Friday 27 January

How Old Are We?

1874 photo news

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Having been a master at West Buckland for a number of years, and now the schools' archivist and historian, Berwick Coates knows the history of West Buckland School better than anyone. Here he clears up some confusion over the age of the school and us gives a fascinating insight into the school's founder, The Revd. Joseph Lloyd Brereton and his vision for 'county' schools.

If you are a well-informed member of the school, you will know that it was founded in 1858.  So, by simple arithmetic (if you have a calculator handy), you can work out that, in this year of grace, 2017, it is 159 years old.  But if you are extremely well-informed – like, say, the School Archivist – you will know that the school is only 105 years old.

No catch. No trick. Just a matter of names.

 When the Revd.Joseph Lloyd Brereton founded the school, his idea was that the boys would do lessons in the school house in the morning; in the afternoon, they would work on the school farm.  They would sell the produce, and the income from that would help to pay for the upkeep of the school – buildings, books, meals, staff salaries, and so on.  (The rest of the money would come from investors, who would be given dividends from the profits every year.)

 Profits?  With only three pupils to begin with?   It takes very little insight to realise that there were going to be very few profits with a set-up like this.  It was typical of Brereton; in a long life, he was forever hatching wonderful schemes for advancing education, and making money, very few of which ever came to anything.

 West Buckland did, but not by virtue of being the ‘West Buckland Farm and County School’, which was Brereton`s first name for it.  That very speedily faded into the mist of broken dreams.  But Brereton kept the ‘County’ bit.  His idea was for a nation-wide network of secondary schools for the sons of middle-class people in every county.  Hence ‘county’.  Therefore, the West Buckland Farm and County School became simply the ‘Devon County School’.

 As such, it thrived.  Pupil numbers soon rose above a hundred.  The DCS became a national celebrity as the first successful secondary school for the ‘middle class’.  Journalists wrote articles about it.  Celebrities came to visit it.  It came top of the league in exam passes three times, against competition like Manchester Grammar School.  Two archbishops of Canterbury came down to present the prizes (not together, of course – separately).

Then, towards the end of the century, the country suffered an agricultural depression.  Local farmers, as well as local butchers, bakers, and candlestick-makers found that they could no longer make ends meet.  They had to make economies.  They took their sons away from the school.  By the 1890`s, the school was not doing well.  It nearly closed twice.  Numbers dropped as low as 31.  Dividends were no longer being paid.  Something Would Have to be Done.

It was.  A new headmaster was appointed.  The school company was put into liquidation, and the shareholders were persuaded to give up their investments.  The county council agreed to put in a grant, so long as the school promised a few places to bright sons of local citizens.  The school income was to come in future entirely from fees, all of which were to be spent on the school, not on dividends.

At a meeting in Barnstaple on the 24th May, 1912, in the solicitor`s office, the Devon County School officially died, and a new one rose in its place – ‘West Buckland School’.

Take 1912 away from 2017, and what do you get?  Exactly – 105 years.  So now you know.