Not far from the concrete elephant is what remains of Yorktown’s National School, which opened in 1818. It was built to educate up to 100 girls and 100 boys, which seems an astonishingly large number given that the 1811 census only recorded 110 families in the area. However the building was to “provide instruction for the children of Frimley and the Servants of the Royal Military Collage”* and also to “….answer the purpose of a place of Divine Worship, for which a license would be granted by the Bishop to a Clergyman from the Royal Military Collage…..’ * By 1818 the Reverend Carwithen reported to the Parish Council that the school provided education for “the Parish of Sandhurst, the hamlet of Frimley and the Parish of Yateley, containing at present 90 boys and 55 girls”.*
Although compulsory education is something we take for granted in the UK, for many centuries the system of training the young was more haphazard and directly related to the sort of job they would be doing later. Broadly, in towns, the apprentice system produced craftsmen and tradesmen and in the country children worked alongside their parents from an early age, both in the field and in ‘cottage industries’. Children who were destined for the church or the services were tutored by clergymen, sent to establishments such the Royal Military College or simply signed up as midshipmen.
By 1811, following on from a growing movement to educate children in ‘Sunday Schools’ (that being the only day that children were not working), the National Society was set up to provide an education based on the principles of the Church of England and taught using a ‘monitor’ system. The teacher taught several older pupils who then, in turn, taught the younger ones. The system worked remarkably well and was even used in private schools such as Winchester.
The 1851 census notes that the Mistress of the school was Maria Budd (44) from Winchester who was living there with her children who had all been born in Frimley.
By the late 1860s the Yorktown population was large enough to need a bigger school and an appeal was launched to raise funds to build one next to St Michael’s vicarage – the land having been given by the RMC. By 1870 only about half of the necessary money had been raised and the vicar – the Rev. Middleton, tried to sell the original school but found that, as the RMC itself was going through a period of retraction, there was less demand for building land nearby. Eventually, an ironmonger, John Lunn, bought the school and added a shop frontage to it.
The new building – which started as Yorktown School and is currently the M A Al-Kharafi Islamic Centre, was eventually opened in January 1871.
* Mary Bennett: Frimley’s Church of England Schools (published by The Surrey Heath Local History Club)