The Foundation of the School

The school traces its history back to 1849. A number of local people led by the local church raised funds to provide a school.

The people of Audley owe a considerable amount to the generosity of various members of the Wilbraham family from Robe Hall near Scholar Green but particularly to Charles Wilbraham the Vicar of Audley, during the mid 1800s, and his sister Fanny Wilbraham.

Frances Maria Wilbraham (known as Fanny) was born on 30th June 1815, her parents being Randle Wilbraham, the squire of Rode Hall and Sibylla Wilbraham (originally Egerton) of Oulton hall, Cheshire. On the 2nd November 1844 she went to Audley to support her brother Charles (the Vicar) and generally act as his housekeeper. Their support and generosity over the next twenty or so years was to have a lasting effect on the area.

When they arrived they found an area experiencing considerable change. Coal mining was rapidly becoming well established and the local people had poor conditions and facilities. “.. the parish was much neglected – not even a Sunday school, let alone a school, as the former incumbent had closed them.” They worked hard over the next few years and soon had been instrumental in establishing schools across the area. (Audley 1845; 1848 Butt Lane and later Wood Lane 1856). Given the growing population the need for a school at Halmer End soon became a priority. Using land donated by a relative to the family (Sir Thomas Boughey) they opened a school at Halmer End on 29th January 1849. Although records for the period are not extensive it is clear that they had experienced considerable difficulty in raising funds for the Halmer End project. For other schools they had been able to raise funds from local landowners, and others, but it was much more difficult at Halmer End. As a result Fanny Wilbraham appears to have stood most of the cost herself. Even when constructed, the daily cost of running the school was considerable, and Fanny appears to have largely supported it herself during many of its early years.

Although she must have inherited some funds from her family she was appears to have lived by writing and from what we can tell spent much of the income on the poor.

The area of land donated by the Boughey family stood at the corner of what is now High Street and Station Road and this led to buildings being constructed in the centre of the small village of Halmer End. The school at the time consisted of one room. Miss Speakman was appointed as the first Head. When the Head left the school she was praised for her work, the school being described as ‘a good well built and managed day school for the boys of the village of Halmer End. We are not sure how long she served but on 10th January 1853 a Miss Masson was appointed to the post. Miss Masson stayed at the school for just over one year being replaced in April 1854 by Miss Parry.

School inspections were a regular event for schools, even in those days and on the 2nd November 1855 the Rev. J P Norris inspected the school along with the one at Audley. The report was very good and showed good levels of literacy, much probably due to Fanny Wilbraham who often taught it herself. There were further inspections in 1856 and 58.

The expenses for running the school were a constant problem. Records show that from Nov. 1857 to Nov 1858 the expenses for books for all the schools in the village stood at £10: 5s but repairs to Halmer End alone cost £45. The vicar, Charles Wilbraham organised many fund raising events and special sermons but they didn’t often meet the costs. A special ‘schools’ sermon raised only a fraction of the costs at £53: 10s :6d.

The problems of financing the school were only part of the issue. Central to the success of the school was the quality of the Head. Over its early years we have no record to show how effective the early Heads were but we do know that they changed continuously each staying only for a few years. Charles and Fanny decided that the problem could be solved by providing a house for the Head to live in. Again largely through their own funds and a considerable contribution from Fanny a school house was built and opened on 12th August 1860. This building remained, later used as the caretaker’s house, until the late 1970s when it was demolished by the County Council.

The Headteacher from 1856 was Elizabeth Chadwick. Elizabeth was born in 1837 in Staffordshire and was 34 and unmarried at the time of her Headship. Charles Wilbraham’s diary records that “… July 1863 Miss Chadwick left the school and was replaced by Miss Barton”. Elizabeth Chadwick had been the longest serving head by that date. For a short period a Miss Barton was appointed but by 1863 the Head was Elizabeth Shaw. Records do not show the names of other teachers but we know that the school was large enough and could afford an Assistant Head by 1864 when Miss Mountford was appointed to the post.

A letter from the Vicar, Charles Wilbraham, in 1858 makes interesting reading. It is available in full here but extracts include:-

  • “You will see, at how great a cost we endeavour to supply a cheap and excellent education to every part of our extensive parish. Those who are unaccustomed to schools, can form no idea of the outlay required for repairs, books, slates, cleaning, rewards and other sundries, besides the maintenance of good teachers”
  • “The Halmer End School is carried on with great efficiency… it is absolutely necessary to build an additional room for the infants at a large cost”
  • Finally we can see the considerable contribution by Fanny Wilbraham if we compare the schools and their funding:-
    • Boys School Audley : Supported by Trustees
    • Infants School Audley : Supported by trustees
    • Halmer End School: Supported by Miss Wilbraham
  • Charles’ diary throughout this period give some insight into the other aspects of local and national news:-
    • 14th Dec 1861: Death of the Prince Consort
    • 26th August 1862 : School Feast for the Rector (Charles Wilbraham)
    • 6th October 1863 : Earthquake
    • 1863 Bonfire at Apedale Hall
    • 1863 Wedding of the Prince of Wales
    • 1865: Assassination of Pres. Lincoln
    • October 1865: Death of Lord Palmerston
    • 2nd Jan 1866: Crewe Hall Burnt Down
    • Feb. 1866: Cattle Plague in Audley
    • 13th Dec 1866: Explosion at Talke Coal Mine
    • Feb. 1867: Great Eclipse on Ash Wednesday
    • 1868 Magdala taken (Magdala is in modern day Ethiopia)
    • 1868: Duke of Edinburgh Shot
    • 15th July 1868: Special Service for rain due to terrible drought
    • 1871 News of peace between Germany and France
    • Dec 1871: Prince of Wales dangerously ill
Year School Size Attendance
1884 236 100%
1892 300 82%
1896 300 83%
1900 500 63%
1904 500 56%
1908 470 83%
1912 379 95%
1916 379 97%

By the 1870s the local vicar Re. Charles Wilbraham was working hard to have the school extended. He recorded that ‘the expenditure was £61 17s 0d per annum’…and that …’it was absolutely essential to build an extra room for the infants despite the large cost’. These extensions were provided by 1875 and officially opened by the vicar’s sister and George Boughey, the son of Sir Thomas Boughey. The foundation stone for these extensions remains and is mounted in the new school wall.

By current standards the school appears small but it must be remembered that it only one or two rooms and that class sizes were small. On 6th September 1871 the school census shows Halmer End School as having 90 pupils in attendance. This was the largest of the three schools within the village, Woodlane showing 73 and Audley only 65). In 1872 the figures were Audley 80; Woodlane 48 and Halmer End 80.

By 1881 the Head was John Yeomans. Born in 1849 in Birmingham he trained to be a teacher at the Westminster Wesleyan Teacher Training College. In 1881 he was living in school house with his wife Sarah and young daughter Winifred. He later left teaching and became a Commercial Clerk.

For many of these years funding for the school was provided by donations. Miss Wilbraham herself providing extensive funding from her own resources to maintain and finance the school.

Through the next years it was to have a number of Headteachers. These included Mrs. Mrs. Viggars, Mr George Viggars, and an Edward Foulkes.

The next headteacher was a Mr. Henry Hewitt who was in post for a considerable length of time from the late 1888 until about 1916. Originally from Buglawton in Cheshire he trained to teach through the ‘Pupil Teacher’ system in his own village school at Buglawton in Cheshire. He later worked at the Audley School before becoming Head at Halmer End sometime after 1886. He married Edna Burgess from Audley in 1881. In 1891 his wife and daughter Helen were teaching at the school, Helen as a Pupil teacher. By 1911 he had 4 children, Helen, Alfred, Harry and Lucy. Both the girls became teachers first working as pupil teachers at Halmer End.

Attendance figures for the period from 1884 survive and make interesting reading. Compared with the school census for 1872 only 12 years earlier there was a dramatic increase. This corresponds with the opening of the local coal mines at Halmer End.

If these figures are to be believed the school had around 500 pupils by 1900 in its original building of just three rooms. Clearly there must have been some sort of part-time working but even then class sizes were obviously huge. This was often managed by a system known as ‘pupil teaching’.

To find out more about Sir Thomas Boughey Click here

The images show Halmer End village about 1900. The pictures above show High Street, essentially unchanged today with the exception of the building on the left. This was the original school building opened in 1849. The postcards for these images were still available during World War 1 but were probably based upon late Victorian images. Click on the images for a larger view

The school would like to thanks Sir Richard Wilbraham and his wife Anne Baker Wilbraham of Rode Hall for their excellent research and notes about the lives of Charles and his sister Fanny.