THE CHAPEL SCHOOL
The first mention that can be found of a school run under the British system by the non-conformists of the Independent Chapel in Church Street (now the United Reformed Church) is surprisingly in an entry dated 9th May 1864 in the log book of the National School (Church of England), where reference is made to three children returning from the Chapel School. The school was run as a Dame School from what is now the site of number 21 Church Street under the guidance of Misses Prideaux and Burridge.
The 1870 Education Act raised fears amongst local non-conformists that they would be forced to close the Dame School because it would not meet the requirements laid down in the Act. If the Dame School had been forced to close the education of children in the village would have fallen into the hands of the National School (i.e. Church School).
Such a scenario caused great concern amongst the Chapel supporters as it would have meant that all the village children would have been educated children in the principles of the Established Church where learning of the Anglican Catechism was compulsory.
A meeting was arranged by members of the Chapel where it was decided that if a suitable building could be erected they could obtain government grants and continue to provide an alternative form of education.
One of the Chapel’s leading supporters was a Mr Savery Pinsent, who had formerly been Solicitor General to the South African government and served twice as the Mayor of Durban. His father was Thomas Pinsent of Greenhill who had provided the bulk of the money to rebuild the Chapel in 1866 and contributed to the cost of building Salem Chapel in Newton Abbot. Savery
Pinsent had returned to Kingsteignton in 1872 determined to carry on the good work of his father and settled at Westeria in Chudleigh Road. A staunch non-conformist he became a deacon of the Congregational Church and Superintendent of the Sunday school as well as teaching Bible Classes for men and women.
Pinsent purchased a plot of land from the diocese of Salisbury, adjacent to the parish church, known as Cottey Meadow. Had the canons known its of intended use they may well have not consented to its sale! Finance for the scheme was secured and in 1873 the new Kingsteignton Unsectarian School was opened and children were duly transferred from the Dame School.
The absence of a male master was seen by the Managers as a reason for parents being unwilling to send elder boys to the school so a Mr James Murphy was appointed in 1876. He seems to have blotted his copybook with the deacons of the chapel and resigned in 1878 to be replaced by a young Mr Charles Freestone.
By 1880 the number on the school roll had risen to 123 and the premises were experiencing overcrowding. An entry in the school log dated 30th April 1880 states that “The Infants’ Room is almost unbearable with 50 children in it.“ The aforementioned room measured 17 feet 10 inches by 14 feet three inches!
Mr Pinsent obtained permission to build an extra classroom and reading room. An account of the opening of these new rooms by the Rev. J Sellick is recorded in The Western Times dated 26th October 1880 and reads: “The Rev Sellick entreated all the parents to attend to the education of their children, and not to forget themselves, but take advantage of the reading room and prepare themselves for the time not far distant when they would have a vote and ought to know how to use it and support the Government which was best for the country. He spoke of the work Mr Pinsent was doing for Kingsteignton and declared the rooms open. Mr Pinsent briefly upon the history of the movement and work done by former labourers in the cause, including Mr Burd and his own father in whose footsteps he was proud to tread. He desired no praise, but only wished to see the work prosper.”
The school was run under the Lancastrian or British System using teachers and class monitors. Grants were at various times obtained from the British & Foreign Bible Society and the school, like many run by non-conformists, was often referred to as The British School.
Mr Pinsent died in 1888 and his passing was a considerable blow to the school. He had been its main sponsor and paid not only the rates on the building but had also made good the greater part of any deficit in the Government grant. Mr Freestone, the headmaster, looked to the Managers for continued financial aid and 1890 actually supplemented the school funds from his own salary.
By 1911 the school balance sheet contained more red entries than black and the Managers suggested to the Trustees that the school should be leased to the county council. The council agreed to lease the school and furniture for seven years at £13 for the first year and £12 thereafter. From this time onwards the school was no longer referred to as the British School but became known as the Council School. Nevertheless the non-conformist influence of its “Chapel” owners (by now known as the Congregational Church) still played a great part in the running of the school as the majority of the Managers were drawn from its members and the school was still referred to locally as "The Chapel School".
Mr Freestone decided to retire in 1919 having served as Headmaster for almost forty one years. He continued his link with the school as the correspondent to the Managers and played an active part in village life as the Rate Assessor.
His successor was a Cornishman named William Pearce who had served with distinction in the Devonshire Regiment, having been awarded the DCM and MM. Mr Pearce introduced a regime of strict discipline and promoted the idea of team games as an integral part of school activity. Money was raised to purchase a football kit by holding concerts which in turn became a regular feature of school life.
In 1922 the School Inspector suggested that the possibility of amalgamating the two village schools should be considered with the view to forming a Senior School and a Junior School. The Managers of the Church School objected to any reorganisation unless it was based on the grounds of religious instruction.
Ever increasing pupil numbers put continued strain on the accommodation which was eventually relieved in 1935 when a new Senior School for children over eleven was built between Ley Lane and Chudleigh Road. The reorganisation affected all village children. The Church School became an Infants School catering for children under eight on the 1st September, whilst the Council (Chapel School) became a Junior School and took responsibility for those children who reached their ninth birthday between 1st September and 31st August the following year, and the school year containing their eleventh birthday, with Mr Pearce continuing as the Headmaster.
World War II saw an infllux of evacuee children and a shift system was introduced to cope with the increased numbers. Classes were held in the Congregational Church Lecture Hall in Church Street and the Co-operative Rooms at the Fountain.
Mr Pearce was no doubt relieved to leave these problems behind him when decided to retire in 1946. There was some delay in appointing his successor as the Managers, true to their independent principles, did not approve of any of the candidates put forward by the Education Committee. Eventually Mr Arthur Thompson was appointed as the new headmaster in January 1947. The school site he inherited was still the still the same as it had been in 1938 but one noticeable change soon after the war was the demolition of cottages adjoining the school in Sandpath Road which allowed for expansion of the playground.
There were 134 pupils on the roll when Mr Thompson left in 1954 to take up the post of Headmaster at Buckfastleigh.
His successor was Mr Edward Bath who had previously been assistant headmaster at Highweek. A cramped site coupled with a post-war bulge in the child population put an immense strain on facilities. In 1955 there were 24 more children on the register than the accommodation provided for. To overcome this in 1956 the central washroom was brought back into use as a classroom and two mobile classrooms were erected in the playground alongside the church-yard wall. It was intended that they could be removed at some time in the future when the problem of overcrowding was eased. They were still being used when the school closed in 1987!
Nineteen sixty one saw major changes in both school organisation and facilities. The school roll was extended to take children from age eight to eleven as two school years moved up together from the Infant's School. Three new classrooms were built to the south of the school site where a new lawned area was set out. The main room was converted into a hall (following the removal of the screen which had been erected in 1924). The small middle room (originally built as an infants’ room in 1875) was converted into a staff room and cloakrooms and toilets were provided for the staff for the first time in the school’s history. Another change was the removal of the wall between the playground and the main school block.
The lack of any games field had meant that the school used Berry Meadow and the parish recreation ground for sports activities.
A space existed between the main school block and the new buildings which was quickly chosen as the site for what was probably the most innovative facility provided at the school - a swimming pool. Prefabricated in design and supplied by Purley Pools it cost £480 of which the County donated £250. The rest was raised by subscriptions from the pupils. Every pupil was given a pink card and asked to raise 6d per week. Work began in April 1963 and within a month the pool was opened. The new facility saw a sharp rise in the number of children gaining swimming proficiency certificate.
Other notable events in 1963 were the purchase of a television and the acquisition of Oakford Lawn as the possible site of a new school. The latter was immediately put into use as games field for football, cricket and athletics.
At Whitsun in 1968 an extra classroom was built in a section of the playground between the mobile classrooms of 1956 and the 1961 additions. By 1970 the roll had risen to 263 and with no further space remaining on the site an extra two classrooms were built on the Junior Playing Field beside the Infants’ School.
The school roll had now reached 284. To overcome the immediate problem of inadequate space plans were made to build two new classrooms adjacent to the Adult Training Centre in Greenhill Road which would be due for occupation in September 1973. On their completion the classrooms at the Infants School site were to be vacated and transferred to the Infants’ School.
Mr Bath retired in 1973 having spent almost twenty years at the school. His successor Mr John Hammond was welcomed to the school on 8th May 1973. He inherited a school which had outgrown the Sandpath Road site and was still using the Lecture Hall in Church Street as a canteen. The building of the extra classrooms due for completion in September 1973 had not commenced by November of that year and the hall had to revert to the role that it served as a classroom a century before. In May 1974 Mr Hammond reported to the governors that he had not received any notification from County Hall regarding the completion of the new classrooms but had obtained the keys from the builders and had brought the classrooms into use.
A Parents Teachers Association was formed in October 1980 and a voluntary school uniform incorporating maroon and gold was introduced. These were colours which had been used for team strips since the World War II but it is not recorded when the change from the navy blue and gold used in the 1920’s took place. Innovations were taking place in the field of music and in 1982 Mr Hammond reported that pupils were being given the opportunity to learn to play the violin. Later that year it is recorded that teachers were receiving training to meet the education requirements for children with special needs in accordance with the provisions of the 1981 Education Act.
Other changes were taking place in the school curriculum. Keen to ensure that the latest technologies were available to pupils in June 1983 Mr Hammond informed the Governors that two teachers were attending training courses in the use of computers. The matter of discipline in schools was another aspect of school life that was changing. A letter was received by the Governors in July 1986 stating that with effect from the commencement of the autumn term 1986 corporal punishment would be abolished, a far cry from the days when Mr Freestone frequently recorded in the log the thrashings he had meted out.
Meanwhile the seemingly never ending saga of the new school continued. In February 1981 Devon County Council stated that a new school was planned for 1982 whilst by June 1981 the proposed date had been put back twelve months. Disagreements were raised concerning the new site which was to have been located to the north of Rydon Avenue. Eventually this choice was abandoned in favour of land which the County already owned at Rydon Meadow, a site which the Managers had objected to in February 1971 on account of it being subject to winter flooding. March 1985 saw another postponement of the scheme and local councillors and parents were becoming increasingly anxious as to whether there ever would be a new school.
The Governors received a letter from County Hall on 20/1/86 giving details of changes which were soon to take place the following year in the structure of primary school education when the long promised new school was completed. A new system of two primary schools catering for children from age 5 to 11 would be introduced with specific catchment areas. Children to the north of stretching along Ley Lane and Longford Lane would attend the new school at Rydon whilst children living to the south of this boundary would attend a remodelled Church of England Primary school. Transitionary arrangements were made for pupils living to the south of this line who wished to transfer to Rydon while similar arrangements were made for children at the Infants School who lived to the north of the village who wished to continue their education at what was to be now known as St Michael’s C of E Primary School. This upheaval brought about major changes for staff and pupils alike.
On 8/5/1987 Mr Hammond requested that the Governors allow the school to close two days early to facilitate the transfer of furniture to the new school. He informed the Governors that from September 1987 school meals would no longer be eaten at the Lecture Hall but on site at Rydon. The school closed in July 1987 some 114 years after the founding fathers had embarked on their ideal of securing unsectarian education in the village. Before its closure the deputy head, Mrs Iris King, organised an open evening so that former staff and pupils could have a final look around the school which they had once called their own.
Whilst renovations were being made to the St Michael’s School during the academic year 1987/88, the pupils of St Michael’s were temporarily housed at Sandpath Road. It is not without some degree of irony that the last pupils to be taught at the premises of the “Chapel School” were pupils of a school which was an Anglican foundation.