On the 13th of January, 1900, thirty years after the Education Act of 1870 became the law of the land, the first meeting of a Cradley School Board was finally held
It was the evening of Thursday, 13th January, 1900. The twentieth century was less than two weeks old, and yet Cradley still had not one government (State) school.
Seven men - an Anglican vicar, four non-conformist ministers, and two lay persons - had been appointed (not elected, as the law had for so long stipulated, but, through no fault of their own, simply appointed) - to form the first, preliminary, Cradley School Board.
They duly gathered (at the Ragged School) on that Thursday night to do their duty, which was, first and foremost, to elect a functioning School Board.
Education in Cradley before the twentieth century
Before 1900, such education as was available in Cradley was provided by local churches.
We know, for example, that as early as some time after August 1787 a school was erected near Cradley Chapel (today's St. Peter's Church) for the free education of 30 boys and 30 girls, and the paid education of any other children who could afford the fees.1
In the nineteenth century, education was provided to Cradley children by Anglicans, Unitarians, Wesleyans, Baptists and the Ragged Schools.2
These schools were funded on a voluntary basis, with contributions from parents, local tradespeople and gentry, and the proceeds from special Church services and concerts, supplemented by Government grants which provided some 25% of annual income.3
The 1870 Education Act
In 1870, after much contentious debate, Parliament passed "An Act to provide for public Elementary Education in England and Wales" (often cited as the Forster Act, after the bill's chief proponent, William Edward Forster).
The Act created 2568 school districts. In each district, a board, elected by ratepayers by secret ballot every three years, was given wide powers, and could levy rates to build, establish and maintain schools, create by-laws, enforce attendance, borrow money, compulsorily acquire sites, and charge pupils a weekly fee of up to ninepence (which could be waived in certain limited circumstances).
Remarkably (for 1870), women could not only vote, but also stand for election.
However, the formation of such boards was by no means automatic. They could only be established where it could be shown that existing religious schools were failing to provide sufficient places for pupils, and even then the religious schools were given opportunities to put forward objections.
Although attendance was supposed to have been made compulsory by the 1870 Act, in practice this was seldom enforced, until Disraeli's government passed the 1880 Education Act, which made education compulsory up to the age of 10. This was increased to 11 in 1893 by the Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act, and to 12 in 1899 with an amendment to the 1893 Act. Attendance was further enforced with the creation of the National Board of Education in 1899.
In 1902 the Balfour government passed a new Education Act, which abolished the school board system and created Local Education Authorities.
December 1899: at last, a Cradley School Board
Margaret Bradley and Barry Blunt record:4
As the population of Cradley continued to expand, the Department of Education insisted on extra accommodation being provided. The voluntary sector felt unable to keep up with the demands. On 2nd October 1899 the Parish Council organised a poll to decide whether or not to petition the Government to establish a Cradley School Board. Out of an electorate of 900, only 151 people voted; 85 were in favour, 66 were against. At the next meeting of the Parish Council, it was resolved
"that believing it impossible to efficiently meet the educational needs of the Parish by means of a voluntary rate, this meeting requests the Education Department to order the election of a School Board for Cradley."
The School Board came into being in December 1899.
By mutual consent it was agreed that an election was unnecessary, and the Board would comprise four Nonconformists - Rev. W. Barker (Baptist), Rev. E. P. Hall (Unitarian), Joseph Christopher (High Town), and C. H. Clewes (Baptist), two Independents - William Chapman and A. Southall and one Churchman (Rev. R Edmondson).
The board met for the first time on 13 January, 1900. The County Express takes up the story:
The County Express, 13 January 1900
CRADLEY SCHOOL BOARD.
The first meeting of the newly constituted School Board for the district of Cradley was held on Thursday evening, at the Ragged Schools, Cradley, when the whole of the members attended, viz. : Rev. R H. Edmondson, Rev. E. P. Hall, Rev. W. A. Barker, Messrs. C. H. Clewes, W. H. Chapman, Joseph Christopher, and Benjamin Southall.
Mr. T. Wall (returning officer) attended, and presided pro tem.
The Rev. R. P. Hall proposed that the vicar (the Rev. R H. Edmondson) be chairman of the Board. He did not propose Mr. Edmondson merely because he was vicar, but because he thought that the chairman of the new Board should be one conversant with educational matters, and know the ins and outs of dealing with the Educational Department. One advantage the vicar would have was that he had a long experience in connection with elementary education, and he was also known to be a very good business man. They would probably have to do a great deal with the Department, and also in the way of building, and in such matters it would be a good thing for them to have the trained ability of Mr. Edmondson. He had not spoken to the vicar on the matter, and was not certain whether he would stand, but, still, he proposed him for the office.
Mr. Chapman heartily seconded, and referred to the great advantage the board would derive from Mr. Edmondson's long experience with the Education Department. Further, he felt sure such a course would satisfy the public, for Mr. Edmondson was looked upon as being a very impartial man.
The Rev. W. A. Barker moved that Mr. Clewes be the chairman. He was well conversant with the duties of a chairmanship, and had the entire confidence of the parish.
Mr. Christopher seconded. One reason for his doing so was that there were on the Board three ministers and four laymen. Two of the ministers had schools of their own over which they presided. The other was the pastor of a congregation owning the British Schools, and he had therefore an interest in them. The schools the Board would have to build would belong to the people, and therefore he advocated a layman for the chairmanship, and Mr. Clewes had the experience of 20 years' acquaintance with the British School Committee.
Mr. Wall declared Mr. Clewes appointed chairman.
On taking the chair, Mr. Clewes said he had no desire whatever for the position, and had plenty to do without it, but as it was the wish of the majority that a layman should preside he acceeded to their request They had heard something from one of the, members about difficulties ; he hoped they would not have too many, and that they would try to work for the interest of the children and ratepayers. The great motive that brought him to the Board was to do his best to provide for the education of the children at the lowest possible cost to the rates, consistent with efficiency - (hear, hear). He trusted they would all do the business with impartiality.
The Rev. W. A. Barker moved the election of Mr. Chapman as vice-chairman for three years.
The Rev. R P. Hall seconded. He congratulated Mr. Clewes on being appointed chairman, and assured him that all would support him. - (hear, hear.) Whether they were opposed to a School Board or not, now they were elected they wanted to make it the best for the parish.
The motion was unanimously carried, and the vice-chairman suitably replied.
On the question of the appointment of clerk being brought up it was decided, on the motion of the Rev. R H. Edmondson, seconded by the Rev. W. A. Barker, that the Board advertise for a clerk, who should state wages required, and it was further agreed that a special meeting should be held next Thursday week to make the appointment.
Mr. W. Williams of the Cradley Heath bank was unanimously appointed treasurer to the Board.
Some discussion took place as to the place, day and time upon which the Board should meet. Eventually it was resolved that for the present the trustees of the Ragged School should be asked to allow the meetings to be held there, and that the ordinary meetings of the Board be held on the third Tuesday in each month at 7 o'clock.
On the proposition of the Rev. R. H. Edmondson, seconded by the Rev. W. A. Barker, a vote of thanks was unanimously passed to the returning officer (Mr. Wall) and was acknowledged by him.
Why so long?
The obvious question is: why did it take three decades for Cradley to form a school board? Was the existing church-based system providing satisfactorily for the educational needs of Cradley children, or was there was some other factor at work?
Again, from Margaret Bradley and Barry Blunt's book:5
After the 1870 Education Act came into effect, most of the surrounding district set up school boards which funded local schools through the rates. Cradley however continued to apply the voluntary system right through to the close of the century. One implication of the voluntary system was that attendance could not be made compulsory. (italics added)
In his book When I Was a Boy, Clifford Willetts (1896-1980), writing of the period well after 1900, records:
Many children were taught to make chain in these shops and by the time they left school at 13, they were able to take their place in the factories.
There were three schools at this period, Netherend, whose headmaster was W. H. Guest; Church of England, headmaster J. J. Jacquis, and The Baptist, headmaster J. J. Homer. He later went to Colley Lane when the Baptist school closed. The education authorities were not particular about catchment areas then. Children from Quarry Bank attended Netherend. The reason for this was that in Staffordshire the school leaving age was 14, but in Worcestershire it was 13. Therefore, the parents sent them to Netherend so that they could start work a year earlier. (italics added)
It would be a gross and unwarranted slur on the parents of Cradley in the 19th century to conclude that the introduction of universal public education was delayed simply in order that children could be put to work. These were good people, who loved their children every bit as much as any parents have in any other place or time.
In the hard and grim battle to survive from day to day, education would have been far down on the list of priorities. Recall again the voting figures from October 1899: only 85 people out of the 900 eligible voters - less than 10 percent - were in favour; 749 did not vote at all.
For most people there was no contest, and nothing to waste time thinking about, when given the choice between a child having a full belly or a day at school. We have no right to condemn or criticise them from the luxury of our comfortable twenty-first century lives; we have so many choices, they had so few.
The Cradley School Board of 1900 had but a short life, which ended with the introduction of the 1902 Act. Long overdue though it may have been, the birth of the Board ushered in the free, universal, compulsory, non-denominational, quality education which still thrives in Cradley more than a century after that Thursday evening in January 1900.
Charles Hodgetts Clewes died at his home in Park Road in December 1923, in the parish where he was born and had lived all his life. Until shortly before his death he had been active both in his private affairs and in his public duties. In business, he was a manufacturer of rope, twine and bags. In public life, he had been chairman of the old School Board, and became the first chairman of the School Managers' Committee (the supervisory body for Colley Lane and Netherend Schools). He was a county councillor for twenty years, and was generally credited with having persuaded the council to buy the land on which Colley Lane School was built. He was the first president of Cradley Liberal Club, which position he held for the rest of his life. He became a magistrate in 1905, and sat on the Stourbridge Bench until shortly before his death (Cradley was then in the Stourbridge Police Division). Charles Clewes was a Baptist for sixty-eight years, and was senior deacon at Halesowen Baptist Church. He was the first Cradley man to be elected chairman of Halesowen Rural District Council. And he was, withal, a genial and popular man. - photograph and text from "A Cradley Album" (Peter Barnsley, 1994), p. 19
The above article had its genesis in a list of County Express articles, many of which were taken from references found in the footnotes of The History of Cradley Churches by Margaret Bradley and Barry Blunt, and which Nigel photocopied from the microfilm newspaper archives at Stourbridge Library.
One of the photocopies was of the 13 January 1900 Cradley School Board meeting, on which this article hinges. My initial intention was to simply transcribe it and add it, unadorned, to our Newspaper clippings section.
But, remembering that Margaret and Barry's second "Cradley Churches" book (The History of Cradley Churches Part Two: 1800-1900 Growing Apart) has a very complete section on Cradley schools (pages 52-76), I consulted it (yet again - my copies of the "B & B" trilogy are so well-thumbed that they are close to disintegration!) and came to the section on page 61, "Day School Education".
I was struck by these sentences: "... most of the surrounding district set up school boards which funded local schools through the rates. Cradley however continued to apply the voluntary system right through to the close of the century."
Why, I wondered, would this have been so?
This led me to look at the 1870 Education Act, and eventually to the conclusions with which, however tentatively or erroneously, this essay ends.
I can only thank Barry and Margaret once again for all the pleasure which their masterpiece - The History of Cradley Churches - has given to so many people, and express the hope that they may, in time, forgive me for the numerous blatant "lifts" from page 61 of Growing Apart which appear above.
--- Mike Hamilton
1 Margaret Bradley and Barry Blunt, The History of Cradley Churches Part One: 1700-1800 The Formative Years (Windmill Hill Drop-in Centre, 1999 p. 14
2,3,4,5 Margaret Bradley and Barry Blunt, The History of Cradley Churches Part Two: 1800-1900 Growing Apart (Windmill Hill Drop-in Centre, 1999) p. 61