Borden Grammar School - the early years part 1

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This article has been reproduced from 2009 in advance of publishing further chapters of the history of the school.

Founding a School in the 1870s

The founding of Barrows Boys School (as it was first called) began, continued and ended in controversy, culminating in the resignation of the entire Governing Body in 1880. 

An Endowed Schools Act of 1869 permitted a charity to devote its accumulated funds to the foundation of a secondary school.  There were numerous charitable foundations which had money to spare, and the Barrow Charity in Borden was one of them.  William Barrow, a Borden farmer, had left money and property in his will of 1707, out of which financial help was given each year to the poor of the Parish.  Income tended to exceed expenditure, but in the 1860s the Court of Chancery took an in interest in the Trust's affairs and reduced the number of beneficiaries – the fear was that money was being given to those not strictly in need.  The Charity was instructed to accumulate income in order to promote education.  The Barrow Trust suggested hospital provision as a more fitting use of accumulated income, but the Court insisted upon education. 

The Trust obeyed, and in 1874 the story broke that the Barrow Trust was arranging a Scheme with the Endowed Schools Commissioners for the establishment of a school (with boarders) for boys out of funds of the Charity.  There followed a sustained campaign, at public meetings and in the East Kent Gazette, against what seemed to be the diversion of funds, intended for the poor, to the education of of the better-off – and of boys not from the Parish.  Letters to the press, public meetings in the Parish and petitions to the Barrow Trustees, the Charity Commissioners and the Endowed Schools Commissioners failed to stop the Scheme, or even to amend it significantly.  The Parish of Borden was pretty well united in opposition,  but the Scheme went ahead.  The Vicar of Borden the Revd. F.E. Tuke, one of the Trustees, must have been very uncomfortable.  The Governors went on their way, serenely launching the School ; there is no reference in their papers to the public controversy which raged. 

In August 1875 the Privy Council issued a Scheme for the management and regulation of the Borden School Trust established out of the endowment of the Charity of William Barrow at Borden in the County of Kent, approved by Her Majesty in Council on the 5th day of August 1875”.  On 23rd August the Governors held their first meeting.  

The first Governors were drawn from the Barrow Trust itself (5) together with the Chairman of the Milton Board of Guardians for the Poor Law, and 2 additional Guardians were shortly added.  They got down to business immediately.  Mr Edward Leigh Pemberton, M.P., was elected Chairman.  Mr. Henry Bathurst, a Faversham Solicitor, was appointed Clerk at £30 a year (he was already Clerk to the Barrow Trust itself).  Messrs Vallance, a local bank in Sittingbourne, were appointed bankers.  A site for the School was agreed – 7 acres in Riddles Road, owned by the Barrow Trust and part of the farm occupied by Edward Homewood.  And advertisements were agreed to seek an architect.  

Hay and Oliver, a London firm, were chosen as architects.  They in turn advertised for builders and Richard Avard of Maidstone was the lowest bidder at £7,365.  Immediately a snag arose.  The Scheme stipulated £6,600.  The Commissioners agreed to an additional sum of £800 being made available from the Barrow Trust's funds, so that the contract could be signed and the construction begun.  This left £35 available for other purposes.  The Charity Commissioners themselves pointed out that the Architect's fee had to be met, a clerk of works taken on to keep an eye on the building (£3 a week), and an access to be formed.  The Governors had to lay on water and gas, to fence and lay out the grounds, and to furnish and equip the School.  At this stage no one asked how £35 was to cover these unavoidable expenses! 

There was brick earth on the School site, and early in the 1876 the Governors discussed making bricks on the spot as an economy measure.  Mr Kemsley, a brickmaker of Key Street, was drawn into the discussions.  He declared that “first-class bricks” could be made.  The Commissioners agreed to the project.  The contract was awarded to Mr Kemsley who went ahead promptly with the brick-making operation in March 1876.  Mr Hay visited the site to check on progress.  There followed a flurry of activity.  He condemned the bricks as “a complete failure, in fact not so good a brick as the common stocks”.  There was a rush to buy in local bricks so as not to impede the building work, and to sell off the inferior stocks.  There was a loss of £145 on the operation.  

The construction of the School building was sufficiently advanced by February 1878 for the Governors to set about appointing a headmaster.  Applications were invited for a day and boarding school – boarders were considered important as adding tone to a school.  The buildings were intended for 130 scholars “or thereabouts”, including at least 50 boarders.  The curriculum, including Maths, Latin and at least one modern foreign language, was to included “Natural Sciences with special reference to Agriculture, Mensuration” (the art of finding by measurement and calculation the length, area, volume, etc, of bodies) “and Land Surveying”.  The salary was to be £200 with capitation payments in respect of the number of boys on roll with, in addition, payment for each boarder.  The house provided was to be free of rates and rent.  Altogether an attractive package. 

There were two interesting conditions.  Applicants were expressly warned not to approach any of the Governors individually.  Very early on, soon after the Governing Body was constituted, the Revd. Henry Hilton of Milstead had produced a letter from the Headmaster of Clifton College, Bristol, urging the Governors to appoint a headmaster at the outset, who would tell them how to plan the School.  He went on the explain that had just the man and would make him available immediately, but rather spoilt the effect by mentioning naively that the man was in any case having to give up his post at Clifton and had nowhere to go.  Mr Leigh Pemberton resisted the suggestion, and nothing more was said, but it may have given rise to this condition.  

The second condition applied to ordained applicants.  At that time, schoolmasters were often Church of England clergymen, and the Governors recognised that they might well appoint one.  They feared that an ordained headmaster might combine the headship with a post as vicar or curate of a nearby parish.  They therefore forbade the headmaster from accepting a care of souls while still headmaster.  (When I came to Borden, this condition still featured in the copy of the School's Articles of Government which my predecessor presented to me) 

There were 66 applicants for the headship.  Along with their applications, they sent in testimonials, open statements supplied by those who knew them in which their qualities were set out.  (Oddly enough to us today, confidential references were not used).  Printing must have been cheap : an applicant from Hereford sent a printed book of testimonials supplied by everyone of note in the City, including the Governor of Hereford Gaol. 

Revd William_Henry_Bond_M.A._Cantab_1878-1893A Committee of Governors reduced the 66 to 6, and the whole Governing Body selected the final 3. These were called for interview, and the Revd. William Henry Bond, a Cambridge graduate in his twenties, was successful.  It was not a unanimous decision, and one of the other two was from Clifton College.  Bond had taught for only a few years at St. Bees School, near Cornforth.  The Governors' Minutes record only the decision, and give no clue as to the reason for his success. 

Two of the original Governors stand out.  Pre-eminent was Mr. Edward Leigh Pemberton of Torry Hill, landowner, barrister and Member of Parliament.  He was invariably elected Chairman.  Even when he left the Board and missed several meetings, he was immediately elected Chairman when he resumed attendance and all continued as though nothing had happened.  The Revd. Henry Hilton, Vicar of Milstead, had educational connections and sometimes dared to oppose Mr. Leigh Pemberton .  When the Clerk provided a statement of accounts in November 1879 for submission to the Charity Commissioners, Hilton opposed them, and confessed that he had sent his own version which differed from that of the Clerk.  Since the other Governors accepted the figures compiled by the Clerk, Hilton resigned and could not be persuaded to return.  He did not, therefore, take part in the final showdown with the Charity Commissioners.  

The unsung hero of the founding of the School was Henry Bathurst, the Faversham Solicitor who served as Clerk.  He operated at the centre of all the activity involved in setting up the School.  He wrote hundreds of letters – to the Charity Commissioners, to Governors, to Architects and Builders.  When the Commissioners were slow to reply, he wrote reminders and even travelled to London, alone or with one or two Governors, to gain answers in person.  He had other work to do – he was also Clerk to the Barrow Trust, he helped to re-establish Faversham Grammar School, and he had private clients.  He was well into his  seventies and sometimes too ill to attend his office. 

In the very early stages, he was punctilious in obtaining written consent from the Commissioners for all the Governors did.  Later on, especially when staff from the Charity Commissioners suggested work, he relied on oral approval.  A second fault was to to keep detailed accounts of expenditure as the work progressed.  Month after month, he paid the bills, especially when the Builder produced an Architects' Certificate for a stage payment.  At regular intervals the Commissioners were asked to release money to the School account, and they did.  

The School opened in October 1878 with 23 pupils of whom 9 were from Borden.  But the buildings were not complete, and the Governors envisaged more – a cottage and stable.  Nor were the bills all paid.  Early in 1879 the Governors applied for more money to be released, and received a refusal together with a charge they were guilty of “grave irregularities”.  Their efforts thus far were as nothing compared with their struggle against the Charity Commissioners.

Bryan Short