November 2017


LATEST ON THE TIMELINE : From Bridge Farm to Westham, the untold story of Pevensey School


with very special thanks to Rosalind Hodge for this contribution to the Pevensey Timeline

I will give you the background of how I discovered the schools of Mary Gilbert including the one at Pevensey.—Rosalind Hodge, 3 March 2017

I have always been fascinated with social history.

I was interested in the history of education in Jevington as I knew my grandfather’s family, Filder, farmers in Eastbourne, Willingdon, Jevington and Westham, were trustees of the first school there in 1846.

One was also the first Guardian of Eastbourne Union and they were wardens and overseers of the poor in Eastbourne, Willingdon and Jevington.

In this capacity they had helped to fund a school at Jevington in the 1830s.

When I was PCC secretary sorting out cupboards in the vestry, I discovered old school plans, correspondence, a booklet written by the rector in 1873, old school log books, managers minute books and mention of an agricultural school in Willingdon.

This was like gold dust to me.

Of course I deposited the material in the record office after copying and photographing much.

I had family notes and photos dating from 1878 of pupils and teachers at the school. So I wrote the story of education in Jevington 1838-1927; life in the village revolving around the little school.

It is approx. 18,000 words with illustrations photos etc. I bound a copy for myself but have done nothing further with it.

I’m sorry for digressing but it was this that promoted me to look for an agricultural school in Willingdon and subsequently I found the school at Pevensey.

I located a drawing of the Willingdon agricultural school and immediately recognised it as Hockington House the home of my husband’s great uncle.

With a reference to Mary Gilbert, I searched the Gilbert family papers at the CRO and gradually uncovered the story of these little schools.

I will start by explaining the concept from which the Pevensey school originated.

In 1839 Mary Ann Gilbert decided to build a school in Willingdon village. She had travelled in the Low Countries and was impressed by ‘Belgium Husbandry’ where cows were kept entirely in stalls, freeing up grazing land for cultivation.

All waste from the cows was drained into large tanks making highly concentrated liquid manure.

With this manure the soil becomes so fertile that two crops instead of one are harvested each season.

Whilst the Willingdon school was being constructed she looked around local workhouses for a master and chose a married man with a family and set him up in the school.

Incidentally both he and his wife had been born in Pevensey.

He received no pay but taught 20 boys for 3 hours each weekday morning for 1d each per week.

In the afternoon they worked on the land for three hours.

The boys were taught reading, writing, accounts, catechism etc. After 12 months he had earned enough from the school fees and from produce sold to pay his rent, tithes, taxes and keep his family comfortably. In addition the parish wasn’t having to pay for the family in the Eastbourne workhouse.

This was the blueprint for Mary Gilbert’s schools.

Prompted by the success at Willingdon she decided to open schools at East Dean, Pevensey, and Jevington.

Only Willingdon was purpose built, others being set up in cottages but all had a cow lodge built with threshing room above. Mary looked for a teacher for each school from the Union workhouses, or from those about to enter it.

In 1840 James Sharrard/Sharrod of Hellingly a widower aged 40 suffered an injury whilst loading a cart.

After exhausting his £6. 7s. savings and selling most of his furniture he was taken into the workhouse with the youngest of his 6 children.

James could read and write and once there taught 109 boys in the schoolroom.

At the end of 1841 Mary Gilbert was looking for a master for her Pevensey school.

The vicar of Hellingly Rev’d John Olive recommended James Sharrard to Rev’d Julius Nouaille of Pevensey and James was appointed over two other applicants.

The ‘indifferent’ cottage with 3 acres of land chosen for the school was near the bridge leading to the marshes.

The rent was £9.10s per annum. A cow lodge with threshing room above and manure and water tanks were built.

James had 5 shillings savings and after buying tools and seed, immediately set to work digging in the turf and planting turnips and mangle wurzels as feed for two cows lent him by a local farmer.

The necessary school equipment was provided by Mary Gilbert and it opened to pupils in early 1842 with 23 boys and 22 girls.

They were taught from 9am to 12 noon every weekday morning each paying James 1d per week, following the pattern set at Willingdon.

In the afternoon the boys, under his supervision, worked the land from 2pm to 5pm.

They also looked after the two cows and a pig and emptied out the manure tank etc.

In bad weather they were employed threshing corn, making bee skeps and plaiting straw for hats in the room above the cow stall.

He kept a daily register and record of their work.

On 30 April 1843 James married Sarah Hollands at Hellingly. Their first child George was baptised 22 October 1843 at Pevensey and James’ occupation is recorded in the register as schoolmaster.

Sarah then assisted her husband and taught the girls needlework in the afternoons when the boys were out gardening.

Supervised by Sarah the girls looked after the dairy side of the school, milking cows and making butter. James and Sarah had a further five children all baptised at Pevensey, the last two sons were born 1846 and 1850 but not baptised until February 1860.

It is interesting to note in the register that James’ occupation is still schoolmaster in August 1845 but in 1848 and 1857 his occupation is recorded as a Looker.

In the 1851 census he is living at Glovers Croft next to the Railway Cottage, not in the Bridge Cottage, which is occupied by an Ag Lab named Spray.

In the 1861 census he is a carman living at Fences Bridge Cottage almost next-door to Bridge Cottage. His death is registered in the Sep. Qtr. 1861.

His youngest daughter Sarah Ann living in Pevensey is recorded as a pupil teacher in 1871 and 1881.

Mary Ann Gilbert died 26 April 1845 which possibly hasten the decline of these schools.

I found the school masters in the 1851 census all had different occupations and no record of the agricultural schools surviving.

I note on the Timeline the old school is described as ‘having extensive gardens not used by the children’.

That is not correct.

This was an Agricultural self-supporting school.

The very reason the school was established there was because of the extensive garden, 3 acres of land, on which the boys worked daily.

I realise there is extra information here about James but hope this will be helpful and will now shed light on the history of Mary Gilbert’s little school at Pevensey and it’s schoolmaster.

I researched this for about 17 years and have recently sent an article about the schools, with illustrations, to the Eastbourne Local History Society for the Journal.

A previous article of mine, ‘The East Bourne Prosecuting Society’, about the Swing Riots is published on their site.


Hopefully the schools article will be added to the Pevensey Timeline website in due course as the example of these schools was replicated across the country.

Tales from the Pevensey Timeline. The life of local families to schools, to the story of the Pevensey Whale and the vernacular architecture of the villages, the undiscovered social history of the locality