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The Grammar Schools, the large and small private schools, and Dame schools provided education for the privileged. What education was available for the vast majority of children from the working classes?

Prior to the early part of the 19th century was very little! At the beginning of the 19th century the government was not involved in providing any form of education for this group.

William Hogarth's engraving of 1751 called "Gin Lane" illustrates one of the reasons why the government was being pressurised to provide more education. Hogarth's engraving shows the depravity caused by alcohol in the working classes. Alcoholism had continued to be a problem in this country into the 19th century despite the 1751 Act to curb gin production. It was thought that alcoholism was due to ignorance and therefore educating everybody would solve this social problem.

The upper ruling classes at this time did not believe in educating the poor, and indeed feared what might happen if they were. The employers up and down the country, such as the factory owners and farmers, did not want to lose their abundant cheap source of child labour, and were therefore against educating them. Even parents did not really want their children in school daily, as they would lose the children's weekly wage, which significantly contributed to the family income.

In 1833 a first step was taken by the government when Lord Althorp's Factory Act was passed. This made it illegal for under-9 year olds to work in the textile mills, and for any older children at work to have two hours teaching per day.

The Factory Act 1833:

The Factory Act 1833 was an attempt to establish a regular working day in the textile industry. The act had the following provisions:

Children (ages 14-18) must not work more than 12 hours a day with an hour lunch break. Note that this enabled employers to run two 'shifts' of child labour each working day in order to employ their adult male workers for longer.
Children (ages 9-13) must not work more than 8 hours with an hour lunch break.
Children (ages 9-13) must have two hours of education per day.
Outlawed the employment of children under 9 in the textile industry.
Children under 18 must not work at night.
provided for routine inspections of factories.

In some places Sunday Schools and/or Voluntary Schools were open.

Sunday Schools:

Sunday Schools were established by Robert Raikes, a printer, in 1780. Hungerford had a Sunday School soon after this time which, according to a 1792 directory (the Universal British Directory), was attempted at the Free Grammar School in The Croft, but was unsuccessful.

Voluntary Schools:

The Voluntary Schools came about as a result of a minority of the society of this time who did believe in education for the children of poor families. They were each financed by a few wealthy individuals and supported by one of the religious denominations.

There were two types of voluntary schools:
- the National Society Schools, and
- the British and Foreign Society Schools.

The two societies were set up largely by the efforts of two men: Andrew Bell, an Anglican Chaplain, founded the National Society in 1811 and was supported by the Established Church. Joseph Lancaster, a Quaker and teacher, founded firstly the Royal Lancastrian Society in 1808, which was later renamed the British and Foreign Society in 1814. This society was non-denominational and was supported by the Non-conformists.

The societies were rivals and both claimed the invention of the Monitorial System. This was a clever method of providing cheap education to a large number of children. Each school only had to pay one master's salary, and he was able to teach the large number of children in the school by use of monitors. The master taught these few senior boys who in turn passed knowledge on to large groups of more junior children. (Monitor comes from the Latin word "to show".) The three subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic were taught in this way. The voluntary schools using this method were also known as the "Monitorial Schools". The children had to pay a few pennies per week, depending on their parents jobs. Some parents could not afford the children's pence, and this gave rise to a problem of absenteeism. Children were also often absent at the time of the harvest when the local farmer needed extra help and welcomed the cheap labour provided by the children.

In Hungerford, the Voluntary Schools were:

- National School, 42 High Street (1814 - 1910, and later)

- British and Foreign Society School, High Street (?1817 - ?1910)

- Wesleyan School, Church Street (?1869 - 1910)

- Infant National School, 6 Oxford Street, Eddington (?1869 - 1910)

- Hungerford Newtown Church of England School, Newtown (1864 - 1965)

Hungerford's National School, 42 High Street was built in 1814, only three years after the founding of The National Society. So Hungerford had an early start for this provision of education. It ran as a National Church of England School for nearly one hundred years but closed in 1910.

Hungerford had a British and Foreign Society School somewhere in the High Street. It is listed in directories as being in the High Street in the 1840s and 1850s with names of the masters and mistresses who taught there. The exact position is unclear at present, as are its opening and closing dates. 

However, Hungerford did have a Wesleyan School in Church Street. This building had been built in 1807 as the Wesleyan Chapel but when the new Wesleyan Chapel was built in 1869 in Charnham Street, the former chapel became available for the Wesleyan Day and Sunday School. This it did for 41 years until it closed in 1910.

Hungerford two other National Schools. Follow these links for more on the Infant National School at 6 Oxford Street, Eddington, and on the Hungerford Newtown Church of England School.

See also:

- Chronological list of schools in Hungerford

- National School Admissions Register: BRO D/P 71 25/14/1