The South Molton Infant School

An Original Poem by John Lock, Woolcomber;

On the occasion of the opening of the New Infant School House,

South Molton, September 1860.

Our little Island single stands
A pattern for all other lands:
Here Infant Schools for Education
Are scattered wide o'er all the Nation.
South Molton, never far behind
With Institutions of this kind,
Has raised a building, where the young
May learn divine and moral song;
Where Infant voices learn to sing,
Hosanna To the Eternal King:
Here learn to serve their God in prayer,
His holy name and word revere:
To read and spell, and girls may see
The rudiments of housewifery:
Here's ground apportioned where they may
Amuse themselves in healthful play,
Thanks to Sir Thomas Acland,
Who of his bounty gave the land;
And to the * Ladies for their time,
Who take such interest for mankind:
May seed spring up from what they do,
Rich harvest crown their labours too.
The building finished, twill be found
An ornament to this our town.
Give praise to whom much praise is due,
To Messrs. Pearse and Hole, and Patrons too;
Nor should the Mistress be forgot,
For herís we know is an arduous lot;
We thank Miss James for all her care,
And long may she continue here.

*The "Ladies" referred to above are MRS. HOLE, MISS PEARSE, AND MRS. GILBERT, with whom originated the Infant School in South Molton.

Printed by Tucker, Printer, South Molton

Background to Poem:

The author, John Lock who worked as a wool comber when the poem was written, was well known to John Cock, the author of "Records of the Ancient Borough of South Molton" published in 1893. He wrote of John Lock,"He was not a well-educated man and when the woollen industry went into decline he worked as a common walling mason. He also wrote a short booklet called "A Love Scene in North Devon".

The "ladies" mentioned in the poem were: Mary Ann Hole aged 77, the wife of William Hole (Landowner) who lived in the Church Yard next to the Blue Coat School. Miss Pearse was probably the daughter of James Gilberd Pearse of Broomhouse?

In 1834 the Town Council had erected the National School, in North Street next to the then Congregational Church, (now Langmead House) and from 1834 until 1849 infants had attended school there. But in 1849 it was decided not to admit children under the age of six years.

Some "kind ladies" rented a cottage in the Church Yard, part of the building known as St. Annís Chapel, fitted it with a gallery and provided a schoolroom for fifty children. The school opened in June 1850 with about sixteen infants and was funded by gifts and subscriptions. A few years later a generous benefactor provided the school with a larger room at the eastern side of the Church Yard, which would accommodate about 100 scholars.

By 1858 the buildings were no longer large enough and so a big effort was made by the townspeople to build an Infant School together with a playground and a house for the Mistress. The new school situated in New Road was built by one of South Moltonís most talented builders, John Cock junior, whose firm can be thanked for many of the fine stone buildings that are dotted around the town. The school was built on a site generously given by Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, a local landowner, and was officially opened on the 12th March 1861 when a public service was conducted at the school by the vicar, the Rev. T. H. Maitland. The building was crowded for the occasion, and among those present were the clergy and gentry of the town and many neighbouring parishes. An afternoon tea was provided for the children and their parents in the schoolroom, which was "prettily decorated with evergreens, flowers and numerous devices".

Created by Shirley Bray Ė original poem in South Molton Museum

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