Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 11, 2017.
Webpage updated: July 11, 2017




Although the George Street Day School was located next to the George Street Baptist Chapel it was not a Baptist school but run for the benefit of all the Nonconformist chapels in the Town.  It was, however, founded by them as an addition to their Sunday School.  It was well regarded in the Town.

Mr R C Serpell laid the foundation stone of the School on March 10th 1864.  In April the following year it was placed at the disposal of the committee of management who lost no time in 'redeeming the promise made at the opening meeting to establish a day school free of government control, independent of government aid, and unsectarian in the character of its religious teaching'.

The committee's first act was to appoint a headmaster and in that they enlisted the help of Mr R Saunders of the Borough Road Teaching College in London.  From some 50 applicants they elected Mr Frederick John Webb, who had been trained at the College and had previously been Headmaster of the Bermondsey British School in London.

The building was designed by Mr J Ambrose, the local architect, in the Tuscan order of Italian architecture with a portico in front supported by four Portland stone columns.  It was similar to the adjoining Chapel and would have been a real asset in much more open place, crowded as it was by other buildings.   The builder was Mr J Finch, whose contract was in the sum of 2,092.  It was constructed of hewn limestone, with fire brick dressings, and had the date, 1864, carved over the front.

The ground floor was divided by a broad corridor, on one side of which there were eight classrooms for senior pupils; and on the other, two infants' classrooms, one each for boys and girls.  A door in the middle of the corridor separated the boys from the girls, who also had their own entrances from outside in Westwell Street.  Only two of the rooms were used for the Boys' Day School, each being 25 feet in length, 16 feet in width and 13 feet high.  These rooms had galleries.  The remaining eight classrooms were only 16 feet long, by 8 feet wide and 13 feet high, and were used only on Sundays for Bible classes.  There was as large a playground as the limited space would permit.

Occupying the whole of the top floor was the boys' large school room, measuring 73 feet in length by 40 feet in width, at one end of which was a recessed platform and two ante-rooms providing a library and a small kitchen.  The walls of the room, which could accommodate 300 children, were panelled with stained and varnished deal.  It was lofty and well ventilated, with several large windows on either side.  There was an organ in the room, mainly for the use of the Sunday School.  The desks were already fully utilised and some more were on order.  There were entrance doors at either end, the boys for the lower and middle schools entering by one and those for the higher school, the other.  But any thought that the sexes could mix in this large room every Sunday were immediately countered by a high moveably screen running down the centre. 

The total cost of the land, buildings and equipment was upwards of 3,417 9s and the speed with which the sum was raised was considered a triumph for the voluntary principle.  In fact when the books were finally closed there was a profit of 102 17s 7d.  The donations received amounted to 3, 438 2s 8d.  There was also 175 from the sale of a right of way.  Two of the donors gave 200 each while at the lower end, eighteen donors gave between 5s and 15s each.  The sale of subscription cards raised a further 59 while 36 was collected in small change.

George Street Day School was opened on August 7th 1865 with just 61 boys.  By the end of the first quarter there were 105 boys; at the end of the second quarter, 127; and by the end of the first year, 176 boys on the register.   Their ages ranged from seven to seventeen and they travelled from a wide area to attend the School, from Laira Bridge to the east, Morice Town to the west, Stoke and Ford.  There were boys whose homes were at Dartmouth, Princetown, Brent and Launceston and there was even a pupil whose home was at Port Mellon near Saint Austell in Cornwall.  By 1868 there was a daily attendance of 238 boys.   Within the first year of the School two pupils were dismissed for playing truant and two pupils died.  At that time there were 39 in the Upper School, 77 in the Middle School and 60 in the Lower School.  Ten pupils were learning French.

Because the course of instruction is higher than at other local public schools, the fees were also higher.  In the lower school they were taught scripture, reading, spelling, writing and arithmetic, for which the boys pay 4d per week or 4s per quarter.  Grammar, geography and history were additionally taught in the middle school, for which the fees were 6d a week or 6s a quarter.  They also had the opportunity to learn drawing for which they had to pay a further 1s 6d a quarter.  

Boys in the upper school paid 10d a week, or 10s a quarter, for which they received instruction in mensuration (plain and solid), mapping, drawing, natural philosophy, and book-keeping.

Singing and drilling were taught throughout the school without extra charge and there were extra classes for youths preparing for the Royal Dockyard or Keyham Steam Yard entrance examinations.  These lessons included mathematics, Latin and French, for which there was an additional charge of 6d per subject per week, or five shillings a quarter.  These extra lessons were held outside the normal school hours and in the summer, for instance, started at 6am.  The School was occupied until nearly 6 in the evening.

The French class so increased that it was divided into junior and senior classes, each meeting twice a week.  The Latin class met twice a week in the dinner hour.  The mathematics class met at 7 every morning, before which the Headmaster gave instruction to the teachers for an hour.  It was reported that the boys 'cheerfully' attended these extra lessons.

Reference to the scale of fees shows that a boy taking all the lessons on offer would have paid 1 5s a quarter, or 5 a year, which compared most favourably with the fees charged by the private schools in the Town.

In addition to the Headmaster, there were two assistant masters and two articled pupil teachers, which compares favourably to the Government's Revised Code of one teacher for every 40 pupils.

Two members of the committee of management were appointed each month to visit the School and examine the boys.  The whole School was examined every six months and the results were tabulated and posted in the School.  There was also an annual public examination, the first of which, in 1866, was conducted by Mr R Saunders of the Borough Road Teaching College.

Of 40 pupils examined in free-hand drawing in 1866, under the regulations of the Science and Art Department, 24 obtained certificates of having been duly instructed in drawing, entitling the School to a grant of 1s per pupil; nine received certificates of excellence, for which the School received a grant of 2s each; and   two obtained prizes, entitling the School to a grant of 3s each.  Thus 35 pupils satisfied the examiner, a very good percentage.

In 1867 Mr R F Weymouth AM, one of the Committee of Management, privately examined 64 boys and reported in considerable detail, and most favourably, on their attainments and progress.  62 passed the examination, thus entitling the School to a grant of 6 13s as against 2 8s the previous year.

This compared favourably with the two other schools in Plymouth that were examined for drawing that year.  The Plymouth Public Free School had 506 children examined and 298 passed.  Their grant of 21 4s was the fourth highest of any school in the country.  Charles National Schools had 72 children examined and 63 passed.   Their grant was 7 14s.

The School did not use the grant money for the support of the School generally but purchased drawing materials which it presented to the pupils.

Scholars were expected to attend a Sunday School or place of worship on a regular basis.

It was planned to add infants' and girls' schools to the George Street Day School but the committee were waiting to ensure that the latter was truly self-supporting before embarking on any new ventures.