The Foxearth and District Local History Society

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The East Anglian parishes and Irish Education

On the 23rd of March 1832, The House of Lords received several petitions concerning the 1832 MINISTERIAL PLAN OF EDUCATION (IRELAND) that was before parliament at the time and enacted in 02 July 1832.

They were mostly from Suffolk and Essex, though there was also ones from Wimborne and Tynemouth. The East Englian ones were from Denston: Wethersfield, Wickhambrook: Stradishall: Hawkedon and Pentlow. 

It was a surprise to see this mouse of a parish roaring. The Pentlow petition was signed by several of the Inhabitants of the Parish of Pentlow and its Vicinity, praying their Lordships, in considering the Education, (Ireland,) bill, should "to foster and encourage to the utmost of their Ability such a System of Education in Ireland, and such only, as shall provide for the free Use of the Bible in Schools or Places of Learning;" and further praying their Lordships "not to provide by Parliamentary Grants for the Propagation of the Tenets of the Church of Rome:"

Tynemouth sent a petition pleading "That their Lordships will be pleased to provide that all Grants of Public Money for Education in Ireland be applied only in Support of Systems of Instruction which are founded upon the entire Word of God, and which encourage the free and universal Circulation of the Holy Scriptures amongst all Descriptions of Persons; and further, to provide that in the Application of such Money no unholy Compromise be made with the Church of Rome, and no Support or Countenance whatever given to those who would substitute a Part for the Whole of God's Word, or who would teach for Doctrines the Commandments of Men:"

Wethersfield's sentiments were similar. "That their Lordships will not encourage by their Support any System of Education in Ireland but what is raised on the broad Basis of the Bible, and in which the Scriptures are allowed to be read without Restriction or Limitation:"

Wimborne: wrote hoping "That their Lordships will refuse their Sanction to any Measures for the Support of a National System of Education for Ireland, unless the Instruction it offers be founded on the entire Word of God, and unless it encourages the free and general Use of the Holy Scriptures amongst all Descriptions of Persons:"

To us, in hindsight, it is a surprise that such a rational plan as the 1832 act should have been opposed. A reading of Hansard at the time is sufficient to be convinced that it was a sensible scheme, to fund the many schools that had been set up within the parishes of Ireland and the other parts of the union. Most of these schools had been funded by subscription from the better-off  residents of the parish and set up under the aegis of the local parishes, and there were therefore both catholic and protestant schools. The anxiety about the seditious tendencies of the Catholic church in Ireland had somewhat subsided, and the government were determined on an even-handed approach. There was some opposition from the Orangemen, and the English papers at the time were keen to pick up on this. 

The petitions were, of course, absurd though one could sympathize with their anxieties. In retrospect, it is easy to see that religious dogma should have been taught and funded separately to general education. Britain at the time sorely needed a literate and numerate population. The industrial revolution started with machinery, and got into its stride with accounting, stock-taking and commercial processes.  Britain didn't need sectarian friction.  Mercifully, Ireland managed to get state-funded education unhindered by any attempt to dictate what religious dogma was taught. 


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