This history of the school is a shortened version of a much longer work researched and written by Mr. J. E. Buckler. Mr. Buckler was, at one time, Headmaster of the school and also Chairman of the Church Eaton Grammar School Educational Foundation.
The present school is the latest in a long and continuous line stretching back to the 15th Century. That in itself is remarkable, but even more remarkable is the fact that throughout the whole period, the school has possessed its own property, and still does. That property has always been administered for the benefit of the school, formerly by trustees and, since 1899, by the governor or Church Eaton Grammar School Foundation. Indeed, the school itself was known as Church Eaton Grammar School until its amalgamation with the Girls and Infants’ school in 1897. The present school is the direct descendant of that amalgamation.
Instruction was first given in a chantry, forming part of the Church of St. Editha, the purpose of which was the recital of masses for the souls of the dead. However, the chantry possessed its own stipendiary priest, separate and distinct from the other clerical staff, who regularly taught children as part of his duties. That was testified in 1549 when, during the English Reformation, the chantry was surpressed. In that year, witnesses before a Chantry Commission swore that the chantry was already so old that no-one living knew how it had all started……
“… by whom the same londes and tenements were first gyven to the seyd use it is not certenly knowen”.
In addition it was also stated that the chantry priest was also required to teach children freely but …..
“…whether it were so ordeyned by the first gyft of the same londes or not we know not.”
At that time the king usually appropriated to his own use all the properties and possessions of suppressed monasteries and chantries. That did not happen in Church Eaton because the Commission of 1549 was also told that (most unusually) the appointment of, and provision for, a stipendiary chantry priest had been in the hands of the villagers themselves who ……..
“…. Have of long tyme bene in thordre of then habitants of Churcheyton who have used to appoint two of the same parysshe to receyve the yerely proffetes of the premysses And have employed the same upon the fyndyng of a priest to syng masse and do other servyce in the seyd churche entendying the contynuannce for ever”.
And it is probably because the chantry’s property belonged to the village, and not to the church, that it was allowed to remain untouched.
The “Tunnel” 1549-1620
We have little knowledge of what precisely happened during this period. The school, however, presumably continued as a separate institution, being financed by the income from the property of the former chantry. Indeed, further property may have been acquired since 7 tenants were mentioned in 1549 but there are 9 listed on an Indenture of 1656. (It also seems likely that at least 3 families – Astley, James and Blake – retained their tenancies throughout this period, since these names occur in both documents).
The Early Schools
Sir William Stiche had been the last stipendiary priest of the chantry. The next recorded name is that of John Baker who in 1620 was appointed schoolmaster of The Free Grammar School in Church Eaton. In 1679, John Adderley B.A., of Brasenose College, Oxford, became master and in 1697, Francis Collins, B.A. of Christ Church, Oxford. No further names seem to have been recorded till 1772, when William Wright was curate and schoolmaster. (Dr. George Taylor, rector, spoke of him as the former in answer to a bishop’s questionnaire, and in 1847 a later rector spoke of him as both).
The first account of the school, however, does not occur till 1824, when “The 11th Report for Inquiring concerning Charities in England and Wales” was published. This states that before 1802 the rents from the properties amounted only to £54.4s.0d., and that they were received by the Rev. Mr. Bird, the master of the school, as his salary, except for two sums of 3 guineas and two guineas per annum which were paid to two schoolmistresses for preparing young children for the school, by instructing them in reading and for teaching girls.
The report of 1824 also states that previous schoolmasters appear “to have been always clergymen” (although the school had never been a “church” school as such) and that in usage the school was considered a grammar school, open for gratuitous instruction to the sons of all the inhabitants of Church Eaton. All boys whose “friends desire it could be taught Latin”, and all boys were taught reading, writing and accounts, as well as the rudiments of mathematics “if qualified for the latter branch of learning by continuing a sufficient time at school”.
At the time, there were usually 20 to 30 boys in attendance in summer, and 30 to 50 in winter (school attendance, of course, being then voluntary). In 1824 there were also, according to the report, 25 young children, boys and girls, instructed free of expenase by the schoolmistresses.
Sites and Buildings
The early school buildings were actually in the churchyard. The Victoria County History of Staffordshire indicates that the 17th Century school may have been attached to the church. An estate map of 1717, however, clearly marks as “School” a separate building, plain shown on a Talbot estate map of that date, was in use. This was the school which Rector Talbot wished to have removed from the churchyard and who in 1847 wrote “I have
ascertained it was built some years ago by Mr. Wright, a former Master (who was also curate of the parish …) in the churchyard”.
After some ten years of pressure, the school was at last replaced by a new building, the first not to be sited on church land. This known locally as “The Old (Grammar)School” was the immediate predecessor of the present school. It was not demolished until 1924 (when some of the materials were used to extend the village Institute) although it was not used as a school after 1900, by which time the Boys’ Grammar School had been amalgamated with the Girls and Infants School.
The Old (Grammar) School
This stood on what is now the “long” playground. It was erected about the same time as the Girls’ school (c.1857), with a porch added in 1888. It cost £301.1.6d. to build and the money was provided partly by accumulated funds and partly by a collection, amounting to £72.4.10d. taken at chaurch after a sermon preached by the Bishop of Lichfield. In 1987, some of the older village residents well remembered this building; some had even played in it as children. They said it consisted of one big room. In earlier years, however, it had had a partition, since one was removed in 1889.
Girls and Infants
In 1731, Mr. Ralph Macclesfield left £10. To the poor of this parish and the benefaction was laid out in the purchase of a croft in Wood Eaton. A parish workhouse was erected on the site in 1798 but it had ceased to function as such by 1838. It was then occupied by private tenants until 1857, when it was decided to build a National School for girls and infants. No Trust minutes exist for this school but there are occasional references to it in the minutes of the Grammar School Foundation. There is also school log book beginning in 1877. The first reference to it in the Foundation minutes was on 13th September 1869, when it was recorded that a sum of £20 was paid to the schoolmistress.
At first, the girls and infants shared the same room and the same teacher. As early as 1877 it was “in contemplation to erect an Infants’ School on land belonging to this Trust” but the classroom was not actually built until 1882. (These buildings still stand, situated close to the rear of the Royal Oak Public House, and are in use as a private residence). By 1884 the staff consisted of one certificated mistress, one assistant teacher and one monitress.
From 1886, the school log book shoes numbers on roll and average attendances. In the week-ending 5th March 1886 the average attendance was 46.4 and the “school pence” received amounted to 5s.6d. The following week a system of tickets for regular attendance was introduced, to be changed eventually to prizes. This seems to have effected an immediate improvement since the next week had an average attendance of 70.8 and the “school pence” received amounted to 8s.2d.
The school was amalgamated with the Boys’ School in 1897, under the boys’ master Mr. S.H. Sargent, moving to the present building in 1900.
The Present School (Church Eaton Endowed Primary School, as from 1988).
Because of the unusual history of The Boys’ Grammar School the new school, opened in 1900 for Boys, Girls and Infans, was made the subject of an Order in Council (applicable and specifically to Church Eaton) signed by Queen Victoria on 2nd February 1899.
Although the school itself had actually begun in a church chantry, and although for many years the schoolmasters had all been clergymen, it had never actually been funded by the church and was not therefore, technically, a “Church” school. This was made quite clear in the Scheme of 1899, which formally abolished all jurisdiction of the Bishop. Nevertheless when, in accordance with the Education Act of 1902, a group of school managers was constituted, additional to the Foundation Governors, the school was referred to as Church Eaton Church School at the first meeting in 1903. Since then, there have been various changes of name but the word “church” has now been definitely omitted from the title. (The Scheme of 1899 stipulates that instruction shall be in accordance with the principles of the Christian religion, but the school itself is independant of any denomination).
The present school opened in 1900 and was paid for by the Governors of Church Eaton Grammar School Foundation, which still exists and still owns and maintains the school building although the children’s education is now funded by Staffordshire Education Committee. (Until the beginning of the present century the trustees not only engaged but also paid the teachers).
The school cost £1,674.18s.1d. to build and equip and the money was largely raised by the sale of the Royal Oak Public House (which then belonged to the Foundation) for £546.10s.3d., the sale of the girls’ school for £270.7s.4d., a loan of £386.19s.0d. (repayable over 25 years) from the Alliance Assurance Co., and donations amounting to £411.15s.0d. from 14 local residents.
The school opened with 3 classrooms (each with a large open fire) and two porches, one for boys and one for girls and infants. Each porch was also a cloakroom and had washbowls with cold water taps fed from rainwater roof tanks (which were frequently blocked up).
Since the opening there have been many changes, improvements and additions. The school leaving age was raised to 15 in 1946. The school kitchen was added in 1947 and in 1950 the galleries were removed from the infants’ room. In 1957, the school changed from an all age to a primary school when the 11+ children transferred to what was then Gnosall Secondary Modern School. In 1960, the school was modernised, mains water was provided and toilets and a staffroom/office added. (Before this, sanitary provision had consisted of bucket closets at the rear of the playground). Another extensive modernisation began in 1977 when the two main classrooms were converted into a multi- purpose hall, two new classrooms built, the infants’ classroom improved and additional toilets provided. In 1978, the school became a First School when the 9+ children transferred to Gnosall Middle School. On the closure of the school at Moreton in 1982, the majority of the parents opted to send their children to Church Eaton and the Local Education Authority provided transport for that purpose. Six years later, after a period of uncertainty, all Middle Schools in theBorough of Stafford were closed and the school once again became a primary school, with transfer at 11+.