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Bridge Road - British School
British school

In 1813 several newspapers reported that the foundation-stone of Godalming's Royal Lancasterian School had been laid on Tuesday 20th April by Mr. C. H. Townsend, "amid the applauses of upwards of 1000 spectators who were assembled to witness the commencement of so laudable an undertaking"[1]. The young man was Chauncy Hare Townsend, the son of the then owner of Busbridge Hall and an Eton schoolboy[2].

British Schools had first come about because of the work of Joseph Lancaster, whose first school opened in 1798. They were run on the monitorial system, which proved to be an effective method of educating large numbers of children. Godalming's British School had first opened in Harts Yard in late 1812 and was one of 32 such schools to open in the country in the year up to September 1813[3].

"At a meeting of some of the principal inhabitants of Godalming, held at the King's Arms the 17th December 1812 for the purpose of considering the best means of promoting the education of the children of the labouring classes .... it was resolved unanimously that a school be opened for the instruction of boys and that a subscription be entered into for that purpose."[4]

This was a copy of the first entry in the minute book of the Godalming British Schools[5].

Supporters then set about fundraising so they could erect a school on this site. The first master was Mr. Henry Tinkner and "he appears to have been a man of ability and aptitude for teaching". He was in the post for about eighteen years[4]. Before the end of 1813 another committee was formed, this time for the establishment of a girls' school, and two establishments were managed by separate committees for a time[4].

Godalming had the foresight to open two public elementary schools in 1812, one of the first places in the country to do so. In addition to the British School, Bell's school had opened on the Mint[6].

The report following an HMI Inspection in 1862, showed that the British School was "well furnished with books, maps, diagrams, and all necessary apparatus". Its library, of 268 volumes, was open to all children at the school and also to past pupils. A charge of 3d. per quarter was made; this was used to replenish the library[7]. Hugh D. Watson was about the become the Master.

By late 1871 there were over 200 children in constant attendance and the time had come to improve the buildings. A meeting of the school's friends and supporters was held the Town Hall. It was to consider enlarging and improving the school as this was now a public elementary school for the town. The then Mayor, Mr. J. W. Pewtress, said the school had been founded to give the poorer classes a good, sound, practical education, without reference to particular doctrinal teachings in matters of religious beliefs. Whilst the Bible was taught, it was without reference to doctrinal dogma. He believed the children should be better housed, with the then buildings possessing "no claim to architectural beauty"[8].

It was decided to form a building committee, the proposed alterations were to be printed and publicised and there were to be subscriptions towards a building fund. Mr. Samuel Welman, a Godalming architect and a former pupil, had prepared a plan showing the proposed alterations and improvements; with the cost expected to be £5-600. Welman's plans were approved at the meeting[8]. A few days later builders were invited to tender for "sundry alterations and additions to the Schools"[9]. An engraving of the proposed work was published as the frontispiece in the Godalming Almanack and Directory at the end of the year[10].

When the foundation stone was laid in May 1872 by James Stewart Hodgson, Esq., Lord of the Manor, it was said the new building was to provide three good schoolrooms for about 130 children in each, two good class-rooms, and a gallery for the infants, together with an ornamental exterior so that, instead of seeing a building "mean and barn like in appearance", those approaching the town should see a building that was attractive and well suited to the surrounding beautiful countryside[4]. The Vicar of Godaalming did not attend[11].

A fund raising Bazaar quickly followed as the plans were now estimated to be costing between £800 and £900, half of which had already been raised by subscription[12]. By the end of 1874 the schools had cleared the debt[13].

The central tower, topped with a small spire,
had a full height entrance on the ground floor.
The doorway was likely to have been blocked
up when the road was widened in 1931 (see below).

At the New Year's Festival in 1875 the Mayor, Thomas Rea, stressed the importance of education and of the advantages to chidren being properly taught to fit them for their duties afterwards. He added that it was the imperative duty of parents to look after their children's education, and to "personally take care that they did not grow up in ignorance and vice". It is noteworthy that prizes for all pupils, the infants and older boys and girls, were awarded for both regular attendance and punctuality. Cleanliness, tidiness, good manners and conduct were also rewarded as well as general progress[14].

Following a meeting held at the school in 1885 Mr. Pewtres applied to the Highways Board to request a kerbed footpath between the two bridges for the convenience and safety of the school children. This was turned down, as it was felt that as the county repaired the road they should also be responsible for the repair of the pavement![15] Nothing had been done to address the issue by 1915 when the building had been an infants' school for some years; at Easter that year there were a number of accidents, as there was no traffic control and a suggested speed limit of 10mph was being ignored[16]. The 1934 OS map is the first time a footpath appears on both sides of Bridge Road[17]. The need for a pavement meant the blocking up of the main entrance was inevitable. A new entrance was created.

By 1904 the British School had become overcrowded and plans were underway to build a new school in part of the grounds of Mrs. Birt's property, Llanaway House, to relieve the overcrowding[18]. This was to become Meadrow School, opened in 1907. Infants remained in the former British School, by now under County Council control. In 1913 Miss Ada Toomer, mistress was the mistress here. The building is now the home of Busy Bees Nursery School (2023).

On each wing, below the central window, is what remains today of two foundations stones. Both are crumbling and difficult to read but fortunately various newspapers recorded what they said.

On the left foundation stone and visible on the top image:
Godalming British Schools
Enlarged A.D. 1872
The memorial stone was laid by
James Stewart Hodgson Esquire, J.P.
Lord of the Manor of Godalming May 9th 1872.

On the right is a second foundation stone:
Godalming British School ... (the rest was unreadable when this was recorded, but was the 1813 stone).

The building is now Grade II listed.

1 and 2. "Godalming. British Schools." Published in 1905 by F. Frith & Co. Ltd., Reigate, No.53241. Posted 24 Dec 1905. The message reads Christmas Greetings "from all at Farncombe"; the card was sent to Alton.
Postcard in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


[1] "Morning Chronicle" and the "Statesman", both of 26 April 1813 as well as "The Suffolk Chronicle; or Weekly General Advertiser & County Express", 1 May 1813.

[2] "Surrey Advertiser", 21 November 1914. A Forgotten Worthy. In 1817, then 19 years of age and at Cambridge, obtained the Chancellor's medal for a poem. He was a friend of Southey and Dickens, who was one of his executors. Mr. Townsend (1798-1868) was buried at the Nightingale Cemetery, Deanery Road.

[3] "The Scots Magazine ", 6 September 1813. Proceedings of the Royal Lancastrian Institution for 1812.

[4] "Surrey Advertiser". 11 May 1872. Educational Progress at Godalming. The minute book mentioned in 1872 still exists. For some years it was held by Godalming Museum but has now been transferred to The Surrey History Centre, Woking.

[5] "ibid.", 11 May 1872. The minute book mentioned in 1872 still exists. For some years it was held by Godalming Museum but has now been transferred to The Surrey History Centre, Woking.

[6] "West Surrey Times", 11 November 1882. Bell's school used his Madras system, which also used monitors to help educate the children. The difference between the two was that Bell's schools were in line with the Church of England teaching and became National Schools. Dr. Andrew Bell was a Scottish Episcopalian priest. Bell's later transferred to the old workhouse site, where Moss Lane school now stands.

[7] "West Surrey Times", 15 August 1863.

[8] "ibid.", 14 October 1871. Godalming. The British Schools.

[9] "Surrey Gazette", 17 October 1871. To builders. Godalming British Schools. Application to the Clerk of the By order, Wm. Russell Harwood, Clerk.

[10] "Surrey Advertiser", 30 December 1871.

[11] The non-affiliation to the established church undoubtedly explains why the Vicar of Godalming did not attend the ceremony to lay the new foundation stone in 1872. This was remarked on at the ceremony.

[12] "ibid.", 8 June 1872.

[13] "ibid.", 19 December 1874.

[14] "ibid.", 23 January 1875. The Brtish Schools.

[15] "ibid.", 12 September 1885. Highways Board.

[16] "West Surrey Times", 10 April 1915. Accidents. also see The Bridge, Godalming, 1907.

[17] Surrey XXXI.15 Series: Ordnance Survey, 25 inch to the mile Revised: 1934.

[18] "West Surrey Times", 26 November 1904. Proposed new school.

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