Educating Meldreth - But Where?

The Parish Room which stood on North End, circa 1900
RH Clark postcard supplied by Ann Handscombe
Hubert OS Ellis, pictured in June 1949, aged 93, barrister and local entrepreneur, who took a keen interest in the building of Meldreth School
Cambridgeshire Collection, Ref: YMeldK49 41369

The Cambridge Independent Press reported on 12th August 1904 that at the following Public Notice had been placed by Cambridge County Local Education Authority:

‘Notice is hereby given in accordance with the provisions of Section8(1) of the Education Act, 1902 that the County Council of Cambridgeshire, being the Local Education Authority for the purposes of part 3 of the Act, propose to provide a new Public Elementary School for about 100 children at Meldreth in the County of Cambridge. The School will be available for the following area: an area comprising the whole of the Parish of Meldreth.’

But, under the heading ‘The proposed Meldreth School‘, the same newspaper reported on 30th June 1905 that ‘the Building and General Purposes Sub Committee recommended that the question of building a school for the parish of Meldreth be adjourned sine die (i.e. indefinitely). Councillor Fordham proposed an amendment that the building of the school be proceeded with, and Councillor Stanley seconded. The Vice Chairman said it had been suggested by the Education Secretary that the Melbourn School be closed and a new school built midway between the two villages. The Melbourn School was not such a fine specimen of architecture that there could be any desire to preserve it for ever. Only the proposer voted for the amendment and it was lost. A further amendment that the question be only adjourned for six months was carried’ (note: items about the relief of underfed children and not taking children to church in school hours follow).

On 21st December 1906, a discussion took place at the Elementary Education Sub-Committee and a resolution ‘to the effect that a junior mixed school be provided for the parish of Meldreth, to accommodate children up to Standard 3 inclusive, provided that suitable arrangements could be made with the trustees for the use of the Parish Room, was passed, the Chairman remarking that they hoped that would prove the solution of a question which had long been before them.’

However, on 20th March 1907, Percy Harvey, Vicar of Meldreth and Chairman of the Trustees of the Parish Room, wrote to the Chairman of the Education Committee. He drew attention to the fact that ‘a majority of the trustees of the Parish Room have passed a resolution that, provided a suitable arrangement can be made, the Parish Room should be leased to the County Council for Educational Purposes.’ As Chairman he dissented from the views of the other Trustees on the grounds that “the scheme contemplated will, in my opinion, result in failure. The Trustees are absolutely without any Funds whatsoever at their disposal to enter upon an agreement to which certain and grave pecuniary liabilities would be attached. The Parishioners would be deprived of using the Room which was the original intention of those who built it. In short, the use of the Room for educational purposes would not meet to any great extent the school difficulty but only add to it.” He went on to suggest that the Education Committee should refer the matter to Mr H O S Ellis, Meldreth’s County Councillor, before any final decision was made.

The Elementary Education Committee of 6th April 1907 (to which Mr Ellis had been co-opted) resolved that ‘an elementary school for Boys, Girls and Infants be built for the parish of Meldreth to accommodate 120 children…having regard to the fact that the Parish Room could not hired for the purpose.’

Support for the proposed new school was not universal and the same Committee, at its meeting on 21st September 1907, considered a letter from the Board of Education, dated 26th July 1907, enclosing an appeal by 11 ratepayers of the parish of Meldreth against the provision of a new school ‘on the grounds that the schools now provided are better suited to the needs of the district and that an Infants’ School is all that is necessary.’ The Board had asked for the observations of the Local Education Authority and its Secretary was directed to forward a statement referring to a public inquiry held on 23rd November 1903 at Meldreth by Aldermen Humphrey and Tillyard. It had reported that Meldreth has a school population of 97. Of these, 51 boys and girls and 22 infants go to Melbourn, while 19 boys and girls and 5 infants go to Shepreth. The children going to Melbourn have to walk distances varying from about three quarters of a mile to just over two miles; the children going to Shepreth walk from just under a mile to a little over a mile. They go twice each day and the journey to Shepreth involves crossing the railway at a level crossing. Parents at the enquiry had spoken of the sickness amongst their children caused by having to walk such distances in wet weather. The Committee did not support the Infants only proposal and took the view that the case for a school accommodating boys, girls and infants had been made out.

At its meeting on 2nd November 1907, the Elementary Education Sub Committee considered that the the new school would take about 100 children and was, therefore, ‘sufficiently large to warrant the employment of a staff of at least three qualified teachers.’

The Cambridge Independent Press of 25th May 1908 recorded that:

‘A report was presented by the Elementary Education Sub-Committee with reference to a site for the proposed Meldreth Council School. From this it appeared that two sites were reported upon by the special sub-committee appointed as being the most suitable. One was a portion of a grass field belonging to St Peter’s College (note: the reference here is to St Peter’s College – there is one in Oxford – though in other reports this changes to Peterhouse, Cambridge) not far from the Station, and on the east side of the main road. As the result of negotiations with St Peter’s College, Messrs Bidwell and Sons have valued 3 roods, with a frontage to the main road of 90 feet, at £130, together with the costs of the College Solicitor and Surveyors, and of obtaining the consent of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. The second site was a portion of a field belonging to Mr E O Fordham, in Fenny Lane, about 200 yards from the Stocks, in the centre of the village. Mr Fordham had kindly offered an acre of this field, with a frontage of 30 yards, for the sum of £100; or, at a price to be fixed by the valuer agreed upon by himself and the Sub-Committee, based on a plan of the piece of land required.

By the casting vote of the Chairman, the Elementary Education Sub-Committee recommended the second site, but Councillor E O Fordham expressed the view that the college site was much more suitable, being the more central, and said he was strongly in favour of the Committee going for compulsory powers for the acquisition of it. The whole matter was referred to the Building and General Purposes Sub-Committee with power to consider the proposed sites, and to enter into negotiations and report.’

The tenant of the first site, Mr Adcock, intimated his willingness to accept £5 as compensation for disturbance if the land was required before the grass crop was cut but later he said that he would be willing to take a little less.

On 6th June 1908, the Building and General Purposes Sub Committee finally resolved that ‘the St Peter’s College site be acquired for the new Council School at Meldreth, subject to valuation by Messrs. Nash, Son and Rowley, Royston.’ The Clerk was instructed to enter into a contract with the Master and Fellows of St.Peter’s for the purchase of three roods of land at Meldreth as a site for the new School at a price of £130.

At the same Committee on 4th February 1909, seven tenders for the building of the new school were opened ranging from £2,284 to £2,509. The lowest tender from Gimson and Co. of Royston was accepted. On 15th April of the same year the Committee considered a report from the County Architect concerning possible deductions from the tendered sum and resolved that £335 19s 10d be deducted ‘and that the tar paving of the playgrounds at the front and back of the school premises be also omitted from the contract.’

The post of headmaster was offered to Mr F J Aldridge, previously head of Croydon Church School and the Elementary Education Sub Committee on 2nd April 1910 resolved that ‘Miss Maud Stearn who has latterly acted as an assistant in the Girls’ Department at Melbourn School and Miss Gertrude Wedd, an assistant in the Infants’ Department be transferred to the Meldreth Council School to assist in the Mixed and Infants’ Departments respectively.’

Two clocks were to be purchased for the sum of £2 2s 0d and a grant of 6 guineas was approved towards the purchase of a piano. The new Meldreth School opened on 4th April 1910.

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