Bury Unitarian Church
Article published in the Bury Times
SCHOOLING and education is perhaps something many of us take for granted in the 21st century.
But almost two centuries ago a group of selfless and
passionate Bury reformers fought to ensure that formal education and all the
benefits this could bestow were a right for all and not merely for a privileged
During the late Georgian and Victoria periods
industrialisation brought thousands flooding into towns like Bury in search of work.
In the wake of these drifting multitudes grew an army of
the impoverished and destitute.
Life was hard for the newly urbanised working class and
poor, and when periods of economic downturn struck many were pushed into the
direst poverty and to the very edge of the liveable conditions.
Daily strife and scenes of begging orphans and waifs were
an all too frequent occurrence.
The sight of such children stirred the heart of many,
including one Bury bookseller, Benjamin Glover.
As a social and moral
champion, Mr Glover saw the beer-shop and the public house as
the ultimate enemy of family life and believed that education was the route to
eliminating misery and crime.
According to local historian Jean Bannister: “Support for
the schoolmaster rather than the policeman was his motto and he advocated
compulsory free education run by the State with no sectarian strings.”
When the Parliamentary Bills of 1853 and 1855, which had
attempted to establish the basic levels of such education, failed, Mr Glover
Turned his own hand and attention to improving the lot of Bury’s poorest
He was no
doubt inspired by the
early 19th century free schools were established in
founded the new
Early records survive and show from what backgrounds the
school’s early scholars were admitted.
Twenty eight were said to have been frequently drunk, 13
were expert thieves and most had at some time begged for food.
Several of these children were dismissed for exerting an
evil influence on others.
On admittance most pupils were found to have been
verminous and all were ignorant of the Lord’s Prayer, having only heard of the
Deity for use as a swear word.
One 12-year-old boy had run away from his step mother,
spent two years at a coal-pin in Wigan, damaged his fingers, broken an arm and a
leg in a road accident and spent time living with a relative sleeping on three
Reports remarked that he improved considerably once at
the school. That was until his uncle too him on a day to the races, after which
her ran away, back to a life of vagrancy.
Initially around 30 children were cared for, including
clothes for those in need, a breakfast, dinner and tea of porridge, soup and
bread for all; and seven beds provided for those without homes.
Pupils received basic schooling in the morning and
undertook manual work in the afternoon. But there was no instruction on Sundays
— perhaps revealing Mr Glover’s influence.
Despite the school founders’ best efforts, a Government
inspector in 1857 found the premises poor and the children ignorant.
In 1859 the venture collapsed with the departure of Mr
Mr Tweddell had offered to continue ‘for the purpose of
teaching and instructing the children of the poorer classes such as did not
attend other schools for want of better clothing’, but his generosity was not
chemist, Mr Pennington, and a spindle maker, Mr Clark, hired a room in the
Temperance Institute in
venture became the
of its own became essential and site was acquired in
school opened on
Throughout its early years the school struggled for funds
and annual inspections reports continually urged for better staff to pupil
One report described the pupils as ‘the poorest and most
neglected children in the heart of the town'.
Although another said: “The children did not seem very
ragged in dress.”
The annual inspection report of 1891 stressed the
deprivation of pupils, noting: “The poor we have always with us and it is a
pleasure to help and succour the children received for this class of our
neighbours... their chance of a proper upbringing lies in our power, to care for
and help them until...such times as they can help themselves. Otherwise they
will go to the swell and already too large numbers are submerged.”
In spite of the hardship donations were always gratefully
received at the school and the wealthy spent generous sums on treats and outings
for the pupils.
Every Christmas a party of 300 to 400 children enjoyed a
meat pie, bun and coffee, as well as carol singing and a bag of goodies.
enjoyed trips to
In 1906 a
new wing was added to each side of the building and the school was renamed the
However, the period after the First World War brought
continuing hardship for the school.
Inspectors noted in 1925 that there were more war orphans
there than at any other school in Bury and remarked that the children seemed
passive and it was difficult to arouse their interest.
But by the Second World War pupils numbers were instead
dwindling as a process of demolition began in the Mosses area of Bury.
year after the
short time the
However former pupils of the school still meet up with one another to reminisce fondly.