Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: February 10, 2016
Webpage updated: April 01, 2021

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Saint Mary's National School was founded by the Reverend T C Childs, the first Incumbent of the newly-formed parish of Saint Mary's in 1846.  Even before the Church was built he had started a school in temporary accommodation in Granby Street, borrowed money from a friend to build an infants' school behind his residence in James Street, and built a second infants' school at Doidge's Well, a short alley off James Street.

In the early part of 1853 the School was removed to the crypt of Saint Mary's Church and Mr J Wonnacott was appointed master.  But the Government refused to pay a grant towards a school held in a room under a Church so the boys' school was removed to a school-room in Mount Street previously used for a similar purpose by a Mr Maddock.  The girls and infants remained at Saint Mary's.  However, in 1855 both the Reverend Childs and Mr Wonnacott resigned (they entered a mission for seamen) and the Reverend Alfred Swain took over the parish.  In 1858 the Schools were granted use of a large building at the bottom of Monument Street that had formerly been the Stoke Damerel Parish Workhouse and previous to that the Town Hall.  For the requisite amount of School Pence the children were given lessons by a teaching staff of four in the boys' school and two ladies in the girls' and infants' school.  In 1862 a Mr Henry Charles Tarn (c1840-1895) became the head master and raised the attendance at the Schools quite significantly.

When Mr Tarn took over the running of the schools, the average attendance was 140 pupils a day and the receipts were 40.  Under his management the numbers increased to between 220 and 250 and the receipts were set to hit 75 in 1868.

Although the old workhouse building was most unsuitable in its location amongst houses of a very poor and dilapidated state, it did have the advantage of having many small rooms in which classes could be conducted without the interference of noise from other pupils.  But its location was a drawback and by 1868 plans had been set in motion to erect a new building on a site in Dockwall Street granted by the Lord of the Manor on payment of a nominal annual rental of one shilling.  It was to be designed by Mr Piers Saint Aubyn.

The new building was to be on the site of an old foundry.  It would give accommodation for between 500 and 600 children, although there were to be only two class-rooms, divided between the boys and the girls.

As stated earlier, the girls and infants classes were still held in the crypt of Saint Mary's Church, where on average 140 out of 204 children attended daily.   For between a penny and two-pence per week they were taught reading, writing and arithmetic with the older ones receiving additional instruction in needle-work and knitting.  There was a mistress and one assistant.

The amount of school pence received in 1867 was 72 2s, although it is not clear if this refers to the whole school or the girls/infants only.  This had shown a steady rise from 44 16s 4d in 1863.  The school also received a 15 donation from the Admiralty, 10 from the Lord of the Manor and a Government grant of 79.  However, they had to suffer a fine for 'deficiency of staff', which reduced the grant by 10. The average attendance for the girls/infants school was stated to be 214 while the staff were sufficient, it was considered, for 210.  The reason for the fine was for having 4 boys over the regulation number.

In the boys' school, out of 320 on the books, some 200 had parents working in one of the Government establishments of the Town.  The reason that the Lords of the Admiralty gave a donation of 15 was that 125 of the boys attended over 200 times.

The school fees were 4d per week in the first class, 3d in the second, 2d in the third and 1d in the remaining four.

There were four staff, a certified master, a registered assistant master and two pupil teachers.

Of interest is a comment in the School Inspector's Report in 1867 which said: 'Discipline in this school is kept up with the most military strictness, without, as far as I can judge, by any undue severity.  The quiet resulting from it is most refreshing, and the upper classes were very attentive, and answered well during their religious examination.  The proportion of the boys in this upper standard has been increased and Mr Tarn works indefatigably in his school'.  The Western Daily Press correspondent put the discipline of the children down to 'an excellent understanding between the master and the boys' and related out just a few days earlier the master had taken 58 boys on a trip to Millbrook and Whitsands, which cost all but one boy 2d (the one boy paid 2d).  This raised 12s 1d.  The master had cake made enough for everybody (cost 5s 3d), they used three boats to ferry them between Devonport and Cremyll (cost 4s 6d), and the boys consumed 20 quarts of milk.  There was 4d left over so the younger children raced for it.  Further trips were planned to Outlands and Apple Tree Cottage.

In 1890 Mr Thomas Barnes was the schoolmaster, in charge of boys, girls and infants.  By this time Dockwall Street had been renamed Edinburgh Road.

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 became the Saint Mary's Church of England Elementary School.