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Harrogate Story 





The "Free School" At Bilton 

When the Reformation in religion, nearly complete by the middle of the sixteenth century, had ended the teaching work of the monks and the chantry priests, the State in effect re-organised education by the foundation of "Grammar Schools." In the later century and the first quarter of the seventeenth a renewed enthusiasm for learning led some private persons also, particularly philanthropic merchants, to endow new schools. All such schools that have survived may be recognised by the fact that they call themselves the Grammar Schools of Edward VI, Queen Elizabeth or King James.

Their founders had in mind, primarily, the education of poor boys (the education of girls was then rather neglected, and rich boys often had private tutors). By the eighteenth century, except perhaps in a few favoured places like the Lake District, these schools, when they still existed, did so chiefly to educate the children of the rich. 

In the time of James I, a Grammar School had been founded at Knaresborough for the benefit of the whole Parish, of which the township of Bilton-with-Harrogate then formed a part. But in the course of a century or so this school, like a good number of others, became practically defunct - a fact that readily explains why Harrogate's share in it seems to be now forgotten. 

Fortunately, from the middle of the eighteenth century, when England was already a great trading nation and on the point of becoming a manufacturing one, a fresh interest in the education of poor children began to show itself among the enlightened and sufficiently well-to-do. In this district a number of schools for the poor were founded, among them the very attractive one at Burnt Yates, in 1760. The name Free School was often given to these, and they received girls as well as boys. 

In 1779, Richard Taylor, belonging to an old Bilton family, established what was to be known for the next half century as either the Free School at Bilton or, more simply, Bilton School. Some dozen years before he died he gave in trust to "John Inman and his heirs " a house, barn and other buildings, and about 18 acres of land. The trust that Inman had to fulfil was to see that the rents and profits should enable a schoolmaster to live in the house and keep a school there. His pupils were to be poor boys and girls of Bilton-with-Harrogate, the children of inhabitants legally settled in that place. This arrangement was to continue, according to the instructions, for ever. The Master, who, from about 1800 to 1824, appears to have been John Inman himself, was allowed to take other pupils - in addition to the poor - from whom he could demand "Gratuities " (:fees). The Report of the Charity Commissioners of 1820 states that 30 poor children were then being taught, each at the nominal charge of a shilling a year, and that the fee-paying pupils had, in the few years before, varied between fifteen and twenty. The subjects taught were reading, writing, arithmetic, the Church .catechism and the "principles of the Christian religion." Pupils entered at six or seven and stayed two years or more if necessary. 

According to a Harrogate Handbook of 1858, there were then only 20 free places. The -history of charities shows a regrettable tendency for them to be reduced or to disappear altogether, but a drop in the relative value of the endowment may be the explanation of this particular decline. The school continued to do good work, for long under Masters called Idell, and in 1883 it became a public elementary school. It is now called "Bilton Endowed School." 

Above the doorway of the school-house is a stone, with well-cut lettering, which in the phrase used by old writers, bears the following legend: 





There is certainly an element of legend (in its modern meaning) in this inscription. Apart from the introduction of "Mr Francis Taylor," Richard Taylor did not build it, much less live in it, as he died before 1792. 

In that year, John Inman prepared to take into his own hands the whole of the land, which, in the previous years, had been let, and to set about building a new school and schoolhouse. A document - a legal Case - of 1799 says that the school was built several years after the death of Richard Taylor. This oldest known information about the early history of the school was due, indirectly, to Inman's own action. On the plea that he was maintaining the whole property as a charitable institution, he refused to pay any Statutory dues, such as the Poor Rate and the Highways Rate. As the other inhabitants naturally objected, the Overseers obtained the opinion of a barrister, for whom lawyer Earnshaw of Knaresborough drew up his -Case. Counsel ruled that Inman was in the wrong and the 1802 Highways Rate Book shows him paying on a rateable value of 20. In that year, he brought in six more Trustees - an arrangement that was to be permanent - and the property comes to be described in Rate Books as Bilton School, with Inman as the responsible Trustee. 

The historian Grainge increased the element of legend associated with the school by his story of the bachelor brothers who had founded the Bachelors Gardens School. The Bilton School property, which was all close by, included a garden of rather over four acres that seems to have been known as Bachelor Gardens, a name derived probably from the local family. William Pullan, gardener, occupied it in 1824. The actual field may be the one immediately in front of the School: this is marked "garden" on the township map made by Charles Greeves in the 1830's. Bachelor Gardens were well known in the early nineteenth century, for several people are then described as living near them. But the first known reference to a Bachelor Gardens School appears in the 1856 Rate Book, where, rather strangely, both it and Bilton School are entered under the same Master, Frances Idell. More strangely still, the latter has no assessment. It seems reasonable to infer that the mind of the Assistant Overseer was a little confused and that the address of the school was in process of becoming its title. 

After the Harrogate Workhouse was built it is possible that children living in it were amongst the poor pupils of the School, the boys for a time, the girls always. The 1820 Charity Commissioners' Report states that there was then some competition for admission, six or seven applicants each year failing to find a place. It was the Trustees who decided the free places, and there is one fact that suggests they gave preference to other than Workhouse children, perhaps to please the parents of fee-paying pupils. At least, from 1825 to 1828 an average number of eight boys in the Harrogate Workhouse attended the National School at Knaresborough. The township paid their fees of 1s a quarter which, in those days, meant three calendar months exactly. Even there they were not very welcome, for the School Master once suggested to the Workhouse Master that, unless his boys were more ready to keep the Rules of the School, it might be as well not to send them. 

Richard Taylor's good example in founding a school was followed in the 1830's by William Sheepshanks, who had come to Harrogate before 1824. In the following years he acquired a considerable estate. He is remembered chiefly by his large benefactions to St. John's, Bilton, and he presented the clock on the tower of Christ Church. He endowed an Infants' School in Church Square, but it is probable that there had been a Church School there before, Ai the days of St. John's Chapel. In 1816, the Vicar of Knaresborough rented a small house used as a school from Thomas Emmatt, the builder then busy erecting houses at Church Square. The Christ Church National School there was not to be built till 1879. 

The first National School at High Harrogate was begun in 1834. Its site was bought from the Independents, this including also their old Cross Chapel, which they had left in 1832 after completing Providence Chapel, made out of the materials of St. John's. Religious differences were obviously no bar to business transactions. . . . About the same time a National School connected with the recently-built St. Mary's Church was founded at Low Harrogate. The Nonconformists built a British (Lancastrian) School in what was then coming to be known as Central Harrogate, the neighbourhood of Beulah Place. The Churches were certainly showing energy in catering for the rapidly increasing population. 

It is quite clear, however, that these schools did not meet the whole of the need. Records of private elementary schools are naturally scanty, but William Marshall kept one near the Queen from 1836 at least, and for some years before this Palliser, who in that year started the Harrogate Advertiser, had also kept school. 

Superior establishments for the education of "Gentlemen" and "Young Ladies" had already appeared in Harrogate. As is evident from Dickens's sharp attack on the boarding-school racket, in his novel Nicholas Nickleby, and also from early copies of the Harrogate Advertiser, Yorkshire as a whole was coming to abound in such schools. Not all of these, of course, would merit the title of "Dotheboys Hall." Grove House (the former World's End Inn) was kept as a gentleman's seminary, at least from 1818 to 1823, by the Rev. Thomas Wildsmith, who was minister, in turn, of two Independent Chapels in Harrogate. At the same period, his wife conducted a ladies' seminary at Grove Cottage. Catherine Parry had a girls' school at Strawberry Dale Cottage in 1823, and continued there until at least 1834. In 1837, Ann Heslop had a girls' boarding school in High Harrogate, and Elizabeth Daniel one in Central Harrogate. 

There is, unfortunately, only the evidence of prospectuses for two other boys' schools that possibly existed about this time. On April 1st, 1828 - the quarters were strictly observed - a Mr. C. Wilkinson intended opening a school at High Harrogate, with the following scale of fees, each quarter:-Reading 10s.; Writing 12s.; Arithmetic 15s.; Mensuration 18s.; Latin, Greek, French, &c. 21s. Mr. Wilkinson appears to have been a man of energy: he was prepared, also, to give private lessons from 12 to 12-30 and from 6 to 9. The other prospectus is that of. T. Linforth, in 1830. He was ready to take "Twelve Young Gentlemen" and instruct them in a great variety of subjects, including all the above, for eight guineas a year, and would board them as well for forty. In this case, a footnote suggests some sort of entrance examination: "None will be admitted but those who can read and write tolerably well." 

This last school was one of those intended for the select few; but there is good evidence, which includes that of letters in the township records, that few people in the neighbourhood in the early nineteenth century were illiterate. Bilton School, and the Church schools that followed it, are proofs of an active interest, locally, in education.





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