The present Crosthwaite School on the main road is a Victorian building with a number of additions and improvements, but the history of education in the village goes back much further. The first mention of a school in Crosthwaite is in 1626, when in the will of William Gilpin a bequest of £50 was made “towards the use of a minister or schoolmaster for the instruction and teaching of the children of Crosthwaite and Lyth” which most probably took place in the church. Later, in 1665, a small school was built with a legacy of £50 from George Cocke. It was by the old gateway leading from the church to the road. The legacy also left £10 for the maintenance of a schoolmaster.
In 1726 a further bequest from William Strickland of Tarnside provided for £4 annually for the “teaching of Reading, Writing, Accounts and Classics in the school.” There was a clause in the will ensuring that a schoolmaster was appointed, rather than the Minister teaching in school. There was no mention of children having to pay “school pence” or fees. The first record of such a schoolmaster to be appointed was of Richard Gibson who died in 1750, by which time the annual stipend was £6/10s. By 1810 the salary had risen to £40 and the master was a Mr James Duty.
In 1817 Tobias Atkinson, a noted local benefactor, gave £280 towards the “repairing, enlarging or improving of the schoolhouse” and in 1822 a new school was built on the site of the old building, later becoming what is now the Parish Room.
An inscription on the inside of the Master’s desk, discovered in 1926 reads “Richard Rushton, elected master of this school in 1820″. Notwithstanding the clause in William Strickland’s will, there is a memorial from 1861 outside the church to the Rev John Dixon who “for 32 years was the incumbent and diligent and faithful master of the adjoining Grammar School” so clearly the Vicar continued to also to be the School master on occasion. The reference to it being a Grammar School implies that Latin was taught, continuing the earlier reference to teaching of the Classics.
When the Education Acts of 1870 and 1880 finally made school attendance compulsory for all children, this building was not large enough to cope with the increased numbers and so a new school was built on the present site in 1879 with a gift of land from Mr Frank Atkinson Argles and other gifts in cash and in kind from the local community.
At the same time, it can be assumed that the old Dame schools, of which there were at least three in Crosthwaite, closed, and schools were established at How, Cartmel Fell and Underbarrow. In 1895 a School Inspection gave Crosthwaite an “Excellent” rating and noted “The children are orderly, bright, and attentive……..I trust however, that mechanical aids in Arthmetic (such as counting fingers) will not again be permitted in any part of the school.”
One of the earliest Headteachers at the new Crosthwaite School was Charles Abraham, who was there from 1903 to 1914 when he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps at the start of the Great War, until he died in 1917 as a Sergeant, after serving in France. Many other boys of the parish would have gone to the School before serving in the Forces, eleven of them dying during the war. After the end of the Great War, James Prickett became Headmaster, living in the School house with his wife and five children, and continuing until the late 1930s.
The present building has undergone many improvements and enlargements over the years to cope with changes in numbers of pupils and educational needs. As the schools at the How, Cartmel Fell and Underbarrow were closed in the years after WW2, many of the children came to Crosthwaite and as numbers increased a new wing was added and improvements made to the Kitchen. In 2000 a pitched, slated roof was added to the new wing to overcome years of rainwater leaks, and Asbestos ceiling tiles were replaced the following year. The latest additions and improvements give the school the capacity to meet the present needs, and those of the future. Who knows?
Acknowledgements. The item above draws heavily on the information contained in “Cameos of Crosthwaite and Lyth” and my grateful thanks go to Hartley Trotter and Pam Bowness for permission to use it and other material. EPLW.