Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 11, 2017
Webpage updated: August 29, 2018




The Batter Street Benevolent Institution, in Plymouth, was founded in 1785 by the Reverends Christopher and Herbert Mends from the Batter Street Presbyterian Chapel.  The Reverend Herbert Mends donated 200.  It operated purely by means of voluntary subscriptions, as it received no endowments or Government grants.  By 1812 it was educating sixty girls.

On Sunday June 10th 1860 three services were held at the Institution to celebrate its seventy-fifth anniversary.  The Reverend J M Charlton preached at the morning service, the Reverend T C Page at the afternoon one and the Reverend E A Telfer at the evening worship.  The Western Morning news said: 'The Batter-street Institution is one of the most valuable in the town of Plymouth, and in its day has had a most beneficial effect on the poor children in its neighbourhood'.  There were a total of 238 girls at the School, of which 151 were infnats.

An extract from an early  management committee minute book that was still in existence when the Western Daily Mercury did its survey in 1868 read:

The dreadful increase of immorality and vice in this town, and particularly the corruption of those in the younger path of life, cannot but have been observed and seriously lamented by every sincere friend of religion and mankind, and the direful consequences certain to attend this almost general depravity must greatly alarm every pious mind.  This being universally acknowledged, it will readily urge the propriety and interest of this institution, and will, it is hoped, encourage every true Christian to promote so laudable and delightful an undertaking whereby the children of the poor may, by the blessing of the Lord, be recalled from that destruction into which unquestionably vice and impiety would plunge them, and consequently will prove a means of warding off the direful effects of vice from the rising generation, and of making them useful members of society.  with these views the institution was set on foot by the congregation of the Protestant Dissenters in Batter Street, Plymouth, and is supported by them, and the annual contributions and donations of persons of the different denominations of the town.

No reason was given as to why only the girls and infants had schools and the boys were left out.  It is thought that a lack of funds was the cause, combined with the fact that the Grey Coat School, situated in 1868 in Hampton Buildings, was at the time being conducted from rooms in nearby Woolster Street.

For many years the school was carried on in a small house occupied by the mistress at the end of Peacock Lane.  It subsequently used by the infants.  When the numbers of attendees overtook the accommodation, a new girls' school was erected adjacent to the Catte Street Chapel on the corner of Batter Street and Catte Street.  This was opened on Friday September 20th 1850 when the friends of the institution took afternoon tea in what was described as the 'very commodious' building.

This new school-room was built upon piers, about 12 feet above the level of the street, to separate it from the Chapel's burial ground across the street, which the floor of the room was 7 feet above.  The room was 45 feet long, 36 feet wide and 15 feet high and was well fitted with furniture and apparatus.  There was no playgrounds for either school although there were convenient rooms attached to both.

In 1867 there were 88 girls and 106 infants on the registers.  The average attendance for both schools was about 150.

The children all paid a penny a week, although a few of the very poorest children attended for free.  This was normally in situations where the parents were out of work temporarily.  It was not a recognised principle of the school.

Education in the usual reading, writing and arithmetic was given with the older girls learning elements of geography and grammar.  They also learned plain needle-work and knitting.  The infants were 'amused and instructed by turns', as the Western Daily Mercury put it, and were taught hymns and simple tunes.  The older infants were taught plain needle-work and knitting.

The girls were taught by a certified mistress and assistant mistress while the infants took their lessons from a mistress.  In both schools the staff were assisted by monitresses.

Children of any religious denomination could attend the schools although they were expected to attend the Sunday School run in conjunction with the day schools.

Payment by results was the basis of staff remuneration.  The mistresses got a minimum salary boosted by an annual payment calculated according to the number of children who passed an examination to the satisfaction of the managers.  As previously stated, the schools did not receive Government grant and therefore was not subject to Government inspection but it did try to emulate the standard by employing an appropriately qualified gentleman to conduct their examinations.

In 1868 it was planned to enlarge the girls' school-room to accommodate 500 children for the Sunday School.  At the time the room could hold about 100 children more that was required but it was hoped that the extension would encourage parents to send more of their children to the schools.

It was not so much an extension but a complete rebuild.  The old school was said to be 'unsubstantially built and insufficient in size' so it was demolished and replaced with a new room measuring 51 feet by 31 feet.  In the extension the room could be divided by sliding partitions into two rooms measuring 25 by 12 feet and 16 by 12 feet.  The main room was capable of holding 500 people and was lit by two sunlights fixed in the ceiling and each holding 63 gas jets, making 126 lights altogether.  The buildings were designed by Mr J L Hodge, completely free of charge, and they were constructed by Mr Symons, builder.  There were entrances to the School in Catte Street and also at the north end of the building.  The new School was inaugurated in usual fashion with a public tea attended by around 350 supporters.  The Reverend W W Whittley was the pastor at that time.