to new buildings in Wellington Road, and in 1975 were joined by the infant classes to form Eastover primary school. In 1988 the estimated number on roll was 347. (fn. 57)

A second board school was established, for the western side of the town, in Albert Street in 1880, for 716 pupils. It was enlarged in 1896-7, and in 1906-7 average attendance was 718, the number on the register being 846. (fn. 58) Attendance declined to 436 in 1937-8, but in 1947, when juniors and infants only were taken, there were on average 562 on the books. (fn. 59) In 1958 the school changed its name to Friarn, and in 1978 the juniors moved to the former Westover school site in Wembdon Road. The infants remained in Albert Street until 1981 when the school was reunited in Wembdon Road. In 1988 there were 307 pupils on the books. (fn. 60)

Council school founded since 1903.

A pupil teacher centre for girls opened at the Art and Technical Institute in 1904. Preparatory classes were added in 1912, and in 1913 there were 39 pupils aged 10 and over. In 1919 it became a recognized secondary school, and in 1923 had 135 pupils. In 1929 the school moved to new premises in Park Road, where pupil teaching continued. There were 226 on the register in 1933 and 266 local pupils and 21 evacuees in 1943. (fn. 61) The school closed in 1973 as part of the introduction of a comprehensive system in the area. (fn. 62) The former school buildings became an area teachers' centre, and in 1988 the Somerset Education Centre. (fn. 63)

Westover senior council school, Wembdon Road, opened in 1937 with average attendance of 585 boys and girls. (fn. 64) As Westover secondary modern school it had 672 pupils on the roll in 1947 and 931 in 1955. The school closed in 1973. In 1978 the buildings were taken over by Friarn school. (fn. 65)

In 1944 a county secondary technical school was established in Lonsdale House, Blake Street, for boys of 13 and over. In that year there were 24 boys on roll, and 124 boys in 1959. The school, regarded as part of the technical college, closed in 1964. (fn. 66)

Three new schools were opened between 1956 and 1966 to provide secondary places for children from the north, east, and south sides of the town. Hamp secondary modern school was opened in Hamp Avenue in 1956. Its name was changed to the Blake secondary modern in 1957 and from 1973 it became a comprehensive school. In 1957 there were 324 pupils on the books, and in 1975 the number had risen to 719 aged 11-16. In 1988 the estimated number on roll was 638. Sydenham secondary modern school opened in 1961 in Parkway. In 1973 it became comprehensive, and in 1988 was a community school. There were 758 pupils on the books in 1965, 963 in 1975, and an estimated 660 in 1988. Chilton Trinity school, Chilton Street, opened as a secondary modern in 1966 and became comprehensive in 1973. In 1975 there were 925 pupils on the books and in 1988 an estimated 797. (fn. 67) Haygrove comprehensive school, Durleigh Road, was created in 1973; senior classes used the buildings of the former Dr. Morgan's boys' grammar school while junior classes were initially in the former Westover school buildings. (fn. 68) In 1975 there were 1,155 pupils on the books, and in 1988 an estimated 743.

Four new county primary schools were opened in 1952. Two shared a site in Rhode Lane, Hamp. In that year Hamp junior school had 150 pupils on the books, and Hamp infant school had 65 pupils. By 1975 the junior school had 316 pupils and the infant school 210. Numbers fell gradually thereafter, and in 1988 the numbers were 237 and 192 respectively. The other two schools opened in Bath Road, the junior school having 112 on the books and the infant 60. From 1959 the schools were renamed Sydenham, and in 1975 numbers had risen to 321 juniors and 200 infants. In 1979 the infant school was renamed Willowside, but from 1981 both were known as Sedgemoor Manor school after amalgamation with Bower infant school. In 1981 there were 383 juniors and 204 infants. Bower infant school was opened in 1969 in Parkway, and in 1975 had 147 pupils on the books. Bower junior, on the same site, opened in 1972, with a unit for disturbed children, and in 1975 there were 259 children attending. Both were closed in 1981 and joined with Sydenham as Sedgemoor Manor school. The former infant school became the headquarters of the school library service in 1982.

There was a county nursery school in Rhode Lane in 1947 which then had 38 children. It closed in 1953. A second county nursery school, called St. John's, was established in Monmouth Street near Blake Place in 1947 with 39 children on the books. There were 50 in 1975. In 1976 it moved to Parkfield, but it had closed by 1980.

Elmwood special school, Hamp Avenue, opened in 1956, was the first purpose-built special school in the county. It took pupils from 5 to 16, and in 1981 there were 145 on the books. A second special school, taking children from 2 to 16, was opened in 1971, and is known as the Bridgwater Penrose special school, Albert Street. In 1975 there were 46 on the books. (fn. 69)

Tertiary education 1860-1989.

In 1860 the Bridgwater School of Art was opened in George Street, possibly in association with the Literary and Scientific Institution there. (fn. 70) Another art school was established in Queen Street in 1888, and in 1891 it moved to Lonsdale House, Blake Street, where art and technical schools were formally established. In the following year continuation night schools were also held there. (fn. 71) The Bridgwater Art and Technical (later Technical and Art) Institute, from 1958 the Bridgwater Technical College, expanded to premises in Mount Street and Queen Street, and in 1959 to new buildings in Broadway. In 1975 it also occupied premises in Park Road. A new building in Bath Road was first occupied in 1978, and in 1988 most of the college departments were housed there, the Broadway site retaining the building and continuing education departments. In 1973 it became a tertiary college, and in 1989 had 667 full-time, 3,288 part-time day and evening vocational, and 3,443 part-time day and evening leisure students. (fn. 72)

Private schools from 1822.

Five academies were listed in 1822 and 8 in 1830, 5 of which were partly or wholly for boarders. (fn. 73) In 1861 there were 23 schools listed, many of them held in the large houses in Castle Street and King Square. (fn. 74) Several schools were conducted by clergymen, including a classical school under the Revd. Dr. Henry Trend in Northgate in 1840, or were connected with smaller churches, such as an infant school in St. John Street attached to the Mariners Christian chapel 1842-52. (fn. 75) Among the more successful private schools of the later 19th century were the Collegiate School in Blake Street, which had moved to Green Dragon Lane by 1897 and remained in the town until its move to Malmesbury (Wilts.) in 1946, (fn. 76) and a girls' school held in College House, North Street, by 1889 and until 1931 or later. (fn. 77)

There were several private schools in the parish in the 20th century, many of them short-lived. Among them were Aventicum school, Northfield, established by 1910 and open until 1924 or later, and Clarendon College or House, Dampiet Street, open between 1919 and 1937. St. Margaret's high school for girls began c. 1923 in King Street, later moving to Taunton Road, and finally to the corner of Wembdon Road and Northfield. It closed in 1987. (fn. 78) A school was held at the Holy Rosary convent, Durleigh Road, between 1939 and 1963. (fn. 79)


  • 1. S.R.S. i. 268; V.C.H. Som. ii. 154-5, 446.
  • 2. P.R.O., E 179/4/4; N. Orme, Educ. in the W. of Eng. 1066-1548, 94.
  • 3. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i. 208-9.
  • 4. S.R.S. ii. 57.
  • 5. S.R.O., D/B/bw 129.
  • 6. V.C.H. Som. ii. 446-7; S.R.O., D/B/bw 1694.
  • 7. Educ. of Poor Digest, 775.
  • 8. S.R.O., E/4/6/40; E/4/6/69; V.C.H. Som. ii. 447-8.
  • 9. Below, this section.
  • 10. S.R.O., D/B/bw 115, 1682; Orme, Educ. in the W. of Eng. 94-5.
  • 11. S.R.O., D/D/Ca 160, 180.
  • 12. Ibid. D/D/Bs 39.
  • 13. T. G. Crippen, Nonconf. in Som. 41; S.R.O., D/N/bw. chch 4/3/1; D.N.B.
  • 14. 15th Rep. Com. Char. 425; S.R.O., D/B/bw 1522, 1735, 1737, 1782, 1784, 1970, 2381, 2408; Educ. of Poor Digest, 775.
  • 15. S.R.O., D/N/bw. chch 4/2/7, 5/2/1; D/N/bmc 7/2.
  • 16. Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury, 23 Sept. 1793.
  • 17. S.R.O., T/PH/ay 1, Dec. 1804.
  • 18. Educ. of Poor Digest, 775.
  • 19. Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1822); Taunton Courier, 3, 24 Dec. 1812; 17 July 1822.
  • 20. Educ. Enq. Abstract, 795-6.
  • 21. Nat. Soc. Inquiry, 1846-7, Som. 4-5; S.R.O., T/PH/law (survey of 1836); ibid. DD/EDS 4773; D/B/bw C.L. 12.
  • 22. Public Elem. Schs. H.C. 133 (1875), lix.
  • 23. St. Mary's sch., girls' sch. log bk. 1863-1905; below, this section.
  • 24. Educ. Enq. Abstract, 795-6; Slater's Dir. Som. (1852- 3).
  • 25. Educ. of Poor Digest, 775; Educ. Enq. Abstract, 795-6.
  • 26. Educ. Enq. Abstract, 795-6; Nat. Soc. Inquiry, 1846-7, Som. 4-5.
  • 27. Educ. Enq. Abstract, 795-6; S.R.O., D/N/bw. chch 4/2/1, 4/3/1.
  • 28. S.R.O., D/N/bw. chch 4/2/1, 4/3/6.
  • 29. Ibid. 4/2/1-3, 4/3/1, 4/3/6, 6/3/1; D/B/bw 16/4/4; ibid. C/E 4/181/2, 334; Public Elem. Schs. H.C. 133 (1875), lix.
  • 30. Slater's Dir. Som. (1852-3); V.C.H. Som. ii. 447-8.
  • 31. Nat. Soc. Inquiry, 1846-7, Som. 4-5; Robson's Dir. Som. (1839); S.R.O., T/PH/law; ibid. DD/EDS 3622; St. Mary's sch., draft Scheme S.O. 8091.
  • 32. Public Elem. Schs. H.C. 133 (1875), lix.
  • 33. S.R.O., D/P/bw. m 18/8/1; St. Mary's sch., girls' sch. log bk. 1863-1905.
  • 34. S.R.O., C/E 4/184/1; Bd. of Educ., List 21, 1908, 1938 (H.M.S.O.).
  • 35. S.R.O., C/E 4/64; St. Mary's sch., admission reg. girls' and inf. sch. 1937-75; managers' min. bk. 1968-75.
  • 36. J. B. B. Clarke, Acct. of Church Educ. among Poor (1846).
  • 37. Nat. Soc. Inquiry, 1846-7, Som. 4-5; H. E. Field and T.B. Dilks, St. John the Baptist, Bridgwater, 1846-1946, 4.
  • 38. S.R.O., DD/EDS 5544; Field and Dilks, St. John the Baptist, Bridgwater, 9.
  • 39. Public Elem. Schs. H.C. 133 (1875), lix.
  • 40. Bd. of Educ., List 21, 1908, 1938.
  • 41. S.R.O., C/E 4/64; inf. from Mrs. G. I. Atkins, sch. sec.
  • 42. R. I. Hancock, 'St. Joseph's R.C. Sch., Bridgwater, 1883-1983' (TS. at St. Joseph's sch., based on original sources since destroyed).
  • 43. Ibid.
  • 44. S.R.O., C/E 4/64; Hancock, 'St. Joseph's Sch.' 22.
  • 45. Bridgwater Times, 20 Apr. 1859; 25 July 1860; S.R.O., D/D/WBf 9/3.
  • 46. S.R.O., DD/EDS 3224.
  • 47. Public Elem. Schs. H.C. 133 (1875), lix; Kelly's Dir. Som. (1883).
  • 48. Kelly's Dir. Som. (1889); S.R.O., C/E 4/184/1.
  • 49. Bd. of Educ., List 21, 1923, 1938.
  • 50. S.R.O., C/E 4/64; Daily Express, 30 Sept. 1969.
  • 51. S.R.O., C/E 4/181/1.
  • 52. Lond. Gaz. 24 Nov. 1874, 5603.
  • 53. S.R.O., D/B/bw 2403.
  • 54. Public Elem. Schs. H.C. 133 (1875), lix.
  • 55. S.R.O., C/E 4/181/9; cf. ibid. D/B/bw 2421.
  • 56. Public Elem. Schs. H.C. 133 (1875), lix; Bd. of Educ., List 21, 1908, 1915, 1923, 1938.
  • 57. S.R.O., C/E 4/64; log bks. 1878-1974 are ibid. 4/185/1; 4/351/1-3.
  • 58. Ibid. 4/181/4-5, 184/1-3; Kelly's Dir. Som. (1906); Bd. of Educ., List 21, 1908; cf. S.R.O., D/B/bw 2401, 2403.
  • 59. Bd. of Educ., List 21, 1938; S.R.O., C/E 4/64.
  • 60. S.R.O., C/E 4/64; Bridgwater Mercury, 20 Nov. 1984.
  • 61. S.R.O., C/E 4/71, 184/2-3, 362.
  • 62. Ibid. 4/71.
  • 63. Ibid. 4/64.
  • 64. Bd. of Educ., List 21, 1938.
  • 65. S.R.O., C/E 4/64; log bk. 1966-73 is ibid. 4/362/3.
  • 66. Ibid. 4/64; Bridgwater Coll., admission reg. 1944-64; ibid. H.M.I. rep. 1959.
  • 67. S.R.O., C/E 4/64.
  • 68. Ibid. 4/362.
  • 69. Ibid. 4/64.
  • 70. P.O. Dir. Som. (1861); S.R.O., Q/RSl 1.
  • 71. Bridgwater Coll., Min. Bks. M 1-4, Letter Bks. L1-3; P. Campion, 'The Beginnings of Art and Technical Education in Bridgwater, 1887-1904' (TS. for B. Ed. in coll. libr.).
  • 72. S.R.O., C/E 4/64, 5/45; Bridgwater Coll., Min. Bk. M6; inf. from Mrs. B. Hunt, Bridgwater Coll.
  • 73. Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1822-3, 1830).
  • 74. P.O. Dir. Som. (1861).
  • 75. Co. Gaz. Dir. Som. (1840); Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1842); Slater's Dir. Som. (1852-3).
  • 76. Kelly's Dir. Som. (1883); Whitby & Sons, Dir. Bridgwater (1897); Whitby, Light, & Lane, Dir. Bridgwater (1938); Som. Co. Herald, 14 Aug. 1964.
  • 77. Kelly's Dir. Som. (1889, 1931).
  • 78. Ibid. C/E 4/362/4-9; Kelly's Dir. Som. (1910, 1931, 1939); Dir. Bridgwater (1929); Whitby, Light, & Lane, Dir. Bridgwater (1937-40); Independent Schs. Som. & Glos. (n.d.); Bridgwater Mercury, 21 Jan. 1987.
  • 79. Local inf.; Bridgwater Mercury, 15 Oct. 1985.