THIS year The Beaconsfield School is celebrating the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the school on its present site, but its forerunners have been teaching local children for nearly 200 years.

Before 1870 there was no universal system of education in England. The first efforts to educate the general population followed the formation in 1811 of the Church of England’s National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church in England and Wales. These were known as National Schools.

The aim of this organisation was that “the National Religion should be made the foundation of National Education, and should be the first and chief thing taught to the poor, according to the excellent Liturgy and Catechism provided by our Church.”

South Buckinghamshire was a hotbed of religious non-conformism, and it seems that the district was slow to accept this form of education.

Early history of schools in South Bucks

“Two schools were opened at Beaconsfield in August last under the patronage of the Rev. W. Dupre and also supported by many influential inhabitants. The girls school contains about 120 and the boys about 125, they appear in very flourishing condition.” The year in question was 1829 and this statement was included in an article in the local press in December of that year. The author of the article seems to have been on a mission to ensure that the poor in Buckinghamshire were provided with proper education.

The article began “Amongst the various districts in England where scriptural education is but imperfectly administered, the county of Bucks held till lately a conspicuous situation.” This statement, which referred to the situation which the author himself observed in 1826, was referring to the fact that in Bucks “a very large part of the population, from poverty, were utterly devoid of education in any shape.”

In the three years after this, the situation in Bucks had improved considerably and the article described the schools established in different towns and villages in the county in some detail. This had been possible because of funding from two sources, the British and Foreign School Society and from “private benevolence”. This was referred to as the British System and led to the formation of 16 schools in various parts of the county between 1826 and 1829.

The first to be established was in 1826 at Denham, where the attendance varied over the first three years between 85 and 108. The children each paid two pence per week to the schoolmaster, whose salary was £25 pa. Later the same year a school was established in Gt Missenden, the attendance varying between 85 and 112. A school in Aylesbury followed in 1827, with attendance varying between 120 to 168; then at Chesham and at Beaconsfield in 1829.

The article concluded by stating “Thus much has already been done in the county …….but there are still many places where schools might be opened with great advantage – High Wycombe, Amersham, Princes Risborough, and others are still without schools for the poor.”

A follow-up article in March 1833 describes “a six-day excursion in the middle and southern parts of Buckinghamshire, made with the object of visiting schools established in that county”. This had “enhanced my opinion of the British system”. Included in the places visited was Beaconsfield, which had a school for 120 boys. 100 girls, and “40 adults in the winter evenings”. Its performance was assessed to be average.

The Girls’ School had recently been re-organised by a “Teacher from Borough Road school” and a young woman of the name Gardiner was in charge. The ages of the girls varied from “being not 12” to “perhaps 15”, secondary school pupils in today’s terminology. The elder girls were paid “at a low rate” for their needlework, the highest rate being 6d per week.

Mr Thomas Harrod, assisted by his son, was in charge of the Boys’ School, where “the proficiency in reading, and especially in writing, is considerable”. The progress made since the school opened just over three years ago could be taken as a very fair specimen of the power of the British System (of education).” There was one criticism, that because the girls’ schoolroom was located over the boys’ room “this was productive of some inconvenience”!

The fees were 2d per week for one child, 3d for two, and 4d for three or more. Whilst these fees will seem very reasonable these days, 200 years or so ago they would probably have only been affordable for the children of the likes of skilled tradesmen, shopkeepers and those working in the professions.

The National School in Beaconsfield

In 1854 a National School was founded in the town by a committee of St Mary and All Saints Church in a disused ribbon factory on Factory Yard off Wycombe End. This new school was for boys, whilst the mixed charity school organised by the Misses du Pre of Wilton Park since 1840, now became for girls only. The boys were taught on the ground floor of the building, rented for £18 a year from Mr William Child. The old factory was considered so inadequate by the government department responsible for education that they refused to even let it be inspected. This building, now private housing, still exists in Factory Yard. The original wide window frames for the factory are still visible in the brickwork.

Richard Hedges was the first schoolmaster (until 1873) with his salary and other costs being met by the parents. A government grant was available towards construction and maintenance but was conditional on a satisfactory inspection from Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI). From 1861 this grant was dependent on the number of students passing an examination in reading, writing, and arithmetic.

When the Misses du Pre gave up running the girls’ school in 1864, it too became a National School and moved to the upper floor of the Factory Yard building with Miss Colbourne as mistress on a salary of £40 a year.

An Educational System for all children

When the 1870 Forster Education Act was passed, the Factory Yard school building was already too small and too dilapidated for further use. The Parish School’s committee wanted to keep the National School in the Voluntary System but they could not get a government inspection and therefore a grant without a new school building. A piece of land next to the parish church was given to the National School Committee in December 1870 by Magdalen College, Oxford and Mr Hargreaves of Hall Barn.

The 1870 Education Act provided for the state to share with voluntary bodies the cost and maintenance of any school provided by them. A new managing committee applied for and obtained a government grant under that part of the 1870 Act. The chair of the new committee was the rector, the Rev. Samuel James Bowles, who employed his brother-in-law to design the new school. The new premises were built at a cost of £1623, towards which the Government paid a grant of £355. The new school was built by Mr Child - the owner of the Factory Yard site!

l This article draws extensively on a booklet prepared by Liz Whetton in 2017 entitled A Brief History of The Beaconsfield School.

Future issues of the Nostalgia page will continue this account of the history of the school. If you were a student there and would like to share any reminiscences, I would be very pleased to receive them. Please send them to and any photographs would also be welcomed.

The Beaconsfield School Festival

From noon to 5pm on July 9 the school is organising a family festival to celebrate the 90th anniversary of being located on their present site in Wattleton Road. This will be for alumni, students and the whole community. It will include an exhibition for alumni, and feature local bands, performances by local schools, food, drink and activity stalls for all the family.