Attwells Free School

in Thornbury

Attwells School 2017-10-17T08:04:47+00:00
Attwells coat of arms

Attwells coat of arms

Click here to read about 11 St Mary Street

This history is based upon extracts from the work of Stafford Morse (The History of Thornbury Grammar School), L.G. Taylor (The History of Marlwood School) and various articles published in the Society of Thornbury Folk bulletins.

The Attwells family had long been associated with Thornbury.  There are many references to this family name in the records of the town, although there are a variety of spellings including Attewell, Atwell and Atwells.  As yet we cannot be sure whether the way the name is spelled indicates a particular branch of the family or whether this is a reflection of the more relaxed attitude to spelling in earlier times.  However in this case the will of John Attwells referred to below clearly uses the spelling of “Attwells.”

Richard Attwells had been mayor as early as 1612, but it was the John Attwells whose will of 16th May 1729 established a Free School in the town.  His monument can be seen on the south wall of the parish church, and the plaque records that he left £1200 for charitable uses, of which £500 was given in trust to establish an independent free school in the town.  Five hundred pounds was no small sum of money in those days.  He directed that a good master and mistress should be engaged to teach the scholars who should be children of parishioners, and whose education should be free.  The curriculum was to be reading, writing, knitting and sewing “and all other things necessary for such children to be instructed in.”  A further £200 was left to provide income for the apprenticing of poor boys.  Unlike the grammar school, it provided for the education of girls.

Various other accounts of the origins of the school assumed that it had taken a long time to implement Attwells wishes because there is an indenture dated 1796 which appears to show that the building in St. Mary Street (now known as The Church Institute) was bought from John Marsh for £105.  The building is referred to as a ‘newbuilt messuage wherein William West heretofore inhabited and wherein William Virgo schoolmaster doth now dwell with the garden in St Mary’s Street’.

However Meg Wise of Thornbury Museum came across a notebook in the Gloucester Records Office written by the vicar, William Holwell.  These show accounts transactions detailing expenses of the school from a lot earlier than 1796. Mr Nicholas was referred to as a schoolmaster in 1753 and in 1754 he was paid £4 for one quarter’s salary.  In 1754 John Horwood was paid £1 15s, ‘half a yeare’s rent for the school howse’.  Similar payment continue until 1758 when the rent starts being paid to Mrs Horwood, then in April 1760 ‘Paid Mrs Horwood for ye purchase of the schoole howse late West £63 0 0’.  Inscriptions in the graveyard of St James Church, Tytherington show John Horwood died 11th August 1758 aged 82, Sarah Horwood died 1st September 1758 aged 29 and Hester relict of John died 28th March 1765 aged 78.

Meg discovered that the Thornbury Parish Records (as shown on Scribes Alcove) shows the baptism of five children between 1754 and 1766 whose parents were John Nicholas and his wife, Mary, and that in some of these records John is shown as a schoolmaster.

The next reference found to a schoolmaster was in 1769.  The assessment towards poor relief records include ‘Saml Musgrove for the school late Wests’.  The accounts shows salary payments to Mr Musgrove from 1770 to 1778.  We know little about Samuel Musgrave apart from his death.  The church register merely lists him as a writing master and accountant.  His tombstone in the churchyard of St Mary’s in Thornbury has more detail;- “To the memory of Samuel Musgrave late Master of the English Free School of this town.  He died lamented by his friends and pupils the 3rd day of March 1785 aged 51 years”.  A lawyer’s bill is said to show that a notice was drawn up dated 17th August 1785 requiring Mrs Musgrove to quit the schoolhouse and garden.

So, based on this evidence it looks likely that the school existed from at least 1745 or may be earlier.  The reference to ‘William West’ in the 1796 indenture suggests that the school was likely to have been located in the same building throughout the earlier years.  There is further evidence to support this conclusion in the land tax records which indicate the Free School were using the same building before and after 1796, and that in 1780 Samuel Musgrove is occupying a property owned by the Feoffees.  On reflection we note that the 1796 document thought to be a purchase actually refers to an ‘indenture of assignment’ which presumably refers to a transfer of mortgage and this might explain the earlier assumption.

The schoolmaster lived on the premises, and the indications are that it was attracting a growing number of pupils.  In 1811 Kingsmill Grove, a partner in a paper making and stationery firm and Mayor of Thornbury in 1790/1 and 1799/1800 helped to expand the school.  He had already advanced money to repair the grammar school, and he now paid for a “commodious schoolroom” to be built at the back of the house in St Mary Street.

Kingsmill Grove tabletA tablet was built into the wall of the new building showing that Kingsmill was responsible for providing the finance for the new school room.  This tablet is still visible (you have to go into the service yard at the rear of the building to see it!).  The inscription is now very difficult to read.  The photo on the left was taken in 2004 by Tom Crowe and Meg Wise of Thornbury Museum.  They went to considerable trouble to get an image which is an image which is fairly readable with the exception of the year in which the room was built.  We can make out the first two digits as ’18’, but are not sure about the next two digits.

Kingsmill Grove was treasurer of the Trustees of this school for many years and, from a collection of receipts for payments for repairs and other matters, the following seem of some interest.  The master from 1795 to 1823 was Mr. William Virgo.  His salary seems to have depended upon the number of pupils.  In 1795 he received £20 per annum but by 1807 it had risen to £26, and in 1813 he received the gratifying sum of £42 (£30 for the boys and £12 for the girls).  In addition, of course, he had the house.  Some prices and wages of this period are interesting.  Samuel Penduck did considerable work at the school in 1811, and for one day’s work for “self and man” he charged 7s 0d, for a door frame the cost was 13s 0d, eighteen feet of one inch elmboard 4s 6d, one and half hundred pantiles 12s Od, and a hundred sprigs and nails eightpence.  One other interesting little bill turned up.  On June 6th, 1794, there was a “meeting at The Swan to settle Mr. Ralph’s account” and apparently those present consumed wine 2s 6d, cyder 2d, coffee 2s 3d, and paper ld, a total of 5s 0d.

William Virgo died in 1823.  His death was reported in the local newspaper on 10th May 1823.  He was still described as “the master of the late Mr Attwell’s Free School in Thornbury.”  By 1826, the annual income from Attwells bequest was £70.  The schoolmaster was paid £42 of this, and the rest was used for the upkeep of the school, helping the apprentices and providing meat for poor families.  There were, at this point, twenty four boys and twelve girls on the roll.

Unfortunately things seem to have gone downhill between 1826 and 1869.  The Charity Commissioners reported that affairs at the school were very unsatisfactory.  They found, eleven children, nine boys and two girls, sitting round a fire being read to.”  The Master was unqualified, and the report suggested that the Attwells foundation was providing no useful tuition for the children.  The school appeared to exist merely to provide the master with a pension in return for which he gave no more in the instruction to his pupils than they could have received from the poorest type of Dame school.

From this disastrous situation came a scheme which was to rescue Attwells’ school.  Under the guidance of Stafford Howard, a group of Thornburv businessmen brought about the amalgamation of Attwells and the Grammar School.  The plan had the full approval of the Charity Commissioners.  They themselves had suggested such a merger some forty years before, but their idea had not been taken up.  On 17th May 1879, the endowments of the Grammar School and of Attwells Free School were combined and Thornbury Grammar School emerged and a new school was built in the Gloucester Road.  The school building in St. Mary Street was closed, and let as the Castle Coffee Tavern.  It was put up for sale at auction, along with other properties belonging to the Charity Commission, in July 1880.

It is interesting to note that when, in 1925, the Grammar School had its first School Badge, the design chosen was that of the Attwells family Coat of Arms shown at the top of the page, thus continuing through the years the link between the two schools.  The Attwell’s name was also be used when Ronnie’s restaurant called their bar ‘Attwells Bar when it opened in 2014.

We know a little about two of the last schoolmasters of the School:

The 1830 Pigot’s Directory shows the master of the Free School as William Doward. This was possibly William Higginson Doward who died in 1834 aged 41. T

here were two other schoolmasters associated with the school that we know of:

Robert Hawtin – we know that Robert was at the school in the 1841 Census, but we don’t know when he left or where he went to.  By 1849 trade directories are showing Henry Carter had taken over as schoolmaster.  Robert’s daughter, Elizabeth, married William Woodland who became a schoolmaster at the Attwells School and in the 1851 census the Woodlands were living next door at number 13 St Mary Street.  Click here to read about Robert and his family

Henry Carter – one of the last schoolmasters at the school was Henry Carter, a local man born on 31st August 1792, the son of John and Mary Carter.  In the 1841 Census Henry was living in 1 Castle Street with his sister Margaret Carter (who was born on 10th March 1796 and baptised on 13th April 1796.  Henry was already a schoolmaster aged 45.  We understand that he was teaching at the National School in Thornbury.

Henry was married on 15th October 1843.  His wife was, Ann Whittard, the daughter of William Whittard, a mason from Uley.  Henry and Ann started having children rather late in life as Ann was 28 years younger than Henry and Henry was aged 64 when his youngest child was born.

They had eight children: Henry William John was baptised on 15th October 1845, Walter Henry baptised on 6th August 1848, Robert James Shipway baptised on 20th January 1850, Alfred Thomas baptised on 2nd November 1851, Louisa Jane baptised on 10th October 1852, Mary Elizabeth baptised on 5th November 1854 who died aged 2 and was buried on 21st November 1856, Marian who was born about 1856 but not baptised until 25th December 1864, and finally Alicia Sophia Anne baptised on 27th February 1861 and who died aged 7 months and was buried on 10th March 1861.

The census records of 1851, 1861 and 1871 show that Henry continued as schoolmaster through all these years and that Ann was schoolmistress in spite of having to bring up her children.  Henry’s sister was living with Henry in the 1851 census when she was described as ‘formerly a dress and bonnet maker’.  She died aged 63 and was buried on 13th January 1859.

Henry died on 4th September 1876 aged 84.

In the Gloucester Record Office are notes which explain how the school came to close.  The trustees resolved not to elect a new master in the place of the late Mr Carter but to apply to the Charity Trustees.  It was also resolved that Mrs Carter should cease to be the schoolmistress and to occupy the school premises from 24th June 1878.  She was to be paid for her services at the rate of £21 a year from the death of her husband to 24th June 1877 but she would not take pupils after 25th March.

The 1881 census showed Ann Carter widowed.  She was a “visitor” in the home of her daughter Louisa and Louisa’s husband Arthur Clark a stationer’s clerk.  They were living in Pembroke House in Dove Street, in Bristol.  In November 1883 Ann seems to have been living in 11 Pullins Green, one of the properties owned by her son, Henry, together with George Mansell Williams.  Ann Carter, widow, is mentioned as being the occupant of that property when the partnership was partitioned.  Ann was living in the property which became owned by George Mansell Williams when her son became sole owner of 13 Pullins Green.  Ann died on 19th January 1887 aged 66.  Both are buried in St Mary’s Church in Thornbury.  Click here to read about Henry and Ann’s son, Henry James William Carter

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