Robert Smith, M.D., founded, in 1725, a school at Blackdown for the education of thirteen boys of Broadwinsor and Burstock. He endowed it with lands in the tithing of Childhay. Among the objects of the founder was the teaching of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, an ambitious curriculum in a rural locality where the pure mother tongue and the Three R’s are more obviously useful.
In 1867, when the school premises had become very dilapidated, and alterations were needed for other reasons, an enquiry upon the spot was made by a C.H. Stanton from the Public Charity Commissioners. The result was a new scheme, under which a considerable addition was made to the number of trustees, whose powers were extended in the management of the funds and the appointment and control of masters, while the future course of instruction was defined and simplified.
MR. STANTON’S REPORT.
Nearly four miles from the village of Broadwinsor, but within the parish, said to be the third largest in Dorset, is a school founded and endowed by Robert Smith, M.D., in 1725, who, by will, left his dwelling house and about 29 acres of land to the vicars of the two adjoining villages of Burstock and Thorncombe, and their successors, in trust “to convert the said house into a schoolhouse convenient for a schoolmaster to live and teach school therein, for the instruction of youth for ever in the Latin, English, Greek, and Hebrew tongues.” The trustees are to nominate for gratuitous instruction 13 poor boys of the parishes of Burstock and Broadwinsor, and in default of finding boys there, to take them from the adjoining parishes. The trustees are to keep the school in good repair and pay the master £13 a year, and devote the overplus, if any, “to the improvement of the school and the encouragement of learning therein.”
The schoolhouse stands quite alone in a retired part of the large parish of Broadwinsor, and is six or seven miles from the railway station at Crewkerne. It is a sort of farmhouse, and has a garden and orchard around it, the premises altogether which are in the master’s own occupation consisting of about one acre. The walls of the west end of the house, which were falling, have been lately rebuilt. Much of it is still disgracefully out of repair. The floor of the kitchen is absolutely “foundrous.” The schoolroom is a low room about seven feet high, flagged with stones worn and uneven; in some places the bare ground was visible, the walls were green with damp, the fire-place ruinous, the desks old and mangled. There was no playground. The rates and taxes are paid by the trustee out of the charity estate.
Here, 22 boys were receiving instruction, of whom 13 were free-boys, paying nothing for their education, nine paid 10s. 6d. a quarter, and three were boarders, who went home on Friday and returned on Monday, and paid £3 10s. a quarter; all paid a small sum for stationery and books, averaging from 3s. 6d. to 5s. a quarter. The master has room for seven or eight boarders. The boys were principally small farmers’ sons, the charge for stationery deterring mere labourers from applying for admission even on the free list. The boys were mostly young, nearly all Dissenters, and attended with great irregularity. The day boys came from a radius of three or four miles round. A few of them could not read. The applications for admission on the free list were made to the master, who filled up the vacancies as they occurred. Of the seven upper boys, whose ages averaged 12, the reading and writing from dictation was only indifferent, but they showed some intelligence in working simple sums in arithmetic, and three of them did a sum in the rule of three. They had very little knowledge of geography, though two of them had executed some coloured maps very neatly. The seven next boys, whose average age was nine, could not write out from memory the Lord’s Prayer correctly, either as regards the words or the spelling. Their arithmetic was inaccurate, and their reading was poor. They showed some sharpness in mental arithmetic, calculating the value of a given number of articles at a given price with rapidity and tolerable correctness.
The present master has held his office for nine years, and was previously master at a National school in a village adjoining, having originally been apprenticed to a farmer. He was appointed master without conditions. He is a plain, well-meaning man of some intelligence, keeps his own cow, which he milks himself, skilful in land-measuring, for which he is often employed by the farmers, and good at figures; for some years past he has been employed to keep the accounts of Lord Bridport’s estate, and was well spoken of on all sides. The only trustee of the school is the Rev. John Bragge, who unites in his own person the vicarages of Thorncombe and Burstock. He is old and infirm, and cannot move about except in a chair or carriage. He seems to have considered that his duties of trustee terminated when he had paid the master his yearly stipend of £13. Anything like an examination into their studies or a gift of prizes he has never thought necessary. The accommodation for the boys in the schoolroom is miserably inadequate.
The land belonging to the endowment consists of 28 to 29 acres, the value of which is said to be considerably beyond the rent actually paid, namely £25. 10s., at which it was some years ago valued by a resident valuer. In 1810 the rent was £28. The tenant is a butcher and farmer, and every seven years has a new lease granted him by the trustee; the last was granted in 1862. I was told that if the land were let by tender, a large increase of rent would be obtained, and the master himself was willing to rent it at a higher rent than is now paid.
The past history of this school is not an edifying one. Not only has there been a miscarriage of the intention of the founder, toward which inevitable circumstances have perhaps contributed, but I fear there has been also a neglect of duty on the part of those whom lie appointed the guardians of his bounty, who have done little either “to improve the school or encourage learning therein.”