In August 2011, East Surrey College vacated the Adult Education Centre in Stychens Lane, Bletchingley perhaps bringing to an end some 450 years of schooling on the site.
The County Records Office in Kingston holds a document dated September 8th 1566, the eight year of the reign of Elizabeth I. In it Bletchingley born John Whatman, a mercer from Crawley trading in textiles, gave to trustees a “messuage, burgage or tenement with orchard and croft” cromprising five and a half burgages on the “kinges way leading from Bletchingley towards Croydon”. The intention was that a free school should be founded in Bletchingley. And so it was…
The rents from the land were to be paid to a schoolmaster towards his pains in teaching such children as should be born in Bletchingley. The foundation was not a success however as the rents were inadequate. On the contrary it quite quickly fell into decay, died out and even became an almshouse for a short while.
In 1631 the Evans family started to revive it and, with help from local benefactors, set about repairing the schoolhouse. A master was appointed (John Harston or Haryson) to take in 20 free scholars, for whom John Evans, not the parents, paid £20 per year. To augment this income the master was also authorised to educate 10 more at 10 shillings each (50p) and there was also a provision for a further 10 at 16 shillings (80p) but all were required to be the sons of Bletchingley parishioners. There were complaints at this time that even so “furriners and straingers from Godstone and Nutfield” were trying to get in. In 1640 Evans put the school on a trust basis in preference to an annual subsidy one. He endowed it with some 30 acres of land in Nutfield, the rental income from which continued to finance it for over 200 years. In more recent times part was compulsory purchased for the M23 motorway and the remainder was later sold, the benefaction continues to this day in the form of interest on the proceeds.
Back in the 17th century, just as today, the parishioners held firm views on education and were not always happy about the administration!. It was argued that it was not a free school “when so manie of the foundation must pay to the full worth of theire teachinge”. The master was required to be of “honest name and fame, of good life and conversation and sound of true Christian faith”. He shall teach children to ” ready, wryte and for to caste, acompte and alsoe to chatechyse them” and “such of them as are capable to instruckte… whereby they may come to understand the latine townge”.
School started at 6am in summer and 7am in winter and broke between 11am and 1pm before going home at 5pm with only 4 weeks holiday. The 12 governors were in the main important resident freeholders and farmers or tenants. Schooling was not compulsory until 1870 (for boys) and girls (from 1878). Deteriorating relations between teacher and governors led to election of a school board for the “management of the endowed school, known as the Grammar School at Bletchingley and of the endowments under the gifts of John Whatman and John Evans”
Under the new regime the school was rebuilt in 1873 to cope with the education of some 271 eligible children. This is more or less the building that is on the site today. Underneath the tile hanging and rendering, the building is flint and within living memory once had a bell turret (the bell is still around the back). The earlier building faced west opposite a now demolished terrace of houses but problems with an adjoining landover resulted in the new larger building facing south and set back behind the chapel, now demolished, and its Manse. The new school had provision for industrial instruction and allotments for the boys and a kitchen for the girls.
Building for a new secondary school in the 1950’s and the Village School changed location from Stychens Lane in the 1960’s to St. Catherines in Coneybury at White Post, where it still flourises today.
From 1st of September 2016, St Catherine’s School will have its name changed to Bletchingley Village Primary School.