FEATURE: Blue plaque unveiled in Worle pays tribute to the district's first national school to open
PUBLISHED: 18:00 12 January 2019 | UPDATED: 11:45 14 January 2019
At approximately 700 years old, it could be possible that Worle Village School, the name by which it is now known, is one of the oldest school buildings in the kingdom.
The building, in Church Road, started its life as a medieval tithe barn in the 13th century, at a time when people paid tax in kind rather than in cash.
This medieval structure housed the church income called the tithe, which meant one-tenth, and was the traditional going rate of church taxation at the time.
In its formative years the building was used as a parochial barn as it was built next door to St Martin’s Church.
The barn fell into disrepair during the centuries until 1865, when the ruin was incorporated into the building for Worle National School, established by the Church of England at a cost of £890.
Historian and councillor John Crockford-Hawley said: “At the time of the Conquest, Worle was the wealthiest manor in this neighbourhood, even though previous Viking skirmishes had reduced its value from £10 to £7.
“National schools were established by the Church of England whereas British Schools were non-conformist.
“The conversion of Worle’s medieval tithe barn into the village school showcased the attention to detail of architect John Norton, who is said to have been the best locally bred practitioner in the mid-Victorian period.
“Although he had a substantial London practice, his work originated in his home city of Bristol, with his largest and most significant refurbishment in North Somerset is Tyntesfield in Wraxall.
“The fact the school has retained some of its original features is testament to him.”
Education for all
Prior to 1800, the education of poorer children was left to charity schools.
The National Society, established in 1811, saw the Church of England build countless schools – usually next door to parish churches – and from 1833 the state began paying annual grants to these denominational schools, and Worle’s became a national one.
The Education Act 1870 saw the creation of board schools, which provided state education and the first state school in Weston was Walliscote School 1897.
Weston’s own national school - later known as St John’s – opened 20 years earlier than Worle’s in 1845 and stood on the site of today’s Knightstone Campus of Weston College.
Many church schools still exist though they tend to be known by their local church names and have a dual authority or trust management structure.
Worle’s first blue plaque
Worle History Society is the proud sponsor of the first blue plaque to be installed in the town.
It was unveiled on December 12 by Cllr Crockford-Hawley, who also produced a pamphlet about the history of the barn and the school, and has overseen Weston Town Council’s project to install the plaques in appropriate sites in Weston and Worle.
The society’s chairman Raye Green said: “We were delighted that pupils and teachers from the school joined the society for the unveiling and took a great interest in learning more about the school’s heritage.
“John Norton was the architect who designed the refurbishment and the original buttresses and stonework are still visible and touchable today.”
Youngsters at the school have spent hours of their history lessons learning more about the building and the pupils who used to sit in their classrooms in 1865.
Deputy headteacher Kerry James said: “The plaque is something we have been planning for a number of years – we put on various activities, including a time capsule to celebrate our 150th year in 2015 which the students took the lead with, burying facts and mementos for someone else to find at some point in the future.
“Kids have also been on historical walks around Worle to experience more of its old features, how the school fits into the community and how important it is.
“Obviously teaching has changed so much since the 1800s so it was interesting to see them learn more about the differences.
“The old barn roof is still part of the school’s key stage two area.”