I have created this blog to share new research and supplemental information related to my book, Jane Austen, Edward Knight, & Chawton: Commerce & Community, published by Woodpigeon Publishing. All text is © Linda Slothouber, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Slothouber and chawtoncommerceandcommunity@blogspot.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Please feel free to contact me at lindaslothouber@gmail.com.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Education in Chawton and Environs

A village day school, 1804.  The cartoon's caption makes fun of the schoolmistress's questionable abilities. (Lewis Walpole Library, Yale)
In my book, Jane Austen, Edward Knight, & Chawton: Commerce & Community, I’ve taken detailed, specific data and drawn out of it the larger story of financial matters and community life during the time of Edward Knight and Jane Austen.  In this post, I want to take a closer look at one of the sources I used in my research to learn more about education and the role of landowners, clergymen, and charitable individuals in providing schools for the poor.

In 1819, Parliament conducted an inquiry into the provisions for educating the poor of Great Britain.  A questionnaire was sent to each parish’s minister, directing him to report on the schools within his parish.  John Rawstorn Papillon, rector, completed the questionnaire for Chawton as follows:


Population:  347

Particulars Relating to Endowments for Education of Youth:  None.

Other Institutions for the Purpose of Education:  Two schools, containing 48 children; and two Sunday schools, consisting of 32 girls and boys.

Observations:  The poor are desirous for their children to be educated, and they have the privilege of sending some of their boys to a free school, about two miles off.

During Jane Austen’s lifetime and for some years thereafter, there was no state-provided funding for education.  What schools were available for the poor were funded by individual or organizational charity.  The Parliamentary questionnaire asked about "endowments":  an “endowment” was a continuing income bequeathed in a donor’s will and directed toward a specific purpose.  Chawton did not have any endowed schools, but some of its boys were sent to Eggar’s Grammar School, an endowed school in Alton.  Chawton did have day schools (also known as dame schools) for the poor; Edward Knight, and the Knights before him, paid a village woman an annual salary to serve as schoolteacher.  For those children who could not attend school daily, Sunday schools gave them a chance to pick up the rudiments of reading as well as religious instruction.  The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, an organization to which Jane Austen contributed money, was a force in setting up Sunday schools throughout the country.  (A list of SPCK contributors appeared in Hampshire newspapers in September 1813, showing that Jane and Cassandra each gave ten shillings and sixpence (£0.10.6), while Mrs. Austen and Martha Lloyd each gave a guinea (£1.1.0).) 
1810 map showing some of the places mentioned in this post.  Chawton and Alton are near the center, Shalden is at the top, Holybourne to the right, and Farringdon at bottom. 

How did Chawton compare to other places?  As might be expected, towns had greater educational resources.  J.G. Gibson, officiating minister, completed the questionnaire for Alton, the town nearest to Chawton, as follows:


Population:  2316

Particulars Relating to Endowments for Education of Youth:  A free grammar school, founded by John Eggar, of Montgomeryshire, containing from 9 to 20 boys.  The funds consist of 88.11.0 per ann. arising from freehold lands in Chawton, and money in the stocks...  The master’s salary and that of his usher are 45.0.0…

Other Institutions for the Purpose of Education:  A national school, consisting of 267 children, and about 100 attend the day schools.  Four respectable boarding schools of both sexes, comprising from 100 to 120 scholars.

Observations:  The poor have not sufficient means of educating their children, but are desirous they should possess them.  They send 12 boys to the parish of Holybourne, free of expense.

Eggar’s School was endowed through a bequest of land, which was rented out to farmers, with the rent money invested and used to sustain the school.    

During the first decades of the 19th century, “national schools” were actually run by the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Church of England, an outgrowth of the SPCK; later, they were taken over by the government.  “Boarding schools” were privately run schools charging fees, such as Mrs. Goddard’s school was in Emma.   

Endowed schools generally offered the best educational opportunities for poor children, but funds supposed to provide for the school were sometimes diverted.  One example is the school at Selborne, just a few miles from Chawton.  (Edward Knight did not own any property in Selborne and had no role in the education of its children.)  William Cobbold, the rector, gave vent to his frustrations:

Selbourne [this is the old spelling; it is now Selborne]

Population:  770

Particulars Relating to Endowments for Education of Youth:  A school, containing at present 10 children; the funds arise from 11 acres of land purchased with 100 left for that purpose by Gilbert White, late vicar of Selbourne in 1719; the mistress receives 4d. [4 pence] per week for each child while at school; but the minister observes, for a long time the charity has been abused, and that till the year 1813, the time when he came to the living, nobody had inquired into the misapplication; that then he called upon the trustee relative to the charity, but receiving only evasive and unsatisfactory answers, he presented in 1817, a petition to the master of the rolls, with whom it still rests, and to whom he refers for further particulars.  

Other Institutions for the Purpose of Education:  Five small day schools, containing 84 children.

Observations:  ---

The Selborne rector was not alone in reporting abuses.  In the parish of Hinton Ampner, the school endowment was “grossly abused” by one of its supervisors until a case in the Court of Chancery sorted it out.  

The village of Steventon, where Jane Austen was born and raised, was very small.  James Austen, Jane’s eldest brother, was still listed as rector in 1819 (he was to die that year), but the schools questionnaire was completed by officiating minister James Davies, who reported as follows:


Population:  167

Particulars Relating to Endowments for Education of Youth:  None.

Other Institutions for the Purpose of Education:  A school for all the children of the parish, containing about 10.

Observations:  The poor have sufficient means of education.

As with the school in Chawton, records show that Edward Knight paid the salary of the Steventon schoolteacher.  He didn’t extend this charity to every parish where he owned property, however.  Perhaps (I am speculating here), because the church had a role in education of the poor, Knight chose to support schools only in those parishes where he owned the living (that is, the right to choose the clergyman). 

Compare Chawton to  Shalden, a small parish just to the north, where Knight owned a significant amount of woodland.  C.H. White was the parson, reporting as follows:


Population:  157

Particulars Relating to Endowments for Education of Youth:  None.

Other Institutions for the Purpose of Education:  None.

Observations:  The poor are without the means of educating their children, and they have very little time to attend to education, except on Sundays, being employed from a very early age in agriculture:  and a Sunday school has been lately relinquished from the failure of means to support it, but the minister hopes soon to re-establish it.

Throughout the nation, children’s employment in factories and on farms meant that many could not take advantage of whatever educational resources existed.  While this was a widespread problem in Shalden, it was not unknown in Chawton:  John White, who grew up in Chawton in the 1820s and nearly a century later dictated his memoirs of his childhood years, had to forego school and earn an income to support his family because his father had been incapacitated in the Napoleonic Wars.

Edward Knight owned property in Farringdon, a village adjoining Chawton where J. Benn (brother of Jane Austen’s friend Miss Benn) was rector.  In 1819, Knight was not the only large landowner there, and he did not underwrite the schooling of Farringdon children.  Decades later, however, most of the parish land was owned by Knight, and in 1852 Edward Knight, Jr., paid £250 to rebuild the school in Farringdon.  


Population:  378

Particulars Relating to Endowments for Education of Youth:  None.

Other Institutions for the Purpose of Education:  A Sunday school, containing 18 children.

Observations:  The poor have not the means of education, but are desirous of possessing them.

The questionnaire for Holybourne, four miles east of Chawton, was completed by J.G. Gibson, master of the endowed school there.  This was the school to which 12 Alton boys were sent every year.  Gibson took the opportunity of the Parliamentary inquiry to plead for a higher salary.  His report provides valuable detail on the running and financing of such schools during the period.  


Population:  384

Particulars Relating to Endowments for Education of Youth:  A school founded by a Mr. Andrews in 1719, for the instruction of all the boys and girls of this parish, who amount to 43, and 12 boys from Alton, 5 from Binsted, and 3 from Froyle, are instructed; 12 of the Holybourne children are annually clothed, and 1 or 2 boys are annually put out apprentice at a premium of £10.  The master has a good house and £78 per annum, out of which he has to pay an under master £25 and a mistress £8 besides various other charges amounting to £62.11.0.  The [endowment] funds consist of £131.12.8 per annum, arising chiefly from fee farm rents.  The lease of a house will also soon fall in producing £30 per annum at least; and an action has been commenced to recover a fee farm rent of £8.4.0 which has been withheld for some years.  It was specified by the founder, that the master should be a clergyman of the Established Church, and should perform divine service and preach three times in a fortnight; so that, with the curate’s duty, there might be service both morning and evening every Sunday.  The above statement will show how exceedingly inadequate so small a stipend as £16.9.0 is for the support of a minister.  The curacy is only £20 a year, so that when both offices are united it is still very inconsiderable, and requires to be improved to render it respectable.

Other Institutions for the Purpose of Education:  A school containing 41 children, who are prepared by a woman for the free school at the expense of their parents.

Observations:  The parents of the children are all poor, and would be glad to be saved the expense of their education at the preceding preparatory school. 

J.A. Atkinson, Going to School, 1800-1810.
(Yale Center for British Art) 

Chawton and Steventon were fortunate that the major landowner was willing to pay a schoolmistress to provide basic education to the poor; for quite a number of parishes in the Parliamentary report, educational resources are reported as “none” across the board.  It was not until 1870, with the passage of the Elementary Education Act, that local authorities in Britain were required to provide education to children between the ages of 5 and 13 (and even then the schools were not free, and attendance was not mandatory in all areas).   

Before 1870, the availability of education was entirely dependent on the charity, goodwill, and service of those who funded the schools directly (such as Edward Knight), those who contributed to organizations that provided them (including Jane Austen and many of her relations), and those who personally taught children (such as Cassandra Austen).  

As a bit of a postscript, I’d like to point out two links between the early 19th century and our time.  John Rawstorn Papillon, the Chawton rector whom Jane Austen joked she would marry someday “whatever may be his reluctance or my own,” inherited an estate, at Lexden in Essex, and in his will bequeathed an endowment for the Sunday school there.  That endowment still operates, producing about £100 a year.  While the value of money has changed over time, the importance of literacy has not, and some of those working to support basic education operate on the global scale.  The Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, founded by Edward Knight's descendant Caroline Knight, works to effect positive and significant change to global literacy rates.  More about the foundation is here. 

The parish returns quoted above are pulled from the complete 1819 Parliamentary report, available online.


  1. So glad to have found this interesting and informative blog.

    1. I'm so glad you did! It's difficult for a new blog to gain traction, with so much else out there. Thanks for having a look!