Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Back in the day there was no such thing as a free education

LAST week I wrote about two 90-year-old ladies who had attended the old Walker Welfare Council School in Thornhill in the 1930s.
Many children, like these pictured here in Albion Road, Thornhill Edge, may well have attended the Thornhill Walker Welfare Charity school which for many years was the only school in Thornhill to provide free education, thanks to Richard Walker.Many children, like these pictured here in Albion Road, Thornhill Edge, may well have attended the Thornhill Walker Welfare Charity school which for many years was the only school in Thornhill to provide free education, thanks to Richard Walker.
Many children, like these pictured here in Albion Road, Thornhill Edge, may well have attended the Thornhill Walker Welfare Charity school which for many years was the only school in Thornhill to provide free education, thanks to Richard Walker.

Margaret Watson writes: This week I am writing about the history of the school and the man who built it – Richard Walker – whose name will always be remembered in the village.

It was in 1812 that Richard Walker bequeathed land, houses and money to set up a charity to provide a free school to educate poor children in Thornhill.

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This was in the days when there was no such thing as free education, so if parents wanted their children to be educated they had to pay for it.

It is possible that the children pictured above in Albion Road, Thornhill Edge, were lucky and went to the Walker Welfare Charity School to receive a free education.

For, in those days children from the working classes received no education, apart from Sunday school, because they were too poor to pay school fees.

The only School in Thornhill prior to Richard’s school being built charged its pupils attendance fees which excluded children whose parents couldn’t afford to send them.

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If you look at old legal documents and marriage certificates today you will see that many of our ancestors couldn’t even write their own names, and had to mark them with an X.

People like Richard Walker saw the injustice of this state of affairs and left instructions that his money would go to the building of a school for such people.

The building was to be used as a free school for the instruction of children of both sexes in reading, writing and arithmetic, but they had to be of “industrious parents” resident within the parish of Thornhill.

The schoolmaster was to live rent free with the rents and profits being derived from the trust to pay his salary and provide desks for the scholars.

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In 1827, the income of the trust was £47 a year, the schoolmaster’s salary £40 a year, and the trust was being administered by trustees, including the Rector of Thornhill.

Richard Walker also bequeathed £100 to be paid to the master of the day school to teach in the Sunday school.

The free school was duly built and became known as the Walker Welfare Free School which over the years would educate thousands of children from the village.

By the year 1867 there were 57 boys and 13 girls attending the school and soon it was to outgrow itself and had to be enlarged.

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It continued to grow and in 1888 it came under government inspection and was given a government grant of £66 15s 6d.

But times change, and eventually education became free to all, and the Walker Welfare School was no longer needed.

However, that was not to be the end of the usefulness of this historic building, for it was converted into a much loved community centre which also served the senior citizens of Thornhill.

Sadly, this historic building was demolished some years ago after the trustees – Kirklees Council – discovered it was unsafe.

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Villagers campaigned to keep it open because they felt its demolition would leave Thornhill bereft of yet another historic landmark.

Public meetings were held in the village but sadly without success, and when it was pulled down, most villagers thought that would be the end of the matter.

But not so with a little group of campaigners who were determined to find some way of retaining part of their local history.

They set about trying to acquire the site on which the old school had once stood to erect a memorial garden to the memory of Richard Walker.

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If I recall correctly, the five people who kept the fight going were: Alan Butcher, Carole Driver, Christine Hidle Pauline Friend and Margaret Nicholson.

They said at the time they were doing it out of a deep desire to remember a man who had done so much for the poor children of Thornhill.

They were also concerned that much of the history of towns and villages like Thornhill was slowly being lost.

Unfortunately, their idea for a memorial garden did not bear fruit because of lack of funding and not having the required constitution to enable them to get charity status.

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But, they were eventually given permission and assistance from Kirklees Council to erect a memorial on the site in Richard’s memory.

Incorporated in the memorial was to have been an ancient brass plaque belonging to the centre as well as some stones from the old school.

I do not know if this happened because I haven’t been up there for quite a long time, but I do hope it was finally erected. If not I would like to know why.

Thornhill has a rich history and has been fortunate over the years to have received many generous bequests like the one from Richard Walker.

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These were eventually merged into one trust under the title of Thornhill Poor Estate Charity which was founded in 1688 when Richard Swallow, bequeathed “£100 to the poor of the ancient township of Thornhill”, which included at the time, Flockton, Netherton, Middlestown and Whitley Lower.

In 1713 land was purchased with the income held in trust for the poor of Thornhill, and part of this was Manor Farm at Whitley Bridge between Doncaster and Selby.

Together, these combined charities have provided sustenance, education and spiritual food for the poor of the village.

The benefits from these charities were many and varied with some giving prayer books at Christmas and others giving doles or grants.

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One particular bequest gave ten shilling to the Rector of Thornhill for his sermon on St Thomas’s Day.

In 1896, the Rector of Thornhill also distributed doles to 67 poor persons ranging from 2/6d to six shillings.