HARDWICK CHARITY SCHOOL
An account of how one man’s vision has affected the lives of so many people since 1760.
Since it’s closure in 1982 the village school, has been known as John Bridle’s Hall and become the centre of village activities. The hall takes it’s name from Dr John Bridle, rector of Hardwick and Weedon for 32 years from 1760 to 1792.
He and his brother, George (who became a master at Bedford School), came from a wealthy Bristol family and believed that education was the right of all society levels, and not just for those who came from privileged backgrounds. He endowed a school and taught on alternate days at the Rectory (now Hardwick Place). Clothing was provide by him by way of a school uniform, breches and waistcoats with yellow collars. In the year he died (1792), 12 girls were added to the roll and joined the boys in the first school on this site, but were taught separately.
75 beneficiaries were named in John Bridle’s will to share from his estate of £16,165, a great deal of money at the time. (about £10m today) His charity continues to this day and money is made available each year on application to the Trustees subject to certain qualifying rules.
Little is known about the Hardwick Charity school in it’s early days except that a William Watkins was schoolmaster in the late 1700’s, he died in 1801 aged 78.After this came John Milburn, who with his descendants, dominated the positions of headmaster, schoolmaster and Parish Clerk for the next 70 years. John Milburn was born in Wingrave in 1770 the son of a Cordwainer. He moved to Hardwick in 1796 marrying Anne Brooks the daughter of a Hardwick Maltster. When William Watkins died, John was appointed to the post of schoolmaster which he held for the rest of his life. He also became Parish Clerk in 1805 which had a small endowment under John Bridle’s will. He died in 1850 aged 80 and is buried in St Mary’s churchyard where his tombstone states “Clerk of this Parish 45 years and schoolmaster for 49”.John and Ann Milburn had 11 children and after his death one of his sons, Joseph became both Parish Clerk and schoolmaster but he survived his father by only 5 years and died in 1855 aged 47.
Another of John’s sons,George, born in 1805, took over these roles with his wife, Elizabeth as schoolmistress. George was a baker by trade in Bierton, but when he obtained these two important jobs he moved back to Hardwick where he stayed for the rest of his life. The fact that he was untrained as a teacher was not uncommon, trained staff were rare in those days.The 1861 census shows two of his children, John and Mary Ann as school teachers. It is likely that they were “pupil teachers” under their parents being just teenagers at the time. Teacher training was not introduced until 1840.Elizabeth died in 1872, when Mary Ann is then shown as schoolmistress. This ties in with an entry in the Hardwick Charity School records made by the Rector, W Bigg-Wither, in December 1870. Soon after, Mary Ann married a Weedon man, and George retired as schoolmaster, thus finally breaking the link between the school and the Milburn family. George Milburn remained as Parish Clerk until his death in 1885 aged 80. William and Augusta Fassnidge schoolmaster and mistress respectively in the same year.
Georg Milburn did though live to see the present building erected in 1871. It was designed by George Devey and it came about for two main reasons. The first was an Act of Parliament in 1870 requiring the number od school places should relate to the local population. Secondly, the population of school aged children in the village had risen considerably at this time. The consequence of these two factors meant Hardwick School had to provide for 150 children, though indications are that no more than 70 were attending in the 1870’s.
Money to carry out the building work was raised from three sources, public subscription, The Charity Commission and John Bridle’s Trust. Religious teaching at this time was closely supervised by a succession of rectors from the church , local squires also played an important role in exercising patronage. Squire Parr from Weedon provided a sovereign at Christmas for the purchase of Christmas trees and presents. His successor Squire Brittain funded an annual visit to London, he also provided lunch time soup from November each year at his home, the Lillies at Weedon. The schoolchildren were allowed to leave school at 11.30 to make provision for the walk from Hardwick to Weedon.
Until the 1881 Education Act which made education free, each child was required to pay 3 pence a week for their schooling about (£17 a week today). At the implementation of the Act, the headmaster introduced a Post Office savings scheme whereby the children continued to bring their 3 pence a week, it was put in a money box until 12 pence ( 1 shilling) had been saved. A savings account was then opened in the child’s name and added to by purchase 1 penny savings stamps. A shilling would be just over 8p.
Children were often kept away from school to work in the fields to supplement the family income. A 10 year old boy could earn 2 pence a day for bird scaring or stone picking from 4pm to 7pm. Measles, whooping cough and dyptheria were rife and often affected school attendance. Officials were appointed to check school registers and pursue persistent absenrees to establish the truth behind non attendance. In 1911 the official leaving age was 13 and at that age Hardwick children were taken to Aylesbury to sit the Labour exam. Certificates were awarded for their proficiency in Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, the three R’s as they became known. The curriculum widened later to include geography, drawing, painting and needlework. The first mention of dental inspection for schoolchildren was in 1912, and medical examination the following year.
1914 and beyond
World War 1 saw many ex pupils from the school going to France and either being killed in action or dying from their wounds after repatriation home. One was the brother of ex pupil Beatrice Todd, Herbert Owen died on 20 June 1914 of wounds suffered at Ypres, he was age 37. The son of William and Sarah Todd, Herbert is buried in St Mary’s churchyard. On April 30 1921 the dedication of the Cross of sacrifice in St Mary’s churchyard, Hardwick was held in memory of those who fell in World War 1.The Warden of New College Oxford unveiled it and a guard of honour was formed by Hardwick and Weedon ex servicemen, together with a detachment of the Royal defence Corps from Aylesbury. The Rev FE Allen, Rector of Hardwick, conducted the service with assistance from other local dignitaries and St Mary’s choir.
Attention was drawn by the Warden to the sacrifice made by those from Hardwick and Weedon who laid down their lives in the Great War. William George Abbey, Lionel Allen (son of the Rector) age 34, Leonard Halsey age 30, Charles Frederick Hopcraft age 19, Leonard William Hughes age 24, Herbert William Jeffs , Charles Jones age 34, Frederick Jones age 39, Herbert William Ming and Musgrave Cazenove Wroughton age 23. He is buried in Belgiumand has a brass plaque in the north wall of St Mary’s church and on the 12th Lancers War Memorial at Tidworh Barracks. The cross, made from Clipsham stone, stands 15 feet in height and is in the Gothic style of architecture. It commemorates eleven young men struck down in their prime in those four years of carnage. When you contemplate this number and the size of Hardwick and Weedon it brings into perspective the scale of the devastation that was wreaked on the young men of this country by this cruel war.
By the mid 1920s, life for Hardwick schoolchildren had returned to normal and their school outings became more ambitious. Trips to Brighton were taking place, horsedrawn wagon to Aylesbury station then by steam train to the seaside. The BBC Schools Education service made it’s first appearance in 1932 and free milk was introduced in 1936. Initially milk was supplied in powder form by Nestles, later to be replaced by Malted Milk from Horlicks. Those who remember it’s taste recall it being “unusual”, but unlikely to be popular with today’s youngsters. In 1941 the supply of fresh milk was introduced. Each child received a 1/3 pint bottle, consumed by pushing a straw through a special cardboard top. Mention is made in school records as far back as 1889 of classroom flooding. This now a rare event but did happen in 2010 prior to the Horticultural Show at the end of August after there had been very heavy rain the previous night.
During World War Two children living in Weedon could be seen walking to school carrying their gasmasks and in wet weather, wearing wellington boots, donated from the USA. Flying Fortresses flew regular practice bombing runs over Folly Farm. These USAF bomber aircraft were used by the RAF during the latter end of the war at many stations in Buckinghamshire. Evacuees came to the village from North Kent and London. 36 from Ealing with 4 teachers, 28 from Dartford, and others from Battersea and Streatham. All were accommodated with families in Hardwick and Weedon. This large influx of new pupils at the school of course, required extra desks and chairs, though by 1944 most had returned to their homes and school numbers returned to normal. In that same year however, began the long road to closure. The Butler Education Act was passed, ending full range education, from now on, when children reached the age of 11 thay had to move on to Secondary school. Thus Hardwick became a small Primary school. In 1947 the smaller of the three classrooms was converted into a kitchen with the introduction of school meals. In the early 1970s a new Junior school opened in Whitchurch and children in taht age group were transferred from hardwick.
The Hardwick Primary school soldiered on but it was becoming increasingly clear that diminishing numbers of children of Primary school age were making it less viable and it was only a matter of time before it would have to close. This finally happened in 1982, but not before there had been many protests by local residents. In April 1979, the Bucks Herald reported that Hardwick Primary school was one of eight in the county earmarked for closure. With only 18 pupils it had become unviable the County Council had argued. This incensed local residents and an action group was set up to fight the closures. One major worry for villagers was the future of the building should the school close, as the hall was used by villagers for other activities outside school hours.. At the time the Oxford Diocesan Board of Finance which effectively ran the school, said that no decision could be made on the building’s future until it had actually ceased operating as a school. Some such schools only belonged to the church while used as schools, when they no longer are, ownership might revert to original owners or their dependants. By January 1981, the number of pupils were down to 10, which the council claimed was costing taxpayers £1500 per child to educate where the national average was £400.
The writing was on the wall and despite a series of protests at County Hall and the like, in December 1981 the school’s closure was formally announced . So, on Wednesday 21 July 1982 the last pupils left the afternoon session and the doors closed on Hardwick Primary school. But as the saying goes – …as one door closes another opens…. In this case it was the same door. Thus began the next chapter in the life of this building ..as the social centre for the village community.
During the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Year, 1977, a village association had been set up . With permission from the John Bridle Trust, the school building provided a venue for parties, dances and other events, though classrooms had to be cleared of all furniture before these events, and returned to their exact position afterwards. Saddened as villagers were at the closure of the school, it nevertheless presented a considerable challenge but wonderful opportunity, for the association to acquire the building for the village, on a permanent basis.
After much deliberation with the Charity Commission and John Bridle’s Trustees a proper tenancy agreement was drawn up for the Village Association. It was a condition of the agreement that whatever activiities went on in the building they must be educational or recreational for villagers. This policy continues to this day where it is managed by the Hardwick Village Community Association (HVCA). In 1982 there was an active programme of couses held at the school. These include Local History, Ballroom Dancing (will never catch on), Yoga, Photography, First Aid and Drama Group. The latter organised by Mr R Gregory (I wonder what happened to him). There was also Flower Arranging, Upholstery (before DFS) and computer training. In 1983 the Village Association won £250 in the small village section of a “Village Venture” competition organised by Bucks CC and sponsored by Shell. At about this time money was raised to build a new toilet block to replace the outdoor facilities now used as storage space. Kitchen facilities were also improved and a new electric heating system installed.
The building’s link with education was reconnected when a Pre School class started, running from Monday to Friday in term time to provide education for pre school age children. It continues to this day run by Amanda Tofield and is the main tenant of the hall. Since the early 1980’s the HVCA has continued to provide recreational facilities for residents. Over the years these have included summer fayre, horticultural show, summer barbecue, royal celebrations, quiz nights, themed dining evenings, cookery demonstrations, pantomimes, summer parties on the green, beer and cider festival in conjunction with the local pub, Halloween, Christmas and New Year parties and many more. These are in addition to the hall being used on a regular basis for meetings by Parish Council, Young Farmers and HVCA, regular Whist Drives and long mat bowling. The hall is also let out to individuals for family parties and other celebrations and all of these help fund the maintenance of the hall. In 2009 the HVCA managed the major refurbishment of the hall at a total cost of some £250,000. This was managed approaching local authorities and private businesses for support and other sources such as the National Lottery Fund. £25,000 was raised by local people in various fund raising events and this amount was matched by John Bridle’s Trust. The work was completed in September 2009 and involved much structural work as well as a great many changes indoors. The building was completely re wired, had oil fired central heating system fitted, new fitted kitchen, made fully disable d accessible including the toilets. Ramps fitted, .parquet floors refurbished, fireplace reopened, Victorian ventilation system brought back to life and alarm systems updated. All this was done within the constraints of a listed building status.
In 2012 the outside toilet block which had for years been neglected came up for refurbishment. Under the terms of an agreement with John Bridle’s Trustees made at the time of the refurbishment HVCA were given a 99 year lease. The annual rent was £10 but the terms of the lease made HVCA responsible for repairs. Funds were set aside and with some astute project management the work was carried out over the summer months (the little there was) at just over £5000. The block was used for storage and the work included, new guttering, new doors, complete paintjob, some pointing and new brick work. The main work removed an internal wall which freed up some redundant space and also made access much better to the tables and chairs stored there. Most of the work was carried out by a team of volunteers from around the village, working in the evenings and weekends.