Early Schools

The earliest record of a school in the town is to be found in the will of Thomas Parkes who died in 1602. He mentions the setting up of a school for 10 poor children. It seems likely that the school was merged with the Charity School in the 18th century.

The Charity School used one of two upper rooms in the Market Cross building as a classroom and had about 100 scholars, most of whom paid 2 pence a week for their tuition. 20 of the pupils (12 boys and 8 girls) received free tuition which was paid for by an annual collection at St. Bartholomew's Church. 8 of the boys also received free clothing. The school master taught monitors who then taught the other children. The school was held in the Market Cross building until its demolition in 1824.

The upper rooms in the Market Cross were also used as a classroom for the Wesleyan Sunday School, run by Charles Loxton. He was a strict disciplinarian and would punish wrongdoers by placing them in an iron cage and hoisting it to the roof.

In 1818 the Select Committee into the Education of the Poor produced a report into the extent of education in Wednesbury. It stated that there was a common day school in which 37 to 40 children were instructed. It concluded that:

The poor are without sufficient means of education, and desirous of possessing them.

In 1823 the Wesleyans erected their own school at Spring Head. The teachers, like Loxton, were disciplinarians who would dismiss a child for being absent on 3 successive Sundays and impose fines for negligence. About 20 years later a new and larger school was built on the site, which survived until the Holyhead Road Council School opened in 1912.

The British and Foreign Society School opened in 1820 at the old Quaker Meeting House in Lower High Street.

The Market Cross building.

Lancaster's monitoring system was used for the children in which the monitors displayed a letter for the children to copy in sand with their forefinger.

By 1845 there were 140 pupils. The building was described as being badly ventilated with only a few windows opening at the top.

It's likely that after 1851 the pupils were all girls because in that year the British School for boys opened in Russell Street.

In 1861 Harrison's Directory describes it as the "British School in Lower High Street for girls only". F. W. Hackwood made a list of the town's schools that existed in 1870 in his "Wednesbury Papers" of 1884. As the school is not included in the list it must have closed before then.

The British School for boys transferred to Old Park Works thanks to Samuel Lloyd and remained there until the formation of the Board Schools in 1887.

Edward Elwell of Wednesbury Forge opened a school at Wood Green for the education of the children of his workmen. The school closed around 1874 and was rented by the School Board until 1880.

St. Bartholomew's Church opened the town's first church school at Church Hill in 1829. It began as a Sunday school and was enlarged and opened as a day school in 1843 with accommodation for 300 children. A playground was added in 1852 and by 1854 there were 380 children, consisting of 180 girls and 200 boys. Other church schools included the National School at Moxley, which opened in 1837-38, St. James's School, which opened in 1845 and St. John's School which opened in 1849.

There were also schools for children of the middle classes such as Peter Tanner's Private Academy for Young Ladies and Gentlemen, which stood on the corner of Lower High Street and Holyhead Road, and Mrs. Ladbury's Ladies Boarding School on Church Hill. The early schools did not however, provide education for the children from very poor families. The first school in the town to do so was opened by a clothier and auctioneer named Heseltine, who had a shop with a public salesroom at the back, on the corner of Market Place and Union Street. He conducted a Sunday school in the salesroom until 1868 when he moved to Wolverhampton. When he moved he gave every boy who attended the school a new suit and a new dress to every girl.

The 1870 Education Act and New Schools

Everything changed as a result of the 1870 Education Act which divided the country into around 2,500 school districts, each with an elected School Board. The Boards were to examine the provision of existing elementary education in their district, and if there were not enough school places they could build and maintain schools out of the rates, and decide whether to make the schools fee paying or let children in free. Succeeding Acts in 1876 and 1880 made it compulsory for all children to attend school.

Wednesbury School Board was elected on 15th March, 1871 and held its first meeting on 30th March. Initially the Board hired rooms for classes in the Congregational School in Russell Street and the Wesleyan School on King's Hill. School Inspectors were sent by the Education Department to inspect local schools. Unfortunately Russell Street School was condemned as unsatisfactory by the inspector and so would soon close. The Board decided to build its first school at Mesty Croft, which opened in February, 1880. Nine months later the second Board School opened in Lower High Street with accommodation for 640 children, including those transferred from Russell Street. In 1886 the accommodation was increased to 740 and houses were added for the headmaster and caretaker.

The Old Park British School for boys closed in 1888 and so a replacement school was built at King's Hill with accommodation for 733 children. The schools at Mesty Croft and Lower High Street were enlarged in the 1890s.

View some photographs of the old King's Hill Primary School.

The Lower High Street Board School became the Mountford Primary School, and in 1964 the St. John's Church of England School, after replacing St. John's previous school in Russell Street. The buildings were demolished in 1980.

Local ratepayers opposed the Board schools which were financed from the rates. Opposition also came from the voluntary schools which had accommodation for nearly three times as many children as the Board schools.

Attendance figures in the Board schools were much higher than in the voluntary schools, where there were a lot of unfilled places. Many parents moved their children from the voluntary schools to the Board schools in order to reduce their fees.

Church Hill with St. Mary's Convent School in the centre.

The Board schools had the advantage of better tuition under qualified instructors, and taught a wider range of subjects including cookery, and woodwork.

From 1889 until 1890 Wednesbury also had a Higher Grade School which offered a wider range of subjects including chemistry, foreign languages, and mechanics. The school could accommodate 120 pupils who each paid a fee of 1 shilling a week for their tuition and books. The school got off to a good start with 90 children attending, but the number soon fell to 48 and the school closed. The decline in numbers was mainly due to the opening of the Municipal Technical College in 1892, built as a result of the Technical Instruction Act of 1889.

The School Boards were abolished as a result of the terms of the1902 Education Act which gave local councils the task of appointing an education committee to oversee education in their area. Wednesbury's Education Committee carefully controlled their expenditure, often to the detriment of the children and schools. From November 1905 children younger than 5 years of age were not allowed to attend school and the committee limited the amount of money spent on each child for books, apparatus, and stationary to just 3 shillings a year. Things got so bad that teachers ended up paying for materials themselves.

In 1908 during an inspection, 5 of the voluntary school premises were found to be unsatisfactory and as a result 3 of them closed in 1912 when the Council School was built in Holyhead Road. They were the Wesleyan Schools at Spring Head and Holyhead Road, and the Church School at Moxley.

The next great change took place as a result of the Hadow Reports of 1926 and 1930 which recommended that elementary schools should be divided into primary schools for the under 11s and senior schools for the older children. This reulted in the building of several new schools:

Moxley Primary School in 1927
Hobs Road Primary School in 1931
Old Park Road Senior School, King's Hill (accommodation 800)
Holyhead Road Senior School (accommodation 1,460)

Mesty Croft School was  extended in 1931 and a number of other schools were built in the following years:

Woodland Grange School in 1923
St. Mary's Convent School, Church Hill opened in 1930, closed in the summer of 1965.
Walton Road School in 1939
St. Mary's Primary School in 1940

As a result of the Education Act of 1944 the control of the town's education was passed onto the County Council in 1945.

Wednesbury Boys High School

The school opened in September, 1924 in the residence of the late Sir Albert Pritchard, one time Chairman of the Governors. There were initially 50 boys, but the number soon increased to 100. In the autumn of 1926 the first of 3 major extensions were added, consisting of an assembly hall, 2 science laboratories, and 2 additional classrooms. In 1932, two more classrooms, an art room, a library, cloakrooms and a wash lobby were added.

In the autumn of 1960 further extensive alterations and additions were carried out, consisting of a new science block of 4 laboratories, a dining room and kitchen, extensions to the hall, conversion of the existing science rooms into a woodwork room, and an art-and-craft room, new cloakrooms, changing rooms, and adequate washing facilities, with showers.

The old Pritchard house was demolished and replaced with a new administrative block, a greatly enlarged library, 2 new classrooms and a division room. After which there were 10 classrooms and a total of 19 teaching rooms including the specialised areas. In 1958 the school was equipped with a fine modern stage with excellent lighting equipment, and alterations were made to the assembly hall so that it could also serve as a gymnasium. The school caretaker was re-housed at a corner of the school playing fields which at the time covered around 4 to 5 acres. Tennis courts were also added to the playground. By the early 1960s the number of children on the roll had reached 362.

Wednesbury Girls High School

The school opened in Hydes Road in September 1958 to provide grammar school education for about 350 girls aged 11-18. The buildings were designed to include a very good library, 3 laboratories and preparation rooms, an art room, a domestic science room, a magnificent gymnasium, specialist rooms for geography and music, and a very well equipped kitchen and dining room. The grounds were drained and laid out to provide extensive playing fields.

This lovely photo belongs to Charles Hippisley-Cox. His grandmother, Anne Lavender, who lived in Union Street, is the girl second from the left, in the back but one row, with curls in her hair, and a large dark bow on her dress. The photo was taken at Spring Head Wesleyan School. The schoolmaster was Mr. J. C. Gaskell, and the schoolmistress was Miss May Gaskell.

Another class at Spring Head Wesleyan School. Courtesy of Chris Rapley.

This is the shoe shop in Union Street where Ann Lavender (who is in the photograph above) was born. Her mother Emma ran the shop, which was owned by Anne's uncle Jabez Stevens.

The boys in the photograph are Alf and Tom Lavender, brothers of Jack Lavender who founded J. H. Lavender at Stone Cross, the aluminium casting firm, which is still there today.

The shop still survives, and is now a chip shop.

Courtesy of Charles Hippisley-Cox.

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