Bromley Common and its Schools

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Bromley National School

Bromley National School

The following account of the history of Bromley National School is taken from a leaflet produced in 1980 when the school was celebrating the 125th anniversary of its move to College Road. Unfortunately, that building has now been demolished and the school relocated in London Road. Below are links to some resources I found in the log books.

It is only in comparatively recent times that schools and education have become the concern of government. In the eighteenth century, schools were founded and paid for by the church or by generous individuals. Bromley Charity School was no exception. In 1716, a group of local people signed a subscription list, committing themselves to donating so much a year to set up and run a school “for the teaching (of) poor children to read and write…

The first person to sign the list was the Bishop of Rochester who promised to give £10 per year. Enough people promised to help so, the following year, they were able to open the school in the area which is now part of Bromley South Station but was then known as ‘The Gravel Pits”.

Free education and clothing was provided for 10 boys and 10 girls, the children of necessitous parents, selected from time to time by the subscribers in general meetings. The provision of free clothing was to be an important element in the expenditure of the school: the boys’ uniform cost 15/10d (79p) while the girls’ uniform cost 16/1d, (80p). The boys’ uniform was a blue cloth cap with peak, blue coat and waistcoat, full-length corduroy trousers made by Mr Cooper-Tailor and nailed boots by Mr R Ayling. The girls’ uniform was a white coal scuttle bonnet with blue ribbon, blue frock with white shawl, white stockings and leather boots.

A condition of entry to the school was attendance at the church on Sundays.

The children were taught by a master and a mistress (presumed to be married to each other) who were paid £20 per year and £3 worth of coal. The school role rose and fell over the following years but never exceeded 30 as numbers were dependant on the prevailing finances of the subscribers. Perhaps less than 500 pupils attended the school in nearly 100 years.

From 1739, Charity Sermons were preached to raise more money. These became quite regular events and continued, with a few breaks, until 1857. The offertory after the first sermon was £14. 0s. 6d, a large sum of money at that time.

In 1814 there was a new wave of enthusiasm for education in Bromley. There was to be a new school built on the site of the old charity school.

It was to be a National school using the monitorial system developed by Andrew Bell. This  was a means of teaching large numbers of children very cheaply whereby the teachers taught older and more able children who then taught the younger children. Andrew Bell helped set up “The National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church throughout England and Wales” in 1811. In the course of time, the society was to be involved in the founding of 12,000 National Schools.

The new school could accommodate 250 children but there were still only two teachers. It had a large playground and cottage for the schoolmaster. Thanks to the monitorial system, it was relatively cheap to run.  It has been estimated that the cost of educating one child for a year at the National school was 16/-d (60p) whereas the charity school had spent 79/11d (£3.99) per child in the 1760s. 

We are fortunate to have an account of the school in the early 1840s when the boys were taught by Thomas CAMPLING, the girls by Fanny WILLIAMS.

The boys’ classroom was about 10 metres by 9 metres and accommodated 100 pupils. It was very crowded. What made matters worse was the way in which the school had been built using second-hand timber. Within 40 years, the condition of the building was such that there seemed to be no point in repairing it. It was decided at a Parish meeting in 1854 to build a new and larger school.

A public appeal for funds raised over £1,100 and the Bishop of Rochester gave an acre of land in a field to the east of Bromley College. A tender of £1,883 by Mr. Harris of Croydon was accepted and building went ahead. The final cost, including equipment was about £2,700. £1,100 came from the Council of Education, in other words, the government. The rest came from the sale of the old site and buildings (£450) and the public. The school opened on July 6th 1855. Three years later, in July 1858, the railway reached Bromley South and all traces of the old site were lost.

An early photograph of the school shows that the external appearance of the school has changed very little but the setting has changed a lot. All round the school there were fields. In front of the school was a footpath, not a busy road. College Road, North Street, Tweedy Road and most of the other roads near the school were built 1ater. The early address of the school was College Slip.

A feature of the frontage was the bell turret, which is still there with its bell, but how much the bell was used I don’t know. An entry in the log book of 1869 says, “The bell has long been useless by means of a weak turret that suspends it. As punctuality and the sound of the school bell are both important features in school life, a subscription is wanted amongst the boys to restore it

Also at the front of the building were three cottages for the head teachers.  It is only comparatively recently that the school has become one school with one head teacher. Originally there was an infants’ school, a boys’ school and a girls’ school, each with its own head teacher. One of the cottages was occupied well into the 1960s, but not by the head teacher. That cottage and its neighbour are now staff-rooms and storerooms, while the third cottage is occupied by a church charity unrelated to the school.

When the school was built, the electric light, which we now take for granted, was not invented. Gas lights were still rather new and mostly used for street lighting as they were not very reliable. Despite this, gas was laid on for the room used by the boys as it was planned to hold evening classes there. Many boys, but not girls, continued their education at the National School after they started work.

The first headmaster of the Boys’ School was Mr Wm Baker who moved with the school from the Bromley South site. He was paid £60 per year. Miss Husband and Miss Prigg took charge of the Girls’ and Infants’ Schools and were paid £40 per year, at that time a fairly good salary. 

Unfortunately, Mr Baker left under a cloud nine years later. In December 1864, the inspector's report was far from satisfactory, 22 out of 38 boys failed in dictation and 27 failed in arithmetic. The new head teacher of the Boys School was Mr John Jennings. He seems to have been very effective; the inspector's reports from his time in charge were extremely good.

Within a very short time of opening, the school was full. This was in spite of the fact that education was neither compulsory nor free. The children had to pay 3d per week, the “school pence”. In cases of real need the vicar would sometimes pay. In 1865, supplementary schools were established at Farwig and at Plaistow and still there was a need for more accommodation. In 1872, costs were rising and the school pence rose to 4d per week: “…children of tradesmen and others not rightly designated as poor persons” had to pay 6d.

In the Elementary Education Act of 1891, the government agreed to pay 10/- (50p) per year per pupil so the Boys’ and. Girls’ Schools were able to reduce their fees to l/- (5p) per quarter while the Infant School became free. Most schools became free at this time so the fact that Bromley National Schools were able the continue to demand a fee is probably a sign that they were very popular.

Below are links to some resources I found in the course of my research into the history of Bromley National School (Boys).

Reports Dictation Homework Prizes Night School School in 1840s