WEA History


A 16th century survey referring to the chapel of St James at Ivinghoe Aston records that there were “240 houseling people within the said parish and none to help the Vicar but only the said priest”, who was then one Thomas, aged forty, and “having no other livinge doth occupy himself teaching of childernes”. (1 – See References)

Our first tangible link with organised education in the parish is a folded piece of paper (2) with the following instruction: “An acct of the poor boyes now reaping the benefit of the Earle of Bridgewater’s Charity School in Ivinghoe Anno 1717.”

There follows a list of boys with the names and trades of their fathers so that like later documents it tells us more about village life than about the school.

Eighty years later the “Posse Comitatus” (3) includes, “Jas. Humphrey, Schoolmaster. Crooked back” and from Pigot’s Directory (4) for 1842 we learn of the existence of an Infants School with Ann Seers as Mistress.

By 1851 (5) there was a plaiting school with Joseph Burnham as Master, a boarding school at Great Gap in the charge of Alfred Hart and the National School where Nanny Sear had begun her long reign.  She is not listed as “retired schoolmistress” until the 1881 census. The plaiting school survived until at least 1871, when John Burnham was Master.

Alfred Hart’s establishment also continued until after 1871 but by the 1881 census he is a “widower and ex-schoolmaster”. We have his diary (6) for 1864 but for enlightenment on education in the village during that year the record is frustrating in the extreme. For the whole of the year almost the only reference to his educational activity is the recurrent word “teaching”, which he seemed to engage in almost at whim when he was not busy painting boards, measuring land or preparing coffin plates. There is no hint of what he taught or how the children responded.  Smallpox cost J. Deley his life that year and Alfred Hart a significant loss of income. “March 18th – calculated loss through the small pox up to the end of this week £6.0.0d”.

From 1875 we have a continuous record of much of school life in the village in the Ivinghoe School Log Books (7). The record for the mixed school passes through the hands of  fascinating variety of masters and a few mistresses to the forty year rule of Harry Saunders beginning in 1923.

Forster’s Education Act (1870) “provided that England shall be divided into districts and that elementary schools be set up in areas where school provision was insufficient”(8). In 1874 this provision percolated to an Ivinghoe Vestry Meeting, “….the government notice stating amount of school accommodation required in the parish having been read by the Vicar and the matter well discussed, it was proposed… that the Vicar should write to the Earl Brownlow… requesting his permission to use the old parish School Room as infants school”. Later that year the minutes of “a meeting of the rate payers of Ivinghoe” read, “…proposed… that the Parish Schools be supported by voluntary subscription… and not by a Board” (9).

Perhaps the Vicar lived to regret that decision for on 8 May, fifteen years later, the master records in the Log Book, “Rev’d H.J.Rawlinson called in to ask me to obtain signatures to a form which is being got up to present to Parliament with the object of securing for Voluntary Schools the same advantages as accrue to Board Schools”. In 1874, however, there were no such doubts and on January 11, 1875 “The Ivinghoe National School was first opened as a Public Elementary School under the charge of Thomas Charles. The greater number of attendances were ‘Half Timers’. The school apparatus was scarce”. During his mastership Mr. Charles recorded many of the lessons he gave: the list reads more like a lucky dip than a curriculum. He also notes holidays on account of everything from “Church Festivals” to “the school being used as a polling station”. In addition attendances were often “not so large on account of” illness, bad weather, and the occupation of children in seasonable labours. Indeed the history of education over the past century is vividly brought to life in extracts from these log books:


Feb 4. The girls commenced sewing in accordance with HMI Sewing circular.

Nov 10. Examined Stds. I & II in arithmetic and find the notation as well as the working of the sums, very faulty.


May 24. Pupil Teacher absent during week through illness. I find great difficulty and that it is hard work to take the whole school without assistance. The Managers afford me none and I have no one in the school to make a monitor of.

Nov 8. On Tuesday morning received my Parchment from H.M.Inspector, the report which is: “The School is in satisfactory condition”.


May 9. The Attendance Officer has as yet caused more to stay from school than to come.

July 4. Made application to Managers for increase of salary but instead of getting an increase a suggestion was thrown out by them for me to consider by their next meeting, by which my salary (if the suggestion is acted upon) will be reduced by half the average attendance grant.

Dec 5. Recd the report of the Diocesan Inspection wh. reports very favourably on the school.


April 25. School closed for a fortnight under medical authority -measles.


Oct 17. Charles Halsey prosecuted and fined 2/6d (1212p) each child, with order to send them to school.

Nov 17. Had occasion to send Eliz Simmons home for school fees. Her mother sent a £5 note for me to take 2d. I did so to prevent such stupidity in future.


June 26. Very few as yet have applied for their labour certificates.

Aug 6. I have ordered 5 doz slates.


Jan 30. The children were photographed today in one group of 81


Mar 1. No school this afternoon in honour of the Relief of Ladysmith. And so on, in similar vein, a rich medley of social and educational history, until the school closed on 31 March, 1967, on its replacement by Brookmead County Combined School. In 1970 the old school building began a new lease of life as a Countryside (now Environmental) Studies Centre.


1. Chant Cert 4, No 8 in Victoria County History, Buckinghamshire Vol 3 (1914)

2. BAS 141/49 County Record Office.

3. Posse Comitatus. Microfilm M24. County Record Office.

4. Pigot’s Directory. County Reference Library.

5. 1851 Census. County Reference Library. Census records on film. Names not recorded prior to 1841 census.

6. A Hart’s Diary. Pitstone Green Farm Museum.

7. Ivinghoe School Log Books. County Record Office.

8. The Local Historian’s Encyclopaedia. J.Richardson. Historical Publications Ltd. 1974

(1981 Reprint) ISBN 0 9503656 0 2.

9. Ivinghoe Minute Book. PR 116/8/1 County Record Office.


Two highly successful dramatic entertainments were given by Mr and Mrs H.M. Roberts and friends in the school at 3.0 and 8.Opm. The room was filled “to utmost capacity”. The entertainment comprised:

First. A farcical sketch called “Great Expectations” by H.M.R. with Miss Tiny Rosebud (a young lady of doubtful age and anxious to wed), Miss Kitty Karing (a young lady, full of fun) and Mr Bob Hedges (a sporting man).

Secondly. A drama called “Dream Faces”, with a highly complicated plot and a final touching scene in which Robert, portrayed by Mr Notman “paces backwards and forwards wringing his hands in the air and calling on God in his grief to make him a man”. During this, very light music was played by the orchestra “which must have touched all present”. The proceeds from both entertainments were placed to the credit of Ivinghoe Flower Show and the orchestra was given great credit for its “sweet and soft music”, which helped to make the entertainments a great success.   (Taken from a report in the local press).