Researching the Dame School history

July 29 2019

Plans to renovate Mangotsfield’s historic Dame School and its grounds were announced earlier this year. Local Mangotsfield resident David Blackmore, pictured at the old school building, has researched its history

David Blackmore outside Dame School

David Blackmore outside Dame School


IN February 1787 the Mangotsfield worthies decided that “the pauper children of the village who were under the age of ten were to be taught to spell and read and to repeat the church catechisms and the girls to sew”.
Records of school masters and mistresses in the parish go back further, to 1730, but where any previous schools were situated is unknown.
The land on which the Dame School – also known as the National, Church School House or Charity School – was built had previously been the garden of the first Mangotsfield Workhouse, which had been established from 1770 on land including the site of the former Ring O'Bells Inn.
It was thanks to the Rev Caleb Evans, the President of the Baptist Academy and Pastor of the Congregation of Protestant Dissenters in Broadmead, that the school came about. The Broadmead records state that he was “the first promoter and principal agent in establishing a Sunday School in Mangotsfield”, organising collections and obtaining benefactions to pay for it.
Rev Evans, pictured, appears to have already been involved in schooling for the children of Mangotsfield, as a letter he wrote to William Fox, the founder of the Sunday School Society, in May 1786 reported that “our school at Mangotsfield has succeeded my most sanguine expectations”. He goes on to mention the existence of two schools, educating 89 boys and 54 girls, “many of whom have made considerable improvement”.
The whereabouts of these schools is unknown, or even whether Rev Evans was actually referring to two distinct schools – one for boys and one for girls – one school divided between boys and girls or one divided between Day and Sunday Schools.
He goes on to say that he found a collection underway to “build a large school-room and a gallery in the church”.
Rev Evans, who was also the founder of the Bristol Education Society and the Downend Baptist Church in Salisbury Road, reported that one gentleman had subscribed £20 and another £10, and also left his own donation.
He assured Mr Fox: “I shall carefully attend to the prosperity of the institution, and esteem it a very great happiness to be subservient to the important designs of it.”
The first reference to the Old Church School was made on April 9 1787 in the vestry minutes, when it was agreed that £15 be paid to William Harrison as a donation towards the cost of building it.
Mangotsfield was lucky to have a purpose-built school for its children, as Dame Schools of the day were often located in the teacher’s home. They had a poor reputation, with little control over the standard of teaching and some being run by almost illiterate teachers. A study found nearly half of all pupils were only taught the alphabet and reading from the New Testament.
The school in Mangotsfield took both boys and girls, but they entered the building through their own doorways at opposite ends of the building, and were forbidden to cross the middle of the floor. The doorways were bricked up when the school became the National School for Girls, many decades later.
A map from 1802, supplied with an application to make the former workhouse garden the new burial ground for St James Church, showed the little stone building on the corner of Richmond Road as “The Charity (or Old Church) School”.
According to documents in the National Society Archives in London it was an established girl's school in 1826.
In 1841 some consideration was given to rebuilding the structure, at a cost of £77.10s.0d, although this never happened. About this time parents who could afford to send their children to school paid 2d per week for their education, when the average wage for a male labourer was just one shilling a day or less.
In 1851 a day and Sunday school called the Mangotsfield Parochial School was running on the site but in the 1861 census the school was referred to as the National School for Girls.
By 1872, 85 years after it was built, the Old Church School was becoming far too small for the almost 200 village children in need of an education. The new Mangotsfield Church of England School eventually replaced it, opening on January 10, 1876. Some 66 of its new entrants had previously attended the Old Church School.
By 1899 the old school was used as a Mission Room, “possibly to try to attract those in the neighbourhood who would not go to church into a more informal atmosphere”.
During the Second World War it became an air-raid wardens’ centre and it was later used by the Boy Scouts and heated by a small open fire.
Around the mid-1960s the Mangotsfield Rural Council, which had taken over the site in 1951, decided the building was becoming dilapidated and dangerous, and paid for renovations.
Having been left completely open to the elements, it was secured by putting ironwork grilles in the windows and doors and then used to store spare council road signs.

Next month: The story of long-serving teacher Frances Cooper