This article was published in the April 2019 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society
We continue the with the article based on a paper by the Lindfield History Project Group and we are grateful for their permission to print it. Here is described how the Reverend Francis Sewell established St John’s Parish School in Lindfield. The final instalment will be in the next edition.
St John’s Parish School
Within five years of the National School opening on the Common, Sewell was funding and establishing a new school. The reason to create a new Anglican school according to his Brief Statement, was that the existing National School Room was ‘in many respects objectionable’, due to the site, locality and internal accommodation. Perhaps a wish to further exert his influence on the religious education of children from the labouring classes and extend this to the middle classes also featured.
The laying of the foundation stones took place on 13 May 1856. ‘At one o’clock, the school room received about 200 children, for whose especial service a good substantial hot dinner of roast beef and plum pudding had been provided’ (Brighton Gazette, 8 May 1856). After singing hymns the children formed in procession with their teachers and under a banner ‘The Church of our Fathers, the glory of our Lord’ preceded to the parish church. At the belfry tower were assembled the Bishop of Chichester, ‘several reverend gentlemen’, the architect, the builder and parishioners, etc. When the children arrived, the gathering moved to the site of the new school, where Sewell in his speech repeated comments made in the Brief Statement saying that the one (school) on the Common had been built five years, but it was objectionable. Quagmire and slush beset its approach, and its drainage and sewerage were bad. Its distance from the church was unpleasant, and he believed that the House of Prayer being near the school, had an influence on both old and young. Again, the present school room had not a room for infants, no lavatory, no schoolmaster’s residence, nor other necessities which he had endeavoured to provide in the new building. Sewell further advised that the schools would be conducted with the highest possible efficiency, with a due regard to moral and religious training, and as much as possible on the self-supporting principle, and on the principles of the Church of England, and he hoped, without the aid of the National or any other Society.
The school was designed to contain 100 girls, 100 boys and 70 infants and including the master’s house would cost £1,630. Towards that cost Sewell pledged to give £630 with right of ground, Mr Kearns had given £130, leaving a balance of £870. Of the interest on that sum he would ‘but take one halve’, and he hoped that before long the buildings would be conveyed to the parish.
The Bishop gave a speech in appreciation of Sewell, offered prayers and laid the foundation stone.
The assembled gathering then moved onto the Master’s House for the laying of the foundation stone, and then to the Rectory House for another stone laying ceremony. On conclusion of the ceremony, the company adjourned to a marquee for a lunch of cold collations provided by Charles Mills of the Red Lion. Further speeches followed. Out-door amusements were provided for the children.
The school rules and fees were set out, with the latter ranging from 2d to 6d a week payable every Monday morning. The rules applying to the Sunday school were similarly published.
On 19 October 1856 the school was opened. One hundred children mustered at the school before proceeding across the road to the church for a service, with the sermon being delivered by Sewell. The following day ‘about 200 highly respectable persons’ attended a tea meeting at the school presided over by Sewell.
Finely built in stone, the school had separate school rooms for boys, girls and infants and in addition to being a day school for Lindfield and surrounding district, also served as a Sunday school. The children attending the National School on the Common were transferred to the new school.
A newspaper report in August 1861, describes the annual St John’s School Fete, organised and funded by Francis Sewell, held in the fields adjoining his residence, an event that had taken place each year since the school opened. The children enjoyed ‘the most joyous school treat they had ever witnessed in Lindfield’ with a full and published programme of entertainments and amusements. The annual fetes demonstrated Sewell’s fondness for children.
The report commented, ‘We believe it is not generally known that
St John’s Church Schools are among the finest educational structures in Sussex.
Some three months later an advertisement appeared in the Sussex Agricultural Express of
2 November 1861 for the ‘St John’s Middle-Class Grammar and Mathematical School. It announced:
‘The object of this Institution is to provide, at a moderate cost, a sound Classical and Mathematical Education for the sons of parents who are anxious as to the early inculcation of the doctrines of our Evangelical faith. With this view, teachers of decided piety and well-known ability have been engaged, the matron and her assistants are in every respect qualified for ensuring a happy Christian home, and the entire establishment will be under the supervision and control of the officiating Minister of St John’s Church, Lindfield. …………. The boarding-house is a commodious private residence, where every home comfort will be afforded. ……. The course of Instruction, arranged with a view to the preparation of pupils for the Middle-Class Oxford, Cambridge, and the Civil Service Examinations …….’
The fees were quoted as £32 per annum for boarders, non boarders £8 per annum for the entire course, and ‘For gentlemen and retired tradesmen, £12 a-year’. The advertisement also mentioned the train connection and distance to London and Brighton.
From this advertisement it can be seen Sewell was repositioning the school to focus on the education of children from middle class families. The aims of the original National School to educate the ’labouring, manufacturing and other poor classes of the parish of Lindfield’ appeared to be taking second place in his vision. However, it is unclear whether his Grammar School ever really got off the ground.
The school buildings were never conveyed to the parish and remained in Sewell’s ownership, presumably because the desired contribution from residents was not obtained. However, the St John’s Middle-Class Grammar School existed, at best, very briefly as shortly after Sewell’s death, in October 1862, the school closed. Sewell’s plan to establish a self supporting school ended with his death as a day school on the site never reopened.
On the instructions of the High Court in Chancery in the case of Harrison v Trotter, the buildings were put up for sale by auction in September 1863 and by July 1866 the school building was said to be ‘now possessed by Mrs Sewell, the widow, and used on Sundays by Dissenters’.
The pre-existing Sunday school, run for many years by Miss Trevatt, was allowed to resume meeting there in the mornings and afternoons, and on Sunday evenings the London City Mission conducted preaching services. The building became known as St John’s Mission.