Educating Meldreth - the Case for the Village's own School

The Parish Room, which stood in North End, c.1900
R H Clark postcard supplied by Ann Handscombe
Hubert Ellis
from "Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire Leaders" by Ernest Gaskell, 1913


In October 1903 a petition signed by 126 householders out of 150 houses in the parish was lodged by Mr H O S Ellis with Cambridgeshire County Council asking for permission to build a new school in the village for 170-200 children who had either to to to Melbourn or Shepreth; Meldreth being the only large village in the county without any school at that time.

The Cambridge Independent Press of November 27th 1903 carried under the heading: “Meldreth’s Educational Wants: Mixed or Infant Schools – Public Inquiry”, a detailed account of a meeting held to discuss the grounds for Meldreth having an elementary school of its own:

“In the Parish Room at Meldreth, on Monday, Alderman A. P. Humphry and Councillor A. I. Tillyard conducted a public inquiry on behalf of the Education Committee of the Cambs. County Council in respect of a petition signed by numerous ratepayers, praying that an elementary School should be provided in the parish. The Inquiry was largely attended, among those present being Alderman W. W. Clear, Councillor F. J. Clear, Mr. S. B. Ginn (Clerk to the County Council), the Rev. P. Harvey (Vicar of Meldreth), Rev. R. Hines (Vicar of Shepreth), Dr. Bindloss, Dr. Ennion, Messrs. H. O. S. Ellis and A. Russell Fordham. A large number of labouring men were also present, and were so boisterous in their applause of the arguments in favour of the school that the Chairman (Councillor A. I. Tillyard) was compelled to remind them that it was “a judicial inquiry”.

A saving in distance

Mr. H. O. S. Ellis appeared for the petitioners and, in answer to the Chairman, said that the population of Meldreth at the last census was 626, the number of inhabited houses 159, the acreage 2,513, and the rateable value £4,407. A penny rate would bring in £18 – 7s – 3d. The total number of children in the village was 141. Of these, 51 boys and girls, and 22 infants, went to the school at Melbourn, and 36, who did not go anywhere, would go to that school when they became old enough. Nineteen boys and girls, and 5 infants went to Shepreth school and 8 were too young to go, but would go to Shepreth if they went anywhere. There was no child in Meldreth who went to the Melbourn school living within 1,348 yards from the building, and the children living the furthest had to go 3,516 vards. There was no child going to Shepreth school who had less than 1,693 yards to go, and the furthest was 1,974 yards away. The proposed site for the new school would save from 500 to 1,000 yards nearly all over the village.

Alderman W. W. Clear said there was no child in Meldreth residing more than a mile and a half from a public elementary school to which it had access. Mr. Ellis said that there was one house in the parish, 4,020 yards from Melbourn School, although no children were living there at the present time. Meldreth was practically the only large village in the County which had no school. There were 73 villages in the County with a less number of houses than Meldreth, and all of them had schools. The Chairman : I think we may take it that is so.

Mr. Ellis also pointed out that Meldreth possessed the second largest rateable value in the Royston Union, although it was not the second largest in population. So far as the site of the proposed new school was concerned, Mr. K. O. Fordham had informed him that he would give to the County Council one acre of land in Fenny Lane. The site was 2,573 yards from Melbourn school. The nearest children would have to go from 300 to 500 yards, instead of about 2,840 yards to Melbourn, a saving of something like 1,500 yards. The farthest distance to be travelled by a child would be 1,125 yards, and that child had to go 1,654 yards to Melbourn School. Many of the children who went to Shepreth and Meibourn went twice a day. Some of the children stayed to dinner, but they had to have cold food, and no accommodation was provided for them.

The Cost

[Mr Ellis] took it that the cost of erecting new schools would be something like £1,000, which would, of course, partly fall on the village and partly the county. The Chairman said that the rule that the County Council had laid down was that the cost should be divided between the county and the parish. It worked out at about £10 per child. Mr. Ellis said he would ask that there should be a loan granted to the parish for the £500 to come from them and that it should be extended over a period from thirty to fifty years. The Chairman: I don’t think we have power to say that. We should have to borrow the money and it will be for higher authority to decide that, I think we might put down thirty years. Mr. Ellis said that every £100(?) borrowed would cost £4 16s 8d out of the rates of the parish, and the cost to the parish would therefore be about £30 per year. A penny halfpenny rate would bring £27 11s. The Chairman said a penny halfpenny rate would not quite enough. There was the question of furniture and fittings to consider. He thought it might be a two penny rate. Mr. Elbourn, a Meldreth ratepayer, doubted whether Mr. Fordham had offered to give the piece of land. He hired the ground from him at present and Mr. Fordham had said nothing to him about it. Mr. Ellis said he was willing to make the statement on oath. One hundred and twenty six out of 159 householders had signed a petition in favour of the schools.

Infants’ School Only Suggested

Dr. Ennion thought it was necessary that the infants should have a school nearer than Melbourn or Shepreth. He asked the difference between the cost of providing an infants’ school only and the cost of the whole set of schools. The Chairman thought that there might be some little difficulty in getting the Department to recognise a new infants’ school if there were only 27 infants to attend. An attendance of 30 would be necessary. The Rev. P. Harvey was thoroughly in favour of an infants’ school, but was not prepared to advocate a mixed school The population of the village had gone down in the last ten years from 913 to 626 houses, in which dwelt the persons and the children for whom the benefit of the proposed school was intended, and were in a poor condition. As far as one could judge, those who were landlords were not prepared to repair them to any great extent to make them habitable for any longer period nor were they prepared to erect new ones as the present ones became absolutely impossible to live in. Since 1887 not a single cottage had been built in Meldreth, and there had been a great diminution in the number of marriages.

Mr. Russell Fordham, not only a ratepayer, but as a representative of the Managers of Pepys’ Charity, who conducted the schools in Melbourn until the transfer to the County Council, advocated an infants’ school, but said the managers hoped the Council would not sanction the erection of a mixed school. They felt that they had a very efficient school at Melbourn, and for educational purposes it would be much more desirable to have one really good school for the district rather than lessen the efficiency of the Melbourn school by having a comparatively weak school in Meldreth. He also suggested that before deciding to build a new school the Council should inquire whether it was not possible to use some existing building for the purpose. The Rev. R. Hines said that the Head Master of Shepreth had informed him that day that 24 children came from Meldreth. He had had to turn five children away because there was no accommodation. The population of Shepreth was increasing; 29 new houses had been built.

Is Melbourn School Overcrowded?

The Chairman said the Clerk had called his attention to the latest report from the Inspector about Melbourn school, in which he stated that each department was found to be overcrowded and understaffed. Alderman W. W. Clear said he had had official intimation from the Board of Education, a correspondent of the school, that it possessed accommodation for 148 boys, 148 girls and 115 infants, and there were now in attendance about 100 boys, 113 girls and 100 infants. The Rev. P. Harvey wanted to know where the teachers were to live in Meldreth. Mr. Ellis: Some of the Melbourn teachers come from Bassingbourn, The Chairman: We can’t go into that.

Mr. Palmer (senior) and Mr. Palmer (junior), ratepayers of Meldreth and managers of Melbourn Schools and Mr. Elbourn, a resident of Meldreth, spoke against a new mixed school, but expressed themselves in favour of an infants’ school. One of the working men pointed out that in going to Melbourn or Shepreth that children got wet through, and were subsequently taken unwell. Another Meldreth inhabitant pointed out that the children who went to Melbourn School and stayed to dinner had to have their dinner out in the open whether it rained or not. Alderman W W. Clear, without expressing any other opinion, thought that the little ones should be allowed to run along to school with their elder brothers and sisters. (Applause.) The Chairman: that is rather an argument in favour of having a complete set of schools or none at all. Expressions in favour of the schools were given by two or three other working men before the inquiry closed”.

Footnote: Meldreth School opened on 4th April 1910.

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