Heywood's 'Free School' (1737-1891)

The following article about one of the earliest schools in Heywood - the 'Free School' next to Heywood Chapel (now St Luke's) - is reproduced from an 1893 edition of the Bury Times.

'The charity which is spoken of as the Heywood School, in the century and a half of its existence, must have done much to aid in educating the children of Heywood and the surrounding townships. A building which has been used as the school adjoins the Victoria Hotel, in Church-street, and bears an inscription over the door which tells passers-by that it is a free school. The building is now in a very dilapidated condition, and is probably only fit to be pulled down, but as the site is a freehold one in a central part of the town, this of itself is of considerable value.

The school was what is known as a dame school, and was taught, as the name implies, by a female. The charity had a somewhat peculiar beginning. It was founded by a man who did not reside in Heywood, and the nature of whose connection with the village can only be surmised. His name was James Lancashire, who resided at Langley, in the parish of Middleton. Lancashire was evidently a man who had advanced views of his duties to his neighbours, for we find that at the time he founded the Heywood charity he also founded similar charities for the benefit of the schools at Unsworth Chapel and Walmersley. The date of the foundation of the charity is given as July 30th, 1737. In his will, which is said to bear the date we have just given, Lancashire bequeathed £50 which was to be paid over for the benefit of the school on condition that some of the principal inhabitants of the district, having estates in the neighbourhood, should within three years of his death raise the same amount and give it for the benefit of the school.

Lancashire also gave minute instructions as to how the money was to be used. He had a two-fold object; he not only desired that the children should receive "instruction in English," but he directed that the money was left "for their better education in the principles of the Church of England." Practically speaking this bequest was a challenge to the wealthy men of the district, and it soon brought a reply. As already stated, Lancashire's will bears date July 30th, 1737, and we find it recorded that "by indentures of lease and release, bearing the date 23rd and 24th January, 1737" (or 1738, new style) one John Starky accepted the conditions laid down, and agreed to find the second £50. In his will Lancashire provided that this £50 was to pay for tuition of poor children not to exceed ten in number, who were to be nominated by the churchwardens and overseers of the poor. But this was too important to be left to laymen only, and it was set forth that the churchwardens and overseers were to receive the "advice and concurrence of the minister or curates" of Heywood chapel, and, if by any means the time to nominate the recipients of the charity should arrive, and Heywood chapel be through any mischance without curate, then the advice was to be given and the concurrence expressed by the Rector of Bury, as rector of the parish. Nothing is said with regard to the consequences of the wardens and overseers disagreeing with the curates as to who should be selected, and possibly at that time such a circumstance was not thought possible.

The John Starky who accepted the conditions laid down by Lancashire was probably the first of the Starky's of Heywood Hall. He offered to deposit the money with trustees, but the Rev. Nathan Stock, then minister of Heywood chapel, and James Meadoweroft, the churchwarden and overseer for the township of Heap, who were to be trustees of the money in conjunction with William Bamford of Heap, James Starky, a son of John Starky, and John Lancashire of Langley (the latter a son and one of the executors of James Lancashire, the testator), had other views on the matter. Instead of having a lump sum down they preferred to have an annuity, and requested Mr. Starky to retain the hundred pounds, and settle on the school a rent charge of £3 per year. Starky agreed to this course, and the proposal apparently commended itself to all concerned, for an agreement was drawn up, the rent charge guaranteed, and the gentlemen named above elected trustees. By this deed Starky retained to himself, and his successors in the ownership of Heywood Hall, the right to appoint the master or dame to teach in the school. In payment for this right it is pretty clear that Starky gave the School building to the trustees, for it is stated that at this time he was "seized" of the school which he had erected, together with two messuages contiguous to the school and known as "Barlows" and "Kays," and these be transferred to the trustees of the school.

The rent for these messuages was to be £5 per annum, and the trustees had to take the rent and apportion it out in a certain manner fully set forth. Three pounds of the money was to go for the benefit of the master or dame of the school so long as he or she should continue diligently to teach the children to read English and educate them in the principles of the Church of England, as required by the will of James Lancashire, and the remainder had to go to the teacher also as long as he or she, in consideration of this sum and for the use of the school, should teach a number of poor children (not to exceed ten in number), born within the township of Heap or the adjacent townships, to read English, knit or sew, together with the principles of the Church of England. The ten children in the latter part were to be appointed by Starky. It was further provided that if at any time there should not be a sufficient number of poor children to be taught at the school the trustees could spend two pounds of the money in buying books to be given to the poor children of the town, or in doing repairs which the school fabric might require. If this clause were put in operation now it would require a good many years' moiety to put the school in good repair.

1851 Ordnance Survey map showing the school next to St Luke's.

The perpetuity of the charity and the mortality of trustees was recognised by Starky and the representatives of Lancashire, and they made provision for the proper management of the charity in the future by setting forth that when two trustees only should be left these two should have power to elect other persons to take the place of their dead colleagues. The power thus given was not utilised, and when the original trustees died the charity was left to carry on as best it could, with a far better result than in the case of many charities which in the past have been entirely diverted from their original object.

After being founded in the manner described above, the school continued without any material change for a dozen years. It was then further augmented by John Starky. By his will, dated 28th September, 1749, Starky left on trust to his eldest son, and trustees who were to be appointed, the sum of £50. By inference it may be taken that Mrs Starky had taken considerable interest in the school. It is no uncommon thing to find that at this time the wives of the lords of manors exercised a general supervision over the schools, which in most cases had been either established or were largely supported by their husbands. The connection which existed between the school and Mrs. Starry is clearly shown by the terms of Starky's will, for in making the bequest he plainly states that the money is for the benefit of his late wife's school. The money thus left was to be invested, and the interest, which, by the way, was not to be more than 4 per cent., was to be applied each year at the feast of Epiphany, to buying books or linen or woollen cloth for the benefit of the poor children attending the school, who had been nominated by Starky's son or his heirs.

That is practically all that can be learned of the foundation of the charity. Presumably everything went on all right, and the money was applied as directed. From a report printed by order of Parliament in 1828 we gather that at that time the school was taught by a schoolmistress who had been appointed by the Starky family. Probably she would take more scholars than were just provided for by the charity. The emoluments were not in themselves sufficiently large to maintain her, and it is likely she would have other children who would pay for tuition. However this might be, she had to take without charge twenty children, either boys or girls, aged between four and eight years, and nominated by Mr. Starky's agent. Ten of these children were taken in respect of James Lancashire's bequest and ten in respect of Starky's donation. The children in the latter case were the most fortunate, for they were not only educated but received each year a quantity of linen cloth, forty shillings' worth in all, as provided by the bequest of John Starky referred to above. For teaching these children the mistress received from the steward of James Starky, who was then the owner of the Heywood Hall estate, the yearly sums of £5, together with the £2 which had to be expended on cloth or books. She had the free use of the school, which was also used as a residence.

The building as it stood in 1828 was not the one originally left by Starky as a school. The requirements of the township had made it necessary that the schoolhouse should be changed on several occasions, and these changes have been made without any record being left as to where they school was originally placed. Judging from the appearance of the old school now standing in Church street. and its surroundings we should imagine that it has been in use from the beginning of the present century, though this is simply conjecture. Coming down to more recent times we find that the school was continued until 1891, when, through the illness of the mistress, it was closed.

The last mistress (Mrs. Maria Schofield) is yet alive, and resides with relatives in Castleton. She was appointed to take charge of the school in 1844, succeeding a Mrs. Greenhalgh. The appointment was made by a Miss Aspinall, who was acting on behalf of the then owner off the Heywood Hall estate. Besides the free use of the school building she received £5 a year, first from Miss Aspinall, and afterwards from Mr. Stott, solicitor, of Rochdale, agent to Mr. Langton and Archdeacon Hornby, the successors of the, Starkys in possession of the estate. This sum is the amount of the original bequest, but the interest on the second gift made by John Starky had somewhat diminished, for Mrs. Schofield received £1 16s. 2d. per year only, and this money she expended on books and calico for the children.

It is clear that though the general bearing of the trust has been observed, the provision made for the election of trustees has not been acted upon at any time, and the whole management of the trust has consequently devolved upon the owners of the estate or their agent. In the report of 1828 it is stated that nothing could be found to show that any trust deed, after the original one, had ever been executed. While Mrs. Schofield was at the school she did not see any trust deed, nor does she remember that there were any trustees. All that she knows of the matter is that the money came regularly, and that she had to perform certain duties as a return for it. When the school fabric required repairing she had to find the money for it, and to this purpose she devoted part of the £1 16s. 2d. which she received yearly for the provision of slates, pencils, and other requisites.

As we have already said, the, school was kept open until January, 1891. At this time Mrs. Schofield found that she could no longer continue to perform the duties. She looked up the school, and, naturally enough, seeing that she received payment from them, took the key of the building to Messrs. Stott and Son, solicitors, of Rochdale, in whose possession we understand it now is.

From this brief sketch it will be seen that a charity school established over 150 years ago was carried on in Heywood up to a little over two years ago. In times gone by Heywood was fairly well supplied with charities of various sorts, but there are very few left. Our readers will therefore be pleased to know that this charity will not be lost to the town. Correspondence has taken place between the Town-Clerk, representing the Corporation, and Archdeacon Hornby, and arrangements have practically been made by which the town will still benefit by the charity, though not in the re-opening of the school.   

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The following report from education commissioners in 1828 notes that the school had been 'removed' two or three times by that time (although an 1851 map of the town shows a school still situated adjacent to the north side of the Chapel):
'The school at Heywood is at present taught by a schoolmistress, who was appointed by the Starky family. She receives the yearly sum of 5l. from the steward of James Starky, esq. who is the owner of the property charged there-with, and described in the indentures of 1737 as being then called Barlows and Kays; she has also the use of a house rent-free, in which she resides and teaches school, in lieu of that which was built for this purpose by John Starky, the elder, the school having been removed two or three times for the convenience of the township. She takes without any charge 20 children, boys or girls, from four to eight years of age, nominated by Mr. Starky's agent; 10 of them are considered as taken in respect of James Lancashire's, and 10 in respect of James Starky's donation; the latter are supplied with linen cloth to the amount of 40s. a year amongst them, in respect of the bequest of John Starky above mentioned.'

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