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Early Education

Mike Wilson, Local Author and Historian

The Burlington Knitting School has long since vanished from the side of the Bayle Gate, in Bridlington's Old Town.

Founded in 1670 by Mr William Bower, the school's income was derived from a small farm at Birdsall, left in his will as a perpetual endowment.

Mr Bower's headstone reads: "Here lieth the body of William Bower of Bridlington Key [Quay], Merchant, departed life on 23rd March 1671, in the 74th year of his age. He did in his lifetime erect at his own charge in Bridlington a school-house and gave £20 per annum for ever in maintaining and educating of the poor children of Bridlington and Key in the Art of Carding, Spinning and Knitting of Wool." His headstone can still be seen in Priory Church.

The trustees of his will were to find 12 children, between six and 12 years old, both boys and girls, to master the arts for two years at least and not exceeding five years. The children were to be chosen from the poorest inhabitants of the town, who were also "relieved by the common alms of the town."

No evidence has been found that a teacher competent in the carding and spinning of wool was ever appointed. Records show, however, that the children did indeed learn knitting. Occasionally, the children produced knitted garments, orders having been received for socks and stockings, and which were sold by the teacher.

It is known that on 8th December 1793, "Thomas Holmes entered upon the Knitting School as Teacher and the scholars came this day." Thomas Holmes had followed a female teacher and he was succeeded by another lady. Mistresses of the school included Ann Pickering in 1847, Mrs Smith in 1850 and Miss Coulson in 1864.

For one month in 1833, twelve scholars were given permssion to "glean in the harvest field." They received 2s. 6d. per week (12.5p) for this activity. This was, unfortunately, deducted from their wages when they went back to school.

Assisted by his daughter, Mr John Haggitt was the principal manager of the school in 1850. At this time the children were also taught to read the Bible, and he insisted the children attended Sunday service at the Priory.

In 1858 the schoolmistress received a yearly salary of £13 6s. 8d. (£13.33) for the teaching of knitting. She also had free use of the house. From Bower's legacy 10d. (5p) per week was paid to the pupils, any remainder being shared among them on New Year's Day. Sums paid to the pupils varied, from 5d. a week in 1785, to 1s. a week (10p) in 1830. It dropped to 7d. a week by 1850, but went back up again to 8d. in 1857. The amounts varied, reflecting expenses at the Birdsall farm. 

Earlier in the school's history, a master was required, but no-one applied because he would have to pay for the wool needed in school from his salary of £8 per year. 

At the school's closure in 1873, Miss Coulson became the tenant of School House.

The school was a low, brick building, having a central door and two small windows. It stood "in the Church Green at the north-east corner of the Bayle Gate, facing east, a low one-storied building with no special architectural features."

For a time the building had a thatched roof, notes relating to small charges for "thatching school-house roof" being recorded in 1773, 1779 and 1799. In 1806 accounts show "the knitting school roof taken down and tiled," and the whole building was reported to be "put in good repair."

The management of the school was organised by trustees appointed by the Lords Feoffees, with names including Rickaby, Yates, Prudom, Johnson, Staveley and Hebblethwayte, among others.

The knitting school closed after the introduction of the Education Act in 1870, but revenue from Mr Bower's farm went towards the building of Burlington School on Marton Road, where young people of Bridlington are still educated.

A fuller history of the knitting school can be found in the Journal of the Bridlington Augustinian Society No.3 of January 1926, owned by writer Mike Wilson, author of this article. Further facts are taken from Bygone Bridlington by George Hardwick, 1948, and Sketches of Bridlington, 1839.