THE OLD SCHOOL - at Park Gates, School Road

By Yoland, extract from `Ruyton XI Towns - Unusual name, Unusual history`  1986

Education in our area has a very early beginning.  Oswestry Free School, independent of the church of England, was founded in 1407.   This gives it the distinction of being the second-oldest 'free' school in the country, between Winchester College, founded in 1382,  and Eton College, in 1440.   Shrewsbury School was founded in 1552 and the late comer, Ellesmere College, was opened in 1879.

In 1643, when Cromwell`s army captured Shrewsbury, the Rev Thomas Challoner, headmaster of Shrewsbury School, was expelled from the town but took up residence, in Ruyton XI Towns, unfortunately we do not know where exactly but it was only for 7 months.  After the Restoration Rev. Challoner was re-instated as headmaster of Shrewsbury School.

In 1851 there is a brief mention in Kelly`s Directory of the Rev David Harris, pastor of the Independent Chapel, who ran a boarding school.

On 16th January 1818, the two maiden ladies of Ruyton Hall, Miss Margaret and Miss Anne Kinaston, sold land for a token sum, at Park Gates  called Mill Green Scarow for the sole purpose of the education of boys and girls under the umbrella of the “National Society for the Promotion of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church of England”.  As well as Miss Margaret and Miss Anne, the other trustees, who were to oversee the building of the school, were Hon. Thomas Kenyon of Pradoe, Rowland Hunt of Boreatton Hall and the Rev. David Evans, vicar of Ruyton.

The list of subscribers to raise the funds to build the school and the Master`s house reads like a Who`s Who of Ruyton and district landowners and people of influence.  The name which intrigued me was the Earl of Bridgewater, why should such a grand person put 100 into our little school?   It seems that as a young man, Francis Egerton, had been Rector of Myddle so would probably be known to the Hunts, Kenyons, Walfords and Kinastons.

Another major donor was the late Andrew Newton of Lichfield (home of our Bishop) who left a trust which subsidised  many worthy projects in the diocese.

The Master`s house was completed in 1819-21 which is when the school actually opened for business.

The Kinaston sisters both wrote their wills on 22nd June 1827, each leaving 100 to the trustees for the school.  However, it was not until 1845, when Miss Margaret Kinaston`s will was proved, that the legacies became available when their cousin and executrix, Anna Maria Middleton, passed the money to the trustees, plus another 100 because of the delay.

One of the earliest teachers was James Cooper, or Cowper, who had more interest in local history than teaching the children in the school.  While Robert Lloyd Kenyon poured over dusty court rolls and ancient documents, James Cooper (as Kenyon always wrote his name) recorded stories told by his mother and other villagers, so bringing academic and social history together.

The 1870 Education Act stands as the first legislation to deal with the provision of universal education in Britain.  Most importantly, it demonstrated a commitment to provision on a national scale.  The children had to pay 1p a week until 1991 when education became free.

The Act was reflected two years later with the appointment of Walter Burr, a 22 year old bachelor, fresh out of college, who arrived like a `new broom,` full of zeal and new learning.  The children were no longer to be taught in a haphazard way by anyone who could read and write and needed a job.  Walter made so many changes and improvements, the villagers and their children must not have known what hit them!  


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