Back in February, Mark Cronfield of Fellfoss Theatre and Heather Hodgson, Education Officer for The Story of Schools, met with Emily from The NASH. Mark, who is an experienced heritage theatre practitioner, will be bringing school heritage to life for Key Stage 2 groups and is interested in exploring the history of The National School and its characters. We discussed what we know of the story so far...
Background to The National School, Hawes
For many centuries children in the Upper Dales had no formal education at all. The earliest schools were not schools as we think of them, but gatherings in what now would be thought of as implausible spaces – people’s houses, governess's living rooms. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries schools became more formalised with the building of small custom-built grammar and private schools, but these could be expensive and sometimes far away. Education remained something families had to pay for: a privilege for the few who could afford it.
‘A National School’ is a confusing-sounding name but it refers to a school founded from 1811 by the Church of England, or more specifically the National Society for Promoting Religious Education, to provide more affordable education to children from poorer backgrounds. In the Victorian era there was a growing demand for education, but until the Education Act of 1891 school remained inaccessible to many due to cost. National Schools were amongst the first school systems in England and Wales to offer a near-universal education system - i.e. equal access to schooling for all. They typically received funding from religious societies, the government and voluntary contributions, although pupils were still expected to pay school fees. Like The NASH, which is shoulder to shoulder with St. Margaret’s Church, they were often located right next to the parish church.
The National School in Hawes was built in 1845 and would’ve been in use till approx 1879 when the Elementary Education Act made it compulsory for all children to attend school and Hawes School was built. But for the thirty-five years or so that it was a school, what was life like within its walls?
Works by local historian James Alderson (1909-1999) have been an invaluable source. James Alderson grew up in Gayle and, after many years away as a Methodist Minister, he returned to live in the area in 1974 where he carried out meticulous research on the Upper Dales. His chapter in the Hawes School Centenary booklet (1979), as well as his book Under Wetherfell: The Story of Hawes Parish & People (1980), provide some fascinating insight.
The NASH is quite literally ‘under Wetherfell’. Its windows are high-up, meaning that children could not easily look out and be distracted - a typical design feature of the Victorian school. What you can easily see is the huge shape of Wetherfell that presides over this part of the Dale and peers down through the glass.
Alderson writes that: ‘land was bought for £25 in “Maiden Haw Brae” and the school was opened the following year… Joseph Morgham was the first headmaster and it is said that he had a cork hand. The school bell came from Gayle Mill’.
Exams seemed to have been public events which must have been unsettling for the children: ‘the methods used in school examination was the cause of local disagreement. It would appear that some examinations were held in the presence of some parents and some members of the committee’.
John Iveson was headmaster from 1871 to 1876. According to Alderson, Iveson wrote that ‘there is nothing that will subdue children and keep discipline like the rod’ and there’s little doubt that corporal punishment would have been a daily occurrence.
The school would have had around 100 children in a relatively small space with only two teachers, one of whom would have been unqualified and was probably little more than a child themselves.
What did they learn? Back then ‘the three Rs’ were the main thing, referring to reading, writing and arithmetic, and the children would probably learn by parroting. Drill was also introduced and ladies from the parish went into the school to give sewing lessons for two hours, three times a week. Pupils would have sat in rows facing the front with boys on one side and girls on the other. The room would have been cold in winter.
It’s interesting to note that there was some competition between local schools. In his log book John Iveson complains of the brightest pupils in the parish being poached by the local private schools. But he also reports that one teacher of a private school ‘went mad’ and so the children came to The National School instead (Hawes School Centenary, p.7).
Children did not legally have to attend school and often didn’t – e.g. if the weather was bad and they couldn’t get there, or if their families wanted them to work during haytime, or if there was a fair on. Alderson writes that ‘truancy was commonplace, children staying away to see a wedding, watch the fox hounds, see a funeral or watch the men work on the new railway' (Under Wetherfell, p.89). In those days, earning money at a young age was often a more-pressing need than gaining an education.
The final years of The National School sound challenging. According to Alderson: ‘in its last years, one inspector wrote, “every exertion must be made to secure the speedy erection of new premises" ...(and yet) the last entry in the log book of John Iveson on 18th Feb., 1876, reveals his own tragedy and not the failure of the school. For some time he had felt himself in a “prison house” and wrote “all is hypocrisy. I leave this town persecuted, falsely persecuted and part of the committee joining in that persecution. Some may laugh at this, but God will laugh at their calamity”' (Hawes School Centenary, p.8).
This is an intriguing entry. What was John Iveson persecuted of? Why was he also joining in that persecution? What could he have been facing? Mark Cronfield is keen to explore this character, who is now buried in front of St. Margaret’s church, further.
Despite all this, it’s reassuring to finish on a positive. As Alderson points out, log books tend to record difficulties, not successes, but: ‘in an age when many children never went to school the National School met a real need. Through its work, illiteracy began to disappear in the parish. Before the school was built, one girl in four and one boy in nine could not write their own name when they were married in Hawes Church, but by the time that the children of the National School were married, practically all could read and write.’
The fact that many women did not write their names in the register when they were married did not necessarily mean that they couldn’t: sometimes they signed with an X in order not to show their husbands up. Nevertheless, the National School had a transformative role, especially, it seems, for girls.
Part One of Hawes School Centenary 1879-1979, ‘Early Education in Hawes’ by James Alderson (pp. 6-8)
Under Wetherfell, James Alderson; Wensleydale Press 1980 (pp. 88-89)
Can you contribute anything more towards understanding the history of The NASH? We'd love to hear from you, please get in touch.