Chew's House School
Chew's House, by Hugh Garrod
First published in the Dunstable & District Local History
Issue No. 23
Chew's Foundation School 1880 to 1905
The 1860s saw developments which were to have a huge effect on the Charity School. Dunstable Borough Council (1864), which contained members of many denominations, took an increasing interest in education in the town. The Ashton Foundation had a huge surplus of money which led to the building of the Elementary School, (Ashton St. Peter's) and later to Dunstable Grammar School. When Gladstone's Liberals won the 1868 General Election, they passed, among other laws, The Endowed Schools Act (1869) and the Education Act (1870). The former established the Endowed Schools Commissioners and the latter introduced the requirement for statutory elementary education. Both undermined the powers of the Trustees. The Commissioners investigated the school's Trustees in 1874 and put forward the first plans to establish secondary education in Dunstable. The Elementary School was to be for girls, the Charity School for boys and the new Grammar School was to be for the secondary education of boys. The first two schools were to be inspected by the Commissioners and were to retain their C of E connections. The third was to come under Government inspection. All church funded apprenticeships were to be abolished. All the negotiations which resulted in the establishment of the Foundation School were protracted by the many bodies involved and the entrenched views of the participants. The Trustees objected to most of the proposals on the grounds that they were not in keeping with the 1724 and 1727 settlements. The next proposal was that the Grammar School should be established in the Elementary School building. This was opposed because the site was so unhealthy. The Elementary School was famous for its stench. The Grammar School should, therefore, be a new building.
Chew's Foundation School was approved by the Queen in Council on 28th June 1880, to be a Secondary School, the first one in South Bedfordshire. Most pupils were to leave at 14 but they could stay on to 15. The curriculum included the natural sciences, drill, vocal music, Latin and one modern foreign language. The establishment was for 40 free scholars and 60 fee-payers. The maximum fee for boarders was 35 pa. The free scholars, sons of poor Anglicans, received uniform, books and a deposit in a savings bank of between 2 and 4. The 12 Governors included 6 of the original Trustees and 2 Town Councillors and met twice a year. There was an annual external inspection and an audit by the Commissioners.
The existing building was inadequate for its new role. Numbers 34, 35 and 36 South Street were purchased from Munt and Brown for the site of the new building. It cost 580 and was opened in 1883. It consisted of a school room and two class rooms. The new school was in trouble almost from the start. Agriculture was in decline in the 1890s and this led to a slow diminution of income, year on year. The Grammar School opened in 1888 and was able to offer a more complete curriculum. From 1891 the Elementary School solved its sanitation problems and established a good reputation for the quality of its education. The Chew's School was not popular with those of the local Councillors who were not Anglicans. William Hambling had been an excellent Master of the Charity School but did not have the skills to run a Secondary School. Throughout the 1890s, there were discussions and arguments between the Governors of the various Dunstable schools, the Commissioners, HMI, and the Town Council, as to the use of the new building. In 1894, the Town Council suggested that the building be used as a Library, Reading Room and Evening Institute. In 1895 the Governors suggested that their school should be a girls Secondary School, but the consensus was that this would be better established in Luton. William Hambling died in 1898 and George Griffin was appointed temporary master. He was a good teacher and disciplinarian. The County Council became the LEA in May 1903 and so added another voice in the continuing discussions and disagreements about the educational requirements in Dunstable.
The Agricultural College in Ridgmont needed to expand but the Duke of Bedford would not grant permission. The LEA decided to move it to Dunstable with Rural Sciences at the Grammar School and the advanced course in the new Chews building. As a result, the idea of a girls school was dropped in June 1904. The Governors opposed the idea of the Agricultural College, as they had opposed every other suggestion, on the grounds that it did not comply with the settlements of 1724, 1727 or 1880.
By 1901 there were only 14 pupils on roll. By January 1905 this had fallen to 3. The only advantages of attending the Chews School were the free uniform and the savings account. Parents were no longer willing to pay for their sons to be educated alongside free scholars when the Grammar School offered a superior curriculum. In January 1905 all parties were unanimous, for the first time ever, that the school should close at Easter 1905. The few remaining pupils were given scholarships to other schools.
This is a sad end to a school which, for most of its life, was a prized asset of the town. It provided a quality education to generations of children, many of whom remembered the school with gratitude. It raised the standard of education for a whole stratum of society, fulfilling the expectations of its founders.
This was not quite the end of education at Chew's House, though. When the Wesleyan Church burnt down in 1908, and its school with it, the boys were educated for a while in Chew's House. It is ironic that the last organised classes in this building should be for the sons of what William Chew would have regarded as 'Dissenters'.
The work of the Chew's Foundation continues to this day. Part of the settlement of 1910 says that income from investments should be spent on supporting education in Dunstable and District. The Charity School was famous for its free uniform. The Foundation is a Christian charity. It provides grants for school uniform and other educational purposes to the baptised children (boys and girls) of parents who apply to it.
Page last updated: 23rd Janaury 2014