A Learning City

The reconstructed Victorian school room in York Castle Museum

York has always been a place of learning but the Victorian age saw mass education for the first time.

In the early 1800's education went hand in hand with religion, as it always had.  There were 15 Church of England Sunday Schools in York in 1836, plus nine run by other religious groups, teaching more than 3,300 pupils.  Most were aged between five and 15 and were taught nothing more than reading, religion and morals.

York had a better day school system than most cities.  More than half of these schools were run by charities or public institutions and the curriculum was very basic.

The 1870 Education Act stipulated that, in areas lacking decent education, a School Board be set up to build and run new schools along non-religious lines.  York’s good educational provision meant it initially escaped the need for a School Board and, just to make sure, the Church of England opened several new schools in the 1870s including St Dennis’s, St Lawrence’s and Heworth. 

The Bar Convent continued to teach girls from well-to-do Catholic families, while boys from the same backgrounds were sent to Ampleforth.  York Quakers opened what would become Bootham School in 1823.  For daughters of Quakers, a school was established in Castlegate in 1831 moving to its present position on The Mount in 1857.

New Schools

York’s School Board finally came into being in 1889.  It oversaw the creation of six new schools.  City architect WH Brierley won the design competition and his handsome brick schools, most with a high central hall, were built around the city: Shipton Street (1890), Fishergate (1895), Park Grove (1895), Scarcroft (1896), Poppleton Road (1904) and Haxby Road (1904).  By the end of the 19th century there were 12,000 pupils in York classrooms, double the number 30 years before.

Although educational provision had greatly increased and improved over the century, Victorian schools still only provided a basic education to most children, which finished at 14.

...and New Colleges

A long tradition of teacher training in York began in May 1841 when the Diocesan Training College opened on Lord Mayor’s Walk.

A York School of Design opened in 1842, ending up in the Exhibition Building which also housed the art gallery.  In 1905 it was merged with the School of Art.

Meanwhile, the Quakers set up York’s first Adult Schools, where those who had long left school or college could better themselves.  By 1903 there were enough for the formation of the York and District Adult School Union.

For all of these advances, life remained very hard for many citizens of Victorian York.

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