The Norton Canes Endowed School on School Lane, Little Wyrley.

A few weeks ago, Brian Holmes asked the question as to why School Lane in Little Wyrley/Norton Canes had such a name. Well, I was ill at the time and said I would delve a little into the question when feeling better; I am now feeling better and have done so – actually, that is a bit of a lie – the truth is that I happened to bump into Roger Knowles, who is a long-time committee member and driving force behind the Norton Canes Local History Society. He told me that the Society investigated the site between 1972 and 1974; not only that, their 1975 Society report carried the findings. As I wondered where such a publication could be found, Roger appeared in true Mr Benn fashion, ‘as if by magic’, clutching the said item.

It seemed silly to re-invent the wheel, as so much of the story was already there. So I have, with the permission of Roger and the Society, in the interests of local history – with the growth of the internet and so forth – written-up that report. Credit also need to be given at this point to SJ Whitehouse, whose name also appears on the article. The Society’s plans have been photographed and some included at a relevant point within the text and I have also added the relevant census returns and a few photographs that I have taken myself.

My preamble comes to a close with a note to say that anything in square brackets is my wording, and has been done to add the odd information point or because the change of format (from paper to electronic media) has required it. I have also moved the list of sources into the general text. Also, remember to click on photographs to enlarge them.

Just to give a clear starting point, the school was sited on School Lane, opposite Pinfold Farm, at the junction of Watling Street and School Lane. I have included a copy of the 25″ OS Map from 1884 for the area in question. The school had ceased to operate as an Endowed School by that time, but the buildings are clearly still there and may well have continued as a Dame School.

The former Norton Canes Endowed School buildings, opposite Pinfold Farm at the junction of Watling St/School Lane on the 1884 25" OS Map. (Staffordshire Record Office)

The former Norton Canes Endowed School buildings, opposite Pinfold Farm at the junction of Watling St/School Lane on the 1884 25″ OS Map.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

Pinfold Farm has now gone, with much of its site being lost for the M6 Toll road…

The site of Pinfold Farm, as seen from the approximate location of the school. 2015.

The site of Pinfold Farm, as seen from the approximate location of the school. 2015.

The site of the school buildings can still be made out due to the field boundary that can be seen on the above OS Map still being in place.

The top end of the school enclosure, now obscured through trees. 2015.

The top end of the school enclosure, now obscured through trees. 2015.

School Lane has now been gated by order of the Staffordshire County Council.

The Bottom end of the enclosure, including the former garden. 2015.

The Bottom end of the enclosure, including the former garden. 2015.

Norton Canes Endowed School by SJ Whitehouse and RJ Knowles
The school house was a small, single storied brick cottage and stood at the junction of Watling Street and School Lane for over 200 years. It was known locally as “The Dame School”, at the time the Society decided to carry out excavations at the site. Subsequent documentary research however, revealed that the school was endowed by the lords of the manors of Norton Canes and Little Wyrley in 1737 and continued in use until 1862 when the buildings were sold by the trustees.

The site plan (Norton Canes LHS)

The site plan. Remember to click on photos to enlarge.
(Norton Canes LHS)

Mr Hopley of Norton East Road, told me that his father was taught there in the early 1880s as a free scholar. Mr Charlesworth of Cannock said that no pupils were taught there after the first world war. From 1862 to about the turn of the century it appears possible that the school was run as a Dame School, with some free scholars; this would explain the name by which the school was known locally.

Excavations at the Site
Work commenced in 1972 and continued steadily during the next two years until the full extent of the foundation walls were uncovered (see plan of the building). The original cottage had been much altered and added to. An outhouse extension to the north was partially sunken below ground level to provide a cold store.

Plan of the buildings (Norton Canes LHS)

Plan of the buildings – forgive finger!
(Norton Canes LHS)

A much later cottage had been added to the south, and the original doorway bricked-up. Evidence was found of several changes in the quarry tiled floors which had been laid on layers of soft and sharp sand and domestic ash. In these layers were found fragments of small glass panes and lead strip from the original windows; other finds included fragments of clay pipes, pins, marbles and occasional sherds of pottery.

The well was excavated to a depth of fifteen feet but contained only building rubble. The ash pit and refuse deposits at the most northern part of the site [provided] large quantities of broken domestic pottery, china and glassware. Particularly notable were some complete Victorian glass mineral and soda bottles, a whisky “coffin” flask [larger top and tapering body – I love this – perhaps showing teachers were stressed even then!], stoneware jars and bottles [fired to high temperatures] , glass inkwells and some complete clay pipe bowls. Such was the extent of the refuse deposits that only a small section was excavated.

Master & Pupils
A plan of the buildings is shown on page 30 [actually shown above]. It will be noted that the actual schoolroom, and the schoolmaster’s living room were quite small, measuring 4.2m (13′ 9″) by 5m (16′ 5″) and 4.2m (13′ 9″) by 3.5m (11′ 9″) respectively. We know from documentary sources that 30 boys and and girls attended the school in the early 1800s (this evidence appears to have come from: a Select Committee of the House of Commons Inquiry into the Education of the Poor (1818), an Abstract of Education Returns for Staffordshire (1833) and White’s Directory, 1834). In 1860 we learn that between 25 and 60 scholars were taught ( from G. Griffiths; The Free schools and Endowment of Staffordshire (1860)). It is possible that the cottage added on the south end was for the schoolmaster’s growing family, and the whole ground floor of the old schoolhouse was given over to teaching.

Fee paying pupils were taken in addition to the free scholars; we find that White’s directory for 1851 mentions six free scholars and eight paying 2d per week and some ‘private scholars’. From Griffiths (1860) we see that the fees varied from 3d to 6d a week.

The pupils were taught reading, writing and arithmetic in the early 1800s (from The Charity Commissioners; The Charity in the County of Stafford selected from the report of the Charities Commissioners (58 Geo III – 7 Will IV) [1818-1837]. We get fascinating glimpses of one of the schoolmasters, Mr Doley and his family. The earliest mention is in 1840 on the Tithe Award (for Norton Caines otherwise Norton under Cannock). In 1841 we find that the census returns list the inhabitants as Thomas Doley, Schoolmaster, his wife, Sophia, aged 40 years and their children, Edmund (15 years), Sophie (12 Years), Mary (9 years), Martha (6 years), Sam (3 years) and James Johnson (72 years) Brassfounder.

Thomas Doley on the 1841 census (National Archives)

Thomas Doley on the 1841 census
(National Archives)

In 1851 the census returns give much more information; Thomas Doley (60 years) schoolmaster, teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, born in Birmingham. His wife Sophia was a schoolmistress, teaching reading, knitting, sewing, machining, and she was born in Dorrington, Warcs [Worcestershire?]. We see that the children at home now are; Martha, servant (16 years), Sam (13 years) and Alice (5 years). Mr Johnson is not mentioned [although grand-daughter Ann, who is 5 years old, is at the property].

The Doley family in 1851. (National Archives)

The Doley family in 1851.
(National Archives)

In a booklet on the history of Gt Wyrley (Homeshaw & Sambrook: Gt Wyrley 1051 – 1951) it is stated that Mr Doley taught at the Wyrley Methodist Chapel in 1858, following his retirement from his school in Norton.

A tombstone in St James’ Churchyard bears the legend:
In Affectionate Remembrance of
Thomas Mansell Doley
(Late of this Parish – Schoolmaster)
who died February 22nd 1867,
Aged 77 years.
and Sophia his Wife
who died May 11th 1865.
Aged 68 years.
Also of their children, Sophia aged 18 years.
Alice aged 19 years, Edmund Henry – aged 44 years.

The grave of Thomas Mansell Doley and other family members in ST James' Church, Norton Canes. 2015.

The grave of Thomas Mansell Doley and other family members in St James’ Church, Norton Canes. 2015.

The Founding of the School
The school site was established by an indenture dated 23rd December 1737, and endowed by Richard Gildart and Phineas Hussey, Lords of the Manors of Norton Canes and Little Wyrley respectively, with other landowners (from the Administrative County of Stafford Endowed Charities (Elementary Education (1905)).

Government support to schools did not begin until 1833, and before that date schools were of three types; supported by benevolent subscription, denominational, and “Dame” Schools (i.e. run by a spinster as a means of making a living).

The Lords of the Manors were evidently enlightened and benevolent men of their time.

It would appear that the Lords of the Manors and the other landowners paid for the initial erection of the school-house. To pay for its maintenance, and payment of the schoolmaster’s wages, they enclosed about 55 acres of “the waste” i.e. Cannock Chase, and directed the rents to the use of the school trustees. Any residue went towards the Curate’s upkeep.

We find references to the upkeep of the school in the Parish Account Books;
**here are a few extracts:-
1744 Wm Hickman. Churchwarden.
Paid for glazing School 8d
1756 Wm Mare. Churchwarden.
Paid for drink at the schoolhouse and lane 4.5d
1760 James Hall, Churchwarden
Pd for mendg the schoolhouse doore lockses 8d
1761 Wm Smith, Churchwarden
Pd for one hundred and a half of bricks for the Schoolhouse 1/6d
Pd the mason 2/6d
1765 Hugh Moss, Churchwarden
Nov ye 9 Twelf Strikes of Lime for the Schoolhouse 6/2d
Nov ye 21 Paed James Heath for the work at the School 7/-d
Bricks and tiles for the school and caridge 3/7d

The trustees decided the number of children who should receive free tuition, “reserving the privilege strictly for those whose parents are not able to pay for their Schooling.” The enclosed land was very poor, and as late as 181 we find that the tenants received back 10 per cent of their rents “and they are still high.”

Out of the rent received from the lands, the schoolmaster was paid £20 per year and the curate £10 per year.

Of the lands enclosed we find, by reference to the tithe map that they fall into several areas of the village.

Workhouse meadow (or Blakmores piece) also known as Brookpiece, Poolpiece, far Poolpiece and Poolmeadow (all known alternatively as Grices Piece) were all situated in the area that is now Norton Road East, Burntwood Road and School Road. Older residents of the village will remember that School Road was formerly called Workhouse Road.

The close of land known as Hilkin Wilkin was situated north of Watling St and to the east of the Walsall Road.

I am unable to determine the location of Birchin piece (otherwise Yew Tree Piece) and also Stringers Croft.

Although the school was well situated originally being half way between Little Wyrley and Norton the expansion of coal mining in Norton rapidly increased the population, as the following from the Victorian County History illustrates.

[Year:Population, 1801:547, 1811:519, 1821:669, 1831:678, 1841:775, 1851:968, 1861:1628, 1871:2776 1881:3546, 1891:4047 1901:5214]

The figures refer to the Parish as a whole but the increase took place almost entirely in Norton, with Little Wyrley continuing as little more than a hamlet. It became obvious to the trustees of the school that it was inconveniently placed and in 1862 an order of the charity commissioners was obtained authorising the sale of the schoolhouse.

In the unreported Charities (Charity Commissioners; Unreported Charities vol XVIII, p21-25) we find that “..the schoolhouse, Cottage, Outbuildings and garden containing 1 rood and 13 perches, part of the property were sold to the said PF Hussey for £130. The schoolhouse had become much dilapidated and inconveniently situated for the objects of the charity and the trustees contemplate the erection of a new school on the site mentioned.”

This site was of course the church schools at the junction of Church Road and Norton Green Lane, Norton Canes which were built in 1864 and demolished in 1952 (although the buildings ceased to be used as a school in 1934).

The school buildings as they appeared in 1956 (Norton Canes LHS)

The school buildings as they appeared in 1956
(Norton Canes LHS)

My thanks to…
Roger Knowles and the Norton Canes LHS for allowing the re-write of their article in the interests of local history knowledge.
National Archives
Staffordshire Record Office
St James’ Church, Norton Canes

  1. […] The Norton Canes Endowed School on School Lane, Little Wyrley. […]

    • Brian says:

      Just managed to read it fully Paul at last,answered my query and explained it perfectly thanks.Just a little anecdote to the School Lane area in the 1970s a local chap Percy Benton ( users of Harrisons for as long as I have would have known him) used to bring some beautiful watercress into the club,which he said he got from the School Lane area but unfortunately would never reveal its location!

  2. SJ says:

    Very good always wondered why myself, your a star

  3. John Hall says:

    There is clearly a minor issue regarding the dates in that there is a drawing of the school in 1956 and a claim that it was demolished in 1952.
    My family lived in the left hand portion of the building, I was born there in 1947 and my grandparents rented it throughout the 40’s until it’s demolition.
    My Fathers brothers family lived to our right.
    i.e. Alf and Nellie Nichols lived in the old house with their daughter Elsie and son in law Arthur Hall (my parents)
    William Hall lived in the school with his wife Dora and their two children Colin and Rita during the period prior to it’s demolition.
    I was informed that there had been marbles etc found during the 70’s but laughed it off as probably left by our respective families.
    As far as the watercress is concerned, it appeared on our table regularly as we, my father and I wandered down to the woods to collect it.
    Happy Days

    • Mike Windsor says:

      Hi a message for John Hall if he is still with us I would like to make contact since I lived in Little Wyrly and walked up to his house with my parents at about the age of 4 or 5
      Mike Windsor

      • John Hall says:

        Hi Michael Great to hear from you. I live in Lincolnshire now but still have regular contact with several of our old school friends who are still fit and well and I (until the virus) visit the Midlands to meet with them at least 3-4 times per year
        Mobile no. 07778751638 look forward to speaking with you

  4. […] worth pointing out that Paul Ford’s wonderful Wyrleyblog has also featured this subject, and a commenter there also pointed out an anomaly in the text; although the article suggests the […]

  5. […] You can read my original article here, or read a copy of the NCHS piece in PDF format by clicking here. It’s also worth noting that Paul Ford’s wonderful Wyrleyblog has also featured this subject, […]

  6. […] You can read the original Dame School article here, or read a copy of the NCHS piece in PDF format by clicking here. It’s also worth noting that Paul Ford’s wonderful Wyrleyblog has also featured this subject, […]

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