Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 12, 2017
Webpage updated: March 24, 2021




Charles National Boys' School was situated at Shaftesbury Cottages, Plymouth, between Deptford Place and Providence Street.  The Charles National Girls' School was in Tavistock Place.

It was in 1787 that the vicar of Charles' Church, the Reverend Robert Hawker, opened a Sunday School in a small room at Friary Court, not far from the parish church.  Soon afterwards he added what he called a day school of industry.  That was the birth of the Household of Faith, which is dealt with separately.

The Charles National Schools owed their origins to a vestry meeting in 1838 at Charles' Church, when it was decided to rent rooms in which to hold classes for the children of the labouring, manufacturing, and other poorer classes in the Borough of Plymouth and the Parish of Charles.  Admission was open to infants and boys between the ages of three and thirteen and the School was well supported by voluntary contributions and school pence.

Like all the other schools in Plymouth around that time, it soon out grew its premises and it became evident that a new building was called for.  The congregation apparently heartily agreed with Captain Tozer, the prime mover in this matter, and in 1846 the schools in Tavistock Place were opened.

The site was purchased in 1855 for 525 and the contract for the building amounted to 1,100.  It was largely paid for by voluntary contributions but they did receive a grant of 600 from the Government.   The building was a substantial square erection, with class-rooms adjacent.

As usual for those days, the new school attracted more pupils and as the area surrounding it became more extensively built up, there was an ever urgent need to increase the size yet again.  There were at that time 1,000 children on the books and there was an average daily attendance of 700.  So bad was the overcrowding that the teachers even had to give up their residential accommodation for classrooms.  The existing building could not be extended because the whole of the surrounding area was now built on.  It was also realised that a school for girls was urgently needed.

Plans were devised to build a new school on what was known as Vinegar Hill.  However, it was considered that sending girls and the infants to such a distant spot would probably reduce the attendance, especially in winter.  As a result it was decided to erect a new boys' school on Vinegar Hill and use the existing one in Tavistock Place for the girls and infants.

In fact the site chosen for the new Charles' National Boys' School was Magadalene Park (sic), otherwise Maudlyn Field, in what was then known as Charlestown.

Messrs Damant and Reid drew up the new plans, which included a residence for the master.  The site adjoining Shaftesbury Cottages was purchased for 800.  The school building cost 1,385, towards which the Government gave a grant of 882 10s and the National Society gave 100.  The remainder was defrayed out of the voluntary contributions raised by the Reverend H A Greaves amongst his Church of England friends.

Just prior to the new premises being built, the vicar of the parish, the Reverend Greaves, stated that the schools were run by a duly certified master and mistress.  There were seventeen pupil teachers, who with a couple of exceptions, had been past pupils of the school and were now employed in passing their knowledge on to the younger pupils, under the supervision of the respective head teachers.  The daily attendance was above 700 scholars and the annual income from school pence was above 300.

The foundation stone was laid on Wednesday October 22nd 1856 by the Mayor of Plymouth, Mr J Kelly.  The contractors were Messrs W H Pethick & J Finch.  

Built in the Gothic style it was in the form of an inverted L, with one wing facing north and the other facing east.  One wing was 79 feet long by 18 feet wide and other 68 feet by the same width.  They were calculated to be able to accommodate 300 boys.  There was also a class-room of 16 feet by 18 feet.

Charles National Boys' School was opened on a sunny Thursday June 18th 1857 by Mayor of Plymouth, Mr J Bulteel, with full corporate honours.  At 11.30am the Sergeants-at-Mace preceded the Mayor, other dignitaries and the school children in procession from the Guildhall up Old Town Street and Tavistock Road to the School for the opening ceremony.

The old premises in Tavistock Place thus became the Charles National Infants' School and this was joined by a new Charles National Girls' School.  The infants school-room was 39 feet by 20 while the girls' room was 33 feet by 12.  It was normal at that time to have the infants on the ground floor with the older girls on the first floor.

At that time the numbers of children on the books was: boys, 447; girls, 362, and infants 364, making a total of 1,173.  The average attendance was 870.  The teaching staff comprised a master and mistress, an assistant for each, and 24 pupil teachers.  It would appear that the mistress was in charge of both the infants and the girls schools.

By February 1868, when the Western Daily Mercury published its survey of local education, the number of children on the books was 900, comprising 349 boys, 277 girls and 283 infants.  The average attendance was 308 boys, 160 girls and 176 infants, making a total of just 644.

Staff numbers had been reduced by 1868 in consequence of working the new educational code.  The master used to have the assistance 11 pupil teachers and a like number of monitors.  This had now been reduced to 3 pupil teachers and six monitors.  Likewise the staff of the girls' school had been reduced from eight pupils teachers and an unspecified number of monitors to three teachers and three monitors.  The infants' school had also undergone a reduction, from six pupil teachers and a number of monitors to three pupil teachers and four monitors.

One unusual feature of the school was that it was insisted that an adult accompany a child when applying to join.  Being accompanied by another child was not acceptable.  Another rule was that boys should attend a Sunday school but it was not apparently applied to the girls.

The boys paid 6d or 2d a week while the girls and infants paid either 2d or a penny, although where there were more than one member of the family attending the latter schools, then the first paid 2d and the remainder 1d.

Lessons not only included the required reading, spelling, dictation, and arithmetic but also geography, English grammar, the Holy Scriptures and the Catechism.  The boys who paid 6d a week were studying for the competitions to enter the Royal Dockyard or the Keyham Steam Yard, and they also received instruction in algebra and Euclid (geometry).  The girls and infants were taught needle-work.

Charles National Schools had no endowments and the costs were met entirely from the Government Grant, school pence and voluntary contributions.  The school pence in 1867 amounted to 97 8s 7d in the boys' school, 45 19s 2d in the girls' and 39 10s 2d in the infants'.  The Government Grant had been reduced from 570 4s in 1858 to just 258 1s ten years later.

The Head Master of the boys' school from 1873 until 1909 was Mr Thomas Newton Andrews.  He had previously been a pupil teacher at the School and then went off to do his two years at Cheltenham College before returning to his old School.

In addition to his normal teaching duties, Mr Andrews took the lead locally in science and technology subjects by running evening classes where, for a fee of five shillings per session (May to September) a keen boy could learn about magnetism and electricity, acoustics, heat and light, machine drawing, building construction, theoretical and applied mechanics, animal physiology, navigation, steam, telegraphy, electric lighting, or the manufacture of iron and steel.  Oh, and plumbing.

And as if that was not enough, he also ran a class on electricity at 4pm on Saturdays for the benefit of working plumbers and bell-hangers.

Education was not free at that time, except at the Plymouth Public Free Schools in Cobourg Street, and when Mr Andrews increased the weekly fee for upper standard pupils from 2d to 3d, many children were moved to that School, where it only cost 2d.  However, on Monday May 4th 1891 the fees were abolished and education became free for all.

The School's log book for November 1889 records that the sizes of classes were:-

  • standard I - 61 children
  • standard II - 60 children
  • standard III - 98 children
  • standard IV - 79 children
  • standard V - 103 children
  • standard VI and VII, taken by the Head Master - 78.

There was only one teacher per standard so whoever was taking standards III and V had real problems.

On Wednesday April 1st 1903 the Plymouth Local Education Authority took over the management of Charles National Schools, which then continued as Charles Elementary School for Boys, in Shaftesbury Cottages, and Charles Elementary School for Girls and Infants, in Tavistock Place.