In early Stuart times, Thomas Assheton of Hest Bank left 80 shillings in his will to provide a school at Bolton-le-Sands. A group of trustees pooled that money with other funds that had been donated and bought the Old Kiln Yard as a site for the building. The school opened in 1637. Some of the original building still stands, but the overall footprint would have been half the size of the one we see today. It would have had very primitive conditions – bare stone walls, poorly heated by a peat fire and lit with candles.
William Stout, a pupil between the years of 1672 and 1679, wrote about how children were frequently taken out of school to do work outside. This was worse around the timing of ploughing, hay making and harvest. He commented “…we made slow progress in Latin, for what we got in the winter we forgot in the summer”. School days were long, starting at 7 o’clock in the morning and finishing at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Latin, Greek and religion were the main lessons taught.
Into the Victorian Era
By the 1800s, the curriculum had widened to include arithmetic, history and geography. In 1826, schoolmaster James Slatter advertised that he had three vacancies in his house for boarders. He offered accommodation and instruction in “the various branches of classical and commercial education 22 gns per ann (22 guineas a year), washing and mending 2 gns per ann, Entrance 10s 6d”.
There were on-going problems with getting children to attend regularly. One master recorded that. out of twenty one boys, only eight were present one afternoon. They were out “picking shrimps, selling newspapers, minding babies” and “no one was ill”.
In 1849, a new girls’ school opened just a few minutes walk away in the Crosshill area of Bolton-le-Sands, but some girls continued to attend the old grammar school.
An inspection by the school’s trustees found the state of the building to be unfit for teaching and a decision was made to double its space. An 1857 local appeal raised over £208 and work on the construction was rapid. The front wall and its mullioned windows were demolished and a new extension was attached, and this is the front we see today. Its more modern cut blocks can be seen to contrast with the rougher stones from the original part of the 1637 building.
In 1870, the school closed to girls and five years later it became a public elementary school, abandoning its grammar status. The conversion resulted in a grant which meant the fees could be reduced.
Reminiscences from just before the Second World War
A snapshot in time comes from 1937 – reminiscences by Miss Wilkinson, one of two teachers who worked at the school. The other teacher was the headmistress Mrs Garth, who she recalls was always keen to get the boys into Lancaster Grammar when they left. The school room was split into two halves with a four foot high screen separating the two classes, but this did little to prevent the noise spreading from one class to another. As a remedy the teachers tried not to be speaking at the same time. From a plan depicting the layout of the school it appears that Mrs Garth’s section had nine double desks for pupils. Miss Wilkinson had six double desks, one long one and a high desk with no seat. The school piano was played by Miss Wilkinson for combined singing lessons for both classes. The toilet block consisted of an earth closet for the teachers, and two earth closets for the boys.
Every Ascension Day, the boys would climb the steps up the church tower to see the view over the village. At other times of the year they would be distracted by the ‘passing bell’ which tolled when someone in the village had passed away. The boys would count the number of tolls to determine if it was a man, woman or child who had died.
On cold days, the school caretaker would have the fires lit ready for the start of lessons. Mrs Garth benefited from the 1857 extension fireplace but Miss Wilkinson had to make do with a coke stove that gave off noxious fumes. The caretaker also doubled as the grave digger and would regale the teachers with morbid stories.
Miss Wilkinson would take the boys down to the shore to play football, the ball often ending up in pools left by the retreating sea. Later they managed to get use of a boggy field, but there was still no marked out pitch and coats acted as goal posts. Physical Training was done outside the front of the school on the road, but this was frequently interrupted by tradesmen passing with horses and carts. A piece of land was bought near the school and the older boys and some fathers constructed a garden there which was used in the summer time for stories and poetry readings.
The school closed in 1940 and the pupils transferred to the girls’ school at Crosshill, which became a Church of England mixed school. The building found use as a library and also a doctor’s surgery. For the last six decades, it’s been a meeting place for local organisations.
In 1984, there was major building work done. A new toilet block was constructed, the roof repaired, masonry re-pointed, the interior was redecorated and new lights and furniture added. Further work took place in 2010 when The Renaissance Project saw new floor coverings, the 1857 fireplace restored and a major repair of the 1637 walls, with a damp-proof course added. Permanent heritage display boards were put up on the inside to tell the history of the building.
At well over three hundred and fifty years old, the Bolton-le-Sands Free Grammar School is in excellent shape and is used for meetings by local organisations. It also opens up to the public on Heritage Open Days, and volunteers are on hand, as well as a wealth of fascinating historical displays.
Bolton-le-Sands Free Grammar School is on St Michael’s Lane, just over the canal bridge. There is parking outside the school. The exterior of the building can be viewed at any time.
The interior is open on the annual Heritage Days. The building is also available for hire, see the village website here
Nearby, just a short walk away Viking Stones Bolton-le-Sands
Bolton le Sands Free Grammar School, K. Entwistle, undated leaflet. In print and available on Heritage Open Days (September 2018)
The Story of Bolton le Sands Free Grammar School for Younger Readers, N. & J. Buckley and K. Entwistle. Leaflet in print and available on Heritage Open Days (September 2018)
On site interpretation boards within the school
Temporary display for Heritage Open Days (September 2018)