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Twickenham United Reformed Church

The British School

and other schools meeting on our site

Lady Shaw's school provided the first known home for the Church, and during the Victorian period the Church was to repay the debt by providing a home for several schools. These were not run by the Church itself, but by the local committee of the British and Foreign Schools Society (BFSS). The society concentrated on training teachers at its colleges. The first, at Borough Road, London opened in 1808 and moved to Isleworth in 1890. The society would only provide teachers for a British School on condition that the school was "open to the children of parents of all religious denominations ... the lessons for reading shall consist of extracts from the Holy Scriptures; no catechism or peculiar religious tenet shall be taught in the school, but every child shall be enjoined to attend regularly the place of worship to which its parents belong".

The BFSS Annual Report 1897 ( from which the last extract is taken) included a list of British Schools that were now closed. Included in the list is "Turnham Green Lady Shaws's School est. 1834" - this almost certainly refers to Twickenham. Lady Shaw's schoolroom was registered for public worship in December 1835, when the schoolmistress was Mary Clift. The 1836 BFSS report shows 66 girls attending, each paying 1d per week. Lady Shaw's school also appears in the P.O. London Directory 1845, Mrs Sarah Draper being mistress.

This school must have subsequently closed, because in 1861 a British School for Boys was opened in the Baptist schoolroom, to be followed the next year by the Girls school which "met under the direction of Miss Hollingshed in the schoolroom adjacent to the Independent Chapel ... very kindly placed free of rent for the use of the Committee". About 80 boys and 50 girls attended the schools, each paying 2d per week. The Secretary of the schools was Mr J.N. Goatly. Within a decade the school ran into problems. In July 1871 a teacher, Mr Langley, resigned on being advised "that the school was to be closed when I give the holidays next Friday, the reason being that they (the committee) were much involved in debt..." . On Christmas Day 1876 Abraham Slade wrote in his Journal: "The last year has been an eventful one... the turn out of nearly all the congregationalists & school over to the Baptist... ". This was an unsettled time for the church which was dissolved in 1879 then reconstituted in 1882.

The Church minutes record that the school re-opened on December 31st 1883 under the management of a new committee chaired by Augustin Spicer. "116 children were present from 4 to 13 years of age". A manuscript note states that in 1882 " Miss Ramsay, Head of Briar Road Infants School, took the lot of them to the 'old British School' in First Cross Road, because the rearrangement of the Briar Road building was unfinished". The truth of this is uncertain but a return for the school, dated December 1884, survives in the BFSS archives. It is signed by Miss L.J.Ramsey, "certificated 1st Class" teacher. There were 240 children on the roll and an average attendance of 147. The need for the BFSS and other colleges can be gauged by the statistic that in 1881 less than half the teachers in the country were certificated, and of these, one third had not been to college.

Miss Ramsey was to run her school for the next 30 years. During its first decade the school appears to have become independent of the BFSS. The 1897 Annual Report mentions the Twickenham school (founded 1861) in the category of closed schools, immediately under the entry for Lady Shaw's School mentioned above. Arthur Brazier, who attended the school about 1890, recalled:"my parents sent me to Miss Ramsey's school ... and we had to pay 4d a week ... Two old ladies used to run this school - I stopped there about two years and then I transferred to the Archdeacon Cambridge School, ... my parents were better off then - they only had to pay 2d a week".

Further competition came when Trafalgar School opened in 1904, providing a free education and most of the children transferred there. One to move was Emily Potterill (Mrs E.Cumber), a member of the Church until her death in the 1980's. When she attended Miss Ramsey's school, at the start of the century, there were two classes. One, taken by Miss Ramsey herself, was for the older children (8-12), and the other, taken by a Miss Henley, was for the younger children (3-8). About thirty boys and girls attended. The charge of 6d per week was waived in cases of hardship. Miss Ramsey removed her school from First Cross Road in 1906, the Church waiving the rent she owed. She was evidently still running a school in 1914 - that March the Church considered a request from her to use the premises, but no agreement was reached.


See 'A Century of Education: being the Centenary History of the British and Foreign Schools Society 1808-1908', H.B.Binns 1908.

August 2010: When this page was originally researched and written by Tony Bryer it appeared that most of the BFSS archives had been destroyed during the Blitz. Fortunately that is not the case, a small number were indeed destroyed but the vast majority of the archives survived and are now held by the BFSS Archive at Brunel University. We are grateful to Phaedra Casey, BFSS Archivist at Brunel University, for her correction and further information (emails 1, 2, 3).

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Last updated 3 June 2008. For comments and reports of bad links etc., please mail webmaster@twickenhamurc.org.uk