12 Mar. 2014: Holt Society’s Georgian Lecture on schooling

Gresham’s, the well-known public school, is a major presence in the town of Holt. How was it regarded more than 200 years ago, when it was the Free Grammar School? Did pupils have to attend regularly, or was there scope for them to attend this, and other schools, only as often as they pleased?

Parental encouragement of non-attendance

Mary Hardy, writing at nearby Letheringsett Hall (seen on the banner), reveals some startling statistics. Her two sons were highly irregular in their attendance at their small schools in the village of Coltishall, north-east of Norwich, and later at the Holt grammar school, and the Hardy parents actively encouraged them in taking time off school during term time.

Holt Free Grammar School, Gresham arms

The arms of Sir John Gresham (left side) and of the Fishmongers’ Company under which Holt grammar school boys would enter from soon after the school’s foundation

On Wednesday 12 March 2014 at 7.30 pm Margaret Bird will give the annual Georgian Lecture to the Holt Society. Details of the venue are below. She has chosen to talk on ‘Children and schooling in 18th-century Norfolk‘ to highlight what parents of their social class wanted from formal education for their young. This was not a narrowly academic curriculum, but training for the challenges facing the pupils in later life. Children were taken out of school for all manner of occasions, such as attending general elections and mayoral elections in Norwich, family visits, local fairs and helping in the family business. Schooling was by no means central to their upbringing.

The grammar school at Holt

At its foundation in 1554–55, and for centuries afterwards, the present-day Gresham’s was known as Sir John Gresham’s Free Grammar School or just the Free Grammar School, Holt. It took fee-paying boys like Raven Hardy and his brother William, but under its statutes it was also to take ‘thirty free scholars’ drawn from the poor, or ‘the poorer sort’.

Although the teaching had been very well regarded under the master John Holmes earlier in the 18th century, under James Smith and Thomas Atkins there appears to have been a tailing off. Norwich Grammar School was also losing pupils in the later part of the century. Parents withdrew their sons and instead sent them to North Walsham’s Free Grammar School, then in the ascendant. Raven Hardy attended North Walsham 1779–81 as a weekly boarder, and seems to have been very happy there.

The education of daughters

Mary Ann Hardy started school at Coltishall at what seems to modern eyes remarkably early, at just two years old. She left her Fakenham boarding school for young ladies at 13, and judging by her entries in her mother’s diary she had not gained a great deal from formal education.

Thomas Theobald's pocket book, filigree Valentines

Two tiny mid-18th-century valentines (each 4 cm across) made by piercing paper. Mary Hardy’s 17-year-old daughter was taught filigree work by a travelling player on Valentine’s Day 1791  [Cozens-Hardy Collection]

However her parents took trouble to see she had private tuition in dancing, drawing, music and artwork; needlework was taught at school. They bought an organ for her, which was installed in the family’s parlour at Letheringsett in 1785 when Mary Ann was only 11. She played at parties, when visiting churches, and was still playing just before her death aged nearly 91.

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.

The lecture will appear on the list of events for the Holt Society.

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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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