©  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: March 01, 2016
Webpage updated: April 02, 2021

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The origins of Saint James the Great Parochial Schools at Lamorna Place, Morice Town, Devonport, go back to before the Church itself was built.  

When the Reverend W Killpack, the first incumbent, was appointed in 1848 he immediately set about establishing a boys' school in the old Bethel Chapel, Moon Street, which was at the time being used as the temporary church.  The premises became the Saint James's Mission Chapel.

At about the same time the Sisters of Mercy started a school for girls in a room provided by them.   Unfortunately the Reverend Killpack died soon afterwards but his replacement, the Reverend Æness Berkly Hutchison, previously the curate, continued the great work.   His grandfather had been one of the founders of the British and Foreign Society and had written a biography of Joseph Lancaster, upon whose principles the Society was based.

Shortly after his appointment the Sisters of Mercy ceased to manage the girls' school.  How this came about was rather interesting and was significant news in those days.  Miss Sellon's activities had been viewed with 'merciful spirit' and they were full of praise for her and the fact that she had set up a school for 'the children of the poorest and most ignorant of the population in that portion of the Town'.  She appointed a mistress and regularly visited the School, as did the local minister, the Reverend Hutchison.  But she was not a woman to be messed with and the poor Reverend did just that.

When an Exposition of Arts and Manufactures was held at the Devonport Mechanics' Institute, the children of all the local charity schools were granted free admission.  The Reverend thought this was an excellent idea and he made known to the pupils that they were to be treated in that way.  When Miss Sellon heard about this she was furious and wrote him a strong letter vetoing the idea.  But the minister was a man of the cloth and a man of his word and so he still took the pupils to the Exposition, not as a school but as his personal friends.  When they arrived at the Institute he even offered to pay for them but the management honoured their promise, treated them as pupils of a local free school and let them in for free.

Unfortunately Miss Sellon became even more furious and the following morning she sent around a team of horses and carts to remove all the desks and fittings back to Saint Dunstan's Abbey, the mistress was recalled and the building locked up.  The school was effectively closed.

The plight of the Reverend Hutchison and the children probably aroused a great deal of sympathy, especially as the "Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse Herald" had taken such a dim view of the incident, and the minister removed the school to the ground floor of a rather dilapidated building at 2 Garden Street, Morice Town, which had previously been used as a dye-shop and earlier as a public house.  He likewise removed the boys' school to the first floor of the same building and the old premises in Moon Street became the infants' school.

The master from 1848 to 1850 was a Mr Joiner, of Battersea College, followed by Mr Seamark of Saint Mark's College until 1855, when Mr John Wonnacott took over.   He was still the master in 1868.

Under his leadership the schools grew rapidly.  When he started he had presented 91 boys for examination.  By 1859 that figure had risen to 160.   The schools had outgrown their accommodation and for a time no new scholars were admitted.

But Mr Hutchison had problems trying to acquire a site for a new building to take these additional pupils.  The Government's Committee of Council on Education insisted on sites for new schools being freehold and they questioned the status of Saint James's School because it was owned by the Lord of the Manor.  Despite extensive efforts, the landlord would not sell the property.

After a considerable delay, the Committee eventually agreed to the arrangements whereby the school leased land adjacent to Saint James's Church for a period of 99 years at a nominal rent of one shilling per annum.

The schools occupied the north side of a quadrangle within which the Reverend Hutchison was endeavouring to centralise the organisation of all his parochial work.  The Church was on the south side.  A new parochial house was in the course of erection on the east side.  Residences for the master and mistress of the schools were to be added to the school block when funds permitted.  The west side was to be laid out as gardens.  The whole site was enclosed by roads.

Thus in 1862 the Mayor of Devonport laid the foundation stone of the new school block, which was to cost £2,900, and on Tuesday June 9th 1863, after a short service in Saint James's Church, the schools were opened by the Venerable Archdeacon of Totnes, the Reverend John Downall MA.  The children moved in after the midsummer holidays.

Financial support poured in to meet the cost.  Messrs Baker & Son, who held the contract for the erection of Keyham Steam Yard, gave £500 and the Government grant from the Committee of Council on Education amounted to £800.  The Lords of the Admiralty donated £300 and the National Society, £100.  The Reverend Hutchison himself donated £50 while a relative of his added a further £200.  The executors of the late Mrs Adams gave £100 while collections made within the parish realised about £50.  Donations in kind came from the Lord of the Manor, whose site for the schools was valued at £300, and the War Office, who gave the materials for the building of the schools, just as they had done with the Church.  When the schools were opened only £200 of the cost remained unpaid.

The boys' school-room was L-shaped, the longer arm being 55 feet by 20 feet, the shorter being 23 feet by 18 feet.   Adjoining the porch or lobby at the northern end is the class-room, measuring 18 feet by 16 feet 6 inches.

A continuation of the longer arm of the boys' school-room formed the school-room for the girls.  This 56 feet long by 20 feet wide.  Because of the levelling of the ground, this room was some 5 feet above the boys room.   The western wall was pierced by an archway 15 feet by 12, through which communication was secured and which made provision for larger gatherings to attend intellectual or social events.  The arrangement of the class-room and porch, of the same size, was the same as for the boys' school but at the east instead of the west end of the room.

The space between the porches on the east and west, and the school-rooms, and a lane on the north, is occupied by a yard and offices.

To the south of the girls' school was the infants' school-room, measuring 55 feet in length by 22 feet width.  It was so much to the east of the girls' school as to admit of an entrance to the rooms at the north-east angel of the building.  On the east of the girls' and infants' blocks was a small playground for the infants.

Designed by Mr Piers Saint Aubyn, architect, of London, the whole of the buildings were constructed of limestone, in random rubble work of the most substantial character, the walls being two feet in thickness.  The window and door dressings were of Bath stone and the roof was covered with Delabole slates.  The schools were erected by Mr Thomas May, of Devonport, who had erected the Church some fourteen years before.

At the west end of the ridge of the girls' school was an ornamental bell-cot surmounted by a gilded weather vane.

The schools and class-rooms comprised an area of 4,319 square feet and could accommodate 720 children.

There was an immediate improvement in attendance following the opening of the new buildings, although sadly the Reverend Hutchison died suddenly soon afterwards.  His successor was the Reverend J A Bullen.

Mr J Wonnacott was the master and Mr H Hill his assistant in 1866.

In 1868 there were around 400 children receiving education in the schools although over 700 could be accommodated.  The boys were the largest, of course, numbering an average attendance of 180 out of 200 on the books.  There were between 60 and 80 girls in attendance and 130 infants.

The standard reading, writing and arithmetic was taught and elementary geography, history and grammar was given in addition to the older boys preparing for the entry examinations of the Dockyard or Steam Yard.  There were fewer boys trying for employment in the Yards  than in the past because of a new rule that forces them to go to sea for the last two years of their apprenticeship before they can become established in the Yards.

They were also taught drawing and music and the boys had won many certificates for their penmanship and mapping.

The girls and older infants received instruction in knitting and needle-work.

All children received instruction in the Church Catechism and the Bible.  Some of the older boys used to bring their own Bibles.

There were also one or two other activities that went on outside of the school itself.  Saint James's had a junior literary society, a cricket club, and a fife and drum band, while the former pupils had formed an adults literary society, which was well run and successful.

Payment came, as usual, in the manner of school pence, the boys paying between 2d and 6d weekly according to the standard of education.  An exception was made in the case of poorer parents who strived to keep their children at school instead of giving in to the temptation to let them become errand boys earning a shilling or two a week.  The girls paid a maximum of 4d and the infants just paid 2d.

The Government grant in 1867 amounted to £145, which with voluntary contributions of less than £20 and a 'generous' donation from the Lord of the Manor of £10, meant that the schools had an annual deficit of £30 to £40.  This had to be made up by the incumbent.

A separate infants' school was maintained in the old Bethel Chapel in Moon Street, which was attended by 100 children who paid a penny a week.  It was not under Government inspection and was supported entirely by voluntary contributions in addition to the school pence.

Following the adoption of the Education Act 1902 on June 1st 1903, the School became a "Non-provided" School under the Devonport Local Education Authority.  It was then known as the Saint James the Great Church of England Elementary School.