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A summary of public education in Victorian Cuckfield


Prior to 1844 there were two public schools in Cuckfield, the Grammar School and the National School, but when the Reverend Thomas Maberley became vicar the two schools were amalgamated as one and various reforms were put in place. Although the Master no longer had to be in Holy Orders, he still had to be a churchman and the curriculum had to be organised by the parish clergy.

The vicar was responsible for all finance. He also had powers of expulsion of pupils.

The schoolmaster was selected by the vicar in the Rector and ‘three or four honest inhabitants of Cuckfield’. Only Cuckfield and Balcombe children were to be admitted, 4/5 from Cuckfield and 1/5 from Balcolm. Places were needed for 75 boys and 65 girls. Parents paid a penny a week for each child to go to school.

The National School, formerly the Grammar School

The School grew rapidly, with the church buying various cottages and properties nearby, and altogether over £2,500 was spent on land purchases and improvements to the school in the second half of the 19th century. Local subscriptions, an endowment and National Society grants kept the school relatively financially secure. In 1891 the weekly pence system was replaced by a fee grant and in 1902 a new Education Act meant that the local education authority took over the control of the school.

When the British School (see below) closed in 1907 nearly all of its people transferred to the national school

The British school.

In 1852 school started in Cuckfield which developed from the very popular Sunday school based at the Congregational church. The Reverend Albert Foyster wanted a day school as well as the Sunday school because:

Former Congregational Chapel, Broad Street, Cuckfield and originally built as a British School, the nonconformist equivalent of a National School, in 1869 which had previously been a day school in the chapel building and continued operating until closure in 1907.

‘it is granted, there are several schools already existing, conducted by private individuals who are highly respected in the town; there is also the National school, which is the only public school in the place.

But neither of these meets the needs of the people in general, the former are too expensive football parents, the latter is too exclusive in its character’.

He does not clarify what he meant by exclusive!

This school admitted girls and boys under 10, ‘being well aware that in this neighbourhood there are a few boys at school over that age’. By September 1852 some 94 children were enrolled.

A teacher was provided by the British and foreign schools society.

Parents contributed a half penny per week, although this soon went up to a penny. 14 ladies of the church formed a visiting committee to oversee the teaching and discipline. Although numbers continued to grow it became hard for the school to manage without outside financial help and in 1874 the school was given a government grant.

However this involved government inspections and Miss Hordle, the schoolmistress, resigned to be replaced by Miss Edwards.

Financial pressures meant that she had to manage with unqualified assistants and eventually she gave up and resigned.

Meanwhile the yearly renewal of the government grant meant to complying with better standards of buildings and hygiene and a bad epidemic of diphtheria closed the school. It struggled on for a while afterwards, enjoying a brief period of improvement with Miss Chandler, but it eventually closed in 1907 and its pupils joined those at the National School.



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