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January 2019 Meeting Report

Schooling in Rockingham, Northamptonshire, by Ann Redshaw

This was the title of the talk to the Sawston Village History Society on 10th January 2019.

Rockingham is unusual in being a closed village. There are no privately owned houses, they are all part of the Rockingham Castle Estate. This was leased from the Crown in 1543, and subsequently purchased and is today owned by the Watson family. There are 52 houses on one street which leads up a hill to the Castle and church. perhaps it is not surprising that no family has stayed more than three generations in the village.

The village suffered badly in the Civil War, when the owner was a parliamentarian and his wife was a royalist, as occurred in many families at that time. After the Civil War there had to be much rebuilding, using the local ironstone, and with thatched roofs. A map of the village from that time looks very similar to a modern one.

Ann's interest in this village arose because it is where her husband Mike's forebears came from. His grandfather was a gardener at the castle. The village school, which catered for children aged five to eleven or fourteen, had a role of 20 to 25 pupils. Like many such schools it was set up by the church under the auspices of the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, which set out the curriculum to be followed. This was probably confined to reading and writing, and a knowledge of the bible. The method for building such schools was specified, as was the qualifications required for the schoolmaster, the most important of which was that he must be a regular churchgoer.

Looking more widely at how schools developed, the first, going back to 1780, were Sunday schools. In 1880 the system of British Schools, with one master, was begun. This was rapidly superseded by National Schools from 1811. However, Sawston did not get its National School until 1841, so progress was not very fast. Maybe this is why the church started Board Schools in 1870. Only six years later Sawston had its Board School.

In Rockingham a Sunday School was established in 1818 to cater for 30 children. A new school was built in 1844 with a capacity for 90 pupils. The boys were provided with allotments behind the school to learn the rudiments of growing vegetables. Presumably the girls would have been learning sewing when the boys were on their allotments.

A school inspection of 1920 found that the school was too cold for the children to attend. The Castle's response was to send down a paraffin heater. One can well imagine how effective this was. The inspection also found the standard of teaching to be inadequate. Ann showed a photograph of the classroom from this time, with children squashed up on school benches which reminded your reporter of his first village school. There had been little change in the previous 25 years. It is fortunate for the current generation of children, that his first school and that in Rockingham have long since closed.

Jim Butchart

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