Keasden School, Hammon Head and the Education Act 1870

The contents of this article have been recalled by the occupants of Hammon Head with the encouragement of Maureen Ellis.
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

The building of Keasden School is related to the Elementary Education act of 1870, which laid the foundations of schooling for all children between the ages of 5 and 13. It might be assumed this was entirely philanthropic but a driving force was for Britain to remain competitive in the world of manufacturing. There was opposition in some quarters because it was claimed that an educated labouring class would want to think for themselves and therefore be dissatisfied and liable to revolt. Another source of opposition was from the Church as it was funded by the state to provide education for the poor and it did not want to lose its power.

Between 1870 and 1880 schools were started or taken over by School Boards and in rural areas by Rural Boards run by the parishes. Education was not free but Boards could pay the fees of poor children even if they attended Church schools; however in 1880 it became compulsory and free up to the age of 12. Later, Boards were abolished and were replaced by Local Education Authorities.

After Austwick parish was created from a part of the ancient parish of Clapham there were three schools to serve the needs of the children in the area. One was sited within the village of Clapham, one in the hamlet of Newby and one on the open moorland to the south of the parish. Keasden School was opened in 1872 in a new building some three miles away from Clapham.

In the late 1850’s a farming family living within a mile of Newby sent their young son, James to a Dame’s School there; by late 1889 he was married and had children of his own. He was living some miles from Newby but still within the parish and he sent his son and daughter to Keasden school. After this son John left school he learnt all the farming skills his father could teach him and later took on other farming experiences such as shepherding on the Bowland fells, arable farming in the Wakefield area and during the grouse shooting season he acted as a beater and so on.

By the late 1920’s John was married and he and his wife brought their three children to live with his parents and so into the catchment area of Keasden school. They remember how they walked the good two miles from the farm to the school each morning and home again in the afternoon. There were some who had walked from farms over the parish boundary and others nearer, who joined at a later stage of the journey. Instead of following the stony road all the way, John’s children remember leaving the hard road after going through the fell gate and taking a shorter route across the moor skirting the Sharwife (a pond), to rejoin the stoned road, the last uphill stretch finally to reach school. School was entered by the porch with its pegs where coats, hats, scarves and bags were hung up and where there were wash basins with cold water taps. Through a heavy wooden door there was the infants’ room with its high windows that gave light to the room but no view of the world outside. In winter a warm coal fire, laid and lit by the caretaker, blazed in the open grate surrounded by a high metal guard. On the walls above the wainscotting hung pictures, Moses in the bulrushes, Queen Victoria and a map or two. Against one of the walls there was a sturdy cupboard that held chalk, boards and books.

Through another door was the only other room where the headmistress reigned with the older children. It seemed more spacious and lighter, the windows were more numerous and lower, so that the road outside and the moor with its gorse bushes could be seen (except that all the desks were turned to face the other way). Here too was an open fire, but in a kitchen type range with an oven, all well-guarded with a heavy metal guard. A big iron kettle could be hung above the fire on a chain with a hook. Sometimes potatoes with a name carved into them were brought from home, and cooked slowly in the oven ready for the mid-day refreshments. Also eggs, fresh and raw and suitably named, were boiled in a pan of water. If the timing was misjudged an egg could be watery and underdone. I have a guilty recollection of surreptitiously getting rid of one in the ash pit out of doors.

If the coal bucket was emptied as the day went on, some of the older boys were permitted to carry in another supply from the store somewhere behind the building. When the weather and ground conditions were suitable, play was sometimes allowed on the surrounding moor in the longer noon break, beyond the confines of the small paved playground. The school bell would bring all the pupils into line to be marshalled back indoors. On one memorable day during such freedom there was some unusual trouble. An elderly tramp “Lile Billy” had been walking past school just at this break time as it was his habit to walk over the hills from one workhouse to the next. It may have been that he had begged at the door of some of them, or even done a few odd jobs for a few pence at some time. Some of the older boys had been amusing themselves and each other by teasing him. This mischief had been noted and after the bell brought order and quiet, the Headmistress caned the hand of each pupil.

There was a tendency to tease one another by way of “fun” but no physical harm was done as far as we can recall - it was generally accepted as part of life.

Part of Old Hammon Hall

Part of Old Hammon Hall