CATCHING UP WITH SCHOOLWORK
In "Parton Part one" I probably did not explain as much as I should have about the development of Parton's two schools. Here, therefore, is a summary of their progress in the early years of the 20th century, beginning with a brief but important flashback. Source notes to follow, late December 2003.
The Education Act of 1870 made elementary education compulsory for all children, and provided the financial means for this to become possible, allowing publicly-funded schools to be built where necessary to bolster the existing "voluntary" schools (which in Parton were deemed adequate, so no "board school" was built here). Although the Parton schools were under the control of the Church of England (with the Rector, Churchwardens and Parish Overseers of Moresby all serving as ex-officio trustees) if they wished to act as "public elementary schools" and receive grants under the new system they were obliged to follow a clause added to the Act by William Cowper-Temple MP, which specified that they could not refuse a pupil on religious grounds, and that if they wished to give religious teaching it must be at the beginning or end of the day, so that parents who objected could keep their children out of the lesson. This may explain entries in the Williamson School trustees' records relating to lessons for the senior pupils about the dangers of alcohol- the Temperance movement was strongly asociated with religious bodies, but these were specifically referred to as "Scientific Temperance Lessons".
For 30 years, the Williamson and Robinson schools thrived under this regime, the trustees rapidly becoming proficient at maximising their grant income. Overall, however, the system was not as efficient as it might be, so it was reorganised by the 1902 Education Act, which gave control of education to local authorities- in Parton's case, Cumberland County Council. Although the schools' participation in the system was still nominally "voluntary", in return for their grants they now had to be controlled by small committees of managers, including representatives of the County and Rural District councils. The first managers, appointed in June 1903 were-
for Williamson's boys' school: the Rev. H.J. Allen, J.S. Peile, P. Gunn and S. Broadbent (replacing Mr Dalzell, who declined nomination for the post); County Council representative James Rogerson; District Council representative G.W. Rothery.
for Robinson's girls' & infants' schools: the Rev. H.J. Allen, J. Dalzell, Miss Pinney and Eveline Broadbent; County representative J.S. Peile; District representative G.W. Rothery.
Apart from the local authority representatives, most managers were members of the trustees who were responsible for running the funds provided by the founders of the schools (and indeed, Mr Rothery was elected a trustee of Williamson's endowment in 1907). Although the schools now received grants to pay salaries and other day-to-day costs, the buildings remained the financial responsibility of the trustees and managers. This swiftly led to problems for the Robinson schools, following an official inspection in spring 1904. The Board of Education asked for structural changes, and a special County Council sub-committee which visited the premises on 10 May, while finding the building very warm and comfortable, confirmed that there were severe noise problems, with every shuffle of feet on the upper floor disturbing the infant class below. It was suggested that the upper floor should be relaid on a bed of insulating material.
One of the first bright ideas of the new County Education Committee after it started trying to co-ordinate the "voluntary" schools in 1903, had been to suggest that the two Parton junior schools should be merged as a mixed school. This did not go down well with the Williamson trustees. They were also a bit miffed when, in June 1904, the Education Committee asked them to pay for redecoration of the school (inside and outside) as the trustees had made sure it was in good condition less than a year earlier when the new arrangements began- the County Councillors agreed to a compromise. One improvement they did agree on was the provision of "Adams's automatic flush WCs" to replace the antiquated privies in the school yard, a job carried out by Mr Davidson in January 1905. One slight oddity about the school building was that a rent had to be paid for the right to have windows on the north side. This was the result of the 1886 extension of the school onto land owned by the London & North Western Railway Co., to whom the trustees had agreed in 1899 to pay 5/- a year. Later trustees failed to see why a rent should be paid for the right to light, so in January 1906 they abandoned the 1899 agreement- but of course the L.N.W.R. didn't, and a years-long argument ensued over the interpretation of the original 1886 deeds.
To give an idea of costs at this time: in 1905 the 112 boys at Williamson's school had five teachers (not all fully qualified) in addition to the headmaster; the total wage bill was £276/14/6, while costs for replacement furniture etc. were just £2/18/8. The girls' and infants' schools each had a headmistress, and had between them six other teachers (for 116 girls and 123 infants)- total wage bill £363/8/7. They spent rather more on furniture in 1905, as they had been in urgent need of new desks- in September, for example, they were supplied with eight dual desks at £1 each. Other items like heating and cleaning costs totalled about £50 a year for each of the two buildings. I should perhaps emphasise that the pupil numbers above are yearly average numbers on the register. Attendance was a very different matter, particularly at the Robinson schools which with an average of about 18% of pupils absent at any one time were almost at the bottom of the Cumberland league table for schools over 100 pupils (parents were rather more inclined to let their boys attend school, so the Williamson school absentee rate was under 10%).
Williamson's School received rental income from Coal Race and Keekle Head Farm (originally two farms) on Whillimoor and from the house in Parton which had originally been provided for the schoolmaster (converted in the late 19th century to serve as the Post Office)- plus a small income from shooting rights over the farm land. Records show that by the beginning of the 20th century the trustees were struggling to make ends meet. In 1900, farm tenant John Hannah withheld part of his rent, demanding improvements; then in 1901, Sub-Postmaster John Litt complained that in the 17 years of his tenancy his landlords had done hardly any maintenance work on the house. The trustees attempted to call Hannah's bluff by telling him that no improvements would be considered until he paid the full rent, but in the end they gave him notice to quit by 2 February 1902. Litt tried a different approach, offering (as he had before, back in 1898) to buy the Post office building. After repairing the floor to avoid claims for damages from customers, the trustees listened sympathetically to Litt's offer of £450 (their own valuer had suggested £345 plus the £70 repair bill), and in November 1901 the Charity Commissioners gave permission for the sale- the proceeds of which were to be invested in bonds at 3% annual interest.
Also in November 1901, having just negotiated a year's extension of his farm lease, Mr Hannah died, owing 6 months' rent. His son had no wish to take over the farm, so it was advertised to let and in December, Joseph Nicholson of Hensingham was awarded the tenancy. A couple of years later, he was in trouble over the rent, and the issue of improvements to the farm was raised again. By October 1904 he was out, to be replaced by Mr Allan Boyd. In an attempt to avoid rent strikes, the trustees agreed from the outset to make some improvements (for which the Education Committee allowed them to use their entire income over the next two years), and in April 1905 asked their preferred local plumber, Mr Davidson, to provide a piped water supply from the Keekle Head spring. After careful consideration, he declined, and there was some controversy as to the best way of carrying out the job. In September they called in the Borough Surveyor of Whitehaven, Mr George Boyd, who advised them that their estimate of the cost was unrealistically low; nonetheless they put the job out to tender, and were gratified to receive a low offer (£32/9/4) from Mr J.T. Harrison of Distington. Although the work was carried out in 1906, and the tenant was also given money to improve the fencing, in July 1907 the trustees found themselves faced with an application for a rent reduction. They got round that by putting the farm out to tender- Boyd's offer of £32 a year was easily beaten by M. Chester & Son, who offered £38 per year, the rent they had originally asked for (though the trustees decided to impose a condition that one or other of the Chesters had to work full-time at the farm).
To an extent, the school itself could generate an income. In 1901, for example, Parton Orchestral Society used it for weekly rehearsals, paying 1/6 per night, while Mr Monaghan, one of the teachers, tried to get some evening classes going, hiring a room for 1/- per night. When the Orchestral Society held their concert on 2 May 1902, they paid 5/- plus the cost of lamp oil, and during the following winter, they and other local groups were queuing up to use the premises- Moresby Church Temperance Band, Parton Agricultural Poultry & Pigeon Society, and (for a New Year's Eve social) the Young Men's Club. When Parton Football Club and Cleator Moor Co-operative Society both jumped on the bandwagon, asking to use the building for social occasions, the trustees wised up and decided to charge £1 per night for such uses (though that did include cleaning, lighting & heating).
The issue of window payments to the railway company became increasingly important because the Education Committee was keen to see improvements to the lighting and ventilation of Williamson's school. An inspection on 20 August 1909 had found that the school consisted basically of a single room, 21 by 7 metres, split by a partly-glazed partition into two spaces, 6 metres and 15 metres long. The small space was used by Standard 1 pupils, the larger shared between Standards 2 to 7, with three teachers working simultaneously. The Inspector, William Elliott, recommended both a further subdivision of this space (with a folding partition), and enlargement of the windows. There was also a problem with the desks in the smaller space- they were the same as those used for the oldest pupils, several inches too high for the average Standard 1 boy, so Mr Elliott suggested cutting up some of the school's most cumbersome and old-fashioned desks (nearly 3 metres long) to make small units. He also commented on the general atmosphere: "This is a School of special difficulty; many of the children are of very low type, and, it is quite clear, ill-cared for". A buildings sub-committee of the Education Committee visited the school on 15 February 1910 to take a closer look at the situation, finding that the experiment with adapting old desks had worked very well (and recommending that the same be done with similar desks at the Girls' school) and agreeing with the need for larger windows. The school managers submitted plans of proposed alterations in March, and these were approved, with the addition of a porch at the west side of the building.
So suddenly, the school needed the Railway Company's permission to enlarge the windows on the extended north side of the building. It took over a year to sort things out- partly because the trustees wrote in June 1910 to the Charity Commission asking for advice, only to receive a reply several months later from the Board of Education, who had taken over responsibility for the supervision of educational charities. During this time the plans gradually changed- most notably, the proposed porch grew almost to the size of an extra classroom). It took several months more to get tenders for the work, but the long process gave the Trustees the opportunity to negotiate with Lord Lonsdale for the purchase of an extension to the playground (at the station end) for which the deeds were signed in April 1912. The contractors selected for the improvements were Anderson's, who bid £311/12/3 (the new internal partition was ordered separately, at a tender price of £37/15/-). The school didn't actually have that much ready cash, so a £100 overdraft was arranged.
The idea was, of course, to pay off the overdraft from the school's regular income, which remained a bit problematic... In spring 1909, more improvements had been made at Coal Race Farm, and as an additional sweetener the Chesters were offered 4 tons of artificial manure ("basic slag"), plus another 2 tons in November. In August 1911, though, just about the time estimates were being prepared for the major improvements to the school, the trustees received notice of termination of the tenancy, unless the rent was reduced. As they had before, the trustees decided to gamble on finding a new tenant willing to pay the rent they needed. Remembering how they had taken over the farm in the first place, the Chesters hastily modified their stance, though they did ask for removal of the "full-time work" condition, so that they could both earn extra money as miners. The trustees sensed that the bluff had successfully been called, so they refused this request, but they did agree to a £3 rent rebate for just one year, and the following spring they called in Lord Lonsdale's local land-drainage expert, Mr Nappin, to suggest improvements on the farm. Hearing that the Moresby Coal Company had acquired the right to mine under adjacent land, the trustees also offered them a lease of the mineral rights under the farm. In view of the fact that the trustees could only afford to improve the farm drainage "gradually", the Chesters managed to secure a second year's rent rebate in December 1912. The £100 bank overdraft was paid off in 1915- but in 1916 the Chesters finally did quit the farm. Their replacement was a familiar figure, Mr A.J.W. Boyd, who found the place in "a deplorable state", and a year of negotiations for compensation ensued. If there hadn't been a World War in progress at the time, the trustees would happily have sold the place.
Perhaps the Chesters should have attended the "Manual Training" classes which had been instituted at the school in 1908. As such noisy activities could not be taught within the school a room was hired, but by 1912 this was proving less than satisfactory- so Mr Litt of the Post Office, who had been appointed as a trustee after the death of Mr Rothery in 1911, offered an alternative room- an outbuilding at the bottom of Brewery Brow, which he would improve (it lacked a proper floor) and rent to the school for £7 a year. Interestingly, the trustees removed that paragraph from the published minutes of their 12 December meeting, and what the County Education Committee agreed to in May 1913 was a deal to rent the room (which might also be suitable for cookery lessons) for £10 yearly, including lighting & heating. The County Domestic Subjects Sub-Committee took the hint, and established the Parton Domestic Subjects Centre in 1914. Progress was not, of course, entirely smooth- by the end of 1915 it was noticed that remarkable quantities of wood were being supplied for the manual training classes, and the County Council's Education Finance Committee demanded an investigation (unfortunately, all the official minutes state about this is that the report, in April 1916, was "satisfactory").
By 1911, the Robinson schools were becoming rather overcrowded, and the Education Committee had to ask the managers to keep pupil numbers within the Board of Education's permitted limits, while efforts were made to find a solution. After a site meeting in February involving the school managers, and Education Committee and Inpectorate representatives, it was agreed that an extension was the best way round the problem- two storeys like the rest of the school, providing two 6 x 6 metre classrooms to accommodate an extra 40 girls and 44 infants. By April, the School Accommodation Committee had approved a revised plan by the County Architect making the new rooms even larger, but, as seems to be the way with these things, final agreement was not reached until over a year later. A temporary expedient which had been proposed, prompted by the impending retirement of Mrs Renwick the infants' headmistress, was to amalgamate the girls' and infants' sections under a single head, to maximise efficiency in use of space. This idea was rejected, but when the girls' school headmistress left in 1922, the idea of joint administration was revived and the infants' headmistress, Miss Renwick, took over both departments from 1 September.
By 1920, the Williamson trustees were in despair over the state of the farm, and they contacted the County Council for help. On 28 July, a deputation visited the site, and found that some longstanding problems had not gone away. Fences and hedges were in a bad state; the land drainage was still poor- two of the fields were described as "little better than moorland". Mr Boyd, who gave the impression of being "a hard working man", firmly put the blame on the Chesters' management. Probably the greatest headache was the buildings, which were described in the official report by Francis Grainger as "the worst I ever saw". The best bet seemed to be to sell the place in its depressed state (estimated value about £500) because the essential improvements would cost more than could be raised through rental income. The trustees were not at all happy with this, and stated in September that they preferred to struggle on with the minimum necessary improvement. The County Council passed the whole matter up to the Board of Education and it was never again mentioned in their Education Committee minutes. The Boyd family were so happy with the eventual outcome that they were still farming there in the late 1930s.
Not many people in Parton were happy in the early 1920s. The coal industry which employed so many of the villagers had been managed by the Government during the First World War, which removed competitive pressure that tended to drive wages down and working hours up. The return to private ownership forced the miners into repeated strike action- and that meant their families often went hungry. Hungry children make inattentive pupils, so in 1921 the County Council decided to provide canteens, one of which was in Parton. This closed in August 1923, once a long-term local settlement to the miners' problems seemed to have been reached, but it was the forerunner of the modern school lunch service. Of course the canteen is not to be confused with what was becoming known as the "Cookery Centre"- also known as the Special Subjects Domestic Science building. This continued to give good service through the 1920s, and was a bargain at £7 per year rent, though the Education Committee did take over responsibility for maintenance, including a complete redecoration in 1925, and roof repairs in 1926. There were also, of course, improvements to the equipment- purchase of a "Valor Perfection 73" oil-fired cooking stove (with "122 G.E." portable oven) was authorised in June 1928, and a "Mrs Sam" cooking range, costing £16, in February 1929. The Parton centre at this time also served the whole of Moresby- hire of a bus to bring in pupils cost 12/- per day; from 1934, however, Moresby girls went to the Harrington centre, though boys continued to use the Parton centre for Manual Instruction- the extra distance for the girls increased the travel cost to 34/- a day. In July 1939, the Education Committee decided to take over direct responsibility for running the Harrington centre, and from 1 August the Parton centre was closed down.