12 Mar. 2014: More on children and schooling in the 18th century

Only in a personal record such as a diary are we likely find a reference to an outraged parent challenging a headmaster to a duel for beating his children. The diarist Mary Hardy, another parent at the village school, tells us just that.

The former Coltishall Free School

Coltishall’s 18th-century school stands facing the church. Under its endowment it accepted not only fee-paying boys but also ten free lads

In June 1775 the local excise officer challenged John Smith, the master of Coltishall Free School, ‘to fight him with sword and pistol for hurting his children at school’.

The officer, Thomas Peirson, was not alone. A local farmer, Richard Colby, a widower bringing up his sons on his own, had gone even further. The previous March he had beaten the master and his wife and grown-up daughter. This time Mary Hardy does not tell us the reason for the attack, but it may well have been his way of paying the master back in kind.

The Georgian Lecture of the Holt Society

On Wednesday 12 March at 7.30 pm Margaret Bird will give the 2014 annual Georgian Lecture at Holt; details are below. The subject is ‘Children and schooling in 18th-century Norfolk‘. All are welcome.

The range of schooling was wide, and parents adopted an engaged approach. The teachers might have wished they were not so strongly supportive of their children.

Small endowed schools were prevalent in villages and prepared boys for entry to the grammar schools to be found in market towns like King’s Lynn and Fakenham. The Hardys’ elder son Raven attended the grammar schools first at North Walsham and then at Holt, leaving at 15.

Sunday schools and female teaching

The Sunday school movement took root in the towns and villages from 1786 onwards, Mary Hardy immediately coming forward enthusiastically to help both on Sundays and on weekday evenings at the new Letheringsett Sunday School. It was held in the church, seen here on the banner. She gives incomparable insight into the way the adults banded together to offer their services, such as by hiring music masters to teach singing. Through these schools the children of the poor were taught to read and sometimes to write.

There was cross-parochial cooperation and emulation, these Church of England schools actually laying the foundations for the active involvement of women in Methodist classes and as class leaders. They had become accustomed to teaching the word of God publicly as school assistants. Mary Hardy’s commitment appears to have encouraged her to take a more public role later in Nonconformity.

Home tuition

The talk will range widely, and will include the popular dancing classes laid on by visiting masters. The Hardys did not themselves prize formal education to any great extent, William Hardy teaching his sons and daughter at home to make up for their absences from school. The younger two left off formal schooling at thirteen.

That duel, by the way, never took place. We learn that ‘Peirson and Smith made up their difference without shedding of blood.’

Details of the meeting

The Georgian Lecture is an annual event in the Holt Society’s calendar, held at 7.30 pm at Gresham’s School, Cromer Road, Holt, NR25 6EA. The 2014 talk on 12 March will be given in Big School, the large hall facing the main road and reached from the front entrance car park. A fee of £3 per visitor covers costs including tea or coffee and biscuits.


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Margaret Bird

Margaret Bird in 2016

The editor and author of the Mary Hardy volumes

You can read about the historian Margaret Bird on the link above

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