Education, Victorian

A History of Education in Knaresborough from 1814 to 1858

Contributed by our acting chairman & co-author – Brian Forshaw


No record has been found of the official opening day for the new National School for Boys in 1814. It seems likely that this would have been for the beginning of the Autumn Term in September 1814.
The first National School in the district was established in Knaresborough in 1814, mainly through the efforts of the vicar, Reverend Andrew Cheap, who was vicar of Knaresborough from 1804 to 1851. He raised a subscription locally, which was augmented by a gift of £500 from the Duke of Devonshire. A school with accommodation for about 200 boys was built in Castle Yard and this became Castle School. A girls’ school was started in a room adjoining the vicarage, which also served as a Sunday school.

The 1851 map of Knaresborough shows the layout of the school which was composed of a large hall on the West side and about five small rooms along the East side.
Arnold Kellett in his book, ‘Historic Knaresborough,’ writes, ‘The Methodists, who had built their first real chapel in 1815 on the site of a cherry orchard in Gracious Street, ran a successful Sabbath and Day School there with its own library. Records show that in 1842 the Methodists were giving elementary education to 170 pupils, mostly children who had no other means of receiving instruction. Children were also being taught by the Catholics at St. Mary’s School in Bond End which, in 1851, had 102 boys and 95 girls.’


In 1823 Charles Marshall left £550 in his will, the interest from which was to be used to buy clothing for the two boys and two girls who each year were considered the ‘best scholars.’ This continued at St John’s School until 2014 and a board displayed the original document describing the bequest and a list of recipients in the school on Stockwell Road.


In 1833, when information about the provision of schools was collected nationally by the government, Knaresborough had a total of sixteen private schools. Four were boarding and day schools for girls, with a total of 107 pupils. Nine were described as “small schools kept by females.” Altogether there were 449 pupils in the private schools. The endowed and National Schools had 274 pupils (Richardson’s 30, Grammar 20 boys and 4 girls, National 220) and there was an infants’ school, where 50 children were taught free, making a total of 773 in day schools. These figures must be used with caution. They were collected by the vicar, who may not have been given accurate information in all cases. They probably relate to numbers on roll, rather than to numbers in regular attendance, and they do not, of course, throw much light on the quality of the education received. However, allowing for the short school life of most children, the children of the town were having some experience of day schooling. Five Sunday Schools, which taught the elements of reading as well as religious instruction, had a total of 548 children. The two Church schools had 78 boys and 180 girls. A Catholic school had 100 children, and there were two Sunday Schools run by Methodists (probably one Wesleyan and one Primitive) with 190 children between them. The Sunday school teachers were usually unpaid volunteers. In giving evidence to the Hand Loom Weavers’ Commission in 1839 James Brown, a linen weaver, who had five children, implied that some of the local Sunday schools taught writing also, a practice which had been condemned by the Wesleyan Methodist leadership as ‘a profanation of the sabbath.’ ‘The Sunday schools do not all teach writing. There are evening schools, where writing is taught gratis … Our general inclination is to send the children to school, to Sunday schools, but in the week they must be employed at work.’

The Factory Act of 1833 required that factory children aged from nine to twelve inclusive should attend school for two hours a day. The proprietors of Castle Mill, Knaresborough, established a school at the mill, to take the children in two-hour shifts throughout the day. The school probably closed when the 1844 Factory Act came into operation. The new requirement that children should attend school half-time could best be met by sending them to the National or Wesleyan schools for the morning or afternoon session.

The first government grant in aid of voluntary schools was made in 1833, at the rate of £20,000 a year for the whole of England and Wales. The grant was raised to £30,000 in 1839 and increased frequently thereafter. Only three local schools had received grants by 1849, all towards the costs of the provision or improvement of buildings and equipment. High Harrogate National School received £100 in 1837, and a further £100 in 1841. A grant of £50 was made towards the building of Low Harrogate National School in 1837, and in the following year £135 was paid to the National School in Knaresborough.


Pigott’s Directory of Professions and Trades for 1834 lists the following Academies and Schools in Knaresborough: Not otherwise described are Day Schools:

• Benn, Rev. Henry, Bond End.
• Calcutt, John, Gracious Street.
• Cartwright, Thomas, Gracious Street.
• Catholic School, Church Lane, Ralph Gibson, master.
• Free School, High Street, John Winter, master.
• Grammar School, Vicarage Lane, Rev. William Barker, master.
• Howgate, Mary (ladies’ boarding) Grove house.
• National School (boys) Castle Yard, William Blanchard, master.
• National School (girls) Vicarage Lane, Mary Jaques, mistress.
• Nursaw, Frances, Ann (ladies’ boarding) Beech Hill House.
• Thackray, the Misses (ladies’ boarding) Prospect House, High Street.
• Whaley, Christopher, Savage Yard.


1837 The National School (Girls) Castle Yard opened in 1837 and the first head teacher was Ms. Jennings. The first floor was possibly added about 1875. The girls occupied the two northern bays in 1851 and the infants occupied the three southern bays.

In addition to endowed and denominational schools, there were private schools relying entirely on the fees paid by parents. In Knaresborough they ranged from Thomas Cartwright’s Classical and Commercial Academy in Gracious Street, which had Bishop Stubbs (photo left) as its most famous pupil, to “dame schools” in which elementary subjects, sometimes reading only, were taught by women most of whom were themselves poorly educated.

Castle Girls School
Rear of Castle Girls School

1840 Stevens Bibles

In 1840 Maria Stevens left an endowment to the school to provide bibles for an annual prize. She died in 1840 and, according to her memorial in the Parish Church, “laboured with unwearied zeal and love for the spiritual benefit of the people of this place.” Former Castle Girls’ School pupil, Janet Coatman, is holding one of the Stevens Bibles at the St. John’s School Open Day in 2013. Janet Coatman was presented with one of these bibles when she was a pupil.


By 1844 the Castle Girls School had 80 girls attending who were being ‘instructed in reading, writing, accounts, knitting and needlework.’ In addition 80 infants were taught in the same building.


The Ordnance Survey map of 1849 (above) shows the layout of the National Schools. Notice that the Dispensary is missing from the map as this was not built until 1853.


The legal transfer of the land from the Duchy of Lancaster to The Vicar and Churchwardens of Knaresborough.


The history is taken from a book called: ‘From Castle Yard to Stockwell Road,’ by Brian Forshaw and Di Weatherell, written in 2014. “This is a book we wrote about the history of the school on its 200th anniversary”.


Donation to Knaresborough town Museum

Knaresborough Town Museum Website.

From Castle Yard to Stockwell Road – Copies available at Harrogate & Knaresborough Libraries