Sevington school was built by Joseph Neeld.
He had inherited a vast fortune and he used it to buy Grittleton House and the land around it.
His aim was to move in high society and so he bought himself a seat in parliament and married the aristocratic Lady Caroline Ashley-Cooper. Sadly the marriage was a disaster, ending in scandal and divorce proceedings, and although he remained an MP for the rest of his life, he never once spoke in the debate. Gradually he abandoned his ambitions and turned his attention to his estate.
He was an improving landlord and there was a lot to improve. He began to pull down and rebuild his tenants’ cottages and turned his attention to the church, which had been going to rack and ruin for more than forty years. It was beyond saving, so he had it pulled down and the best bits – the bell tower, the reredos and one of the windows – were incorporated into the new school which was being established for his estate workers.
Sevington School opened in 1849 and Miss Squire took up the reins in 1860, aged just twenty She continued to teach there until 1913, a span of almost sixty years. The school room was built to hold twenty-five pupils, but by the time of her retirement there were only three pupils on roll.
Former pupils remembered her as a tall, vigorous woman who loved her garden and maintained excellent discipline without the need for corporal punishment. By the end of her time there she seems to have been earning £50 a year and living rent free in the school house next door. There was always someone to keep house and chaperone her – first her mother, then her niece and finally her sister Hannah.
We don’t have any record of the curriculum at Sevington but we can assume that it was very basic, with an emphasis on religion, reading, writing and arithmetic. In the afternoons, the girls learnt needlework while boys continued with more of the 3 Rs. The school day was occasionally enlivened with singing, marching and ‘object lessons’, in which children were encouraged to study and draw objects of interest.
The maps and charts and curios which we see in the schoolroom may have been used for this. There was a lot of learning by rote and even more emphasis on deference to superiors. At nearby Langley Burrell girls were expected to bob to gentry and boys doffed their caps. It is very likely that the pupils of Sevington School showed the same respect.
When the school closed in 1913, everything was left untouched. Today we can still see the desks and forms which were used in Miss Squire's time along with her desk, pointer and blackboard. The reading books, Bibles and psalters are in the cupboard and a folder containing fifty Biblical pictures is on the table.
On the wall there is a picture of Joseph Neeld, the original benefactor who built this remarkable school. The photograph of the picture of Joseph Neeld shown above was taken by Tom Fahey.