Nostalgia: Help for destitute children

The  rear of North Terrace, Scarborough. The block of terraced houses which were once the Amicable Societys school premises.
The rear of North Terrace, Scarborough. The block of terraced houses which were once the Amicable Societys school premises.

Most of Scarborough’s post-Reformation almshouses places were offered to the elderly, the infirm and destitute widows; only the parish workhouse took in children under the age of seven and afterwards “put them out” to apprenticeships. Charity provision for children was made for their moral welfare and their future employment. “No charity in Scarbrough (sic) has been so liberally suported as this, and the donations amount to a considerable sum”, such were the published words of Joseph Brogden Baker in his history of the town in 1882 when referring to its Amicable Society.

The foundation of Scarborough’ Amicable Society in 1729 is attributed to one of the borough’s many eccentrics, Robert North (1702-60), who, for most of his adult life, lived at 43 Queen Street. He was the only son of St Mary’s parish vicar, Rev John North (1696-1708), but lost his mother at the age of six. After the conventional upbringing and education of a gentleman, he was expected to follow his late father’s vocation, but, with independent means, he returned to Scarborough to become almost a recluse. He left his home only to walk to and from St Mary’s church for services there. Only on one day of the year, his birthday, did he invite his large number of lady friends to 43 Queen Street to celebrate it. He was said to be a very entertaining host.

The purpose of North’s Amicable Society was to clothe as well as educate the daughters as well as the sons of the town’s poor; but it was for Anglican children, financed by Anglican benefactors, and closely monitored by the Anglican clergy and congregation of St Mary’s.

In 1729 there were scarcely more than a handful of Presbyterian and Quaker families living in Scarborough. Only much later in the century, after Nonconformity had taken root in several forms in the town, did the Amicable Society’s denominational principles become resented and its rich endowment envied.

The Society’s classes were held in a room of Trinity House in St Sepulchre Street. It was not until 1817 that a grant of land from the Corporation and a series of generous donations from local benefactors allowed the Society’s trustees to build its new school between Duesbery’s Walk (North Terrace) and Castle Road. Though later enlarged and modernised and now divided into a row of terraced domestic properties, the school building still survives. Containing living apartments for master and mistress as well as several classrooms, it cost the Society £1,200.

In 1817, sixty children were being clothed and shod and taught the four Rs – reading, writing, arithmetic and the doctrines and practices of the established church. The 
Society had ample income from property rents and Government stock and every 
Sunday received subscriptions from its 250 members. By 1825 the number of its 
pupils had risen to seventy.

The earliest school in Scarborough for girls, dating from 1788, was on the north side of Longwestgate or High Westgate, as it was then called. It was founded by a group of local ladies and supported entirely by voluntary subscription. Originally it was known as the Spinning School, but “after spinning ceased to be a home duty”, about 1808 it was merged into a new School of Industry.

Instead of spinning it taught girls sewing, and by 1832 there were about 100 of them. This school was in Cook’s Row, adjoining Taylor’s Free Dwellings. Like the Amicable School, the curriculum consisted of a mixture of moral training and domestic skills. In the pompous, patronising words of the time, the School of Industry was run by ladies “who ever manifest an ardent solicitude for the improvement of the lower orders of their own sex”.

However, the largest school by far then in Scarborough was the Lancasterian, opened in 1810. Joseph Lancaster was a pioneer of what was called the monitorial method of teaching, whereby the brightest and most advanced pupils or “monitors” passed on their knowledge to the less-gifted and youngest in the class. By this method, a minimum of adult teachers could manage a maximum number of pupils.

Scarborough’s Lancasterian school, instructing poor children in basic literacy and numeracy, was built on the north side of the Rope-Walk (later Rutland Terrace) and accommodated more than 100 pupils. Twenty years later, the number had grown to 344.

The Lancasterian school was non-denominational and as such offended and alarmed the more bigoted Anglicans who regarded it as a rival to the Amicable school nearby. In 1810 the Town Hall was also displeased by the competition. When Bailiffs were offered governor places at the new school, their reply was to reject the offer and grant five guineas of public money to the Amicable school!

Religious rivalry was a stumbling block and a stimulus to educational progress in Scarborough. All the many denominational leaders were aware that it was necessary to “indoctrinate” children as well as their parents. There was intense rivalry between the National Society, which ran voluntary Anglican schools throughout the country and the nonconformist British and Foreign Society. Ever since the Reformation, at every level, from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge down to the dames’ schools, the Church of England had enjoyed a virtual monopoly of education for rich and poor alike. However, by 1800 the established church community in Scarborough was already outnumbered by the Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Independents, Quakers and Catholics combined, who were all making provision for their children in Sunday school classes.

The Sunday schools were certainly successful in attracting great numbers of children who otherwise had no education at all. By 1832, St Mary’s had up to 250 every week; Ebenezer Baptist chapel in Longwestgate had been running a Sunday school since 1817 for up to 250 children, who had access to its library of more than 300 books; and the Wesleyan Methodists in Queen Street had new schoolrooms for as many as 200.

Finally, the only free education available in Scarborough was at the so-called Infant School opened in 1827 in St Sepulchre Street opposite the Friends’ Meeting House. Like the School of Industry nearby, it was run by a committee of ladies. [to be continued]