Lindfield National School


From 1833, Parliament made grants available to build schools for the education of the poor.  The Church of England through its National Society for Promoting Religious Education was anxious to extend its influence and was active in setting up National Schools

Reflecting the perilous state of the parish there is no evidence that a National School existed in Lindfield during the 1830s.

At that time the village had one proper school, founded in 1825 by William Allen, a Quaker philanthropist.  This was the School for Industry on Black Hill for the children from families of the labouring classes living in the parish and nearby villages.  The school was open to all and had separate rooms for boys, girls and infants.  Although there were daily Bible readings, teaching was non-denominational and the children were expected to attend every Sunday the place of worship to which their parents belonged.  Following Allen’s death in 1843, the school continued on the principles of the British and Foreign Schools Society supported by the Congregational Chapel, and so it would have been regarded as a dissenter’s school.

According to Gregory in his book, Mid Sussex Through the Ages, in 1849 a National School was being ‘conducted in the old disused Workhouse at the top of the village’.  Perhaps this had been established a few years earlier by Sewell as part of his work to re-establish the influence of the parish church.  There was undoubted rivalry between the two Lindfield schools, as Gregory notes, ‘The British Schools continued to flourish in spite of every effort made to depreciate and lessen their popularity by the National School’s Committee’.  Some 175 children were attending the British School in 1851.

In that year, a new National School was built on the Common adjacent to Lewes Road.  The Earl of Chichester, by Deed of Trust dated 25 August 1851, gave the land ‘to the Minister and Churchwardens of the parish upon trust to permit the erection of buildings for the education of children and adults or children only, of the labouring, manufacturing and other poor classes of the parish of Lindfield’.  The managers named in the deed were ‘the incumbent ex officio, his curate, if appointed by him and four other persons’, these were the Earl of Chichester, Messrs Jollands, Noyes [junior] and Compton.  The ‘incumbent ex officio’ presumably was intended to refer to Sewell and the words ‘if appointed by him’ would indicate Sewell wished to have a controlling influence despite living in Cockerham, Lancashire.  He was described, in an 1854 newspaper article, as ‘the founder of this valuable institution’.

In 1854 newspaper article also reported the school’s annual fete held in the grounds of Lindfield House, saying ‘the pupils mustered in strong numbers and proceeded forthwith through the town from the School to a meadow, where a spacious marquee was erected to receive’.  They were met at the gate by Rev Sewell, who had travelled to Lindfield by train, and Rev Lloyd, afterwards ‘the rev gentlemen proceeded to distribute ……. cricket bats and balls, trap-bats, kites, air-pops, books, etc.’  A plentiful meal was provided for about 140 children and later for 40 visitors and teachers.  A brass band performed and at seven o’clock ‘a splendid balloon rose in majestic style’ signalling the end of the event.  This school treat was presumably mainly funded by Sewell as he journeyed to Lindfield to spend time with the children.

Another similar school treat was held in 1855, and the events indicate the National School was thriving.  The teachers at this time were a Mr & Mrs Sanders.

However by 1856, Sewell was describing the National School Room as objectionable: ‘1st, in respect of site, being on a low level.  2ndly, As to locality, being at a great distance from the Church.  3rdly, In respect of internal accommodation, there being no class-room exclusively for Infants, no means of separating the Boys and Girls for specially distinct exercises, no lavatory, no master’s residence, &c@.  To address these problems he announced the building of a new school opposite the church.  Having been involved in establishing the school on the Common only five years previous, he was now the school’s fiercest critic.

When Sewell’s new St John’s Parish School opened in October 1856 the pupils transferred from the National School Room on the Common to the new building.  The National School on the Common closed.  After his death in 1862, St John’s School closed and the recently constructed building put up for sale.  Unfortunately it was not possible for the school to revert to the original National School premises on the Common as this ‘had been given up to the Dissenters for the use of their Sunday Schools’.  Repossession was obtained in 1863 by Rev F Mills, the new incumbent, and following repairs the school reopened in January 1865.  Unfortunately, it did not thrive and with fewer than 30 children, plus an atmosphere of great dissatisfaction and refusal by contributors to provide funds, the school closed finally in March 1865.

Rev Mills and his family became homeless in mid 1866 and unable to find any accommodation, moved into the empty school building but within months were forced to vacate the premises.


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