Sunday School in Winslow (1788 & 1888)

By Ed Grimsdale

Sunday School - free education for the masses - came to North Bucks early.  Rev. William Eyre, curate of Buckingham before he became Vicar of Padbury and Headmaster of the Royal Latin School, introduced Sunday School for 240 children in Buckingham in 1785.  Eyre’s technique was to create a set of rules, preach a sermon and then publish a booklet containing the sermon and the rules.

The curate of Winslow adopted a similar technique in 1788. Winslow's Church of England Sunday School was established on 24 August 1788, when Rev. N.A. Owen the curate preached a sermon which was subsequently published (see Arthur Clear's notes). A copy of the 1788 rules for Winslow Sunday School was exhibited in an Exhibition of Antiquities curated by Messrs Clear and Turnham in Winslow during November 1905.

A lovely tribute to the fine work done in Winslow was published in the Northampton Mercury two years later on 28 Aug 1790:

Last Sunday, being the Anniversary of the Sunday School at Winslow, in the County of Bucks, the Children proceeded to Church in the usual Manner, to hear a Sermon suitable for the Occasion which was delivered with much Force and Energy by the Rev. Mr. Banister, the Minister. The Text was taken from the 11th Chapter of St. Matthew, Part of the 5th Verse: “The Poor have the Gospel preached to them.” A Hymn, suitable to the Day, was sung by the Children, composed by a Gentleman in the Neighbourhood.  It may not be amiss to observe, perhaps in no Place in the Kingdom do any Committee attend more to advise, direct, and encourage the Teachers, and oftentimes even to teach themselves, and reward those that behave properly.

The Sunday School was re-established in 1807. It played a prominent role in the peace celebrations of 1814.

The Sunday School Movement had been started in Gloucestershire by Robert Raikes in 1780. Winslow celebrated that auspicious moment a hundred years later.

Northampton Mercury, 10 July 1880
WINSLOW SUNDAY SCHOOL CENTENARY – On Sunday afternoon last, a large number of parents and children met together in the Iron Room, Winslow, to celebrate the centenary of the founding of Sunday Schools. The Rev. A.M. Preston, vicar, presided, and after a brief address in which he selected an appropriate text from the Scriptures for parents, teachers, and scholars, a narrative of the starting of the first Sunday School by Robert Raikes was read by Rev. E.D. Poole. Short hymns and pieces by Curwen, Leslie, &c., were sung at intervals by the Church School scholars, each of whom had been presented with a centenary medal.

The Congregational Church (1884) had a large schoolroom on the ground floor, and another in the tower, and the Centenary Hall of the Baptist Tabernacle was built in 1880 to provide larger school accommodation and named in honour of the centenary of the Sunday School movement.

Over the years, the work of Sunday Schools developed and children could look forward to an annual Sunday School Treat. Here’s an example from 1888, significant as it took place around the centenary of the first Winslow Sunday School in 1788:

Bucks Herald, 1 Sep 1888 (excerpts)
CHURCH SUNDAY SCHOOL TREAT - The senior scholars attending the Parish Church Sunday Schools had their annual holiday on Monday, August 27th. Proceeding to Thornton Park in seventeen light conveyances, they spent a very enjoyable afternoon. Mrs Peel very kindly threw open her gardens and grounds and Mr. Sturdy, the head gardener, was extremely attentive to the visitors.  One of the great attractions to many was the capital fishing in which several of the lads were fortunate to make good captures. The weather being unsettled, Mrs Peel had a large barn cleared for the tea, to which 103 scholars sat down. […] All enjoyed themselves very much, and the party were fortunate in getting home just before it came on to rain heavily.
The younger children had their tea on the previous Thursday, having their tea at the the Girls’ School and their sports and races on the Vicarage Lawn, after which the Vicar entertained them with a magic lantern in the Vicarage. It is interesting to note that the 20th August was the Centenary of Winslow Sunday Schools, which have made great progress since their establishment 100 years ago.