Jersey schools in the late 18th century

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Jersey schools in the

late 18th century

This page is an abridged version of an article by J G Speer, published in the Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Grammar schools

The education available in Jersey around 1770-1790 was provided in four ways: at the top were university scholarships provided by the Don Baudains, a trust founded in 1611 by a St Martin farmer, Laurens Baudains; then came two grammar schools, St Mannelier in St Saviour, founded in 1477, and St Anastase in St Peter, founded in 1496. [1]

Besides these there was a parochial school in every parish and, finally, it seems that most, if not all, of the Rectors took private pupils in their homes. All this was strictly controlled by the Church, although this control was being increasingly challenged.

In 1780 St Mannelier acquired its most famous head, or Regent, Philip Ahier, who was to hold office for 52 years. Apart from Latin and Greek, the grammar in the title, he taught French, arithmetic and handwriting: these generally earned satisfactory reports from the school 'visitors'. Ahier was a great 'whacker' but this didn't prevent him from drawing pupils from England, to recruit whom he used to be given leave of absence.

Holidays were short, with no long summer break; just the 12 days of Christmas, the main Church festivals and Easter Tuesday, Whit Tuesday and 25 May (Royal Oak Day).

St Anastase was popular at the time and in 1767 the Regent, Philippe Sorsoleil, reported that he had more pupils than he could manage and asked for the appointment of an assistant. He was showing a profit on the running of the school, so his request was granted.

School inspections

About twice a year the schools underwent an inspection by a board of 'visitors' consisting of the Dean, at that time Francois Le Breton, five Rectors and the Greffier of the Ecclesiastical Court. It is the registers of the court which provide most of the available information about the schools. The reports are often brief, sometimes just listing the names of the 'visitors', perhaps with a brief statement such as ils ont trouvé le tout en bon ordre et en bon état (they found everything in good order and good condition).

The report on St Anastase on 15 October 1781 shows Philippe Sorsoleil asking to be allowed to retire 'on account of his advanced age and feebleness' and Henry Nicolle, the sous-maistre, being appointed to succeed him.

On 12 July 1784 Mr Ahier at St Mannelier produced examples of his pupils' handwriting, and the boys adjudged the best in the first, second and third classes were awarded a prize of a book in two volumes. The same visit also found that good progress had been made in Latin, arithmetic and reading.

The records give the impression that the 'visitors' were more interested in the way the revenue of the schools had been administered by the Regent than in the progress of the pupils. If there was a surplus they often ordered it to be applied to improvements to the buildings and their surroundings.

Teaching licence

At this time nobody was allowed to teach without a licence; in the case of the grammar schools, granted by the Ecclesiastical Court, for a parochial school, recommended by the Rector of the parish and endorsed by the Dean, and valid for that particular parish only. Although teachers' earnings were meagre, the position was regarded as privileged, and was jealously guarded.

In 1763 Daniel Bessin, who was licensed to teach in St Helier, opened a school in St Lawrence. The official schoolmaster there immediately took him to Court and Bessin was ordered to confine his activities to St Helier and not to interfere with Mr Sorsoleil, under pain of excommunication. In 1786 the St John master, David Hocquard, actioned Abraham Lempriere for keeping a school in the parish without a licence.

It was the Canon Law of 1623 which required that there should be a schoolmaster in every parish chosen by the Rector, Churchwardens and Principals, and requiring him to be licensed by the Dean. It would be another century before education was brought under the control of the States, and civil laws were enacted for its control.

In the late 18th century there was a school in every parish, and several in St Helier. There were no school buildings, classes being conducted in the Parish church, porobably in a section that was boarded or curtained off. The churches were the only public buildings at the time, and used for every kind of public business, including elections.

The parish schools failed to keep pace with changing times and in response to the great increase in local shipping and overseas trading, schools that taught navigation began to be opened. These were challenged by the parish schoolmasters but providing only astronomy, trigonometry and geometry and similar subjects were being taught, they were allowed to continue.

Monopoly ended

In 1787 the monopoly of the church sanctioned schools was again challenged, and this time it was overturned. Charles Dorey, the licensed master in Trinity, summoned George Ahier before the Ecclesiastical Court for conducting a private school in the parish. The Court consisted of Dean Francois Le Breton and three Rectors as assessors. The Dean ordered Ahier to close his school, but the assessors disagreed and a bitter argument broke out. The Rector of St John, Thomas Sivret, denounced the Dean's ruling as 'nothing less than an attempt to keep the people in ignorance and barbarism'.

This led to the Dean summoning Sivret before the Court for taking private pupils in his Rectory. He claimed that he made no pretence to be the parish schoolmaster and had a perfect right to teach children and this was accepted by the Court, and so the monopoly on parish schools was broken and private schools began to be set up. Within 80 years there were at least 75 private schools functioning in the island.

Notes and references

  1. Although 1477 is often quoted as the founding date for St Mannelier, this was the date when the idea was first put forward by the Rector of St Saviour Jean Hue, but it appears that the school had not been built when Jean Neel and Vincent Tehy put forward their idea for St Anastase in 1486. No Regents are recorded for the school before 1550
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