The value of education for the masses was not recognised until the middle of the 19th century. The rich and powerful were educated in exclusive private schools and universities and that was seen as sufficient. Some of these elite of society saw no necessity in educating the poor, and others saw it as a dangerous concept.


In Todmorden the first schools for children of the ordinary working family did not appear until after 1810, and only a fraction of the children attended regularly. These early schools were mainly established by the various religious bodies, and only opened on a Sunday. They concentrated on teaching the children of both sexes to read. The education was very basic by necessity as the teachers were drawn from the local communities and were barely literate themselves.

Clegg Endowed School


The Clegg Endowed School

The earliest known school in Todmorden was the Endowed School, the gift of Richard Clegg, vicar of Kirkham in Lancashire, who was born at Stonehouse, Walsden in 1645. In 1713, he conveyed a newly built house to John Crossley of Scaitcliffe, John Helliwell of Pike House Littleborough, William Byrom of High Wardle and Rev Henry Piggot vicar of Rochdale, to hold it in trust to be used as a school for the inhabitants of Todmorden.

He donated £150 of the cost personally and raised the remaining £50 from various donors. He decreed that the lay payers of the town should choose the headmaster, and there should be four free places. These places should be filled by two poor children from Todmorden, chosen by the churchwarden, one by a child selected by the owner of Stonehouse, and the fourth by a child selected by the owner of Eastwood. This was the first provision ever made in Todmorden for the education of the people, and apart from the four free places, the sons of the rich and powerful of the town would be the only children to benefit.

The school, immediately adjacent to St. Mary's Church, held up to 100 scholars and was on the ground floor, with the schoolmaster's living quarters above.

In 1833, there were 31 fee-paying children and 4 free scholars. The endowment was worth between £6 and £15 a year. The original school was rebuilt in 1851 and closed in 1877.

JOHN TRAVIS, local antiquarian, was one of the free scholars between 1837 and 1840. William Ormerod, churchwarden of the time, awarded him the scholarship. Travis later wrote:


"There were 4 free scholars and we all had to do something for the master or mistress for our tuition, besides our school work. Free scholars indeed we were called so, but 2 of us had the schoolroom to sweep out twice a week, besides doing other sorts of work occasionally; the other 2 having to do the water fetching and other jobs of which I speak more particularly in an autobiographical narrative of the principal events of my life. We none of us liked the schoolmaster or his wife any better for the work we had to do, but had to put up with it, and concluded that it did us no harm, except in the opinions of the more advanced scholars."


Cross Stone School

A few years after the Clegg School opened; a similar day school was built next to St. Paul's Church at Cross Stone. This was the idea of a man named Pilling, who raised £65 from his friends and further donations from local businessmen. The church appointed trustees to maintain the school and in 1743 the interest on the endowment raised £3 a year, enough to pay for the instruction of 6 poor children of the chapelry. There were between 30 and 40 fee-paying scholars in addition to the 6 poor children, and they all received instruction in reading and writing. The first headmaster was James Dewhirst.


William Greenwood opened the school on Sunday mornings for those children who worked all week, and up to 20 local children attended at the cost of 1d. They also had to buy a quill at a further 1d. plus copy books at 2d.


There is an inscription dated 1805 on the wall of the school, which says:


Train up a child in the way he should go

And when he is old he will not depart from it.

Prov.XX11.6 1805 Thos. Ashworth Sculp.


The schoolroom was on the top floor whilst the bottom room housed the jail and the house at the far right was the home of the schoolmaster. It is now a private house.



In 1833, there were 37 boys and 3 girls enrolled, including the 6 free scholars. The schoolmaster in 1841 was William Dewhirst whose sons later ran an elite academy in Todmorden at Vale Houses. William died in 1842. A newspaper obituary reported:

The Manchester Times and Gazette(Manchester, England)

Saturday, September 24, 1842;


On 20th inst.  Aged 52 years, Mr. William Dewhirst of Cross Stone School near Todmorden, and formerly of Mitholmroyd School near Halifax. He was a man of sound classical crudition, of considerable attainments in the mathematics, and eminently qualified as a preceptor of youth; and many who were his pupils can bear testimony to this mark of respect paid to his memory.

Cross Stone school closed in 1846 due to competition from the new National School lower down the hill at Priestwell.

Lanebottom School Walsden  

Deanroyd Farm

In 1809, one of the first recorded Sunday schools started in cottages at Deanroyd and Bottomley Farms in Walsden. The first anniversary was held at Deanroyd in 1810. The collection amounted to £10, and the people wondered how such a large sum could be spent.  
It was decided a new Sunday and day school should be erected. John Fielden of Bottomley donated land for the new school on the Bottomley side of the canal, just over the bridge, on condition he could send one scholar free of charge to the day school.

Bottomley Lane Foot School

Probably very young children only, perhaps those between the aged of 5 and 8 at most, would attend the day school. The older children were too busy working long hours either at home on the hand weaving equipment or in the mills. There was no time for schooling, even if it were available in the vicinity of their homes.

In 1818 the new school opened, originally known as Bottomley Lane Foot. The aim of the school was to teach the children of the poor and indigent parents to read and write and understand the common rules of arithmetic.


A stone was placed above the door with the inscription:


The School was built by public subscription for instructing the children of all denominations

This lead to considerable bickering and civil war between the Methodist trustees and the multi-faith school superintendents over the following years. However, the school continued to flourish and in 1848 it was enlarged, John Stevenson of Quarry Cottage laying the memorial stone. He was the only surviving trustee from the original group of 1818.

photo by kind permission of Roger Birch

In 1851 there were 47 pupils on the roll with one master, Edmund Suthers. There were 23 boys and 14 girls in attendance on the day of the census, 9 under 5 years, 22 between the ages of 5 and 10 years, and 6 between 10 and 15 years.
The weekly fees were 4d. for which the children received tuition in reading, writing, geography and maths, with music as a voluntary extra. Mrs. Suthers also helped out by teaching knitting and sewing. The schoolroom measured 24 feet by 10 feet and was underneath the chapel. Mr. and Mrs Suthers received wages "dependent upon their own exertions", and no house was provided for them.

Walsden Preparatory School

1813 saw the first privately run day school open in Walsden. This became known as Walsden Preparatory School. There was just one small room, 15 feet by 16 feet, and one teacher. It was a non-denominational school, more commonly known as a "Dame School". Initially, this and other similar schools were little more than nurseries for infants, more often than not (but not necessarily) owned and run by a married woman. However, this particular school developed, and by 1851 had 36 children on the register between the ages of 4 and 15. All the children studied reading, 28 studied writing, 9 studied arithmetic, 35 studied grammar, and 11 studied geography. Sewing and knitting were also offered. The weekly fees ranged from 2d to 6d depending on the lessons taken. Unmarried mother, Sarah Lancaster, was the teacher in 1851, aided by her 12-year-old son. Sarah and her son lived at the school in Knowlwood, Walsden. She was a Catholic, but kept the school non-denominational. On the Educational Census return of 1851, she reported that she had lost 11 children as a consequence of a lecture given by George Kidd, a Primitive Methodist Preacher.

Union Sunday School

John Fielden of Dawson Weir commissioned another early school for the poorer children in 1816. With the help of the curate of St. Mary's and a Methodist Minister, John started a non-denominational school in a building where the town hall now stands. It was known as the Union Sunday School, opening for just 2 hours on Sunday mornings and 2 hours in the afternoon. Each session began with singing and prayers, followed by 40 minutes of reading, 10 minutes of spelling and 35 minutes of religious instruction. Within 12 months it had 150 regular pupils. It is reported that it cost John Fielden more than £50 for letters, alphabets, spelling books, testaments, bibles, paper, quills and candles.

Cloughfoot School  
The following year, a branch of this school opened at Cloughfoot, established by William Mitchell, Abraham Earnshaw and Ellis Hollows, who were members of the Todmorden Wesleyan Society, with lessons being held on the upper floor of a cottage at Clough Foot. There were external steps up to the schoolroom, now disappeared, but would have been where the long white windows are today.

Cloughfoot pupils about 1895 by kind permission of Rosemary Stevenson

The school proved to be very popular and the attendance numbers grew, so much so that by 1828 the cottage where they met wasn't large enough to accommodate them. It was decided that new land was needed and Thomas Sutcliffe of Midgelden Farm, along with other teachers, applied for a new piece of land for a larger school to be built.
Their request was granted and land was provided on the opposite side of the road to the cottage.

It was a Sunday and day School for children of all "Protestant religious denominations" and was put under a general trust. The plaque is inscribed:


"This school was built by Public subscription AD 1829 for children of all religious denominations."


Sitting front row
  Wilfred Earnshaw, Norman Lord, George Hudson
Second row
  Willie Watson, Eva Barker, Lois Brown, (Brown Brother), Jessie Hudson, Elsie Spencer, Walter Hudson
  Alan Lord, Miss Barker, Ruth Lord, Ann Hudson, Elsie Watson, Annie Greenwood, Miss Spencer, Tom Ratcliffe,
Barker, Kershaw, Watson, Jack Pickles

photo kindly sent by Catherine Earnshaw



Unitarian School

In 1825, the Unitarians under the leadership of John Fielden of Dawson Weir started a free day school for 100 children of all denominations from the age of 4 years to "the age of going to the factory". John Fielden engaged a headmistress and two full time teachers at his own expense.

A Unitarian Sunday school followed in 1830 for those unable to attend the day school because they were working. The school offered lessons in reading, writing, grammar, arithmetic, history, spelling, mathematics and religious instruction. John taught there himself for a time.

Unitarian Sunday school


Waterside Factory School

In 1827, John, the town's largest employer, began to operate a radical policy at his WATERSIDE MILL complex. He decided to provide basic education for any of his child employees whose parents wished it. He put all the children aged 10 and upward on a half-time rota at the factory. They could work half a day in the mill and spend the other half of the day in the factory school.


The factory school and offices at Waterside in 1902

The children were charged 2d a week for lessons in reading, arithmetic, geography, sewing and knitting, and within 4 years there were over 100 pupils enrolled in the scheme. By 1851, the school had 137 on roll, between the ages of 5 and 15. All 137 studied reading, but only 48 studied arithmetic and geography. Writing was not on offer. There were two teachers, John and Lydia Fielden.

It is difficult to believe that there was no compulsory schooling, but in 1833 the Government attempted to introduce this by passing the Factories Act, which decreed that all textile factories had to provide at least 2 hours schooling a day for all their employees up to the age of 13 years. Rules were set in place for this, and children had to be given certificates to prove they received this education. In addition, it became illegal to employ a child who "had not completed his or her 9th year". This freed the under 10's to attend day schools instead of Sunday school, and ensured their education continued after starting work in the mill. The Act was well meaning, but had little impact in some areas as nothing was put in place to police it. Children still worked before they reached their 10th birthday and schooling was only compulsory for those working in textile mills. However, the Act brought about the necessity for more school places in the textile areas, and the following years saw the emergence of many more schools in Todmorden and Walsden.

Bottoms School Walsden

The Fieldens made sure their mills had attached schools and continued with the half-time system with factory schools at Waterside, Lydgate and Lumbutts. Other mill owners used established schools rather than build their own. One such arrangement was made between the Law brothers of RAMSDEN WOOD MILL and the new school at Bottoms in Walsden.

Bottoms school was built by Walsden Oddfellows in 1836 as a school and place of worship for the good folk of Walsden who had no church of their own. It comprised three 2-roomed cottages on the ground floor with a school and preaching room above, 45 feet long, access being gained from an enclosed yard at one end. Thomas Fielden (1803-1854) became the first master at the school. He had been a scholar at the Endowed School in Todmorden and was a member of the successful picker making family of Inchfield.


The Law brothers arranged for their young employees to attend this school for the required 2 hours a day and Thomas Fielden dutifully supplied the mill with a certified copy of the attendance register. In 1840, there were 22 such children at the school between the ages of 10 and 15. Altogether, the school had an average of 90 pupils enrolled.

Below is a list of the Ramsden Mill children attending Bottoms school in 1840, with ages and addresses taken from the 1841 census.

Name age in 1841 address in 1841
Thomas Newell 10 Strines Mill
Samuel Crossley 13 Bottoms
James Eastwood 11 Ramsden Wood
John Newell 15 Strines
John Jackson 10 Bottoms/Ragby Clough
Mary Stansfield 13 Bottoms
Susan Howarth 13 Bottoms
Hannah Crossley 15 Bottoms
Zachariah Heyworth 14 White Slack
Mary Fielden    
Elizabeth Craven 13 Newbridge
Hannah Newell 10 Ragby Clough
John Pearson    
Paul Greenwood 13 Square
Betty Sutcliffe 10 Ramsden Wood
Robert Law 14 Ramsden Wood
Samuel Law 15 Ramsden Wood
Hannah Kershaw 15 Inchfield Fold Top
Betty Jackson 15 Stoneley Barn
Abraham Newell    
Susan Pickles 12 Bottoms
Mary Crossley 15 Bottoms

By 1851, Thomas had moved on to Walsden Parochial School, leaving his niece Sarah Ann Fielden to take over as assistant-in-charge. Sarah Ann was the daughter of his brother Robert. In 1851, Sarah had just 44 pupils on the register, all of who studied reading. The only other subjects on offer were sewing and knitting. Not surprisingly, the majority of her pupils were girls. Ten of these children were under 5 years old and none was over the age of 10. The weekly fees at this time were 3d. It seems the arrangement between the school and Ramsden Mill had come to an end.

In 1844 a new Factory Act was passed, introducing a half-time system for all working children under the age of 13. All textile mills were now required to provide a minimum of 3 hours education for their child employees and to reduce their working hours to six and a half hours a day maximum. No child was allowed to work both a morning and an afternoon on the same day. This greatly increased the demand for school places.


Factory Inspectors were given the job of policing the 1844 Act and issuing licences to the teachers at Factory Schools. One such school, established in 1842, was attached to Ewood Malt Kiln. The teacher was a Miss Sarah Greenbank and in 1846, the Inspector, Mr. R.J. Saunders revoked her teaching licence. He reported:


"I have annulled the certificate of Sarah Greenbank, a schoolmistress in Todmorden Township in the Parish of Rochdale for immoral conduct. The only children attending her school were those employed by Messrs. Gaukroger and Smith of Ewood factory in the same township."


Looking at the census, it seems the immoral conduct was the birth of her illegitimate child, Elizabeth Greenbank, in 1846. Sarah must have been forgiven, as she is still the teacher in 1851. By then, the school had just 13 scholars enrolled, 2 boys and 11 girls. Reading, writing and knitting were on offer, although only 4 of the 13 chose to learn how to write. Miss Sarah Greenbank was the mistress on a salary of £13 a year. Her 5-year-old daughter was still living with her at the school.

The National Schools


To accommodate the greatly increased number of children now obliged to attend school for at least 3 hours a day, three National Schools (Church of England) were established: at Christ Church in Todmorden (1845), at Priestwell, Cross Stone (1847) and at St. Peter's in Walsden (1848).


photo by kind permission of Frank Woolrych

Todmorden National School, built on part of the church burial ground, had 153 scholars at the official opening ceremony. By 1851 this had increased to 294 although this figure included the Sunday school. There were 90 pupils in the day school. Joseph Gledhill was the master in charge.

Interior of the National School, by kind permission of Roger Birch


Cross Stone National School was built in 1847 at the bottom end of Cross Stone Road. It poached pupils from the Endowed School up the hill adjacent to the church, and by 1851 had one room with 141 children on roll, all of who were learning to read and write. The teaching staff consisted of a qualified master, one female teacher and three unpaid monitors.

In 1851 the school master was incomer George Aperdail, a 22 year old unmarried man from Kettlewell in Yorkshire. The school master's house is attached to the school.

The old school bell


Walsden Parochial School 1918 by kind permission of Roger Birch

Walsden National School, known as the Parochial School, was built adjacent to St. Peter's church and opened in the spring of 1848. Thomas Fielden, the master at Bottoms school, took the post of headmaster. There was one room, 60 feet by 25 feet to house 109 scholars between the ages of 5 and 15 years, plus one between 15 and 20 years. There was a wide curriculum on offer for the relatively expensive weekly fee of 6d. However, reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography and drawing, with the addition of sewing, knitting and crochet, were offered, and all 110 children took up geography.

In addition to his day job, Thomas ran evening classes at the school during the winter months. He and three other men taught 24 boys and 16 girls between the ages of 10 and 18 years, all factory operatives, to write, do arithmetic and learn geography. Thomas sadly died in 1854 and the post was taken over by his wife, Alice.

Dame Schools

In addition to the church schools, many other private establishments appeared during the 1840's. Some of these were Dame Schools where the householder taught basic skills such as reading, knitting and sewing but little else, and seldom writing. The latter was mainly enforced on them, as they had not mastered the technique themselves! In 1851, Hannah Greenwood ran such a school at Butcher Hill in Walsden. She took 19 scholars in her home and taught them reading. She herself was unable to write. Sarah Lord of Knowlwood was another, although she was able to write. She had 11 students learning to read. Esther Crossley at Milking Green, Dulesgate, took 31 children for reading lessons. She also was unable to write. The normal fee for a Dame School was 2d.

Vale Academy  
At the opposite end of the scale, the William and James Dewhirst Classical and Commercial Academy had been established since before 1830. Situated on Wellington Road in Todmorden (known then as Pin Hall Lane), the Academy was an elite private school with two rooms at Vale Cottages. Brothers William and James, and their sisters Jane and Betty, taught 132 pupils to reading and writing.

Vale Cottages, Wellington Road


William Dewhirst

The curriculum also offered the unlikely subjects of French, German, Latin and Greek amongst others. In 1851 the Academy was in full swing. There were 2 weekly boarders, Hollinrake Hollinrake aged 12 from Langfield, and William Percy aged 9 from Manchester. Visiting the Academy in 1851 was a Mr. William Percy aged 31 from Manchester who was a portrait painter. William was also a very talented amateur artist.

Several of the Todmorden worthies were educated at this academy, including Luke Barker who became a major cotton manufacturer. By 1861, the Dewhirst brothers had given up their school and were partners in the firm Dewhirst & Nuttall at Ferneylee Mill.


Photos of portraits kindly

sent by Paul Dewhirst

Sarah Firth, William's wife


It is thought that in 1851 there were 66 schools in the town of one sort or another, some just opening on Sundays. Of the day schools, 13 were Dame Schools. There were also 13 private elementary schools all of which taught reading, writing and arithmetic, and in some geography, grammar and mathematics were available at extra cost. There were 4 Church of England schools, 4 schools run by non-conformist chapels, 2 factory schools and 2 academies.


It can be seen that reading took precedence over everything else, including writing. This may explain why many of our ancestors were unable to sign their names on marriage certificates for many more years to come.



A History of Todmorden, Malcolm & Freda Heywood and Bernard Jennings

The Founding of Schools at Shade, William A. Birch

Portrait of a Town, Dorothy Dugdale

The 1851 Education Census