HL Deb 09 March 1888 vol 323 cc686-91

, in rising to move— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying Her Majesty to withhold her assent from a scheme of the Charity Commissioners, laid before this House on February 20, relating to the Hitchin Free School, said, that their Lordships on more than one occasion had agreed to Addresses praying Her Majesty to withhold her consent from schemes of the Charity Commissioners, and the scheme to which he was about to call their Lordships' attention equalled in objectionable matter if it did not exceed some of the schemes which had been withdrawn. It was a scheme for transforming an endowed free school at Hitchin into a grammar school for the middle classes, and he contended that in doing so the Charity Commissioners, if they were not exceeding their legal powers, were at least departing from the instructions given to them by Parliament. The powers of the Charity Commissioners in these matters were regulated by Acts of Parliament passed in 1869 and 1873, by which it was provided that in dealing with charities of this kind the Commissioners were to have due regard for the interests of the class of persons for the benefit of whom the charity was endowed. This school was founded in 1639, and received farther subsequent endowments from other sources, and continued in that foundation until 1828. In the original endowment no limitation was made to the children of the poor; but to contemporary endowment given by friends of the founder, an express reservation was attached that the benefit of them should be given to the children of the poor. In 1828 the trustees appeared to have taken a very singular course. They made an order dismissing all the free boys from the school, and that no boy should be admitted on the foundation who was not the son of a respectable tradesman in Hitchin or in a similar rank of life. By this order the trustees admitted that up to that time the benefit of the school had been retained by the poor. There was no doubt that that action of the trustees was indefensible. If it were justifiable there would have been no necessity for him to address their Lordships. It might be said that the word "poor" was a word of art, and meant something more than was conveyed by the ordinary acceptation of the term, but no artificial meaning could be given to the word in this case, seeing that poor people in the ordinary acceptation of the term had enjoyed the benefits of this school from its foundation. If the endowments had been given subsequently to the action of the trustees in 1828, the action of the Charity Commissioners would be justified. It was sometimes said that the Act of 1870 rendered endowments of this kind unnecessary for the education of the poor, and that therefore they might be turned to any useful purpose that Parliament might approve; but the contention of those who were favourable to the passing of the Act of 1870 was that their object was not in any way to supplant, but to supplement, the educational system. Again, it might be said, and said with truth, that Hitchin was sufficiently provided with schools for the children of the poor, seeing that there were voluntary schools for no less than 1,900 children, and that the average attendance was 1,229. This scheme was decidedly unpopular. In May, 1885, a public meeting was held, at which it was proposed by one of the trustees, and carried unanimously, that the trustees should be requested to reopen the free school as soon as practicable, and that the course of instruction should be arranged to suit the requirements of the times. Was this scheme suited to the requirements of the times? He thought that if their Lordships would look carefully into it they would come to the conclusion that it was not. By section 40 of the scheme the endowment was to be converted into an institution where boys were to be boarded whose parents could pay £45 a-year for board, together with fees of from £6 to £12 a-year for tuition. Could it be contended that such fees could be within the reach of the poor? The curriculum might mean anything or nothing, but it appeared to be quite unsuited to the education of the children of the poor. He was not disposed to deny to the children of any class the fullest access to a higher education, and he should be glad to see some scheme by which clever boys could gradually rise from one school to another, and if they distinguished themselves, could go to a University and enter the learned professions. But he did think it extremely inadvisable to give to the children of the poor generally an education which was wholly unsuited to assist them in their after life. It would not help them in the least to gain their own livelihood; but would merely add to the number of boys whose highest ambition it was to become clerks instead of devoting themselves to more useful occupations. Hitherto too much attention had been paid to the literary branch of education instead of to that training which would fit boys for their subsequent trades and pursuits. One-half of this endowment was to go for the benefit of girls; but there was already in Hitchin a considerable foundation for the benefit of girls. This scheme really made no provision for the poor, gave by the creation of a few scholarships and the provision of a few free admissions to the grammar school. It was, however, an exceedingly costly scheme; and for the purpose of making up the necessary funds it was intended to obtain assistance from the charity known as that of John Rand. The evidence taken before the Commission on Elementary Education emphasized two points—namely, the great want of evening schools and of education in handicraft and agricultural industry. Such education would be of immense value to the children of the poor in after life. The object of the founder of John Band's charity was that boys and girls should be fitted out for trade and service. Why not respect that object, and provide a school for technical education; or why not establish continuation schools, where the knowledge acquired in the elementary schools might be developed? The art of agriculture, including all matters appertaining to the dairy, might be taught with much advantage; and it was worth noting that there were premises ready to hand, the trustees of the Hitchin charity having kept their buildings in repair. He might be told that it was now too late to interfere with the proposed scheme, others of a similar nature having already been adopted. He admitted that it was possible that some objectionable schemes had been overlooked by their Lordships; but the fact that in the past they had neglected to examine schemes as rigorously as they ought surely afforded no excuse for fresh negligence. He therefore asked their Lordships to send the scheme back, and ask the Commissioners to provide another and more suitable to the wants of the children of Hitchin, and more in accordance with the wishes of the founder. He concluded by moving the Resolution which stood in his name.

Moved, "That an humble address be presented to Her Majesty praying Her Majesty to withhold her assent from a scheme of the Charity Commissioners laid before this House on 20th February relating to the Hitchin Free School."—(The Earl Beauchamp.)


said, that his noble Friend had stated much which he did not dispute, but omitted much which was material to the issue, and as to the education to be given he had omitted to state that the governors under the scheme, to whom much was left to be done, would be able to do what the locality might require. The noble Earl was opposed apparently to the whole system recommended by the Endowed School Commissioners and the Charity Commissioners, and approved by the Committee of the House of Commons, which made an exhaustive inquiry and reported last year. He might quote largely from that report, but it expressed the opinion that the mode adopted by the Charity Commissioners for giving to the poor through scholarships and exhibitions a higher education than they could otherwise attain was beneficial to the poor. At Hitchin there were admirable elementary schools which had been rivals of the school to which the noble Earl had drawn attention, and so severely did that school suffer from the competition that it did not fulfil its object, pupils failed, and in 1876 it was found necessary to close it. The school was originally founded for the use of the children of the people of Hitchin, not one word being said as to its being a foundation for the poor. Indeed, the character of the education prescribed was not at all adapted to the poor. The terms used implied a Grammar School. Subsequent benefactors, it was true, had said that poor children were to have the benefit of their endowments; but such stipulations could not alter the nature of the original foundation. The school did not prosper; in 1828 a great change was made in connection with it, not a proper one in itself, but under that scheme scholars dwindled away, and at one time there were only seven, at another 13, and in 1876 it was finally closed, the schoolmaster being pensioned off. Something had been said as to the excellence of the buildings; but there was only one small school room without a separate class-room, and the master's house had been reported upon by the Inspector as wholly unfit for its purpose. It might be supposed that the people of Hitchin were in a state of alarm at the prospect of the scheme coming into operation, whereas they had subscribed £3,000 in order to start the proposed school on the foundation. He was glad they were relieved of the religious question in this controversy, but still it was behind much of the opposition to the schemes. In Holwell there were only 187 persons, and the arrangements proposed by the schemes had the approval of the Governors of the Charity, as was shown by a letter approving all but the religious portion of the scheme which could not be changed. Measures could be taken under the scheme to promote technical education if that course was found to be desirable. As to the education of girls, one foundation was for "children," which would mean both boys and girls, and in the other both were mentioned. Elementary education was amply provided for; and as these schemes supplied other requirements in a manner agreeable to the population, he hoped their Lordships would not support the Motion.


said, that he had been asked to present a Petition from the inhabitants of Hitchin in favour of the scheme. Hitchin was a town with a population of 9,000, and, therefore, it had a claim to be provided with good secondary education. The foundation was not a large one—not enough to establish an efficient grammar school, and, therefore, money had been subscribed to carry out the proposed scheme, but might not be forthcoming for any other plan. Trinity College, Cambridge, which was the patron of the living, had subscribed £300. According to his experience in similar cases, scholarships such as were proposed in this scheme formed a valuable link between the elementary and secondary schools and were of great valve to the working classes.

On Question, resolved in the negative,