Old School Customs

  > The chequered histories of the old schools at Appleby, Kirkby Stephen, Kendal, Crosthwaite, Carlisle, Penrith, and several other towns in the two counties, would suffice to make a large book of an interesting character. Some of the rules which governed the institutions in bygone days were decidedly quaint. The nineteen long paragraphs which make up the "Constitutions, Ordinances, and Statutes for the Free Grammar School a Kirkby Stephen," as drawn up in 1568 by Lord Wharton, included this curious stipulation:-

"I will that the said schoolmaster shall have and receive yearly 12, as his Hire and Wages, at two Terms of the year, if he teach in manner and form following, viz., At the Feast of Pentecost and St. Martin, by equal portions, by the hands of my Son, Heir, and Heirs, and the Governours. And the said Schoolmaster shall, within 10 dayes after he hath taken upon him and be installed in the said office, before the said Governours, or two of them, and before my Son and Heir, of Heirs of my House of Wharton, for the time being, and in presence of the Churchwardens and Twelve man of Kirkby-Stephen Parish, or six of them, in the Parish Church there, make this Oath following: 'I do swear by the holy Contents of this Bok that I will freely, without exacting any money, diligently teach and instruct the Children of this parish, and all others that resort to me, in Grammar and other Humane Doctrine, according to the Statutes thereof made; And shall read to them no corrupt, or reprobate Book, or Works set forth at any time contrary to the determination of the Universal Catholic Church, whereby they might be infected in their youth with any kind of Heresy or corrupt Doctrine, or else be induced to an insolent manner of Living; And further shall observe all the Statutes and Ordinances of this School, now made or that hereafter shall be made, which concern me; and shall do nothing in prejudice thereof, but help to maintain the same, from time to time, dureing my abode herein, to the best of my power. So Help me God, and the Contents of this book.'"

At six o'clock in the Morning, and at the same hour in the evening, master and scholars had to march from school to church, for prayers, afterwards going to the tomb which Lord Wharton had erected in the quire1 and Sing one of fifteen psalms. This was the order for working hours; "And the same Scholar, every Work-day at the least, shall begin to teach from Six a Clock in ye morning in Summer, and from Seven a Clock in Winter; and so shall continue in teaching until Eleven a Clock. The self same thing shall he diligently do after Dinner, from One of the Clock till Six in Summer and five in Winter." The history of Appleby School extends over nearly four and a quarter centuries. In 1478 Thomas Whinfell, one of the chantry priests, was bound "to keep yearly a sufficient Grammar School, taking of the scholars of the said school scolagia et custumaria secundum antiquam consuetudinem scoloe proedictoe."2 Old school-boys living within the present decade remember that the scolagia et custumaria included a cockpenny, which had to be paid by each boy on Easter Tuesday, for the purpose of enabling the master to provide the pupils with a cock-fight. One of the regulations for Kendal School was that it should be "free to all boys resident in the parish of Kendal, for classics alone, excepting a voluntary payment of a cockpenny as aforetime at Shrovetide." The "Literary Rambler," who contributed a series of papers to the Kendal Chronicle in 1812 (when the custom was commonly observed), remarked:- "A stranger to the customs of the country will suspect something whimsical in this name, but it has its foundation in reason; for the boys of every school were divided into parties every Shrovetide, headed by their respective captains, whom the master chose from amongst his pupils. This was probably done in imitation of the Romans, who appointed the principes pivenum2 on certain occasions. These juvenile competitors contended in a match at football, and fought a cock-battle, called the captains' battle, in both which contests the youthful rivals were not more interested than their parents." Though the barbarous sport had disappeared, the payment of a cockpenny survived certainly until the middle of this century. This is shown by Mr. W. Sayer, who, in his History (1847), says that the endowments of Bowness (Westmorland) School, "together with a cockpenny given by each scholar on Shrove Tuesday," amounted to about 60 per annum.

George Smith, a relative of Dr. Smith who became Bishop of London, built and endowed the school at Asby, and left 10, the interest of which (about 12s.) was to be disposed of on St. George's Day yearly for ever in the following manner: 6s. to the poor of the parish; 5s. to be spent in ale by the feofees3 of the school; and the remaining shilling to purchase a football for the scholars. A custom which seems to have been peculiar to Appleby was for each pupil leaving to pay half-a-guinea towards the library, and Mr. R. E. Leach, the headmaster, some years ago compiled a most interesting list of these donations. It was also an occasional occurrence that "old boys" gave money when they were married.

It was by the ancient Parochial Council of Sixteen that the first attempt to supply elementary education in Torpenhow was made, it being recorded that on May 12th, 1686, a resolution was passed in favour of founding a free school for the Bothel district. The "sixteen" from time to time drew up various rules for the conduct of the school, one of which would greatly astonish the present generation of certificated masters, because, in 1689, the master of the institution at Bothel (locally pronounced "Bohl") was ordered to "keep school from 6 in the morning till 11, and from 1 till 6 from Lady Day till Michaelmas," practically the same rule as was enforced by Lord Wharton at Kirkby Stephen.

An instance of the uncertain position occupied by the village schoolmaster in former days may be found among the records of Holme Cultram. In 1607 there being some controversy concerning the payment of the parish clerk or sexton, which previously had been paid in no regular manner, and the clerk claiming to be paid in meal, though no certain measure of it had been ascertained, it was agreed and ordered by the sixteen men, with the consent of the other parishioners, that for the future there should be one person who should be both parish clerk and schoolmaster, and that he should have for his wages for every copyhold tenement and lease within the parish paying above 18d. rent, fourpence, and for every cottager and under-tenant twopence, to be collected yearly at Easter by the clerk, who was to be chosen by the sixteen men and approved by the ordinary. In addition, the schoolmaster was to have a quarterly sum for each scholar as the sixteen men from time to time decided. That scheme was recorded in 1777 as being still in operation.

In another place it has been shown how the sworn men had often a great share in the selection of the churchwardens and other officials. Their duties also extended to the procuring of money for educational purposes. It was ordered by Commissioners in the thirteenth year of Elizabeth, concerning the endowed school at Keswick, "that whereas two pence for every fire-house4 hath been paid to the parish clerk yearly, and also certain ordinary fees for night-watch5, burials, weddings, and, moreover, certain benevolences of lamb wool, eggs, and such like, which seem to grow up to a greater sum than is competent for a parish clerk; the eight men shall hereafter take up the said two pence a house for the use of a schoolmaster, paying thereout to the parish clerk yearly 46s. 8d." In the time of King James it was found on inquiry by a Commission of Pious Uses, "that the eighteen sworn men had from time immemorial laid a tax for the maintenance of the schoolmaster, and other occasions of the parish, and appointed the schoolmaster, and made orders for the government of the school, and that the inhabitants had by a voluntary contribution raised a school stock of 148 2s. 3d., nevertheless that Dr. Henry Robinson, Bishop of Carlisle, Henry Woodward, his Chancellor, and Giles Robinson, brother of the said Bishop, and Vicar of Crosthwaite, had intermeddled, and that the said Bishop, sometimes by authority of the High Commission for Ecclesiastical Causes, sometimes as a justice of the peace for the county, and sometimes by his power as ordinary, had interrupted the orders of the eighteen men, and had committed thirteen of them to prison. Therefore the commissioners restore the eighteen men to their authority concerning the appointing of a schoolmaster, and the government of the school "

Among the curious bequests known to have been made at various times by residents in the two counties, not the least noteworthy was that of the Vicar of Raughton Head, Mr. Sevithwaite, who, at his death in 1762, left 20 to the school; and another 20, the interest whereof, after the death of his widow, was to be laid out yearly in purchasing Bishop Beveridge's "Thoughts upon Religion," and the Bishop of Man's "Essay for the Instruction of the Indians," to be given to the poor housekeepers or the parish.

Among the curiosities of tenure in addition to those already mentioned in a previous chapter6, was that of surrendering by the rod. In the summer of 1750 "John Sowerby surrendered to the lord of the manor (of Castle Sowerby) by the hands or his steward by the rod a messuage7 at Sowerby Row . . . to the use and behoof of Joseph Robinson and his assigns according to the custom of the manor; conditioned to pay yearly to three trustees 5 for the use of a schoolmaster within the liberty of Row Bound to be chosen by the trustees." As in most other places, the schoolmaster had to teach certain children for a very small sum per quarter, and the parents in better circumstances had to pay 2s. 6d. per quarter for each child.

How faithfully some of the clerical schoolmasters performed their duties during long periods may be proved from numerous sources. One entry, a burial, will suffice - from the Mardale register of 1799: "Richard Hebson, in ye 75th year of his age. He was 53 years master of the Free School at Measand, and 51 years the pastor of this Chapelry. Singularly remarkable for his faithful, assiduous, and conscientious discharge of the duties of both these stations."

At the beginning of the eighteenth century there were in the diocese of Carlisle few schools other than those held in the all too frequently dilapidated parish churches. In most cases the curates were the only schoolmasters, and it was as an encouragement to those clerics that the parishioners took it in turn to provide the curate with a "whittlegate." Much interesting information about the old-time schools and schoolmasters may be found in Bishop Nicolson's Visitation Miscellany. One man, who afterwards became examining chaplain to Bishop Law, used to keep school at Sebergham in a mud hut. Of another cleric, the Rev. T. Baxter, who was incumbent of Arlecdon in the first half of last century, it is recorded, in Mr. W. Dickinson's "Reminiscences of West Cumberland," that he "taught the parish school in the chancel of the parish church, on an earthen floor, without fire either in summer or winter." Bishop Nicolson's descriptions speak eloquently of the poverty of some parishes:- "The quire at Warwick, as in many other places, is shamefully abused by the children that are taught in it. Their present master is Thomas Allanson, a poor cripple, removed hither from Rockliff, who has no settled salary, only 12d. per quarter and his diet, and would be thankful for ye commendum of ye clerk's place; which, he saies, would bring him an addition of about six shillings p. an."

Of Irthington he wrote:- "The quire is here (as before) miserably spoil'd, on the floor, by the school boyes; and so vilely out of repair in the roof that 'tis hazardous comeing in it."

Crosby-on-Eden was a little better than the former place:- "Mr. Pearson, the schoolmaster, has no certain and fixed salary. He teaches the children in the quire; where the boys and girls sit on good Wainscot Benches, and write on the communion table, too good (were it not appointed to a higher use) for such a service." Here is a picture with regard to Cumwhitton, not calculated to make people really wish for the old days about which some grow enthusiastic:- " The south window is unglazed and starves the whole congregation as well as the poor children; who are here taught (for the present) by the parish clerk, a man of very moderate qualification. Mr. Robley, their new curate, is not yet resident among them; but will shortly come, and take the office of teaching out of this illiterate man's hand."

In a parish not far from the Cumberland border - Allendale8 - the curates of West Allen High and St. Peter's Chapels were certainly as recently as 1835, and probably still later, obliged to teach the miners' children for 1s. 6d. per quarter each, in consideration of certain annual payments. These were five shillings from each miner of one description, and half-a-crown from those of another, which they, in common with the incumbent of Allenheads Chapel, received as ministers of the respective chapels.

It was certified in 1717 that while at that time there was no divine service performed in the parish of Clifton, some three miles from Workington, "formerly every family in the two hamlets [of Great and Little Clifton], being about forty in number, paid 6d. each to one that read prayers, and taught the children to read, and the rector gave 2 a year, and officiated there every sixth Sunday, but that these payments had then ceased for above 40 years last past."

Reference was made in a previous paragraph to the custom of whittlegate as applying to schoolmasters. From the former chapter on church curiosities it will have been noted that the clergy occasionally had recourse to that method of supplementing their scanty incomes. As it often happened that the schoolmaster and parson were one and the same individual, difficulties were thereby removed. At any rate the following extract from Clarke's "Survey" of over a century ago has an interesting bearing on the subject. Writing of Ambleside, of which the Rev. Isaac Knipe, M.A. was curate, and schoolmaster, he remarks;

"The chapel is a low, mean building, and stands in the parish of Grassmere. The inhabitants, (who are land owners), as well as those in the parish of Winandermere, as those in the parish of Grassmere, have the right of nominating and presenting the curate. The rector of Grassmere usually nominated the curate, but the inhabitants of this and many other perpetual curacies in the north have, by custom, gotten it from the rectors of vicars; the reason is this: before the death of Queen Anne, many of the chapelries were not worth above three pounds a year, and the donees could not get persons properly qualified to serve them, so they left them to  the inhabitants, who raised voluntary contributions for them in addition to their salary, with clothes yearly and whittlegate. Whittlegate is to have two or three weeks' victuals at each house, according to the ability of the inhabitants, which was settled amongst them so as that he should go his course as regular as the sun, and compleat it as annually."

The custom prevailed so late as 1858 in some country parishes; it is not a little curious that it has not been found to exist in any counties except Cumberland and Westmorland, though the Rev. J. Wharton, Stainmore, has informed the writer that it is recognised still in some parts of the United States.9

The custom of barring out is probably unknown to the present generation of Cumbrian and Westmerian school-boys - at any rate in the sense in which it used to be observed. There exist numerous stories of the thoroughness with which the boys formerly maintained their supposed rights in this direction. The Rev. E. H. Sugden's sketch of the history of Arlecdon and Frizington shows how the observance was followed there every Christmas:- "The old men of the parish tell with delight their experiences and adventures in carrying out this old custom. One says he remembers the master entering the school by creeping down the chimney. Another tells of a boy hiding himself in the chimney when the master had forced the door open. It appears that during this period of expulsion the doors of the school were strongly barricaded within, and the boys who defended it like a besieged city were armed in general with elder pop-guns10. In the meantime the master would make several efforts, both by force and stratagem, to regain his lost authority. If he succeeded, heavy tasks were imposed, and the business of the school went on as usual; but it more commonly happened that he was repulsed and defeated. The siege was continued three days, after which the terms of capitulation were proposed by the master, who usually pushed them under the door, and as a rule the boys accepted. These terms stipulated what hours and times should for the ensuing year be allotted to study, and what to relaxation and play. Securities were given by each side for the due performance of these stipulations, and the paper was then solemnly signed by both master and pupils.

"Mr. Sibson, of Whitehaven, formerly of this Parish, relates the two following incidents in connection with this custom. On one occasion, Mr. C. Mossop endeavoured to enter the school. As soon as he put his hand on the window sill, intending to enter that way, a boy hit his hand with a red-hot poker, so that for many days he went about with it in a sling. On another occasion, Mr. Hughes, the master, took some slates off the roof, and succeeded in getting his legs and part of his body past the rafters, but he could get no further, and the boys with red-hot pokers burnt him severely before he could be rescued by his friends. In those days many young men attended the school during the winter time."

At Appleby, the "barring out" sometimes lasted for days, and the scholars slept in the schoolrooms. In most places the mutiny was apt to break out early on the morning of the day fixed for breaking up for the holidays. They defied the master by means of sundry cries, that at Kendal being :

"Liberty, liberty, under a pin,
Six weeks,' holiday or nivver come in."11

Apparently the custom was killed in the old grey town at the beginning of this century by the then master, Mr. Towers, meeting with a distressing mishap. He was contending with them, apparently for admittance, when his eye was accidentally destroyed, and the disaster served to bring about the abolition of the old custom.

Fine warm days of that Indian summer often experienced in the two counties in September and October were devoted to "going a nutting," and the headmaster of Appleby Grammar School never refused a holiday at that season, provided that each scholar brought him a quart of "leamers" - nuts sufficiently ripe to leave the husks without compulsory treatment. As Christmas approached, the schoolmaster was "barred out" in orthodox fashion, until he agreed (and he only pretended to be loth to make the contract) to extend the coming holidays as long as his pupils demanded.


Bygone Cumberland and Westmorland, by Daniel Scott, 1899




1. Choir, the eastern end of a church.
2. Dot Ravenwood has kindly been in touch to cast some light on this. The exact phrase principes pivenum is meaningless, and she suggests a mis-print for (or debased version of) princeps iuventum, meaning "the first among the young". This was a title from the early Roman Empire given to those boys marked out for leadership. This would fit in very well the sense of the paragraph above.
3. The people who had granted the land on which the school had been built ?
4. Dwelling house with a hearth.
5. Perhaps sitting with a body in the church overnight, before burial.
6. Not yet transcribed.
7. A property with land.
8. In Northumberland, not far from Alston.
9. Can any native of the US confirm this ?
10. Presumably "pea-shooters" made from elder wood.
11. It's peculiar timing for a siege intended to secure longer holidays that it should be started on the last day of teaching.

19 June 2015

Steve Bulman