Catalogue description Chew's Foundation, Dunstable

This record is held by Bedfordshire Archives & Records Service

Details of X277
Reference: X277
Title: Chew's Foundation, Dunstable
Date: 1586-1979
Held by: Bedfordshire Archives & Records Service, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Chew's Foundation, Dunstable, Bedfordshire

Physical description: 27 Series
  • Chew, William, c 1640-1713, Dunstable, Bedfordshire
Administrative / biographical background:



The Founder


The Chew family is first mentioned in the Dunstable parish register in 1639, when Thomas Chew, the father of the Founder of the school, married Elizabeth, the daughter of William Marsh, gent. The Marsh family in the 17th century were 'principal inhabitants of the parish of Dunstable and persons of plentiful fortunes and estates' [ABS 4/2 p.43.], so this marriage indicates that Thomas Chew was a wealthy man. According to the inscription on his tombstone in Dunstable church, he was a haberdasher by trade and an inhabitant of Dunstable. The family, however, probably came from London; both his sons, Thomas and William the Founder of the school, resided in London in the parish of St. Sepulchres, and were citizens and distillers by trade, while all three daughters married London tradesmen. The family may have decided to come to Dunstable because the position of the town on Watling Street contributed greatly to its prosperity and made it an important posting place for coaches There were several inns in the town in the 15th century, the earliest mentioned being the 'Lion', the 'Peacock' the 'Swan' and the 'Ram' [V.C.H.], but at the end of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th century there was a remarkable growth in the number of inns, and a considerable increase in the traffic passing through the town. Camden describes Dunstable as 'populous and full of inns', and Charles I stopped at the 'Red Lion' on his way to Naseby. The Chew family owned the 'Windmill and Still' in the 17th century [V.C.H.], and by 1713 they had acquired the 'Sugar Loaf', one of the most famous coaching inns of the 18th century [AD 1471].


Thomas, the eldest son, died unmarried in 1698, so William Chew presumably inherited the greater part of the family property, though some must have been settled on the daughters. Elizabeth married Henry Aynscombe, citizen and haberdasher of London, Jane married James Cart, citizen and distiller of London, and Frances married William Ashton, also a London distiller. William Chew was sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1709. In 1703 he obtained a grant of arms with a device of catherine wheels and griffins' heads which was later to be the badge of the Foundation scholars. He died unmarried in March, 1712/13, leaving an estate worth £28,000 which was inherited by his sisters and coheirs Frances Ashton and Jane Cart, and by Thomas Aynscombe, the son of Elizabeth. The property consisted of fourteen farms in Dunstable, Luton, Kensworth, Caddington, Gravenhurst and Edlesborough, the manors of Fitzhugh, Edlesborough, Bowells and Northall (Bucks.), the two inns and several other cottages and pieces of land in Dunstable, a house in London, and houses in the parish of St. Sepulchre, leased to London tradesmen. [AD 1471]. He was buried in Dunstable church in the north aisle where there is a fine monument to him by Thomas Green of Camberwell.


The Foundation settlement


For many years before his death he had paid for the clothing of 30 poor boys, and had declared his intention of erecting a school-house in Dunstable, endowing it so as to provide for the master's salary and the teaching of 40 poor boys. He died before carrying out his purpose, and made no will, so it was left to his heirs to carry out his intention, which they did in good faith and in deference to his wishes. When they partitioned the estate between them in 1714 they reserved part of the property for the endowment of a school, and the school-house was built in 1715. [AD 1471, X277/266]. They appointed Moses Gratwick as the first master, and provided for the clothing and education of the boys for several years until a proper settlement could be made. [X277/102].


The first settlement, made in December, 1724, endowed the school with the income from farms in Caddington, Luton, Whipsnade and Flamstead, and when this proved insufficient another farm in Houghton Regis was added to increase the income to £150 p.a. [BH 420, X277/102]. Frances Ashton added the clock tower to the school-house, and in her will bequeathed 30s. p.a. for cleaning the clock and keeping it in repair. [X277/174].


The master was paid a salary of £40 p.a. to 'teach the charity boys so far as to make them perfect in reading the English tongue, and in the rules of grammar and in writing and accounts, so as to fit them for handycraft trades'. He was to provide them with pens and ink at his own expense; books and papers were to be bought with the endowment money. Every Sunday and Holyday the boys were to be taken to the services at Dunstable Church, and no boy was to absent himself except for sickness, or some other extraordinary reason, or for a fortnight during harvest time, on pain of expulsion for three successive defaults.


The school was to admit 40 boys whose parents were 'not Dissenters, but have been of the communion of the Church of England for two years previously'. The boys were to be at least 7 years of age on admission, this to be proved by a certificate, and they might continue at the school until the Whitsun after they attained the age of 14 years. All admissions and reasons for leaving the school were to be recorded by the headmaster in a register kept for that purpose. £37 p.a. was allowed for clothing the boys on Thursday in Whitsun week. After these expenses had been met, together with the cost of keeping the farm buildings in repair, any residue might be used to place the boys out as apprentices, 'so that the sum to be paid out with any one boy did not exceed five pounds' (in 1727 this was altered to £8). If at any time there were insufficient poor boys in Dunstable to keep the number up to 40, vacancies might be filled from the parishes of Kensworth, Luton, Caddington, Houghton Regis, and Edlesborough.


£1 10 0 was set aside to defray the cost of the Trustees' annual dinner which was to be held at the 'Windmill and Still' (later called the 'Crown'), the 'Sugar Loaf' or the 'Black Lion and Maypole' in succession so long as these inns belonged to members of the Founder's family or their descendants. The Trustees audited the accounts, appointed the master, admitted the pupils and made any necessary rules and orders. [X277/102].


Subsequent endowments


The settlements of 1724 and 1727 gave the school an income of £150p.a. Further endowments were made for the specific purpose of apprenticing the boys. The first was under the will of Frances Ashton; who bequeathed a farm at Edlesborough to the Trustees and to the minister and churchwardens of Dunstable so that the income could be used to apprentice a boy from the school, or set one up in trade when he had served his apprenticeship, in alternate years. The apprentices were to have two suits of clothes during their term. [X277/261]. This bequest took effect in 1741, and from then until 1820 this was the only money used for apprenticing boys, probably because the cost of running the school rose sharply in the 18th century, and in some years there was no surplus cash to spare. In 1760 the children were even forced to go without their suits of clothes because the farm rents were in arrears. [X277/261].


Mark Brown of Dunstable, a treasurer of the Charity, who died in 1816, left £100 for the purpose of apprenticing a boy every three years. The fund was first used in 1819. [C.C. Report, X277/266].


The School in the eighteenth century


Inventories taken of the contents of the schoolroom in 1747 and 1791 show that it remained the same in its equipment throughout this period. [X277/266]. There was a master's desk and a cupboard for books, ten forms for the boys to sit on, nine desks for them to write on, one long bench, one short bench for them to stand on when they were asked to read, three rows of pins to hang their caps on, and the orders of the school as signed by the Founders, in a black frame with glass.


Further rules and orders were made from time to time. According to the printed book of rules issued in 1735 [X277/174], every boy had to be capable of reading in the New Testament before he was admitted. The school hours were from 7-11a.m. and 1-5p.m. in summer, and 8-11a.m., 1-4p.m. in winter. No boy might be absent without the master's leave except for sickness and during harvest. In 1791 the boys were allowed a month's leave for gleaning during harvest (originally it had been a fortnight), and a week's holiday at Easter and Whitsun. Parents were to hear the children repeat the catechism at home, set them an example of 'sober and religious behaviour' and 'willingly submit them to the master's correction'. Other rules required the master to report instances of gross misbehaviour among the boys to the Trustees, and prohibited the boys from wearing their school clothes during harvest time [X277/261]. After 1798, boys seeking admission had to produce a certificate of age from the minister and another as to their parish, from the overseers [X277/266]. After 1813, a Bible and prayer-book were presented to each boy on leaving school [X277/262].


The master was allowed to take boarders and day-pupils to augment his salary. From 1749 at the latest, an usher or assistant master was employed by the headmaster at his own expense The first master, Moses Gratwick, died in 1741 and was succeeded by the Rev Thomas Hill, Rector of Dunstable, who was headmaster until 1753. Edward Snoxell, who had been the assistant master, was then appointed, and his period of office from 1754 until 1780 proved a disastrous one for the school. His appointment had been vehemently opposed by one of the Trustees on the grounds that Snoxell's wife was a 'professed Dissenter and Anabaptist'. He was evidently incapable of maintaining discipline, and seems to have been lax over the boys' attendance at church. In 1759 the Trustees ordered the boys to join in the singing of the psalms with the rest of the congregation, and reiterated the rule requiring the boys to go to church. By 1780 the situation was so serious that the Trustees who lived in Dunstable decided to demand his dismissal. They heard complaints on every side of great neglect in the management of the school and the general opinion was that the boys learnt nothing. Because the school was in such disrepute, the Trustees dismissed Snoxell as totally unfit for the post of headmaster. The next master was William Ward of Cheshunt, who resigned in 1789, and was followed by John Gresham. [X277/261]. Gresham was a man of many talents; he carried out a survey of the Charity lands in 1806 [X277/266]. He also composed hymns which were still in use in Dunstable church in the mid 19th century, and Charles Lamborn, the author of 'Dunstapelogia', published in 1859, says that 'his musical compositions, especially the services, are yet the favourite music of several neighbouring choirs'.


A few boys were expelled during the 18th century, mainly for non-attendance, and Thomas Brotherhood lost his apprenticeship premium for having 'highly misbehaved by absenting himself from the service of his master', Christopher Reed of Tebworth, carpenter, and refusing to return to him. Thomas Lawrence was not set up in trade as a result of having misbehaved himself during his apprenticeship. The Trustees seem to have been conscientious in carrying out their duties; in 1740 they ordered an enquiry into the case of William Edmunds who had been apprenticed to Henderson Scarlet, silk dyer of London, who subsequently changed his trade and turned the apprentice over to another master. It seems that the parents chose the master they wished to apprentice their boys to, and the Trustees granted the premiums if they thought the masters selected were fit persons. Some boys were apprenticed to trades in London or Northampton, but the majority chose local tradesmen as their masters. The 'handycraft trades' they learnt included that of barber and perriwig maker, carpenter, wheelwright, weaver, cordwainer, butcher, blacksmith, tailor, glazier and painter, cooper and gardener. [X277/507-90] Boys who hoped to receive an apprenticeship premium or to be set up in trade with the proceeds of Mrs. Ashton's bequest, had to present a petition to the Trustees at their annual meeting [X277/591, 2, 261] The average amount of money available was £15 p.a.; by the end of the century this was not enough for a premium, so the parents made up the rest themselves. [C.C. Report].


The school in the 19th century


The report of the Charity Commissioners who visited the school in 1819 shows that the intentions of the Founder were being fulfilled. They found that none of the property had been lost or diverted to other uses, and that the school and farm buildings were in an excellent state of repair (though the farm buildings had been in a bad state before 1815). The forty boys were being taught reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar and the Church catechism. They were being admitted in accordance with the rules of the Foundation, and continued (if their parents permitted) until the age mentioned in the original deed. They were supplied with all the books, paper, pens and ink they needed, and were 'educated without expense to their parents'. They were taken to church regularly where they occupied their own gallery [X277/646].


The orginal grant of £37 for clothing was quite inadequate by this date, and had been for many years past. It cost 22s. to clothe each boy in 1789 [X277/261], and by 1820 their suits and shoes cost £110. In spite of this rise in costs, the Trustees continued to ensure that the boys were clad in hardwearing suits consisting, in 1809, of two cambric bands, 1 pair of stockings, 1 black cap with scarlet band and tassel, 1 coat, waistcoat, breeches and two shirts. In 1820 the suits were 'lined throughout in stout calico', the shirts were of home bleach linen, and each boy had two pairs of 'best stout knit hose', two bands, two fine linen bands, a cap with a scarlet band and tassel, and a pair of low shoes and one of 'high shoes, well nailed'. Two figures over the entrance to the old school-house show the dress of the scholars in the 18th century. [X277/612,616] If a boy's relative died, a black tassel was substituted for the red one [Dunstapelogia]. In 1888 this system of providing clothing was abandoned. The Governors hoped that the parents would not need to spend the money allowed for clothes, but that they would allow the sums to accumulate as a fund for each boy when he left school, to which the Governors could add a premium. In the opinion of William Hambling, the headmaster, the scheme did not work. Nearly all the money was spent on clothing by the parents, and often spent badly, and he considered the old system better. [X277/502].


Many of the boys were removed by their parents before they were fourteen years old. The average age on leaving school was 11-12 from 1800-1825, 12, from 1825-1850, 12-13 from 1850-75, and the same from 1875-1900. The years when there were most removals were also those of general distress - the Napoleonic wars, the 'hungry forties', and the years of agricultural and trade depression after 1881. The opening of the railway in 1838 ended the coaching traffic through Dunstable, and the better railway connection between Luton and London attracted a large proportion of the straw plaiting industry away from Dunstable. After 1875 there was a considerable increase in the number of families leaving Dunstable, and two emigrated. [X277/266]. A letter dated 1881 declares that 'in the present state of agriculture no increase must be anticipated in the income of the Charity' and another (1882) refers to the great decline in the value of property in Dunstable [X277/674].


Other reasons for leaving were 'contempt of rules', 'ran away for London', 'uncleanliness and bad conduct', 'having played truant his father took him out', 'bad conduct in which his mother encouraged him', 'removed by his parents, they having joined the Wesleyans' (1863), 'taken out rather than pay a fine of 3d for fighting in the street', and 'elected to Christ's Hospital' (1800), and 'taken out to be put apprentice as a pupil teacher (1854). [X277/266]. The school register and the certificates also indicate that some of the parents were enthusiastic supporters of the Parliamentary Reform movement of the 1830's with the result that some boys rejoiced in names like 'Benjamin Reform Tofield' of 'George Liberty Smith'.


The master's salary was still only £40 in 1820, though it was increased in 1823 and rose to £60 p.a. by 1856, but this was added to by taking many more boarders and private pupils than in the 18th century. Originally the master had been permitted to take 4 boarders and 6 day pupils, but by 1820, John Puddephatt, the headmaster, had 38 private pupils who were taught in the same room as the charity boys, and employed an assistant master. [C.C. Report, X277/261]. Puddephatt was succeeded in 1837 by John Corfield, who was renowned locally as a botanist. [Dunstapelogia]. Under Corfield and William Hambling, who became headmaster in 1856, the syllabus became much broader than the 'three Rs'. 'Elements of Geography', and maps of England, the World, Europe and St. Paul's travels, made their appearance in 1848; drawing, algebra, and exercises in mechanics, the following year. In 1850 a local painter was called in to inscribe the Roman, italic, German text and old English alphabets on a board. It seems that the school library was being built up, for in 1852 Corfield ordered 'treasuries' of scientific, biographical and historical knowledge, Tupper's 'Proverbial Philosophy', 'Stoies from the Crusaders', 'The Revolt of La Vendee', and Stockhardt's 'Chemistry'. In the following year were added 'Our Native Songsters', Pool's 'History of England', Beckman's 'History of Inventions', and later, the 'Pilgrim's Progress', 'Robinson Crusoe' and books of poetry and natural history. [X277/637-44]. William Hambling offered private pupils instruction in fencing, music, French, algebra, geometry, book-keeping, arithmetic, Latin, geography, history, poetry and drawing, as well as the basic subjects. [X277/604].


The old ceremony of meeting the Trustees when they came for their annual dinner had been discontinued by 1859. In former times the Trustees had been met at the 'Half Moon' by the Town Council and populace, the horses had been removed from their carriage, and it was then pulled through the town amid scenes of rejoicing. [Dunstapelogia]. Two senior boys attended the Trustees at their dinner and had their own dinners free, and their was another dinner for the tenants, usually at the 'Red Lion'. [X277/611-646 passim.]


Chew's Foundation, 1880.


Because of the growth of free elemantary education, the Charity Commissioners and the Trustees drew up a new scheme in 1880. [X277/175]. The school was henceforth to be known as 'Chew's Foundation School', and was designed as a boarding and day school for 100 boys of the middle class, though the scheme preserved the Founder's intentions by creating 40 'Foundation scholarships' for poor scholars whose parents were members of the Church of England, and lived in the parishes mentioned in the original deed. These Foundation scholars were exempt from the fees paid by the other boys, and could also apply for exhibitions and apprenticeship premiums. The free benefits of the Charity were therefore preserved for the poor, as William Chew intended that they should be, but the school altered its character to meet changing circumstances. The curriculum was to be that of a secondary school. A new Board of Governors was set up, which included the Archdeacon of Bedford, the Rector and Churchwardens of Dunstable, two representatives from Dunstable Town Council, and six co-opted members. A new site on the south side of the school was purchased for the new buildings, and the foundation stone was laid in 1883. [X277/135, 674, 181-95, 264.]


The new school might have provided for a real educational need in Dunstable if it had not been for the opening of the Ashton Grammar School in 1887. Mrs. Ashton had endowed other charities, and funds from one of these were appropriated to found the new school. The income from this charity seems to have been far greater than that available for the Chew Foundation, whose resources were about £300 p.a. by the end of the century. Furthermore, the governors of the Ashton Charity provided a large number of free scholarships for poor boys. It proved impossible to carry out the 1880 scheme in its entirety, and the better amenities provided by the Ashton Grammar School made the Chew Foundation School unnecessary. [X277/250,4]. In 1899 the governors of Chew's Foundation therefore adopted a report which proposed the transfer of the benefits from the forty poor boys to girls, since there was no higher grade education available free in Dunstable or its neighbourhood except for boys. The Committee proposed setting up a girls' secondary school for middle class education, while preserving the free scholarship system for girls as in the 1880 scheme for boys. It was hoped that 'Dunstable, by opening a school for the middle class education of girls as well as boys will become a second Bedford'. [X277/177, 250-2, 264] The scheme was debated until 1905, but was abandoned because financial help would have been needed from the County Council, and was not forthcoming. In the view of the County Education Committee the girls were provided for by the new school which was being opened in Luton, and it proposed instead to divert the funds of the Charity towards enlarging the Agricultural Institute. The governors rejected this proposition. [X277/247, 254].


The closing of the school.


Without help from the County Council, the school could not be kept open as a secondary school of the type envisaged in the 1880 scheme, so after the project of a girls' school had fallen through, the school was finally closed in 1905. [X277/265]. New schemes were prepared but the final outcome was delayed by the passing of the new education act. Acting under powers given them by the 1880 scheme, the governors continued to grant exhibitions and apprenticeship premiums. [X277/248]. In 1910 it was finally decided that no school of any kind should be maintained, but that the funds of the Charity should be devoted entirely to apprenticeship premiums, junior scholarships and exhibitions, for the benefit of children whose parents were not Dissenters, with preference to those residing in the parishes originally specified. [X277/178-80. 265.]. In 1954 this scheme was amended to include grants towards books, tools, travel for educational purposes, the study of music or the arts, or the provision of sports facilities not provided by the Local Education Authority. The school was leased as a cookery centre to the County Council, from 1906-1938, and a proposal to build a centre for handicrafts and domestic subjects adjoining the school came to nothing. The new school room is now used by the County Library branch, and the old house is in use for purposes connected with the Church. [X277/265, 680, B.C.C. file 450/15].

Link to NRA Record:

Have you found an error with this catalogue description?

Help with your research