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Quorn - a village divided over education

Up until the 1870s Quorn village was a quiet, reasonably prosperous place, sheltered to a certain extent from the grinding poverty and subsequent discontent of its inhabitants by the wealth brought in by the Quorn Hunt. Hunt 'tourists' and supporters lived part of the year or holidayed in the village and local shops and businesses thrived on their patronage.

During the mid-Victorian period, industry developed in the village and with it, new ways of thinking. This was a divergence from the old attitude of forelock tugging respect of the parishioners for their 'betters'. There grew up among certain quarters a strong desire for self improvement through education.

Schools under the control of locally elected School Boards were made possible by the 1870 Education Act. Drafted by William Forster, Education Minister in the government headed by William Gladstone, the act stated that any area which voted for it could have a school board. These new board schools could charge fees but they were also eligible for government grants and could also be paid for out of local government rates.

In August 1872 a public meeting was held in the Baptist Meeting Rooms. Chaired by John Webster (a Quorn manufacturer and constant thorn in the side of the 'establishment') this large and influential meeting voted unanimously in favour of this resolution:

"This meeting hereby pledges itself to accept no compromise, except one based upon the establishment of a School Board"

The cat was set firmly among the pigeons! Over the course of the next few months a war of words broke out in the press, it was in effect the Establishment v the Reformers. The Establishment, represented by the landowners and the orthodox clergy, sounded the first volley with a letter from the schoolmistress, the redoubtable Miss Isabella Corlett, denying that she had 'hidden' some pupils from the Inspector:

"I have been mistress of this school seven years; and am thankful to say that I have never disagreed with any manager and have always obtained excellent reports. This would not have been the case if I had pursued the deceptive system which has been insinuated against me?"

A poll was held to establish whether the electorate were prepared to pass the control of the National School over to a School Board. There was a resounding defeat for the pro School Board faction and this unleashed a barrage of posters, handbills and vitriolic letters to the press accusing the 'gentry' of threatening and bribing their tenants and employees not to vote in favour of a School Board.

Here is an extract from a letter to the Loughborough Advertiser written in November 1872 after the poll and one of many received by the paper in response to a letter praising the status quo written by one who called himself "Lover of Order":

"Then most of the others were employed as farm labourers &c, who, so to speak, were given to understand by their employers that they were to vote against - although a good many of them had promised to vote for - a school board. If "Lover of Order" was at the poll with his eyes wide open, he would see each employer or his agent bring his men in order to vote "like sheep to be shorn who before their shearers were dumb (I mean the shearers of freedom for the love of order), so they opened not their mouths, but made a cross with the assistance of the clerk. And I believe that twelve out of every twenty could not write their names."

This correspondent, going by the pseudonym of 'A Working Man' goes on to describe how a 'certain gentleman' attended the poll with a notebook in which he took down the names of the voters and how they voted. From the description of this man it sounds very much like it was John Davys Cradock, owner of Quorn Place, a keen huntsman, member of the Local Board - a key establishment figure. 'A Working Man' says this gentleman knew everybody in the village and their circumstances 'he having certain charities in his hands'

A 'Working Man' concludes his letter with this radical promise (threat?) :
"I hope the agitators will live long, be prosperous in trade, and make many working men agitators, who will be time be able to show by their votes a freedom of disposition which could not be boasted of at our last election."

So why was the establishment so opposed to the establishment of a School Board?

Most members of this wealthy Victorian land-owning class did not like change, they feared it as radical; lifting the ordinary man above his station in life and disruptive of the natural order of society. An educated man might question his position in life, demand more wages, better working conditions or? may even wish to set himself up on his own.

 Submitted on: 2010-10-11
 Submitted by: Kathryn Paterson
 Artefact ID: 924
 Artefact URL: www.quornmuseum.com/display.php?id=924

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