Bromley Common and its Schools

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Other Schools

Schools for the poor of Bromley Common in 1846
Much of this information was on a form completed as part of the application for government funds to build the Bromley Common National School.

In addition to the infant school on the Westerham Turnpike, there were two dame schools and two Sunday schools in the Bromley Common area.

All we know about the two dame schools is that they each had space for twenty children and charged between three and six pence per week per child. There were many good dame schools but some were little better than child minding services for children not old enough to work. 

The Bromley Common dame schools may have been good  but it is also possible that they were able to charge more than the penny a week that the infant school demanded because they looked after the children all day, including dinnertime. Nor were they so crowded.

(Presumably the dame school in South Street, Bromley, was an example of a good one: that was where H G Wells, the famous writer, received his early education.)

The Sunday schools were probably run by the infant school teacher and volunteers from the congregation of Holy Trinity.

The boys met in the church while the girls met in the infant school. They may have been taught a little reading and writing using the Bible as their main textbook. It seems likely that the children attended both in the morning and the afternoon.

There was also the Bromley National School at the bottom of Masons Hill, just to the north of the common.  Some children may have transferred there when they became too old for Bromley Common Infant School.

Schools for the Rich in 1846

Richer families could send their children to one of the many private schools in Bromley. The nearest of these was a school for girls run by Miss Fanny Shepherd in nearby Elmfield House.  

Photo of Elmfield taken in January 2000
Elmfield,
once home to Miss Shepherd's School for Girls

Fanny was a pioneer in girls’ education and her school quickly gained an excellent reputation after it opened in about 1824.  Born c1791, she was a disciple of Johann Pestalozzi who believed that children should be allowed to develop at their own pace and that education should make them as independent and self-sufficient as possible. 

According to the 1841 census, there were eighteen pupils, fifteen of whom were aged fifteen. It seems to have been a finishing school for young ladies before they ‘came out’ and mixed in adult society.

Art seems to have been an important part of the curriculum and one of her pupils, Mary Ellen Best, went on to be a very gifted artist. Horsburgh's history of Bromley only mentions the archery at the school.

Miss Shepherd and her young ladies were regular contributors to the finances of the Bromley Common Schools from 1837 to 1849 when Miss Shepherd retired and her school closed.

Pigot’s Directory of Kent for 1841 lists two more schools; they were on Masons Hill. One was run by Sarah Kerr, the other by James Craden. Mr Craden’s school was in a house called Ravenscroft which had been used as a school for at least seventy years: Mr Norman’s father had been a pupil there. Both schools had a mixture of boarding and day pupils and were probably very small, perhaps a dozen pupils each.

The Norman Family

The children of the Norman family, the richest family in the area, were largely educated at home in their own schoolroom. A governess was employed to teach the daughters and younger sons. The boys in the family went away to boarding school at the age of seven or eight.

George Warde Norman wrote rather disparaging about the governesses employed to teach his sisters.  “Miss Matthesius was  a plain course woman, little calculated, I should say, to educate young ladies.  Miss Long was a lusty woman of 45, motherly in appearance and character.  In short, an excellent person but of slight knowledge and competence, ignorant of how to teach even the little she knew.”  Of Caroline Thelluson, he wrote, “I recollect her arrival and first entrance into the library and admired her pleasing countenance and pretty figure.” 

Mr Norman wrote that his mother's efforts to teach him in his early days were unsuccessful, so much so that at the age of seven and a half, he was unable to read and knew little more than his letters.  He was sent to a school run by the Reverend James Smith, a curate, who kept a school for about 10 boys in Elton.  Mr Norman wrote later that he knew little of the business of education but was however kind and honourable and eager to do his best.  School hours were long, 7 to 9, 10 to 1 and 3 to 5 plus something to do in the evening.  The boys were instructed in military drill, each having a musket and a bayonet. 

He was a border and cried for hours as he begged his mother not to send him.  During his time at Elton and Eton (where he went after Elton) Mr Norman did not recollect his parents ever visiting him.  The groom rode over once a week or fortnight to see that all was well.  He wrote of Eton, “The system of instruction in the school was as bad as it could be - not a line of mathematics - no modern language.”  This would have particularly annoyed him because he made his money in international trade and went on to speak fluent Norwegian, French, and Italian.

His son, George Herman Norman was eight when he was sent away to a school at Lee, kept by a Miss Hart.  A year later he was sent with his brother Charles to a school in Cheam (c1840.)  He then went to a preparatory school near the Woolwich Arsenal to prepare for a career in the artillery. 

In 1845, he was sent to the military college at Sandhurst as it was decided that a career in the infantry was better; he had not done well enough in his studies to be sure of a place in the artillery.  He left Sandhurst at 17.  His studies there included Euclid, plain and solid geometry, geometry, calculus, analytical geometry, etc, field fortification, military surveying, the French German and Latin languages and general history. 

While at Sandhurst, he wrote in a letter to his grandmother, “Two cadets ran away from here last night - they have sent dragoons [soldiers] after them.”

The Middle Class School

In the 1870s, more prosperous parents of Bromley Common could send their children to schools such as  the Middle Class School on the main road, opposite what is now Jackson Road. Three different advertisements for this school appeared in the Bromley Street directories between 1874 and 1880. For more details, follow the link below.

Middle Class School Bromley National School