Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: February 24, 2016.
Webpage updated: March 20, 2016

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At a meeting of the residents of the parish of Stoke Damerel held on September 4th 1819 it was recorded that Sir John Saint Aubyn, the Lord of the Manor, had given them a plot of land measuring 28 feet by 80 feet upon which to build a school for the education of the sons of the poor of the parish.  The School was established in that year in an existing property in York Place.  At first it seems to have been known as the Stoke Public Charity School.  In 1821 there were 100 boys in attendance and there was also a Sunday School for girls.  Despite a lack of funds, in 1830 it was decided to form a girls' day school.

Work started in 1833 on a new building.  It was to accommodate 100 boys on the ground floor and 80 girls on the first floor.  It was due to be completed in 1834 but was not opened until 1835.  The building bore a stone which was inscribed "Stoke Public School for Poor Boys and Girls".  It was originally intended to align it with the National Society but in the event the committee of management made it a British and Foreign Society school, in which the Bible was read every day but no lessons were given about it.  This would have appeased the Nonconformist church members.  There must have been a previous building because the sale of it raised 100 towards the estimated cost of 465, of which 42 was to be the cost of providing an apartment for the schoolmistress.  The rooms were 36 feet by 24 feet and 13 feet in height.

This building was not on a site given to the Trustees of the School by the Lord of the Manor but one in Keppel Place leased from Sir Molesworth Saint Aubyn for 99 years at an annual rent of one shilling.  The lease was dated September 29th 1835.

As was common in those days of economic expansion, the school quickly outgrew its accommodation and around 1861 a new wing was added on the south side of the existing building.

On October 28th 1863 Mr Alonzo John Rider was appointed as headmaster from December 14th.  He was to remain for over thirty years.

When the Western Daily Mercury did their survey of local schools in 1868 it revealed that the boys occupied the ground floor while the girls were on the top floor, reached by means of a separate entrance.   There was no playground attached to the School, which was not found to be a convenient situation.  There was accommodation for about 340 children but there were 360 on the register.

In the boys' school there were 240 children on the books, with an average daily attendance on 190.  This was twenty more than the regulations of the time permitted.  The girls' school had around 120 on the register and an average daily attendance of 100: it could accommodate a further 70 pupils.  There was no infants' department, which was found to be wanting.

Apparently one of the reasons for the low attendance at the girls' school was that mothers had the tendency to keep their daughters at home to help with household duties rather than send them to school.

Because the majority of the children were from families whose employment was in the government establishments of Devonport, the Admiralty gave an annual donation to the upkeep of the School, which in 1867 amounted to 15.  As a result, boys who aspired to become engineers, for instance, were taught algebra and Euclid in addition to the normal English History, geography and grammar.

Another feature of the boys' education at Stoke Public were the "object lessons", on subjects such as bread and water, etc., and drawing, which was considered to be beneficial for those wanting to become designers or cutters working in such trades as wood engraver, stone-masons, statuaries, designers and cutters for calico, chintz, etc., patterns for paper-hangers' blocks, as well as drawings for upholsterers, silversmiths, or goldsmiths.  The uses of drawing were endless. 

The results of this experiment were very encouraging.  In May 1866, 83 boys were examined, of which two obtained prizes, 27 received cards of merit, and a further 34 satisfied the examiner.  In the following May, 100 boys were examined, 12 obtained prizes and 27 got cards of merit.  A further 45 boys satisfied the examiner that they were competent.  Stoke Public were top of the three schools in Devonport that were examined.  The School Committee provided all the necessary apparatus for the lessons, including carved works in wood and stone and specimens of blocks used in the paper printing trade.

There were a certified master and mistress in charge of each of the Schools, with three pupil teachers and four paid monitors in the boys school and three pupil teachers and two paid monitors in the girls school.  Miss Mitchell was the headmistress in charge of the girls' school.

The school fees varied according to the parents' ability to pay.  The minimum was 1d per week, the highest was 5d.  The amount paid made no difference to the education received, though.  The boy who paid a 1d sat alongside the boys who paid 2d, 3d, 4d, or 5d.  There were only 15 to 20 boys paying 1d per week in 1868.

It is interesting to look at the School's income.  In addition to the already mentioned grant from the Admiralty, there were in 1867 voluntary contributions of 50.  The school pence raised incomes of 60 from the boys and 23 12s 2d from the girls.  The grant from the Government, after a successful examination, amounted to 76 11s for the boys school and 39 12s 8d for the girls.   It is worth mentioning that when Mr Rider took over the running of the schools in 1863, the Government Grant amounted to only 29 6s for both schools and receipts from school fees were only 19.

Following the adoption of the Education Act 1870, which introduced the Devonport School Board, the School was extended in 1871 to take an additional 100 boys.

The Board of Education introduced a new Code of Practice in 1876 that required schools to split into Higher and Lower divisions.  A partition was therefore constructed which put 170 boys in the Lower School and 100 in the Higher unit.  Direct admission to the Higher School was allowed by means of an 11+ examination.  The fee for boys in the Higher School was nine shillings a quarter. The School was renamed Stoke Public Higher School, which, apparently, included the Lower School as well.