Three Rivers Museum Trust chairman Fabian Hiscock looks back at the origins of schools in the district.

The rash of local schools celebrating distinguished anniversaries of one sort or another recently is no fluke. A lot has happened in education since the end of World War Two, and we think it’ll be worth paying it a bit of local historical attention.

Until fairly recently setting up and running a school was a pretty simple thing to do – but it didn’t reach everyone. We’ll leave aside the public schools in which the wealthier part of society was educated: what did the rest of us – boys and girls – do?

Of course, there has always been a recognised need to teach children – the ancient Greeks did it, and pretty well all societies have something in place, although whether everyone has access to it is debatable. In England the cathedrals and monasteries began to teach Latin from the sixth century, and that expanded to provide grammar schools delivering an increasingly broad education aimed at university admission (and from Tudor time supposedly free), and developing (and being built) right up to the 1950s.

Watford Observer: Hunton Bridge village schoolHunton Bridge village school (Image: Rickmansworth Historical Society/Geoff Saul collection)

But for most children, until the middle of the 19th century, education was not realistic – their labour (whether in the land or in the workshop) was too valuable to the family. There were charity schools for ‘the poor’, but they were few and far between, and until 1800 these children had almost nothing. Then the National Society, set up in 1811, aimed to provide a National School based on the Anglican parish church in every parish in England.

Watford Observer: York House School, Uxbridge RoadYork House School, Uxbridge Road (Image: Three Rivers Museum)

From 1833 the Government paid annual grants, mainly to the National Society (there were others), which were accompanied by inspections and increasing demands from the state. But for the first time young children had the prospect of being given elementary education. School boards were set up by the Elementary Education Act of 1870 to provide funded education from age five to 12, not tied to the Church of England but required to reach a certain standard.

Watford Observer: St Joan of Arc – The Elms (before 1964) St Joan of Arc – The Elms (before 1964) (Image: Three Rivers Museum)

In Rickmansworth the National School was set up what had been the workhouse in the High Street, but the building was quickly renewed in 1843 and became the ‘Boys’ department’ – the ‘Girls’ department’ was Parsonage Road School at the other end of the High Street. In Chorleywood the elementary school from about 1853 was on the common near the new church, in Abbots Langley near the church from 1853 and at Hunton Bridge in 1862. Croxley Green’s National School in Yorke Road was delayed until 1875, after the new church was built.

Watford Observer: Dr Hurndall’s School, Mill End in 1860s Dr Hurndall’s School, Mill End in 1860s (Image: Rickmansworth Historical Society/Geoff Saul collection)

Meanwhile provision for older children also improved, with schools such as Dr Hurndalls in Mill End (where John White’s grandson went) from about 1850, and a small school in Basing House from about 1840 – but usually older children looking for schooling had to go away.

Watford Observer: All Saints JMI School, ChorleywoodAll Saints JMI School, Chorleywood (Image: Three Rivers Museum)

Successive 20th century Education Acts allowed (indeed, required) more and more children to be educated, and the number of schools, both primary and secondary, increased greatly. Even in Croxley Green, Little Green and Malvern Way are both 75 having opened on May 6, 1949 and Yorke Mead is 50 having opened on May 13, 1974. Meanwhile other schools moved here, for example the Royal Masonic School for Girls in 1926 and York House school to Money Hill (via Cedars Avenue) in 1943. And we wrote about the South Oxhey schools a while back. The story of the rather short lived Langleybury school, open in 1949, given modern premises in the late 1950s and closed in 1996, gives (like Durrants School, opened in 1939 and closed in 1991, and William Penn, closed in 1989) another view of the complicated story of secondary education in this area. And St Joan of Arc comes from a completely different background as a girls’ Catholic convent school starting in 1904 to become a grammar school in 1951, mixed from 1975.

We won’t try to track each school’s story in these articles, but with Durrants, Rickmansworth Grammar opened just after it in 1954, then Clement Danes in 1975, there will be plenty of Watford Observer readers with memories of their Three Rivers school days!